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OPINION

Edo, Ondo 2024 Reechoes Bitter Tribal Politics of 2023 Elections

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Mr Godwin Obaseki
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By Ehichioya Ezomon

In 2020, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki fought the political battle of his life for a second term in office. Midyear, he’s disqualified by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), headed by Senator and former Governor Adams Oshiomhole as then national chairman.

In 2016, Oshiomhole had “imposed and installed” Obaseki as his successor.

But the godfather-godson relationship didn’t last, as Obaseki decried Oshiomhole’s “godfatherism,” and connived to have him suspended from his ward in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo North, and sacked by the courts as APC’s chairman.

Oshiomhole denying Obaseki a re-election ticket prompted Obaseki to defect to opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which granted him automatic ticket, with which he contested and won the September 2020 election.

But in the course of the campaigns, former Lagos State Governor and acclaimed “National Leader” of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (now President of Nigeria) called on the people of Edo State to vote for the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who’s chaperoned by Tinubu’s close ally, Comrade Oshiomhole.

It’s a wrong political move at a time Obaseki, his campaign and supporters alleged – with no concrete evidence, and yet believable – that Oshiomhole had carried out a script written by Tinubu, to disqualify Obaseki from the APC governorship primary.

When Obaseki’s still in the APC, he led a group of governors and party chieftains to Tinubu’s Bourdillon road home in Ikoyi, Lagos, to solicit his assistance to settle the feud between him and Oshiomhole, and Tinubu, short of shunning the parley, remained noncommittal, thus sending signals that he sided with Oshiomhole’s antic to deny Obaseki a second term ticket.

The backlash from Edo people against Oshiomhole for “instigating” disqualification of Obaseki from the APC primary, was also extended to Tinubu for his alleged “interference in Edo politics,” and hence the coinage: “Edo no be Lagos” – a reference to Tinubu’s stranglehold of politics of Lagos State.

So, “Edo no be Lagos” became an anthem, and the rallying cry for the Obaseki campaign, members and supporters of the PDP, and Edolites across party lines, who felt Oshiomhole (and Tinubu) committed a “political sacrilege” by denying a return ticket to Obaseki whom he’d backed for governor in 2016.

Thus, the Obaseki campaign adopted three strategies that worked for the governor’s re-election without a referendum on his “achievements” from 2016 to 2020: Deploy Oshiomhole’s “betrayal of Edo people” – particularly the Binis of Edo South, where Obaseki hails from; replay Oshiomhole’s campaign of calumny against Pastor Ize-Iyamu during the 2016 election, to denigrate and demarket him, and promote Obaseki’s candidacy that Oshiomhole sponsored; and harp on Tinubu’s “interference” in Edo politics.

Now to the 2024 governorship election in Edo State where another version of “Edo no be Lagos” or “Edo no be Yorubaland” – with a ting of tribalism – has emerged in the lead-up to the September 21 poll. But first, recall that the 2023 General Election in Lagos State witnessed an intense recline to tribal politics between the Yoruba and Igbo – the one trying to stave off alleged plans by the other to dominate Lagos politics by declaring the state as “a no man’s land” to be “captured” in the 2023 elections.

True to the fears of the Yoruba, the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP) and former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi defeated Tinubu in his Lagos homestead in the February 25, 2023, poll. So, ahead of the following March 18 governorship election, alarmed conservative Yoruba resorted to whipping up tribal sentiments, telling liberal Yoruba that the intention of the Igbo wasn’t just to takeover Lagos – where they’ve an unverified 5m population – but also to bring the entire South-West geopolitical zone under Igbo domination.

Besides calling for “Yoruba Ronu” (‘Yoruba, Think’) – a phrase used by the legendary Hubert Ogunde “in his famous 1964 play,” warning about intra-ethnic divide among politicians in Yorubaland that could give way to external infiltration – the agitation for “Yorubaland for the Yoruba” culminated in rallying for Yoruba nationalism and supremacy in Yorubaland.

