7 July 2017

Nigeria: Niger Delta and the Presidency - of Craven Vandalism and Pyro-Terrorism

opinion

Craven Vandalism and Pyro-Terrorism are two philologically identical but technically differentiated terms that are not alien to the functional register of contemporary scholars of Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Security Studies. The two terms now deserve some attention in view of their use as tactics and media of expression in the exchange between the militias, militants, gangs, avengers, and freedom fighters associated with the Niger Delta on the one hand and the Federal Government of Nigeria, on the other. It should be pointed out straightaway that craven vandalism is dissimilar from regular vandalism, which may just be a wilful damage or destruction of any property with no other purpose than sabotage. Craven vandalism is often employed in the absence of courage to fight but presence of willingness to protest and express grievances and dissatisfaction. There may also be instances of casual vandalism, which may not be connected to any grievances, as is now the case in several parts of Nigeria where public amenities are destroyed for no reason.

As regards the concept of Pyro-Terrorism, it is technically understood as the deliberate ignition of fires to harm people, infrastructure, and natural resources or wilful destruction of social amenities or public property, with a view to provoking economic disruption. It is the utilization of large-scale fires - like burning or bombing - to attack, intimidate, or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in order to advance political, social, or religious objectives of a non-state organisation. This violent engagement has become a tactic of choice for aggrieved claimants to some rights, to pressure their Government for response to their clamour or attention to their grievances. Instances of this have been numerous in the Niger Delta agitations and should not be regarded as trivial or insignificant. It is common knowledge that environmentalist are characteristically quick to rely on the effect of arson to secure attention for their causes and response to their grievances.

There is arguably no exception to what they can employ the tactics to achieve as they have even been known to wreck havoc on housing developments and damage other infrastructure of disparage nature. The idea of Pyro-Terrorism is traceable to Eco-terrorist activities which witnessed in the 1990s what Anthony Baird recently described as the use of fire "to create mass destruction in America's forests and the dwellings surrounding them", the first notable instance of that being what Nick Deshpande characterised as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF)'s ignition of fire on tree lots and several commercial and industrial structures, including the United States Forest Industries headquarters in Medford, Oregon.

What matters most in the estimation groups whose actions are guided by the idea of pyro-terrorism is to bring down the economy by causing harm to commercial interests without any regard for the environment. This marks a total departure from the pattern of terrorist attacks by violent religious extremists like the Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia, Ansar al-Shari'ah in Mali, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In fact, Gary Ackerman, who is the Director of the Centre for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies, opines strongly that pyro-terrorist operations are "not in the top three attacks in jihadist playbook". Accordingly, the security challenge posed to the Federal Government of Nigeria by the Niger Delta question is not of similar nature to Boko Haram insurgency and there may be need for the Government's security advisers to hasten their return to their strategic drawing board, as will be demonstrated shortly.

That fire attacks on oil pipelines caused colossal economic loss should be of great concern to both the leadership and citizenry of Nigeria. When Israel recorded an experience of similar nature during the conflict with Hezbullah in 2006, official records, as released by Associated Press (August 2, 2006) placed recovery time at almost one century! Similarly, deliberate ignition of fire on forests and infrastructure in Greece in the summer of 2007 threatened a large segment of the population and culminated in an official declaration of a national state of emergency in late August. The loss from the act of terrorism was officially put at $7 billion in damage in addition to 70 lives. The Greek government wasted no time in addressing the grievances that led to the arsons such as negligence and development issues. In the summer of 2006, a militant group had threatened to burn down the whole of Estonia. The group was aggrieved that the government of Estonia had not removed a Soviet monument in the capital city of Tallim. MosNews (31st July, 2006) revealed that that was the first time a group had used such a vulnerability to negotiate with a government. Yet the government of Estonia did not prove insensitive.

Most unfortunate was the Federal Government's engagement of the Niger Delta militants, a non-standing army as its security guard for the oil pipelines. This is a veiled admission of defeat, which exposes some degree of vulnerability and portends danger for national security. According to Jim Garamone (2003), suppression activities required in instances of destruction of oil pipelines and public infrastructure are not outside the areas of military operations. Why then were the Niger Delta agitator employed by the Federal Government to fulfil a role meant to be assigned to the military. "In 2003, fires in British Columbia prompted the deployment of the Canadian military on two occasions; over 2,600 soldiers including reserve personnel, fought fire and provided support to civilian fire-fighters as a part of Operation Pergrine, the third largest recent domestic operation" (p. 41). In Spain, Greece and other parts of Europe and the United States, militaries have been deployed for similar purposes in view of the fact that their training makes them well suited for this kind of operation, which requires physical and mental endurance.

