Yar’Adua and the militants

ONGOING military operations by units of Nigeria’s Armed Forces to crush so-called Niger Delta militants in their established enclaves of crime must be viewed dispassionately. The legitimacy and inevitability of a military response to the challenge they pose to state authority, which in its true form and purpose embodies the core of a festering sore afflicting our national psyche, cannot be questioned. We remain a people trying to invent a contemporary state and nation. Yet, without creating a national society, this goal we have set for ourselves will not be attained. The process of national society formation is long, hard and difficult. Without discipline, security and the willingness by all to live within the bounds of law, our quest will not begin.

The comments of a number of well-respected individuals, associations, groups and political parties on President Yar’Adua’s decision to deploy soldiers to the Niger Delta to enforce national laws are disturbing. ‘Back to the basics’, do these commentators understand the essence of the philosophical category; the “state” and the concept “statehood?” It goes against reason that in a state, any state, there should be more than one arm bearing institution. It goes against common sense and value that there should be more than one army in any society. It is largely irrelevant, “if” or “whether” the militants in the Niger Delta attacked or did not attack anyone. The very fact that they possess such lethal weapons as automatic rifles, grenades, grenade launchers, GPMGs, anti-aircraft weapons, assault boats (etc), necessitates and legitimises a full blown military offensive against them.

Beyond this, by owning up to various acts of sabotage, kidnap and holding of hostages, wanton and deliberate killing of policemen, soldiers and other agents of the state, the so-called militants invited war upon themselves. To deny this, is to deny the obvious. You either live in a state or outside it. As a matter of first principle, once you live inside the national territory of a state, you must be bound by its laws. There cannot be criminal safe havens in the national territory of any state inhabited by battalions of armed killers and fugitives of justice, which agents of the state are barred from entering. On this, the statutes are explicitly clear. Outside the Armed Forces, any armed group resident in Nigeria is not only criminal, but may be said to be harbouring intentions to cause harm to, sabotage, wage war on, or overthrow the state. Or by some spatio-time miracle, have we been webbed in some 17th century fiction work of Robert Louis Stevenson?

It seems not a little surprising that the appropriate response of Nigeria’s President and Armed forces Commander-in-Chief to the dangerous and unwholesome situation we have found ourselves is being cynically interpreted. If anything at all, his response should have come earlier. It ought to be stronger. Gangrene is not cured by lavender water. Yes, in its supervision of military operations to rid the Niger Delta of criminal elements, the military High Command must be told in no uncertain terms to act professionally and avoid the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.

Yet, greater responsibility rests on community leaders and law-abiding citizens living in Niger Delta communities to prevent themselves from being used as human shields by criminal cults and groups, intent on avoiding being smashed by the long arm of justice. They must ask the criminals to stay away from their communities. If they feel sufficiently threatened by the criminals, community leaders in the Delta region must report the activities of these criminals to security agents. The state must protect such well-meaning community leaders and their communities. Only on the basis of an understanding that accelerated socio-economic development can and will occur in the Niger Delta if responsibilities are collectively shared, can security be guaranteed for all stakeholders in the region.

President Umaru Yar’Adua, the hour has come for you to show strength. You must not rescind your decision, no matter the pressure on you to do so. The Armed Forces must not be prevented from accomplishing its set tasks. If you hit the criminals in the creeks hard enough, those in the cities will understand that when they make you roll up your sleeve, they will find an iron fist.

from Guardian * Danisa is a doctoral student at the University of Trier, Germany.