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NIGER DELTA: DIALOGUE, NOT BOMBS

By NBF News
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The fragile peace in the volatile Niger Delta area suffered another setback following two bomb blasts at a post-amnesty dialogue held at the Government House Annex in Warri, Delta State, last week. The parley, put together by the Vanguard media in collaboration with the Delta State government, was meant to foster more understanding among the different stakeholders in the troubled region. But the event ended abruptly, raising fresh fears that the crisis in the region is far from over.

At least three people were confirmed killed by the explosions. Four state governors and scores of dignitaries at the conference scampered for safety as the bombs shattered the windows of the venue. Militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) later claimed responsibility for the blasts. MEND was not part of the amnesty deal following government's rejection of the conditionalities given by its leadership under Henry Okah.

We are worried that the explosions that rocked the post-amnesty conference might be a relapse to the pre-amnesty years, which were characterised by anarchy, bombardments, bloodletting and hostage-takings. Even for an oil rich region whose citizens are painfully used to incessant bombings by different militant groups, the latest explosions amount to daring both the Federal and the Delta State governments. For the explosions to have happened at a time government was still counting its gains from the amnesty deal reached last year with the militants, is quite troublin. It brings to serious question whether government has got its strategy right in maintaining peace in the Niger Delta. The blasts may be an indication that government has failed to respond realistically to issues before and after the amnesty deal was signed.

We feel that this is the time for government to fine-tune the amnesty agreement. Government should wake up now and address squarely the festering issues that the crisis in the Niger Delta have thrown up. We have always maintained that you cannot buy peace by handing out financial inducements to militants. Incidentally, money was a key part of the amnesty deal.

Beyond that, we advise state governors in the Niger Delta region to weigh their comments carefully to avoid inflaming passions. Comments by one of the state governors in that region to the effect that MEND was not a force to reckon with was rather incendiary and needless. This is the time to talk less and do more. Indeed, this is the time to implement the recommendations of the Ledum Mitee-led Technical Committee on the Niger Delta. It is also time for the Ministry of the Niger Delta to show that it means business in the development of the region.

It is sad that the good intention of Vanguard media was aborted by the bomb blasts. Again, it shows laxity by the agencies whose responsibility it was to detect security lapses at such important event.

It is unfortunate that the amnesty deal which was a major achievement by President Umaru Yar'Adua appears to be on the reverse gear now. The crisis in the Niger Delta must not be allowed to relapse. Government should at all times demonstrate the necessary political will to resolve the contentions permanently. The ultimate solution should begin by addressing why the crisis persists despite measures already put in place. This must include equitable distribution of the revenue derived from the Niger Delta region. But dialogue is the key, not resort to bombings.