As noted by Yusuf Omotayo in a piece, “The True Meaning of ‘Yoruba Ronu,’” first published in The Atlantic of July 10, 2023, “Yoruba Ronu has recently become the anchor on which Yoruba politicians have championed calls for fanatic support. The original core message of the phrase, however, is unity rather than ethnic disrespect and Yoruba supremacy.”

The Yoruba agitators backed up their alleged “Igbo Agenda” with declarative statements and videos issued and posted by social media influencers, calling on members of the “Obidients Movement” – the mass of voters who backed Obi’s presidential run – to “vote massively” on March 18, for the LP to takeover Lagos State.

And for good (or bad) measure, the LP featured as its governorship candidate Gbadebo (Chinedu) Rhodes-Vivor, who’s a Yoruba father and Igbo mother and wife – and whose utterances and actions, even on the campaign trail, tended to play up his affinity to Igbo more than to his Yoruba heritage.

The Yoruba agitators dug into Mr Rhodes-Vivor’s social media posts – which some alleged were manipulated – in which he backed activities of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – a group fighting for secession from Nigeria; his lead participation in the October 20, 2020, #Endsars violent and bloody protests in Lagos; and his intention, if elected governor, to dethrone the Oba of Lagos, and install an Igbo as replacement, declare an annual “Igbo Day” for Igbo to celebrate their traditional and cultural heritage, business acumen and dominance of the commercial and political affairs of Lagos, and give Igbo unfettered access to control all markets and commercial places in Lagos State.

These and other issues worked against the LP and Rhodes-Vivor’s ambition on poll day, giving the ruling APC and the amiable but assailed Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu a landslide victory, and crowning the “Yorubaland for Yoruba” agitators’ fierce campaign for “Yoruba Ronu” with defeat of the “Igbo campaigners” of “Na we build Lagos, na we own Lagos.”

Meanwhile – and sadly – the tribal politics of 2023 elections has resurrected in Edo and Ondo 2024 elections. In Edo, the LP candidate and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Osaigbovo Akpata, had to do a hit music in Bini, to prove that he’s a bona fide “son-of-the-soil” from the prominent family of the Akpatas of Benin Kingdom.

Decked in traditional attire, Mr Akpata leads “the cultural troupe” in a Bini song and graceful dancesteps to trace his paternal and maternal roots to ages, and pleads with Edo people that he isn’t a stranger or a Yoruba, as his political traducers want to portray him in the intense mobilisation for the LP primary, and the governorship poll on September 21.

Amid lingering doubts as to Akpata being “truly” Bini and Edo, a tweep (a user of Twitter) posted “an advisory” on X (formerly Twitter) for Igbo residents in Edo State not to dabble in the local politics of who the parties field for the governorship, but to mind their civic duty of voting for their preferred candidate.

This stirred instant reactions from Yoruba netizens (habitual or keen users of internet), who reasoned that the advisory was issued to Igbo residents in Edo State because the LP candidate’s middle name – Olumide – is Yoruba, and hence anathema to the Igbo.

The Yoruba say what’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If Igbo supported Mr Rhodes-Vivor with a middle name of “Chinedu” and Igbo mother and wife for the LP governor in Lagos, why should Igbo steer clear of canvassing for Mr Akpata with a Yoruba name of “Olumide” as candidate of the LP in Edo State?

Similarly in the PDP in Edo State, governorship candidate Asue Ighodalo faces scrutiny as to his Esan roots from Ewohimi in Esan North-East of Edo Central. In 2023, Dr Ighodalo, a Lagos-based lawyer and industrialist associate of Governor Obaseki, reportedly hired “an interpreter” to convey his aspiration for governor to his ward members in Ewohimi. Now, critics query his “Edoness” for “growing up and working in Lagos, and marrying a Yoruba.”

