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Three times in the last one month, President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB, failed to honour scheduled official visits to three states in the country. First was the visit to Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. The President had scheduled a visit to the state between May 23 and 24. Everything had been put in place for the visit, which could have been his first to the state since becoming president on May 29, 2015. But barely 24 hours to the visit, Yemi Osinbajo, his deputy, was substituted for him. The tight schedule of the President was given by the Presidency as the reason for the last minute changes.

Next was another scheduled visit to Cross River State. The visit would have afforded the President the opportunity to perform the ground-breaking of the Cross River State Super Highway initiated by Ben Ayade, the incumbent governor of the state. It would have also afforded the President the opportunity to commission the multi-billion naira garment manufacturing company put together by the governor to turn around the economic fortunes of the state. Like the Lagos visit, the visit was also put off at the dying minute.

Again, last Thursday, the President was scheduled to flag off the cleaning of the oil spillage in Ogoniland, Rivers State. The visit had received a lot of attention from within and outside the country with attendant media hype. It was a well-deserved attention. After decades of widespread pollution, the exercise was going to be the beginning of the remediation of the Ogoni environment in line with the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, recommendations.

avengers

UNEP had conducted an independent scientific investigation on Ogoni many years ago. In its final report presented on August 4, 2011, the body had noted that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil cleanup ever undertaken. The aim was to bring back the contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangrove, to full productive health.

Unfortunately, for inexplicable reasons, Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who incidentally hails from neighbouring Bayelsa State, failed to implement the report. Instead, he established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, which was contrary to UNEP recommendation to oversee the cleanup. But the project never took off at all.

But hope was not lost. During his electioneering campaign in 2015, Buhari had, at a rally in Ogoniland told the people that: “A lot is taken from Ogoniland and relatively little is brought back in return.” He then assured the people that “an APC-led Federal Government will fulfil all its promises in Ogoniland.” Perhaps, it was in fulfilment of that promise that Buhari personally elected to visit Ogoniland last Thursday and officially flag-off the cleaning exercise. The proposed visit attracted world attention as the sufferings of the Ogoni people has been well documented in various media outlets across the globe.

The Ogoni oil pollution struggle had claimed several lives including that of four prominent indigenes of the area – Edward Kobani, Albert Badey, Theophilus Orage and Samuel Orage – who were rounded-up, branded vultures by protesters and then roasted alive in Gio, on May 21, 1994. The incident led to the arrest of Ken Saro Wiwa, the renown environmentalist and symbol of Ogoni struggle, along with Ledun Mitee and others. They were subsequently put on trial in February 1995 in Port Harcourt after eight months in detention and eventually sentenced to death on October 31, 1995. Mitee escaped the hangman’s noose. On November 10, 1995, Saro Wiwa and the eight other Ogonis were executed by hanging at Port Harcourt prisons. Their cruel death in the hands of the dictator, the late General Sani Abacha, sparked off global outrage and indignation.

The President’s visit would have reassured the Ogoni people that the government was genuinely committed to the restoration of Ogoni to a land once flowing with milk and honey. Unfortunately, again, the visit was truncated. It was called-off at a time the President’s advance team had already arrived in Rivers State on Tuesday evening, about 48 hours to the planned visit.

Apparently, many people believe the cancellation of the President’s visit may not be unconnected with the current appalling security situation in the Niger Delta. The security situation in the region took a-nose-dive few weeks ago, when a previously unknown group, the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, took up arms and started blowing up oil installations in the region. They are demanding for a Sovereign State of Niger Delta, a call that has generated controversy among the ethnic nationalities in the region.

Various groups and elders have spoken against the latest recourse to armed struggle in the region, but their pleas, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Besides the fact that members of the NDA are faceless, their modus operandi of blowing up oil installations in the region is seen as a dangerous trend that might totally bring the nation’s economy currently in the throes of death, to its knees. Also, the economy of the Niger Delta region itself may be thoroughly ruined as mass exodus of oil workers trooping out of the region because of threats to their lives and well-being, has started.

Perhaps, to convince everybody that they mean business, less than 24 hours to the President’s visit, in the early morning of Wednesday, June 1, agents of NDA successfully blew up two additional oil facilities belonging to Chevron Nigeria Limited. After blowing up the oil wells, the NDA issued a warning to the President to stay off the Niger Delta. The thinking is that security reports may have also advised the President to stay off Ogoniland on that day.

But that is neither here nor there. No matter the security consideration or interpretation of the threat, the President’s handlers know quite well that it might look like an acceptance of defeat for the President to renege on his plans to visit Ogoniland to flag-off the cleanup exercise simply because of threats from the faceless NDA. They are also conscious of the fact that by their mode of operation, terrorists always drive fear into people. That is not all. As a former military commander and a tough-talking President at that, it is very clear that Buhari would be the last person to be cowed by the NDA’s threat. After all, Yemi Osinbajo, his deputy, represented him at the occasion and nothing happened. Anyway, because the President stayed away from Ogoniland, the NDA could have wrongly believed that they had scored a bull’s eye. The implication is that this could further embolden them to unleash more devastating attacks on the hapless people of the Niger Delta region.  That would make them destroyers and not avengers which they claim.

At any rate, events that unfolded later culminated into the president travelling out of the country to London for medical treatment. From this, it was clear that he was slightly indisposed. That was why the trip was called off. The same thing happened during his proposed Lagos visit. His medical team had advised him to desist from flying in an aircraft because of the pains he was experiencing in his ears. Who says the President cannot fall sick? As a human being, yes, he can.

The good news is that after more than 50 years of massive pollution and despoliation in Ogoniland, government and the oil companies have taken full responsibility for the remediation and restoration of the environment. This will positively rub off on the Niger Delta region as a whole. It is for this reason, that the NDA and their sponsors should be made aware that their latest acts of brigandage will only worsen the bad socio-economic situation prevailing in that region.

The way it is going, a major catastrophe, with far more devastating consequences, seems to be lurking in the Niger Delta. The time to act and act fast, is now!

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