Although their training is not specifically targeted at some of these areas, ingredients with potential to stimulate a high performance in such situations have been incorporated into their professional preparations. For instance, Chief Tola Adeniyi (Thisday January 11, 2017) called the attention of Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General T.Y. Buratai, to the fact that, "most of the finest bridges and dams in Egypt were built by the Egyptian army. The Engineering Corps of the Nigerian army is almost comparable with the German's Julius Berger in terms of both quantity and quality of the numerous construction tasks performed for their country." Chief Adeniyi adds "with most of our roads in deplorable state what one would have expected from the Chief of Army Staff is a programme of rehabilitation whereby soldiers not engaged to flush out Boko Haram would be busy mending roads from Sokoto to Lagos and from Saki to Yola". Although this is a debatable line of argument, one is tempted to ask whether the Nigerian Armed Forces are equipped, motivated or incentivised enough for such multiple engagements!

A careful assessment of the Niger Delta militants reveals that they are focussed and systematic. Their operations are not homicidal in nature but rather essentially pyro-terrorist. Unlike the Boko Haram Movement, they hardly destroy human life in a direct fashion but rather render such a life bereft of substance through their attacks on oil installations and other infrastructure with notable economic interests. Causing a fall in the country's oil production capacity from 2 million barrels per day to 800,000 is economically calamitous for a country in recession. It is obvious that the militants themselves are pleased with the devastating impact of their operations and attacks on the live wire of the country's economy. The bitter truth is that the groups and gangs are most probably likely to advance their hostilities especially in view of the vulnerabilities already exposed. Yet, the Federal Government should not be at the mercy of the militants.

There is a strategic warning for the Federal Government in the recent threat issued by the militants a la Operations "Wall of Jericho" and "Hurricane Joshua". While the Government is strongly advised to employ peaceful means of addressing the Niger Delta Question, especially in view of the new threat, a decisive attention to capacity building and operational resource development will position the Government in a good stead to launch an instantaneous counter-offensive with potential to subdue the militants, in the event that they carry out their threat. Special attention may be paid to the identification of high-risk or potentially volatile areas and as well as to the tracking of perpetrators.

Of equal importance is the need to assure Nigerians - in a rather practically convincing and not sugar-coated but empty ego boosting through the media - that the Government is still very much in charge and that the militants' aggression is under control. It is to the favour of the Government that the militants in the last ten years have not demonstrated capacity for the use of advanced technological means and have only resorted to the primitive tactics of bombing pipelines or setting infrastructure on fire. The fact that there is no reflection of scientific expertise in their operations gives a clear picture of the nature of the challenge before the Government. However, it should be pointed out that their lack of advanced scientific proficiency does not prevent them from achieving their goal through the instrumentality of their primitive but creative operations.

Is the Government waiting for them to wreck more havoc on the economy before addressing their grievances? This has always been the case where people go to war and only return to a roundtable for peace building after some irreparable loss! Is peace not achievable before war? What about the cost of strategic violence? The Government's failure to put a stop to violence through an official peace initiative has been a source of worry to security analysts as this has culminated in a proliferation of arms and ammunitions among civilians in the country. There will always be strategic violence after warfare and militarism, which has been our own Government's major medium of expression. One is even tempted to ask if there are conflict resolution experts or peace-building professionals around the President. These certainly are professionals who are not necessarily military personnel. Even the language emanating from the official quarters does not suggest enough sensitivity to this concern. The centrality of peace-oriented language and communication to conflict resolution is of great value to peace building especially as a prevention to strategic violence.

It is instructive to recall that 30,000, militants came forward to surrender their weapons at the expiration of the 60-day period stipulated for that by the Yar'adua-led Government in its declaration of Amnesty in 2009, as reported in The Premium Time on 24th December, 2012. According to Imongan Earnes Omokhoa (2015), "over 2, 500 sophisticated guns 300,000 rounds of ammunitions were brought forward by the militants including a total number of 39,880 assorted arms, which comprise 482 automatic arms, 20, 132 ammunitions, 295 magazines, and 18, 971 locally made guns recovered from ex-militants in Delta and Bayelsa States. 82, 406 ammunitions were recovered from Rivers State, 9, 748 from Cross River, 9, 725 from Ondo State Recovery Cenre, 959 from Akwa Ibom and 722 from Edo".Omokhoa adds that the arms and ammunitions surrendered by the ex-militants are certainly low compared to the ones surrendered at the screening centres.

