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Rethink It With Ben The Niger Delta Avengers: Heroes or Terrorists?

There have been other militant groups before the Avengers and there will be others after them, because the Nigerian way is to treat the symptoms but ignore the root cause of the problem.

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Niger Delta play

Militants threaten to blow up more pipelines.

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In a country where Captain Africa died of natural causes, the concept of a Nigerian superhero is strange to us, unless you're referring to that ‘Nollywood’ disaster called ‘Spider Woman’. Never mind the movie ‘Captain America Civil War’, which featured a Nigerian superhero, a prince from a ‘Lahgos’ village Lagosians have never heard off.

So when I first heard the name the Niger Delta Avengers, my first thought was a bunch of kids running around in their underwear with their hands stretched forth, and their mothers wrappers tied around their necks, but these ain't harmless kids. These are the men responsible for the recent spate of oil pipeline bombings that's dropped the nation’s production capacity to it's lowest in 20yrs.

This is not the first time insurgency has risen from this region. There have been other militant groups before the Avengers and there will be others after them, because the Nigerian way is to treat the symptoms but ignore the root cause of the problem. Rather than address the main issue on ground i.e the marginalisation of this people, by creating infrastructure, cleaning up the pollution, providing power and employing their qualified sons and daughters in managerial roles in the oil companies that operate in these communities, the oil companies in connivance with the government bought, jailed and killed their leaders.

 

The killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues in November 1995 by the Abacha junta, for allegedly killing four Ogoni chiefs was probably the tipping point. Here was a leader the youths actually listened to, who had not been bought over by the government or oil companies, protesting the violation of their lands as peacefully as possible only to be cut down by a government trying to prove to the world, it was not weak.

I do not support violence, but before we decide to call these militants maniacs and demand they be treated as terrorists, let it be pointed out that no other region in Nigeria will be put through what they’ve had to endure for almost 60yrs and not revolt.

One visit to where the country’s wealth and well being is been generated, will leave you confused and in tears. How can a people blessed with so much be so impoverished? I know the law states that land owners only own what's above the land and not what's beneath it but you don't tear open the goose that lays the golden egg and still expect to get gold. Even the Bible teaches not to muzzle the ox that treads the corn.

 

For decades this region has been marginalized, exploited and raped. The oil wealth gotten from their lands have been used to develop Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and several cities in the North but all they have to show for it, is pollution. They have no roads, no power, no standard hospitals, an ill equipped university, no potable drinking water, cannot fish or farm due to pollution, in short all they have to show for the oil been drilled from their land are dozens of abandoned projects overgrown by bushes like the lost cities in an Indiana Jones movie. 

Before the recent attacks however, there had been relative peace in the region, thanks majorly to the Amnesty Initiative, which was spearheaded by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, and the lucrative contracts awarded to ex-militants to protect the oil pipelines. The present administration however did not continue these policies and rightly so but they should have eased into repealing it, rather than yanking it off suddenly.

This makes one wonder what the Avengers are fighting for? Are they fighting for their people and their lands or are they fighting for their own selfish interests? It's a legitimate question when you consider that past militant leaders like Asari Dokubor, Ateke Tom and Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) are very rich.

In a statement released by the Niger Delta Avengers, the group says their goal is to create a sovereign state of the Niger Delta and even though they have blown up several oil pipelines they also claim to be non violent unlike their predecessors whom they are accused of “enjoying patronize from the government and royalty from multinational oil companies”.

This is where I draw the line. Fighting against marginalisation and wanting improved conditions for your people is one thing, trying to break away and forming an independent state is something else entirely. The Avengers have made themselves no different than MASSOB, and have given the Nigerian government a legitimate reason to invade their lands.

Though the Avengers have denied any involvement in the killing of the soldiers in Warri South local government area or having issued any death threat against President Muhammadu Buhari, these are not allegations to be taken lightly and the government has responded by deploying even more fighter jets, gunships and surveillance aircraft. This is not a war the Niger Delta Avengers can win. Very few national armies can go against the Nigerian Military, not to talk of untrained military personels.

Nigeria Air force officers in a war plane, launching assault on Boko Haram

Besides wars do not run on words and good intentions, it runs on cash. You need weapons and ammunitions, food, and salaries for the soldiers. To keep funded, militant groups end up involving themselves in illegitimate activities just to keep their fight going. Boko Haram is involved in human trafficking, ISIS is involved in human trafficking and oil sales and past militant group in the Niger Delta have been involved in oil bunkering, kidnapping, and sea piracy. They exchanged oil for arms and cash and offered safe passages to both legal and illegal cargo ships going to and from the region. Once they got a taste of the easy money, their leaders become corrupted and derailed from their original course. They have too much to lose, which can be seen in the recent distancing of past militant leaders from the Niger Delta Avengers.

The Niger Delta Avengers might be heroes or terrorists depending on your point of view, but one thing is sure, as long as over 90% of the oil blocs belong to northerners, over 70% of the top jobs in the oil companies in the region are held by Yorubas and all they have is polluted lands and rivers, there’ll always be young kids waiting to fill the shoes of their older brothers in their fight to be treated fairly.

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