In Ondo State, lawyer and veteran politician, Chief Olusola Oke, has a primary huddle for marrying an Igbo named “Nkem” as a second wife, who’s reportedly “very close” to Mrs Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, the Igbo wife of the late Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), who died from a protracted ailment on December 27, 2023.

Accused of being an “Iron” First Lady with a domineering streak – and allegedly advancing the interests of Igbo to the detriment of the Yoruba in Ondo State – Mrs Akeredolu’s ethnic relationship with Mrs Oke may cause Mr Oke the primary ticket of the APC, and ultimately the governorship if the agitators for “Yorubaland for Yoruba” deploy “Yoruba Ronu” in the APC yet-to-be-scheduled April primary for the November 16 election in the state.

This is the stage we’re in Nigeria’s bitter politics, in which tribe and state of origin of spouses and their parents, living permanently or for a considerable length of time in their states of origin, and ability to speak fluently the local language, and imbibe the traditional and cultural nuances of the people, now determine one’s ambition for elective political position(s).

It’s happened in Lagos, in the case of Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivor failing the governorship in 2023 partly because – in the estimation of the conservative indigenous Yoruba – he’s not “Yoruba enough” for having Igbo mother and wife, and “displaying disdain” for Yoruba language, traditional and culture.

It also occurred in 2023 in Enugu State, where a resident of Ebonyi State origin was told by the locals that he couldn’t – as a “stranger” or “non-indigene” – become governor of Enugu. “A person from Ebonyi cannot be our governor in Enugu. God will not allow that” (to happen), one of the speakers – with members of the audience concurring – told the bewildered politician at a gathering to intimate the people about his governorship ambition, which ended thereafter!

On May 4, 2022, Senator Adeola Olamilekan (alias ‘Yayi’) (APC, Lagos West), gave in to emotions when his constituents in Ogun West gifted him nomination forms, to contest in the 2023 poll to represent the district. Pre-2015 general election when Chief Olamilekan wanted to represent Ogun West – his district of origin in Ogun State – there’s strong opposition that he wasn’t a Yewa man from the district. Some even claimed he’s from Ekiti State.

He’d to seek his political ambition in Lagos West (he’s Reps member from 2011 to 2015), which he won and represented from 2015 to 2023. But reportedly eying the governorship of Ogun State in 2027 that’s “zoned” to Ogun West, Olamilekan made attempts to switch from Lagos West to Ogun West, and met with the same resistance from APC members, three of whom filed a writ in court to stop him.

However, majority of his constituents – who’d heard about his political exploits in Lagos West – rallied for, and 71 of them purchased the nomination forms for him to contest in the primary and election, which he won, and now represents Ogun West in the 10th National Assembly.

There’re also instances of women, who weren’t allowed to vie for elective political offices by chieftains of parties in the states they’re married into, and asked to go look for slots in their states of origin. That’s how, for example, Mrs Daisy Ehanire Danjuma – wife of former Chief of Army Staff, and Founder and Chairman Emeritus of TY Danjuma Foundation, Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd) – left Taraba, her state of marriage, to seek senatorial slot in Edo State and won in 2003 (PDP, Edo South).

Can this bitter tribal politics in Nigeria be reversed? It’s doubtful, as the 2023 general election that’s supposed to subsume the primeval cleavage actually accentuated it, as fears of domination by residents fueled anxiety and outrage among the local and indigenous peoples across many states of Nigeria!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

OPINION

Ending the Menace of Oil Theft in Niger Delta

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By Braeyi Ekiye

Standing up for justice and vocally too, is about standing up for each other. It is our duty to speak for the nation’s lingering ills to be corrected, particularly when others cannot speak up. That is the critical power of the voice for the reconstruction of the Nigerian State to attain the desired real nationhood.

Former governor and now a senator representing Bayelsa West, Seriake Dickson recently stood up to be counted on a serious national issue; oil theft and its debilitating consequences on Nigeria’s economy and security.

Answering questions on a programme at Channels Television recently, Dickson pointedly accused some very important personalities from Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja for being behind oil theft in the Niger Delta.

