The recrudescence of militancy in the Niger Delta a few years ago irrevocably changed the security equation in Nigeria. It simply showed how desperadoes can defy established security apparatchik and hold the system to ransom.
Theirs was more than just agitations for political and economic rights; it had organised crimes as an add-on. Though the militants groups had strong points to score, the primary motivation of most of their leaders was monetary. They kidnapped expatriate oil workers for ransom. They freely engaged in oil bunkering without let or hindrance. In the process, their leaders became rich, very rich.
To prosecute their agenda, they threw bombs at will. Even the combined operations of Nigerian military could not scare them as they engaged them freely in bouts of battle, often leaving the military badly bruised. As they had access to stolen oil, they were able to acquire the most sophisticated weapons there and equally pay trainers in modern warfare.
Violence in this discordant enclave called Nigeria did in no way begin with the activities of the Niger Delta militant. There had been violence and wanton killings before the explosion in their activities in late 2006, but never in the scale of what happened in the region. Theirs was simply guerrilla warfare.
Before them were the notorious Odu’a Peoples Congress (OPC) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which in various degrees unleashed mayhem on the society in pursuit of their different courses. However, while the government, through arrests and incarceration for long terms of the leaders of these earlier groups, was able to force a mellow down in their activities, the militants were a different ball game. They simply exploited the difficult terrain of the region and the tacit support of the people to defy the nation’s military and security organizations.
The peace initiatives of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and the subsequent amnesty and disarmament had bought peace at least momentarily. However, the ascension of Goodluck Jonathan, one of their own, to the Presidency of this country has ensured that the hard-won peace has sustained.
However, the militancy in the Nigeria Delta has left lingering effects. It has exported kidnapping to other parts of the country. It has become a fashionable crime to dispossess the rich of their money. Simply kidnap them or any of their loved ones and put a price tag on their release. It has become more lucrative than drug or contraband importation and many of our young men, especially in the south-east state of Abia, have embraced it.
The explosion of bombs at the country’s independence anniversary day in Abuja last Friday should also be seen in this light. Although it is hard to believe it was the handiwork of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) as claimed in some reports, what is clear is that the militants had further exposed the soft underbelly of our security system. Our penal system is simply weak. Religious fanatics have killed in thousands and the government appeared to be unable to do anything about it. The militants became lords of the manor, and the government had to literarily beg them. Gun-ho militancy has become fashionable to raise consciousness about real or perceived grievances or just as an organized crime.
What should government do? Until the government decides to dare who ever appropriates brute force to advance what ever objective in the country there will be no end to the growing rate of organized acts of insecurity in the country. We should take examples from countries like China, Singapore and other Asian countries where laws are applied without mercies in tackling those who challenge the sovereign authorities of the land.