Mohammadu Buhari is the new Nigerian president. But one of the most troubled areas, the Niger Delta, has voted against him. Will there be problems for the new leader from the region? What should he do? We talked with Sunny Ofehe, Director of Inside Niger Delta Magazine.
The people of the Niger Delta voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan. Have they lost the elections?
It was indeed expected that Jonathan would overwhelmingly win the Niger Delta States. The defeat of Jonathan is a big loss to an unexpected opportunity the region had to provide a president for the first time. The people would have expected the opportunity to give their candidate the second chance to complete a second tenure in office.
However, it cannot be considered to be a lost election for the region. Nigeria is a very big country with so much diversity in ethnicity and region. We should not forget that the late former President Yar’Adua’s administration was hailed for his handling of the region’s problems. It was during his administration that some of the policies enjoyed today by the region came into full force. The State Governors and Local Government Chairmen will still remain indigenes of their States and local government areas, so if they manage the resources accruing to the region, we can still enjoy the dividend of the democracy expressed on 28 March 2015. We must not forget that despite the regions complaining of marginalization, the States from the region still receive the highest share of federal revenue allocation. Besides that, it is only the States in the region that get 13% derivation from profit made from crude oil. If these resources are well managed, our dependence on who becomes the President of Nigeria will be insignificant.
The election should rather be a wakeup call for the people of the region to remain steadfast and appreciate the fact that their votes counted. The country has elected a new leader and since that leader has called for unity, we must look beyond regional lines and embrace the new administration for the betterment of a united Nigeria. In my opinion, those who lost are those who were looking for ways to foment trouble and create instability. Nigerians rose above that and the people of the region have refused to be drawn into their plot, thanks once again to President Goodluck Jonathan’s quick response to the election result.
Could the outcome of the elections signal a possible new political isolation of the region?
There can never be any political isolation of the Niger Delta region despite the support of the people for Jonathan. The region is very significant to the nation’s economic and political stability. Remember Nigeria is the 8th largest exporter of crude oil to the world and nearly 90% of the country’s revenue comes from the crude oil which is largely from the Niger Delta region. The President Elect Gen. Mohammadu Buhari in his acceptance speech has even stretched out his hand in cooperation to the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. He has also promised to revamp the oil and gas sector, a sector that is pivotal to the economic development and social advancement of the region.
Buhari in his acceptance speech also talked about tackling the security issues of the country. Apart from the threat posed by Boko Haram, the Niger Delta region has had its fair share of insecurity despite the relative peace achieved in the last years because of the government Amnesty. I think it will also be his priority to ensure that the region maintains this same peace, knowing full well that insecurity in the region will affect oil output and consequently unsettle the economy. The new president as a person does not have the characteristics of a ‘divide and rule’ character and that is why the majority of Nigerians made him their choice of candidate. As a man who has ruled the country before as a military Head of State, he must not compromise now with his second coming.
What have been the first reactions of rebel leader and former rebel leaders, as of today, to the election of Buhari as President of Nigeria?
The majority of the rebel and former rebel leaders have voiced their understandable and obvious support for Goodluck Jonathan. People like former rebel leader Mujahid Asari Dokubo even threatened to make the country ungovernable should Jonathan not win the election.
So far these groups of people have remained silent and undecided on what their next action will be, but I am very certain that they will remain peaceful and respect the result of the election.
We must not forget also that despite the overwhelming victory of Jonathan in the Niger Delta States, Buhari still had support from those Niger Delta people who continue to believe that Jonathan as President did not favour the region as they expected. Besides that, it will rather shock you that some of the former rebel leaders may not be able to command the respect they had among the people during the days of militancy.
The Niger Delta people are a peace loving people and they are smart enough not to be swayed into any unwarranted civil disobedience. The principle actor in this case, the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, has called for peace and I know the Niger Delta people will respect that. Buhari also has not made any statement that could galvanize tension in the region.
What should the new president do and what should he not do when it comes to the Niger Delta?
I think the first thing the new president must do is recognize the significance of the region to the Nigerian economy and admit the suffering of the people while promising to steer through policies that will provide basic infrastructure and social amenities. Unlike previous administrations, it should not just be promises but policies that will lead to accomplishment.
He has promised to tackle corruption particularly in the oil and gas sector. Any success in this area will surely benefit the people of the Niger Delta. Many are calling for the end of the Presidential Amnesty which provides a monthly stipend to the absorbed ex-militants. I will advise him not to end it, because that will make them see his administration as being against the ex-militants and that can cause chaos.
My advice will be for him to engage the private sector and make those ex-militants get jobs for the current free money they now receive. The culture of free monthly money for the ex-militants must stop some day and I think this would be the best way to stop it.
The new president should also address the corruption at the state and local government level including government agencies like NDDC and even NIMASA. These are the agencies whose oversight and programmes can have lasting positive effects on the lives of the people.
There is the local content law that has given greater opportunities for indigenous company’s participation in the oil and gas industry. This has provided jobs for youths in the region. His policy towards the region should enable government funding support that will make it easier for these companies to own equipment needed for the implementation of contracts and projects. Buhari must ensure that the oil companies adhere to strict internationally accepted environmental standards while operating in the region. He should also expedite the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Protection (UNEP) report on the Ogoni region. A clean Niger Delta environment will help improve the people’s main occupation of fishing and farming. One of the areas in which Jonathan’s administration failed the people of his own region was the government political contracts given to ex-militants particularly in the area of pipeline surveillance and security. This created a divide among the people of the region. (V.G.)