Hear the Senator:” The Official system and oil companies are beneficiaries of oil theft in the Niger Delta”. Dickson bemoaned the absence of national values which he said, makes people to use the nation’s resources for selfish gains.

“People from Abuja and Lagos are the masterminds and the official system is not ignorant and not innocent. The official security system, the official oil system, the official federal system, all of it in its entirety. It’s a powerful system,” he stated.

Dickson wondered why a country like Nigeria that has been producing oil, exporting oil for the past 70 years was unable to have scientific way of metering, recording what leaves, what is pumped, what is sold and what is not sold? He concluded that it was a deliberate attempt at bleeding the country of her financial and economic wealth through illegal bunkering, superintended by local, national and international oil theft collaborators.

It is instructive that the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), had in November 6, 2023, through its Executive Secretary, Ogbonnaya Orji, said that oil theft was an emergency that posed serious threat to oil exploration and exploitation with huge negative consequences on economic growth, business projects and profit earnings by oil companies.

Orji stated that as a result of NEITI being a member of the “Special Investigative Panel on Oil Theft and Losses”, the organisation was aware that: “Oil theft is perpetrated mainly through pipeline clamping, illegal connections and major pipeline exploitation of abandoned oil well heads, pipeline breakages and vandalism of key national assets to illegally siphon crude into waiting vessels stationed in strategic terminals”.

NEITI maintained that it was a matter of fact that many members of the pipeline’s association were directly and indirectly involved in providing the skills and knowledge required to carry out oil theft.

Orji therefore, condemned the association for failing to put in place stringent regulations and appropriate sanctions to check involvement of their members.

While being hopeful that President Bola Tinubu’s leadership would spring a surprise to douse the fears, the apprehensions of critical Nigerian minds, like Senator Dickson, Ogbonnaya and many others, there is the compelling need for this administration to seriously interrogate this malignant ulcer on the nation’s oil industry. There is also the need to critically examine NEITI’s unsolicited solutions to the problems of oil theft that have held Nigeria’s economy prostrate and her developmental framework for accelerated growth in all facets stunted.

NEITI in a report titled: “Nigeria’s Battle With Crude Oil Theft: A Total of 4,145 Cases Since May 2023,” published by Arise News on November 23, 2023, revealed a staggering number of highlights of the severity of the issue at hand.

Also, in its weekly: “Energy & You” series aired on the NTA News Network, the NNPCL noted in Episode 7 that 344 crude oil theft incidents were recorded between January and April 2023. Meanwhile, by Episode 8 of the weekly NTA television series, NNPCL shared reports of crude oil theft incidents. A summation of crude oil theft incidents recorded between episode 8 (May 2023) and episode 30 (October 2023), revealed that a total of 4,145 crude oil theft incidents were recorded between May 2023 and the second week of October 2023.

According to NNPCL records, some of the more active hotspots for crude oil theft in the Niger Delta include; Ohaji-Egbema, Oguta (Imo), Ogbia, Imiringi (Bayelsa), Obodo-Omadino, Ughelli (Delta), and Egorobiri creek, Gokana, Iba community, Emuoha, Rumuji, Degema (Rivers).

Nuhu Ribadu, the National Security Adviser, had revealed in August 2023, that: “the country was losing 400,000 barrels of oil per day to crude oil thieves”. This led to commentators insisting that the persistence of crude oil theft in Nigeria lays bare the deep-rooted issues of corruption and severity of vulnerabilities in the country.

That, Nigeria lost more than ₦4.3 trillion naira to oil theft in five years, stolen in 7,143 pipeline vandalism cases is not news. NEITI had revealed this startling loss at the Nigeria Interventional Security Conference in Abuja, with the theme: “Bolstering Regulations, Technology and Security for Growth”, way back in November 2023. The conference was organised by the Pipeline Professionals Association of Nigeria. In a presentation at the conference, NEITI, the federal government agency, revealed that oil theft and losses in Nigeria have become a national emergency, and shall I say, a monumental embarrassment to the country.

