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Yar’Adua vs. Militants by Garba Deen Muhammad

Source: huhuonline.com

President Yar'Adua's critics who accuse him of being too slow, too provincial and too conservative are probably correct in many respects; but in his handling of the Niger Delta crisis the President is dead right this time. Along with poor infrastructure and corruption, the Niger Delta problem is one of Nigeria's three biggest National problems. (The problem of endemic poverty, rising illiteracy, child abuse and street begging are regional problems for which the governors of the northern region where these problems are pervasive are solely responsible).

When the president unexpectedly declared amnesty for the Niger Delta militants that were prepared to renounce violence, many Nigerians were taken by surprise; but those who understood the working of the president's mind predicted that that was the carrot. Sure enough the stick followed when an emboldened militant group captured some soldiers, killing some and holding some to ransom. At that point the president took one of the biggest decisions of his two-year old regime by giving the Joint Task Force (JTF) the green light to engage the militants in an all-out combat and flush them out from their various hideouts.

Predictably that decision has split Nigerians, thankfully not right down the middle, as the militants would have hoped. On the one hand there are some Nigerians who feel that the amount of force employed by the JTF is too much since we are not at war with a foreign country but with our own renegade elements; there are also the very worrying issue of civilian casualties and the consequent Human Rights breaches that naturally accompany such violence.

But more hawkish Nigerians have a radically different view. They feel that rather than scaling down on the amount of force, Yar'Adua, who is the Commander in Chief should simply step-up the operation and crush the menace once and for all. A third category of Nigerians have opted to remain silent, out fear mainly.

Both expressed views have their merit and it is up to the President to decide which option is in the best national interest. The President need not be so clinical in his choices. In this respect he would find plenty of inspiration from United States President Barack Obama, in the way Obama is approaching the volatile issue of the US-Muslim World relationship. Obama is employing the age-old carrot-and-stick approach in a way that has never been done before, at least as far as the thorny issue of the t two famous adversaries—the West versus Islam—are concerned. And what is particularly instructive for Yar'Adua is that the Obama approach appears to be working. Somehow he's managed to bring down the temperature in the Middle East generally (except in Israel which has been largely responsible for heating up the region in the first place).

In Egypt last week, Obama disarmed his huge Muslim audience with a single phrase that has nothing to do with western democracy: Assalamu Alaikum; in Iran there is genuine fear by hardliners and anti-American politicians that the oncoming general elections in that country may upstage their long-held political monopoly at the centre; and according to a CNN prediction the turnout for the Iranian election may be higher than in most recent elections.

For us in Nigeria the stakes in sorting out the Niger Delta crisis are just as high as for the US finding accommodation with the Muslim World. At a personal level Obama is gambling with his political survival as much as Yar'Adua's fate may also largely depend on the eventual outcome of his Niger Delta offensive. This is where the President needs both his wits and his Niger Delta allies most. The Vice President, Dr. GoodLuck Jonathan; the Chief of Defense Staff Paul Dike; the Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro; the out-going as well as the incoming Head of Service of the Federation; the Minister of the newly-created Ministry of the Niger Delta, all of whom are from the Niger Delta; as well as the incoming officials of the NDDC, must all rally round to give the president the necessary moral support that he needs to prosecute what is quite rightly the country's thorniest problem. In part that was why they were appointed as part of the many concessions that the rest of the country has made for the Niger Delta. Now those beneficiaries must justify their positions.

And in supporting the president, a certain amount of visibility is necessary. They must stand up to be counted; they must summon the courage to renounce the criminality in the region and encourage their followers to do the same. This brings us to the issue of who are the unscrupulous sponsors of the so-called militants; so-called because as the President rightly observed during one of his few engagements with the media, the militancy in the Niger Delta has long given way to criminality in which very prominent local and national figures are reportedly involved. The federal government has hinted that it has a list of those highly placed people that have been fueling the crisis in the Niger Delta, and had in fact even threatened to make that list public.

Under a regime that doesn't say much about anything, admitting that it does have such a list is a big revelation. According to sources, among other high profile politicians, a serving state governor is involved. The government has a right to play politics with its scoop, but its own credibility would be on the line if in the end it turns out that no revelation is made. Nigerians, including innocent Niger Delta residents whose lives have been thrown into violence and despair, would like to know the identity of their real enemies.

As for those Nigerians who advocate greater use of violence, they must try to empathize with the unintended, innocent victims of this unfortunate crisis, namely the civilian population. It is true that in countries such as Sri Lanka and Angola, it took ruthless application of force to end decades of similar rebellion in those countries, but even in those countries maximum force was never applied until there was no more carrot to dangle. For now it is good that the President has repeated his offer of amnesty to those militants that wish to embrace peace, while the Ministry of the Niger Delta prepares itself to commence its own interventions.

If the President had rushed into using force earlier than now, the amount of resistance and condemnation, both nationally and internationally that he would have had to face would be tremendous. This a clear sign that patience where necessary has its virtues; and the fact that the President didn't act earlier does not mean that he could not act. It is a situation that Yar'Adua should cash in on, and even expand to other aspects of his perceived weakness.

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