The question is how much of their weapons did they really surrender? The most perturbing question in this connection concerns the revelation by the Special Adviser to the then President on Niger Delta , Hon. Kingsley Kuku, that an estimated N234 billion naira has been reportedly spent on the Amnesty programme! But, what improvement has this huge sum brought to the region? Rather than address the high level of unemployment, environmental degradation, lopsided resource distribution, poor quality of living and several other unfavourable experiences that constitute the grievances of the militants, the Federal Government made pay-offs to former militant leaders in the form of multi-billion dollar security contracts in order to engage them to provide security services for the purpose of guarding the oil pipelines that they once targeted for destruction. Pyro-terrorism in its true dimension! Two questions naturally arise here namely what is the security implication of this dimension of pyro-terrorism by Niger Delta militants? and what is the security implication of the Federal Government's resolve to engage them to provide security services for the pipelines?

Yet, there were several attacks carried out by them during the disarmament exercise. The implication of such an experience is that the ex-militants only surrendered an insignificant percentage of their arms and ammunitions. Hence the question: what happened to the remaining arms and ammunitions? As long as the greater percentage of the weapons is not accounted for, there is the likelihood that the oil-rich region is unsafe and at risk of relapsing into violent conflict. The fact that the militants found no strain in returning to creeks is an indication that the creeks were never deserted, and militancy, never recanted, by them.

It may interest the Nigerian authorities to learn that whenever and wherever violent extremism, armed conflict or militant struggle is allowed to flourish unabated and attain an alarming state as is currently the case in Nigeria, its aftermath is normally characterised by what Michael Boyle describes almost one decade ago as a wide range of threats to public order, ranging from high levels of ordinary street crime to targeted assassinations, reprisals and riots. Boyle underscores the threat that is potentially posed to human lives and properties by revenge violence against individuals or groups singled out for marginalization or victimization based on definable characteristics, which may hurt the economy and ultimately alter the political landscape of a nation by reconfiguring the balance of power and unravelling the fragile peace that may have been put in place.

Strategic violence manifests in various forms. The oppressed may desire a pound of the flesh of the oppressors' anatomy. The victorious side may also have its vengeance against the oppressed for daring to seek a redress in the face of an age-long injustice. There may be tit-for-tat patter of murder, expulsion or persecution of various retaliatory dimensions. The common denominator in all these is that the magnitude of the strategic violence that normally climaxes a regime of insurgencies, armed struggle, and unrestricted militancy generally outweigh whatever havoc, damage, or destruction recorded in the original violence that precipitated the strategic one. The Niger Delta agitation is targeted at redistribution of wealth and not power re-configuration. This is what makes it a lesser evil and the domestic militants should not be allowed to transform into a sophisticated war machines that may later defy subjugation or political solution.

During a recent peace talk which was part of the peace-building initiative by the Zamfara State Government, last December, a top commander of the armed gangs known as Alhaji Beti was reported by Daily Trust (December 25, 2016, p. 45) "to have shocked the peace mediators when he said that every true Fulani settlement in Zamfara forest had at least an assault rifle". According to him, the activities of the vigilante groups in the state forced them to acquire such rifles, saying "we make contributions to buy rifles, and no household is without at least one... We are being hunted and slaughtered by the vigilantes. They invade our settlements and market places and hunt for innocent members of our families to kill", he alleged. Tola Adeniyi recently lamented this precarious condition, "The Fulani herdsmen were carrying AK47 rifles... Havoc! There of course are instances of Federal Government's insensitivity in various parts of the country. In Southern Kaduna, the Government's initial lethargic dispositions to acts of banditry and criminality that were exploited by some community and leaders and political desperadoes who are bent on having Kaduna State consumed totally by conflagrations, has caused incalculable damage.

A vivid historical flashback reveals that the Niger Delta struggle started in the 1960s when it took a peaceful dimension. Three decades after, it advanced to the level of environmental and minority rights activism targeted at persuading the Federal Government and Oil Companies to kindly pay some attention to improving the condition of the region which has been the sustenance of the Nigerian economy as it accounts for about 90% of the revenues generated yearly by the Federal Government. It is in the public domain that the foreign exchange earned by the country through oil and gas has been the livewire of the national economy in the last four decades. It was the pursuit of the realization of better conditions of living that paved way for the emergence of such groups as Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and much later, Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF).

The Government's failure to respond meaningfully to the clamour by the Niger Delta activists is not without some catastrophic effect on the economy. For instance, the country which was the highest producer of oil and the largest exporter of the product in Africa, having exceeded the extraction capacity of 2 million barrels per day, through its operations in the region, lost its enviable place, by dropping to the abysmally low production capacity of 800,000 barrels per day. It was indeed in a bid to prevent such an economically unfavourable consequence, which may be too calamitous to cope with as we are now witnessing that President Umaru Musa Yar'dua of blessed memory declared his Presidential Amnesty Programme in 2009.