Recently, Senator Munir Nwoko, representing Aniocha/Oshimili Senatorial Constituency shed more light on this disturbing matter. Nwoko said that certain security officials whose primary duty is to safeguard oil and gas assets, are actually complicit in this illegal trade. “They are driven by the financial gains associated with illegal activities”, the distinguished senator said.

The crude oil theft network encompasses a broad spectrum of individuals and groups as Senator Dickson rightly pointed out at the Channels TV interview and corroborated by NEITI. It involves foreign oil traders, shippers, bankers, refiners, top-ranking politicians and even military officials.

Providing data from the agency’s reports to back his claims, NEITI’s Orji, said: “NEITI in the last five years, 2017-2021, has found that Nigeria recorded 7,143 cases of pipeline breakages and deliberate pipeline vandalism resulting in crude theft and product losses of 208.639 million barrels valued at $12.74m or N4.325 trillion. NEITI reports also disclosed that during the same period, Nigeria spent ₦471.493 billion to either through repairs or maintenance of pipelines.

The criminal exploits, NEITI said, takes place, ‘most times in atmosphere of communities’ complicity and conspiracy of silence. This, therefore, calls for the Tinubu administration to swiftly swing into action to put an end to this dastardly act, or at least, reduce it to the barest minimum. After all, the state security agencies for effecting a quick resolution of this matter are at the president’s beck and call.

It would also be recalled that NEITI released empirical data of oil theft and losses way back 2009 and 2020 to the staggering figure of 619.7 million barrels of crude, valued at $46.16 billion or ₦16.25 trillion. In addition, Nigeria lost 4.2 billion litres of petroleum products from refineries, valued at $1.84 billion at the rate of 140, 000 barrels per day, from 2009 to 2018. Thus, the total value of crude losses between 2009 and 2020 is higher than the size of the country’s reserves and almost 10 times Nigeria’s oil savings in Excess Crude Account, NEITI said.

So, how long shall Nigeria continue to condone these criminal activities? The country’s inability to proffer answers to these questions will continue to keep Nigeria in a state of coma in her overall developmental strides, including her peace, unity and security.

 Ekiye writes from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

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OPINION

NIN-SIM Linkage and the Nigeria We Desire

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By Tunde Akanni

Rights and responsibilities are the twin words that best describe the inception and the increasing impact of digital technology, a major strand of which is the dynamic contemporary telecommunication services.  Even before the imminent(?) internet of things (IOT),  a lot is playing out  for human civilisational process throwing up existential challenges for citizens and duly requiring governmental interventions to cope with.

If only to safeguard innocent citizens from the antics of criminals, government is often quick at fashioning laws and penalties for violations.

The most far reaching legal intervention in this context is the Cybercrimes Prohibitions Act of 2015 with its most significant component being the Cybercrime Advisory Council.
  Incidentally, this Council is considered rather exclusionary by media and allied rights advocates.

The said deficit of the Cybercrime Advisory Council is a pointer to the fact that in climes such as ours, not much attention is often given by government to social needs, specifically in this case, Media and Information Literacy, MIL, already over hyped by the informed stakeholders. Unfortunately, some undiscerning members of the society keep falling falling victim of related laws.

Please follow this pathetic story, the audio of which I keep till date: Muhammad is a private school principal at Nyanya, an Abuja, suburb. As a side hustle, he runs a Point of Service (POS) business for payment.  Then came a criminal one day who had just robbed and killed his victim. Using his victim’s card, he requested two transfers of N500,000 each.

The criminal made several other purchases and also went to some other operators of POS.  Eventually he was found out and law enforcers had to track all transactions he had carried out with the victim’s card. Muhammad of Nyanya thus became a suspect and was promptly arrested. Thus began endless investigations… Muhammed ended up being detained for months in a prison.

