I was greatly relieved when news came last week that the military was winding down its campaign in the Niger Delta, code-named Operation Crocodile Smile. I had not heard of a smiling crocodile until the Nigerian military mentioned it. I confess equally, that I do not exactly know the kind of sound associated with crocs, but I should think since they are classified as reptiles and deadly predators too, they should hiss like snakes or growl and bark like wild dogs, rather than smile like humans.
I have not also witnessed a crying croc, until a branch of the armed agitators in the Niger Delta, called the Greenlander said it could make crocs to actually shed tears and not in the sense of the idiom – crocodile tears. Notwithstanding, it remains a very tall prospect sourcing a creature that would cause the croc, the undisputed lord of the swamp, to weep in any water or even land combat.
In the end, if there were really smiles and tears, neither came from crocs in the Niger Delta. In fact, in the profit and loss account of the battles of the Niger Delta, there were no gains and therefore no smiles. It was all tears as all quarters posted huge losses. There was as much pain on the side of the militants as it was on the side of the military.
While the military might have done a great deal of training in swimming pools in Warri and environs to built ad-hoc capability for the amphibious operation in the Niger Delta, the militants, given their locations, are natural amphibians. It is actually like taking battle to the croc in the river. You may win because you are better equipped but caution still remains the watchword. What the militants lack in overall operational efficiency, they try to make up with the advantages that nature bestows on them in the specific matter at hand.
No soldier, including naval ratings can stay in any military formation in Nigeria and have a full appreciation of the difficulty of the Niger Delta terrain. The network of creeks and rivulets intertwining at different locations and all opening into the sea from different channels makes clear cut cognizance for operational purposes a huge task. From one location to another is usually not as straight forward as moving from Lagos to Ibadan or from Kano to Maiduguri. Everywhere looks the same. The interconnectivity of the waterways is intriguing, yet in this seeming confusion, there is clear order. All the channels remain paths to specific destinations.
The awesomeness is heightened in the rainy season when the terrain enjoys full measure and an outsider needs real guts to navigate through threatening waters. And this thing about low and high tide plays out so vividly to make the terrain even more treacherous. You may go in one direction at the point of high tide, but return through another when the tide is low because the earlier channel might have been completely drained of water. This can complicate a naval offensive to take out the militants. Also inconceivable is a wholesale bombardment of the entire mangrove vegetation. Such will come with incalculable collateral damage, including the complete incineration of the oil and gas infrastructure, which the military is fighting to protect against attacks by the militants. The military in top form is highly constrained. It is not fighting an external aggression and so cannot deploy its full might to deal with the issue.
For reasons already stated, I want to believe that all sides are better informed about the task of causing the crocodile to laugh or cry. It is not as simple as eating tuwo with banga soup. It cannot be decisively settled in the battlefield which in turn makes the point of coming to the negotiation table inevitable.
Last week, Senator Udoma Udo Uoma exposed an interesting dimension about the issue of the day. He said the economy did not stumble into a recession because the Federal Government did not know what to do. He explained that from 2.2 million barrels per day (mbd), crude oil production has been degraded by 50 per cent to 1.1mbd by the sustained bombings of oil facilities by the armed fighters in the Niger Delta. Udoma was kind of saying that the recession is a force majeure and there is little or nothing that President Buhari and his brilliant team can do for now to save the situation.
Udoma was characteristically calm, urbane and measured, even as he appealed for the triumph of reason over emotion in the matter at hand. He explained that the 50 per cent shut-ins in crude output translated to a corresponding loss in foreign earnings. Former Governor of Central Bank and now Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had explained earlier in a different forum that the loss of oil, which constitutes only 15 per of the GDP cannot knock the lights out of Nigeria into a recession. Put differently, the Emir was saying the problem at hand has more to do with inadequacy of ideas, than it has to do with lack of resources.
I must confess that my understanding of macroeconomics is not deep enough to state without fear of being contradicted by bigger heads, who between Udoma and Sanusi, is on track here. But I know something different, which is that Nigerians and not crocs are the ones shedding tears. The tears are flowing freely from the eyes of Nigerians who now have to pay extremely high prices in an import-dependent economy, because there is no enough forex from oil earnings to support importation of vital items, including rice, which price has jumped from N8000 to N20000.
Efforts towards at calming the raging oil region are reportedly in top gear. This is very cheering. But it is important also to advise government to avoid mistakes of the past in order to produce different results. Already, all manner of persons and groups have begun masquerading as true representatives of the peoples of the Niger Delta. The big economy of negotiation in the region, which has also fallen into recession, is beginning to revive. This is dangerous and government should watch out.
Therefore, the first step in the engagement process is for government to know with whom to negotiate to avoid falling into the wrong hands because the season has started breeding con men and women. Any rash approach will convert the negotiation with the militants and even Boko Haram fighters into another business venture in some quarters. For instance, insisting that reconciliation with the wanted militant leader, Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo is not central to a fair deal will not be helpful. And there are a thousand and one people out there in the Niger Delta who will be pushing this fraudulent position for their own ascendancy.
While to the authorities, Tompolo is a barefaced criminal, but having single-handedly provided a facelift and brought heavy official presence to Okerenkoko his birthplace, he is about the only ‘government’ that his people know. They are likely to listen more to him than they will listen the Delta State governor or even the president. That is the truth.
Honest official intelligence would confirm also that Tompolo is about the only Niger Delta fighter with a vision that is larger than himself. It is the other way round with many others, including the large colony of Niger Delta activists who are merely escalating the issues in the region as bait to bargain for personal benefits.
This is on one hand. On the other hand, even if the right representatives of the people are ultimately tracked for the negotiation, government must aspire to come to the table with a fresh package. If half of the lost oil earnings since the start of the bombings were to be used to intervene in the issues for determination, we surely would have gone beyond the point of causing crocs to smile or weep.
In other words if the official disposition is to gain respite from the current economic heat occasioned by production shut-ins, after which it will be business as usual, then practically nothing would have been achieved from the ongoing peace efforts.Abraham Ogbodo is a columnist at the Guardian from where this article is culled from The Guardian.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.