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AGAINST TRUTH: RADICALISM IN THE NIGER DELTA

By NBF NEWS
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The reaction against my last column from certain quarters has been vehement. Some respondents have accused me of working for Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan because I said it was unfortunate that the conference sponsored by the Vanguard newspaper and supported by the Delta State Government should have been bombed by those who claim to be fighting the cause of the Niger Delta. They overlooked the fact that I had been a Vanguard columnist for several years before switching to The Sun and would therefore harbour a certain residual loyalty to the publisher of the Vanguard, Sam ('Sad Sam') Amuka-Pemu, who throughout my sojourn in Nigeria has been more like an elder brother to me than a colleague. In any case my stand against the use of violent means to abort genuine attempts at discussing the way forward for the amnesty programme has very little to do with personal loyalties although these did play a part in provoking my anger over the incident.

It is difficult for anyone making a serious study of the record of performance of the Governors of the South-South states and especially those of the core Niger Delta region not to conclude that more than any other Uduaghan has initiated ways to empower the youth of his state beyond collaboration with the Federal Government's agenda. There are those who argue that his efforts have been damaged by confused strategies based on hand-outs and blackmail rather than the true reformation of the mental processes of the former militants. Whether this is true or not the best way, it seems to me, to overcome any such error would be to examine the strategies employed so far and discuss ways to reform them. This was what the conference slated for Warri was supposed to be about. In spite of the threats of death and distress sent to me by SMS as a result of my stand I still hold firm to my belief that the bombing outrage was a mistake or at best a display of immoral dishonesty.

In the last column I argued that those who don't want such discussions to take place are enemies rather than friends of the movement for responsible reform that is the base for the radical ideology that they lay claim to. This week I wish to reiterate that argument. I also wish to point out that unless the real objective of the insurgents is the total dissolution of the Federation then their insistence on refusing to countenance further discussion is tantamount to enshrining irrationality as the instrument of political discourse instead of encouraging reason to prevail. An irrepressible movement has been formed in response to the reactionary ignorance of those who refuse to admit that Umaru Yar'Adua has been irreparably incapacitated as President of Nigeria. This movement is characterised by a wish to hold the nation together, rather than to split it, by restoring common sense to public discourse.

It is strange that those who claim to be wholeheartedly dedicated to the radical transformation of the relationship between the Niger Delta and the rest of the nation appear to be willing to go in the opposite direction and employ irrational tactics to justify their cause. Truth cannot be divided into compartments. It is an irrevocable principle that in establishing a standard for the reform of social processes truth should be the foundation of ideology.

Unfortunately simple truths can be twisted to serve the purpose of personal or even collective untruth. This syndrome has begun to take hold of the public face of the radical reform movement in the Niger Delta, and the most vocal elements of support for the irrational glamour of violent resistance seem to garner more media attention than the voices of reason. I insist on rejecting violence in order to redress this no matter what those who have threatened me believe or want their followers to believe.

There is a growing sense of unease in the Niger Delta not only over the question of whether the amnesty is a genuine strategy for restoring communal peace but also over the issue of whether the political leadership emanating from the area is fully integrated into the system of national privilege. This unease has been exacerbated by the unforeseen emergence of uncertainty over the nature of the succession at the highest level when it became necessary for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to inherit the mantle of national leadership through no fault of his own. The fact that Dr. Jonathan is from the Niger Delta has added a dimension of regional rivalry as well as the perception that a fair and equitable approach to issues of leadership and power has been violated. This encourages radical dissent.

However, the events surrounding the consequences of this failure of common sense has played into the hands of the most frivolous and unserious elements of the insurgency that has undermined the generational harmony of the Niger Delta. Those who want to encourage instability point to the uncertainty over Dr. Jonathan's status as proof that there is nothing to gain from cooperation with the existing status quo. They do not believe that they owe any obligation to the authorities to keep the peace simply because their kinsman has been allowed to become a 'pretender' President, which is the way they perceive the present situation. On the other hand a clearer analysis of the systematic consequences of the implementation of the amnesty might show that the critical need in the communities of the Niger Delta is unity of purpose rather than the further division of territorial interests. It is the latter consequence that the irrational repetition of radical dissent and the rejection of tolerant compromise will enshrine. This can only lead to more disorder rather than genuine communal progress.

The most radical agenda that has been promoted since the amnesty was put in place has been articulated under the aegis of a group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). At the same time some of the most publicly acknowledged leaders of that formation have been quick to seek exoneration for themselves over such incidents as the Warri bomb outrage but without either condemning the motive or disowning the relevance of these attacks. It is therefore clear that the name MEND has become the catch-all source through which the process of continuing to implement violent and provocative instability is to be justified. As one of my correspondents indicated the intention is to prove to people like Governor Uduaghan and myself that 'MEND is no pushover'.

It might come as a surprise to those who send out such messages but I have never thought that the group was a pushover. What I have always maintained is that the tactics attributed to MEND will eventually push the people of the Niger Delta over the edge into irredeemable and unstructured insurrection or, even worse, into anarchic insecurity. These tactics cannot co-exist effectively with the strategic policy thrust of a Governor Uduaghan who is clearly dedicated to using the instruments and resources of government to try to strengthen community growth and development. It is easy to stigmatise government with radical clichés. It is much more difficult to attempt to introduce a new set of development priorities and infrastructure through which disenchanted young people can find hope. If our radical dissidents are interested in facing the truth they cannot simply dismiss Uduaghan's efforts to create such a climate in Delta State as being unworthy at least of critical tolerance. I suppose it is my insistence on recognising this that has singled me out for the unfounded accusation that the Governor is paying me to tell the truth.