by Paul Odafe Utho
My attention has been drawn to comments made by one Col. Hassan Stanislous-Labo, an associate of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari on National Television on January 25th 2016 where he called for a military invasion and levelling of some Niger Delta communities where pipelines were vandalized a few weeks ago.
One would ordinarily overlook such comments and wave it away as the ranting of a madman but history has taught us never to dismiss such comments, especially under prevailing circumstances.
Mid December, the Nigerian Army invaded the homes of Shi’ite Muslims in Zaria, killing many of their supporters and leaving their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky with gunshot wounds. Mass graves were uncovered and recent reports show that over seven hundred of their members are unaccounted for. This is also against the backdrop of the shooting of unarmed Biafran protesters by the military during their peaceful protests in the Eastern part of the country.
In a similar incidence under former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006, the Odi community in the Niger Delta was invaded, women raped, and over 2,500 unarmed civilians were massacred. Nobody took it serious until it happened.
The Niger Delta has come of age and it is quite unfortunate that someone like the President Buhari’s associate with his vast experience in the military would make such an unfortunate comment publicly without the Presidency or the Military authorities denouncing such statements.
Is Col. Hassan echoing the thoughts of the Presidency and the Military authorities? Is this a ploy to deal with the Niger Delta region for not voting for the ruling APC in the last general elections? Is this part of the 97% & 5% agenda by Mr. President for the region? Is this a script playing out under this present administration? Why the silence from the presidency and military authorities.
At the height of militancy during the administration of late President Yar’Adua, dialogue was the weapon of choice, not brutal force, and it yielded results. The Niger Delta has enjoyed relative peace since then and it is in the best interest of Nigeria that the relative peace in the region is sustained.
We must not fail to send a clear message to people like Col. Hassan who may think that their closeness to President Buhari is a licence to make unguided utterances and threaten the people of the Niger Delta. We are not slaves to the rest of Nigeria neither are we second class citizens. The resources from the region has since Independence, been used to develop other regions while we suffer neglect and remain in abject poverty. Our main stream of income which is fishing, has been greatly affected by oil exploration and has left the region totally degraded
The people of the Niger Delta will not sit down and watch another enactment of Genocide in the region like the Odi massacre under any guise. Whoever is calling for the levelling of any community in the Niger Delta needs to have his head examined as it is obvious they have lost touch with reality. Anyone coming for a community in the Niger Delta must be ready to alienate the entire region. The Niger Delta will resist any attempt by evil forces to trample on us while tapping the resources and potentials in the region. A threat to a community is a threat to the region
Every society has criminal elements. While we do not support the activities of such criminal elements operating in the Niger Delta, they should not be used as an excuse to perpetuate injustice in the region. People like Col. Hassan should proffer reasonable solutions to Nigeria’s multi-facetted problems rather than present himself like someone on cheap drugs. The loss of the APC in the Bayelsa Governorship election should not be an excuse to threaten the region
While appreciating our military for their efforts in protecting the Nigerian territory, the Defence Headquarters must tow the line of peace and dialogue in dealing with issues in the Niger Delta region so as not to disrupt the fragile peace Nigeria is enjoying. They will also do well in distancing themselves from elements like Col. Hassan in future
God bless the Niger Delta. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Paul Odafe Utho is a concerned Niger Deltan. He tweets from @paulutho.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.