You can imagine the psychological torture not only for Muhammad but his immediate family, employers and others who love him. He learnt his lesson in the bitterest way yet his ordeals could have been averted by sufficient exposure to basics of MIL. But life goes on. Indeed, it must be business as usual

Otherwise how do we explain the cacophony playing out after the expiration of the deadline of 29 March for NIN-SIM linkage? The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has confirmed that it would not be reviewing its deadline to bar owners of more than four SIM cards whose SIM registration data failed to match their National Identity Number (NIN) data.

The Commission explained that its position was hinged on its objective to clean the country’s SIM ownership database, and ensure that criminals could not take advantage of having multiple unlinked SIMs to carry out their nefarious activities.  The Commission’s resolve is hinged on the need to close in on the chaos of untoward ownership of multiple SIM cards with unverified NIN details. According to the  Commission “we have instances where a single individual has over 10,000 lines linked to his NIN. In some cases, we have seen a single person with 1,000 lines, some 3,000 plus lines. What are they doing with these lines?

The NCC has also provided Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) an extension till 31 July within which they are expected to verify all NINs submitted by subscribers with four or less SIMs, as well as bar those whose NIN fail verification with NIMC.

The Chairman of Association of  Licensed Telecommunication Operators, Gbenga Adebayo, further confirmed that members of his association would comply.

However, just the next day or so after the deadline expired, yours sincerely sighted no fewer than three reports announcing the extension of the deadline, one of them stating specifically to 31 July, referring to some reliable inside source.

What’s all the fuss about really? This NIN-SIM linkage is a simple exercise that only requires a subscriber to submit his or her NIN to the service provider to enable the service provider match details of the subscriber taken at the time of initial SIM registration process. This could be done through assorted windows including physically by visiting designated points. For techno-literate persons, they are merely expected to use short, universal codes for both submission and retrieval for those who may want to verify their own compliance as the media kept repeating deadlines.

The reality today is that barely literate persons and even illiterates now use telephones given its increasing centrality to a lot of human activities.  This is the basis of this writer’s advocacy for an earlier generalist nomenclatural label suggestion of “Digital Culture” in place of “Digital Economy” preferred by Minister Ali Pantami when he chose to rename the ministry he was asked to superintend over (https://www.thecable.ng/digital-culture-or-digital-economy)

Telecommunication industry players have been unequivocal about the key benefit of NIN-SIM linkage being the protection of subscribers and prevention of crimes such as exemplified above. For instance, on account of the huge amount involved, the POS operators may have documented details of whatever identity provided by the criminal. As a matter of fact, the truth may have been readily revealed in the course of such documentation. But the information literacy knowledge could only have been deployed based on certain pre-existing conditions such as NIN-SIM linkage offers an example.

Still on crime, another major advantage that may derive from the NIN-SIM linkage is the  ease with which law enforcers may trace and tackle criminals through their registered lines. Afterall, no one may be allowed to own any line except you are ready to play by the set rules.

Furthermore, this linkage thing will automatically ease economic  transactions  electronically since identities will be easily verifiable for concerned parties such as it pans out with regards to debit cards and similar devices.  NIN-SIM linkage is therefore the way to go and the exercise has to run with a good measure of discipline especially with existing spectacular anomalies of thousands SIMs connected to some individual.

At this stage, the campaigns executed so far need be audited to make for genuine inclusivity with regards to social, geographical and other possible lines. For instance, this task now requires a well designed stakeholder mapping. The mapping must ultimately reveal spots of irregularities and areas as well as interests deserving more attention.

Given that all media genres had been previously deployed perhaps for conventional announcements, how about aligning subsequent dissemination more enriched via regular media contents? How about being more scientific, relativizing media use depending on audience preference and possible perception? In reality this could translate to devolving dissemination more to the grassroots by enlisting the emerging broadcasters namely, community broadcasters and campus broadcasters.

