The news from the Niger Delta and the Nigerian Army had been both frightening and disturbing. It conveyed a message of war or a big showdown in the offing.
According to media reports, a militant group had served notice that it would declare a Niger Delta Republic.
In response the Nigerian Army had promised the group hell – to use force if negotiations fail. In a word, a clash between the military and some militant group is in the making and we must all work to prevent it.
It would be a collision of two extremely ideologically opposed sides with considerable adverse effects on the rest of society.
Each party moves with the conviction, belief, and self righteous indignation. The military has a constitutional duty to defend and maintain the territorial integrity of the country and militants believe they have a fundamental human rights to self determination.
The country seems headed for the rocks and currently between two immovable walls. The temptation of each side to apply diggers and daggers to pull down the walls is high. But it won’t be an easy task or even helpful exercise for either side.
The trouble with ideological war is that it is more difficult to prosecute because of its inner energy and spiritual strength and thus it takes far longer time to resolve.
The Boko Haram insurgency is a good example of ideologically/spirituality driven war.
Generally war is not a tea party. Like the rain that falls on all in a community- young and old- but drenches more those in open court without a roof, war affects every body especially those at the war front. Like poison that destroys the organs of the body and eventually kills the man, war is often associated with death, unnecessary blood letting, wanton destruction of property, misery and sorrow.
The purpose of this essay is to appeal for reason to prevail. Here dialogue and negotiations should be preferred to violence and war. In particular it is addressed to the Niger Delta youth and the Federal Government to embrace dialogue and negotiations as a better approach to dealing with the development challenges of the region today. While the youth should stop negative participation such as the destruction of strategic installations and disturbance of peace, the authorities should resist the temptation of using sledgehammer to kill a fly and step up efforts to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta Area. It is generally far better to avoid war than to manage it.
We appeal to all concerned- the youth, authorities- to allow reason to prevail, and reject secession, violence and war because they are ugly and useless in effect. Negotiated solution is the best.
For us, a big one Nigeria of today would always be superior to any break-away part of tomorrow. Truth is that new republic- God forbids- will certainly not be conflicts/ crisis free.
Some people might dismiss the message from the creeks as a child’s play and it might well be so. Still, it is proper to pray that such threat and counter threat do not come to pass for if it happens the consequences would be too severe for everyone in the country. The prospect is too grim for me to entertain.
For sure it would be real sorry season for an already very sorry country. The appeal is based on the the wisdom of taking the youth into confidence and of carrying them along in the development process of the Niger Delta area.
Indeed, there are many reasons for worry which should make every body to be weary about current development in the country. First, we direct our appeal to the youths for many reasons
The position of the youth in the Niger Delta crisis is precarious. He is both an attacker and defender. So pity the Nigerian youth: he would be most negatively affected in the advent of war. This is so because each side of the divide would solicit for his service and support.In the course of violence, the youth can hurt others as much as themselves. Each party needs the raw energy, and boundless courage of the youth to succeed.
This is the problem for the youth, they are the battle field materials. Generals don’t fight: they plan and leave the other ranks, mostly young people, to sort things out in the battle field. Like the Army General, rich men don’t fight: they only sponsor and provide necessary resources for militant groups mostly made up of youths to do battle on their behalf.
Either way the youth would be hit the hardest way.They will be killed in large numbers. But we do not need to sacrifice our young ones unnecessarily. We do not need to kill and maim our future.
The Nigerian youth do not need bayonet and gun to war, but food, good education, employment and opportunities for growth and development for eventual self-fulfillment.
The ambivalent nature of the youth makes them vulnerable to risks. Depending on who is in control, they can play positive or negative role in society with equal intensity and devotion. The negative participation of youth if not guided can be devastating and self- destructive. The youth are a great source of recruitment and strength for any fighting force- be it a regular army or militant groups.
Without their support, the striking power of the latter will be weak and ineffective. We therefore appeal to the Nigerian youth to reject war and violence as way of settling scores. It is of no much use. Truly, it achieves very little if at all, and it makes the youths to become easy prey for destruction. In times of violence or war the youth are mere expendable materials in the hands of the elite.
Generally, the threatening words of the youth are not empty boasts even if they may look stupid or foolish or irrational to others. The youth often believe in justness and nobility of their cause. Now some of them call themselves the Avengers. While you wonder on whose behalf they are avenging, many members of the group are ready to swear that they are doing the right thing by wanton destruction of property. More often than not, the youth are driven by idealism -perhaps because as Aristotle has observed, they have not yet been corrupted by the cunning ways of the adults. They are energetic, easily bored, proned to action and eager for justice and fairness.