The President's action in this regard was precipitated by some of the recommendations by the Ledum Mittee led Niger Delta Technical Committee which was charged with the responsibility of recommending to the Federal Government paths to the realization of sustainable peace, human and environmental security in the oil-rich region. The Committee, in a report submitted in November, 2008, recommended among others the declaration of Amnesty for all Niger Delta militants. Umaru Musa Yar'adua, a listening civilian President with no element of belligerency or bellicosity in his dispositions, embraced the recommendations and therefore prepared a good ground for the enthronement of peace and security in the region.

It is of great value to note that President Yar'adua did not act just sheepishly. He too once attempted to rid the country of the bad rubbish constituted by the Niger Delta militants when, early 2009, they issued an ultimatum to oil companies operating in the region to evacuate their employees an shut down. Sola Adebayo had chronicled in the Saturday Punch of May 16, 2009 (p. 14), how "Twenty-four hours to the end of the ultimatum issued by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta... the Federal Government... launched a major operation to dislodge the militants. MEND had on Wednesday engaged the troops of the Joint Task Force in a fierce battle in which several soldiers were feared dead and their weapons seized. The militants also took 15 foreign hostages" Infuriated by the development, President Yar'adua ordered a total clampdown on the militants and in a jiffy, two warships and 14 gunboats were deployed to the region, alongside four helicopter gunboats in the spirit of total warfare and militarism.

At the end of it all, about twelve soldiers were killed and about the same number seriously injured with about twenty military weapons seized by militants who boastfully announced to the world that they had hijacked the two warships deployed to the region by the Federal Government and had even sank two gunboats belonging to the Joint Task Force and perished all the soldiers in the boats. Media reports were replete with scary stories of fire for fire, aggression and counter-aggression, and unveiled demonstration of hostilities and zero-tolerance for each other between Nigeria's troops and the Niger Delta militants. All this fire exchange predated the declaration of Amnesty by President Umaru Musa Yar'adua. Some commentators and public analysts are even of the opinion that the sudden Amnesty declaration at that point in time unarguably promoted the perception that the Federal Government embraced it as a veiled strategy for an over-due and inevitable retreat from the heat of the Niger Delta's belligerent warlords and their highly bellicose foot soldiers. The factor responsible for the Yar'adua-led Federal Government's failure to offer the peace initiative before this period remains a perturbing question.

Concerning the present dispensation, President Muhammad Buhari was reported (Thisday 13th January, 2017) to have pursued the military force option by "deploying hundreds of the Nigerian troops to smoke out the militants blowing up oil facilities in the region" before realizing that he could not win the war thereby embracing the idea of dialogue earlier proposed by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ibe Kachukwu. According to the report, Kachukwu, acting on a presidential directive, later facilitated a meeting of the Federal Government with a high-power delegation of the Niger Delta "comprising political leaders, traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth groups and other stake-holders. "At the meeting, President Buhari condemned the destruction to the Niger Delta oil facilities, describing it as criminal". He added that the Niger Delta leaders - who were meeting with him - knew the criminals where they were, and therefore directed them to go back and talk to them. The visitors who themselves were not favourably disposed to the pervasive violence in the region were reliably reported to have pointed out that the militant actions were products of "well-founded anger and legitimate calls for a greater share of revenues generated from their lands." The delegation identified improved quality of living in the region as central to their demands and later presented their 16-point demand to the President. Pronto, the President became annoyed by the affront of the delegation to make such demands of him and wasted no time in walking out on them after meeting with them for just five minutes.

Both the President's language and attitude in this regard exposed the total absence of a conflict resolution expert or professional peace facilitator among the handlers of His Excellency! It also provides some clue about the line of thinking that generated the idea of the provision of a sum of N29 billion in the 2017 national budget specifically for the purpose of fighting militancy in the Niger Delta! Yet, one wonders why the President failed to explore the dialogue option to the fullest, having earlier pursued the military option without success. Could he be contemplating a return to the failed option in a rather decisive manner. Yet, one must not fail to underscore the accuracy of President Buhari's characterisation of the sabotage of the Niger Delta oil installations as criminal. Accordingly, the investigation of such militant vandals who may often be tagged pyro-terrorists, for the purpose of this discourse, according to Nick Deshpande, should exclude the military and be relegated to a criminal investigation, with total reliance on police procedure the only elements of military that should be involved being the military police and the intelligence apparatus. The fact that no single infrastructure saboteur has been thoroughly investigated and subsequently prosecuted in connection with destructive militancy or militant vandalism, leaves much to be desired. That however is a subject for another day.

-Saheed Ahmad Rufai, Ph.D Curriculum and Pedagogy, Ph.D History and Security Studies, is Ag. Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University.

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