Beyond liberalising the media to be used, campaigns must also be made to align with credible programmes with obvious trendy touch of management such as may ensure their global reach and enduring availability as may be made possible by platforms like Youtube and Spotify.

With affiliation to champions of multi-stakeholder philosophy like the UN’s annual Internet Governance Forum, IGF, for the management of telecommunication facilities, need NCC be reminded of the importance of democratised governance culture?

It is most certain that the involvement of the relatively cheaper (not necessarily technologically inferior) community and campus broadcasters will help to boost the NIN-SIM linkage campaigns and indeed others that may arise in future.

It will as not be out of place  for NCC to support the campaigns for the popularization of Media and Information Literacy. This certainly will help to resolve a lot of digital divide inspired issues

With the concern demonstrated on this exercise so far, NCC has demonstrated that it now has an improved corporate governance culture as advocated by IGF (https://punchng.com/nigerias-communication-governance-indifference/ ). It can however do better and even excel.

Akanni is an associate professor of media and development  at the Lagos State University. Follow him on X via @AkintundeAkanni

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OPINION

The Lessons of Okuama Tragedy

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By Michael Owhoko

Has Nigeria learnt any lessons from the Okuama massacre? Will the incident repeat itself or offer profound lessons against a future experience? In the journey of life, no individual or nation or country is immune from occurrences thrown up by circumstance, which may be pleasant or painful.

Lessons from such experiences are deployed to prevent possible future reoccurrence, failing which the same catastrophe would repeat itself.

In context, the gruesome murder of army officers at Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, which transcends ethnic emotions and was accompanied by wide condemnations, is a confirmation that Nigeria has not, and does not learn from lessons, otherwise the calamity would have been avoided.

The incident was not the first of its type. It had happened previously at Odi, Bayelsa State; Zaki Biam, Benue State; and Gbaramatu, Delta State, yet it appeared that neither the Federal Government nor the Nigerian Army learnt any lessons from the earlier occurrences. This is evident from the Okuama saga, a proof of the country’s insensitivity to bloodshed and exposition of poverty in the policy making process.

This notwithstanding, the Okuama calamity has again thrown up another opportunity for lessons to be learnt. If Nigeria fails again, this time around, to learn from these happenings, then the country risks further carnage, which may possibly take a more complex form, with unmanageable and unpredictable consequences. It may be too costly for the country’s fledgling socio-economic balance and stability.

Therefore, the lessons are crucial and should be identified by government, to be harnessed as feedback for proactive purposes, to forestall future recurrence. It is a tragedy for any country with a relapsing experience, not to have a codified strategy encapsulated in a template to resolve related matters. In specific terms, what then are the lessons and takeaways from the Okuama disaster?

Lesson One: To have allowed a land dispute over fishing rights between Okuama and neighbouring Okoloba communities in Bomadi Local Government Area, Delta State, to escalate means there were no proactive measures and prompt concerted interventions by the Nigeria Police Force and Delta State Government, in response to petitions written by the Okuama community.

The community, through its lawyers, I. Ejedegba and Co., had written a petition to the Commissioner of Police in Asaba, Delta State, which was acknowledged on 31 January, while that written by the community’s leaders to the Delta State Governor was received on 2 February. This was over one month before the gruesome murder of the military officers on 14 March.

Since the Police is the first line of contact and statutorily responsible for civil security matters, they should have waded in upon receipt of the petition, to nip the crisis in the bud, aside the previous joint meetings held among the communities, the Police and the Delta State Government that yielded no solution. Under this development, the Delta State Governor should have been advised to wield the big stick by acquiring the land in contention for public interest, to end the crisis.

Lesson Two: Inviting the Army for a mediatory and peace mission to Okuama for the resolution of a land dispute between two communities that were not at war, was an error in judgement. The dispute was civil in nature, and it was only when the efforts by the Police and the Delta State Governor had failed, and there was evidence of likely escalation into a dangerous dimension beyond the capacity of the Police, that would have warranted the intervention of the Nigerian Army. It is not the responsibility of the Army to broker peace in a civil matter.