The youth are spontaneous and emotional in their way. They are courageous and highly desirous of action, heroism and quick fix of issues. The National Youth policy describes them as a group with rapid change of mood-attached to a cause in one moment and detached the next.
The youth are often impatient and they like to think and act tough and to ‘experiment with historical possibilities. With all due respect, let it be observed that were there to be any group that could be said to act before thinking, it must be the youth.
Driven by idealism, they are easily given to anger and violence. They want their thing now and now. Courageous to a fault, they are ready to make the supreme sacrifice for any cause they identified with. I am not sure if the average youth have the time to engage in deep thoughts or weigh the consequences of their action. Many of them act in response to the emotions of the moment. This has been the greatest reason for my concern since the return of negative militancy in the creeks because the youth hardly reckon with personal dangers including even death in making decisions.
Thus they have been ready materials for suicide missions and destruction of public installations. They have a knack for the unexpected. The trouble though is that they are malleable and winnable to a side that makes the greatest appeal to them. The danger here is that the youth can easily be manipulated to misapply their talents and energies, undertake unnecessary risks, carry dangerous assignments. More often than not they have been used as ‘cannon folders’ to do harm by some elite to their own detriment and the society at large.
Those who take the noise from the creeks as mere joke are reminded of the First World War which started following the misadventure of some Serbian youths in assassinating Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie -Duchess of Hohenberg on 28th June 1914.
According to Wikipedia, the “assassin Gavrilo Princip was an ETHNIC Serb and Yugoslav nationalist from the group called YOUNG BOSNIA which was supported by the BLACK HAND-a NATIONALIST organization in Serbia” (emphasis mine). Like fire set by a mad man on a small part of bush that burns all the forest, the Serbian action provoked a war that rapidly spread across Europe to the rest of the world .
At the end, about 17 million people were reportedly killed and 20 million wounded.
On its part, the authority needs to keep the youth at close watch, develop and empower them to be responsible citizens in order to win them to the cause of the state. This is necessary because as a scholar once observed, of all options available to solve a problem, the youth would most likely resort to the irrational means to settle it- unless positively developed and properly empowered.
To win the confidence of the average citizen, the government must intensify developmental activities in the Niger Areas.
However, there is hope because the youth are always ready to be grabbed either for good or for evilness and the effort of the state is to win them for the good of society by protecting them against evil doers.
The youth can easily be organised for useful purposes such as sports, community work, cooperatives. For instance, they can be won over by simple gesture of recognition, provision of opportunity for positive participation, proper empowerment and effective socialization through well directed civic and character education beyond the level of the family. Through appropriate platform, regular dialogue could be held with young people, be taken into confidence and in return win their confidence. Unfortunately not much of these had been done in the country to motivate the Nigerian youth to engage in positive participation in nation building.
Our appeal must also go to the Nigerian elite. They must change their unclean habits, unhealthy and anti-Nigeria attitude. One of the ways the youth learn the ropes of life is by aping the adults. This makes the sprawling profanity of the elite a bad school for our youth. It is embarrassing to observe that many of our elite are unclean, unstable, unpatriotic, uncommitted and are easily given to spoiling for war to settle very simple issues. For them the unity and development mean nothing. What counts most is the promotion of self-interest over the nation’s interest.
The culture of violence and profanity of the younger generation today was learnt from the adults.The Nigerian elite behave as though war and violence are the best solutions to any problem. Some of them had been seen fighting on the floors of the National Assembly. They seem to forget that peace, harmony and security are vital to both individual progress and community development. In reality,the benefit of war or violence is very little. And since we do punish evil and in fact celebrate evil men, the youth simply follow suit.
In the sincere effort to solve the Niger Delta crisis and others, the youth must be taken into confidence. They must be an important part of the negotiations for peace.They are the fire or strength of any militant group. As many of them live by violence, a superior and more rewarding alternative must be found.They must be convinced that the authorities mean business of real development. By backing words with positive actions as we are beginning to see with the Ogoni clean up project, the government would be sending the correct signals of hope to them.The youth must drop the idea of violence, war or declaration of a Delta Republic. Whatever is the motivation, it is not the right way to progress for any part of the country today but the thorny route to perdition.
Dialogue and positive action, and not daggers, guns and bombs would save the day for us all.
Dr. Abhuere is the founder of the Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.