Can Buhari Win The Oil War?

The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) may not be a praiseworthy entity to many but their emergence and defiance have provided a thorough and incisive diagnosis of the dissembling cohesion of the nation-state called Nigeria. Nigeria has never been a thoroughgoing republic but simply a geographical “convenience” of British colonial exploitation (for palm oil) and a political “convenience” of Northern Nigerian auto-colonial hegemony (for crude oil). Race and tribe have played an exceeding big role in the creation of NDA. Enduringly placing the ‘straightjacket of inferiority’ firmly upon Niger Delta people/region who never asked for it by people who have extracted its wealth in obscene amounts without considering the indigenes will generate extreme reactions. Oppressive exploitation of oil in a highly fragile state does not work forever; President Muhammadu Buhari will learn this.

President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 and most unwittingly thought, [unlike other former heads of state] that he could firmly tame rebel groups like Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants with force or the threat of force. Boko Haram has continued to taunt Nigeria most embarrassingly with court-martial cases for cowardice on the part of the Nigerian Army regularly making the news. The soldiers appear far too under-compensated to die for their Commander-in-Chief. It is a pity Nigerian Army officers do not face court-martial for the genocide and melee they unleash the Niger Delta. Furthermore, the Niger Delta militants lost their ceasefire settlements agreed since when Olusegun Obasanjo was president besides other legitimate grievances has resorted to drying up Nigeria’s income via guerrilla-style sabotage of oil production installations.

The only value of the regions to the GON is their natural resources, nothing else. The GON’s governance over Nigerian regions particularly the Middle Belt and South-South is analogous to an absentee father who has never done anything for the child from birth to adulthood then places heavy demands that must be fulfilled on the child because he is the father. Under the watch of Buhari, this has been more visible than ever. When the regions make demands on the GON like the Niger Delta oil spill clean-up, they are either dismissed, massacred or bombed simply because it has the monopoly over violence. But that monopoly is no longer holding and any restoration of it will be temporary and pyrrhic. For governments to elicit loyalty and obedience from its citizenry it has to invest adequately in them. You need strong institutions to build a strong reach with the citizenry.

Buhari’s otherwise astute and effective propaganda machine has failed woefully in its capacity to “handle” public opinion regarding armed rebellions in Nigeria. Tough talk has failed abysmally. No one is really convinced Buhari can win in battle over the rebels, even though it is not impossible. Many have laughed at the renting of the Saudi-based mercenaries, Black Water, for $280 million as a reverie in the Islamisation of Nigeria. The military and security forces of Nigeria have historically been successful at massacring innocent communities usually in revenge and frustration when fighting ever-elusive rebels, particularly in the Niger Delta. Genocide! The GON has not learned that when you are only a mere restraining force over a region [and a perennially irresponsible one] you cannot exercise decisive powers over it, no matter how weak it appears.  And the Niger Delta Avengers know this and so does everyone else. Under Buhari, national jurisdictional power has lost its passable form, consistency and bite.

Nigeria as a so-called ‘geographical expression’ and its government has never exerted any proper jurisdictional control or management over most of Nigeria including the Niger Delta. Starting with colonial rule, the Government of Nigeria (initially via Westminster) has simply been at best a “restraining force over its regions” with the unpersuasive appearance of legitimate power. What now is known as Nigeria was first a protectorate then amalgamated by Britain via mild indirect rule. Britain as Nigeria’s stationary bandit could not afford to build strong institutions in the land because that would have enabled the colonialists being kicked out. When Nigeria became independent, the auto-colonialists refused then to strengthen the institutions in order to further their own brand of stationary banditry and conveniences.

The absence of strong institutions in Nigeria meant that Nigeria had no real control over the land; the regions are in perpetual “pre-exit phase”. Rumours of a dividing Nigeria have never been so believable. Every GON has succeeded only to the extent (a) it could provide rents and settlements to key stakeholders that can make the country “governable” for them and (b) the high degree of naiveté, timidity, ignorance and fear of the people. President Buhari was formerly believed not to give rents at all; under the current circumstances, he may not have enough rents to give. Nevertheless, the rents and settlements costs are now more expensive than at any other time in Nigeria’s history mainly because the “Golden age of the Mugu [ignorant and naïve person]” is over. The roadside folk and peasants in the village now know the “solo mansions” in their communities are the proceeds of money stolen from them.

Only rigorous and far-reaching dialogue between the GON and rebel groups in Nigeria can have any considerable and lasting effect on the peace and stability in the country but would opportunities for such be seized when they arrive? Oil money has become blood money, why should the GON seek it peacefully? The NDA should not be treated as a slight or minor force since they have proven they can bring Nigeria to its knees without even trying. Resorting to warfare will damage targeted communities but it will not simultaneously hand the GON victory. More embarrassment awaits Buhari if he takes comfort in violent methods to get the oil flowing to the markets again. He would not be fighting just NDA but the entire region.

Nigeria is a democracy, hopefully. If Buhari is serious about maintaining peace in Nigeria and keeping “One Nigeria” together [he is one of its main architects], he will have to employ the wisdom of approaching and winning over the people along the “lines of least resistance”. The line of least resistance as it has applied in the entire post-Independence governance history of Nigeria has been the offering of rents and settlements to stakeholders. If Buhari is truly a great leader he will find another way of doing it without damaging the nation. Investment is far better than rents, settlements and empty promises.

Grimot Nane

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