Lesson Three: Central to the killing of the military personnel in Okuama is presumably oil. Oil appeared to be the underpinning motive behind the horrendous and senseless killings. Mere land dispute between two communities could not have led to such a mindless massacre. Soldiers are deployed to the Niger Delta region to protect oil facilities, and in the course of this duty, they might have been marked as “enemy” by those profiteering from illegal oil deals.

Those involved in crude oil theft and other illegal activities, including the processing of locally refined products, might see the Army as an obstacle to their business interests. The military high command should have known this, and prepared the soldiers for any possible eventuality and collision with entrenched oil thieves.

The circumstances of their deaths showed that the military men were taken unawares. It was likely that crude oil thieves and other vested interests might have planned and taken advantage of the soldiers’ peaceful disposition to unleash mayhem on them in such a horrific and despicable manner.

Lesson Four: The mass destruction of Okuama by the Army in response to the death of the soldiers, without singling out the culprits, was unhelpful, as innocent children, mothers, the elderly, the sick and even pregnant women, were either killed, rendered homeless or died while trying to escape.

To bring pain on an entire community over the action of a few criminals, is indefensible. Reprisal attacks and collective punishments are incompatible with international law.

It should be recalled that after the destruction of Odi by the Army, the community resorted to litigation and got a favourable judgement, leading to the payment of a N15 billion out-of-court settlement as compensation. Justice Lambi Akanbi of the Federal High Court had condemned the government for a “brazen violation of the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and to own property and live peacefully in their ancestral home.”

Since the Okuama experience is reminiscent of the destruction in Odi, it is likely Okuama may seek redress in the law court for compensation over the reprisal destruction of lives and properties.

Lesson Five: As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu’s order to the Army was too hasty and reactionary, without taking into consideration innocent lives in Okuama that were caught up in the web. Granting “full authority” to the military to bring anybody found to have been responsible for the attack to justice was an obvious blanket licence for the military to invade Okuama.

Instead, the President should have ordered the security agencies and the Police to specifically intervene, identify and arrest the criminal elements in the community, while instituting an independent high-powered panel of enquiry to unravel the causes of the mayhem. A future restraint on the part of the President is imperative to douse tension and minimise further collateral damage.

Lesson Six: The Army’s decision to lock down and lay siege to Okuama without granting access to the Delta State Governor, the Police, humanitarian agencies, and even the press to assess the situation on ground, has given rise to speculations about the plight of the members of the community, particularly the innocent, helpless and indigent persons. This is unhelpful to the image of the Army.

By not allowing access, the Army has unwittingly opened its operations to speculations. For example, it was alleged that the Army killed over 5O persons in Okuama, with other survivors hiding in the bush, including old women, children, the elderly ones and even the sick, with no food to eat or water to drink. This is a gross violation of their fundamental human rights.

To avoid being put on the spotlight, it is imperative for the military to grant access into the community to enable humanitarian agencies and volunteer groups extend help and assistance to the innocent ones, to prevent further fatalities. This will also serve the interest of the Army’s reputation.

Lesson Seven: After the destruction of Odi, initial public sympathy for the military waned. The same is replicating itself in Okuama over the conduct of the Army. The Army, like other Federal Government agencies, is not a supreme institution that is above the Constitution and the Nigerian State, neither is civilian population subject to military laws.

Indeed, the Army is subject to civil authority under a democracy. Therefore, it must change its current tactics at Okuama, where it has refused access to the community, assumed being the sole information provider on goings-on, and subjected civilians to investigation, arrest and detention.

It is hoped that these lessons will serve as reference and guide for the state governments, the Police, the Army and the federal government in the handling of related crises to avert future disasters.

Owhoko, a Lagos-based public policy analyst, author, and journalist, can be reached at www.mikeowhoko.com, and followed on X (formerly Twitter) @michaelowhoko.

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