The position of the Rational Choice Theory (RCT) of crime is that persons intentionally choose to commit crimes as opposed to being compelled by external factors or influences, and the reason that they choose to commit crime is that they think it will be more rewarding and less costly for them than noncriminal behavior.
The RCT seems to have been on repeat play or loop mode in Nigeria where terrorism, militancy and sabotaging economic infrastructure are concerned. Prior to the inception of the present administration, the system was structured to reward rather punish crimes and this is directly connected with those I position of authority being behind the crimes being committed.
For a long time, the then political opponents of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff in his days as Imperial Emperor of Borno state were constantly at the mercy of urchins called “ECOMOG”, a corruption of the regional peace keeping force. The group was to later provide the nucleus for the fighting wing of terrorist group, Boko Haram, which left a trail of blood and destruction across the country. Even at the height of its atrocities, Boko Haram leadership were being rewarded with negotiation money passed under the table and tacit endorsement that saw former President Goodluck Jonathan admitting they had infiltrated his cabinet. It took the approach of general elections and the eventual arrival on the scene of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari for the incentives to be taken away from the terrorists. Today we all know the once invincible extremists are singing a different tune.
Before the ascendancy of Boko Haram, several criminal gangs typified by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND sustained a campaign of terror in the oil producing areas and were beginning to spread their influence. Similar to Boko Haram’s history, MEND and other militant groups first gained empowerment through politicians that armed youths as foot soldiers to terrorise political opponents and rig elections. Arms meant for election rigging were soon put to other uses and a criminal army masking as freedom fighters was born. An amnesty programme conceived by late President Umaru Yar’Adua as a prelude to cracking down on their criminality was hijacked and turned into the most lucrative reward system for criminals in human history. The lottery that the amnesty programme became got to its most ridiculous after Yar’Adua’s death as criminals who should spend the rest of their natural lives in jail were feted at the Presidential Villa to the extent that it became fashionable for them to precede their names with “ex-militant” or “ex-agitator”.
The state rewarded these militants to the extent that they had enough money to buy publicity and they became permanent fixtures in national discourse. Their utterances alone almost truncated the last general elections. They threatened to make the country ungovernable should Goodluck Jonathan, their benefactor and kinsman, lose the presidential election. The sickening threats went as far as warning of a break-up for the country. Of course, their man was in power and there was no sanction, not even warnings for those open threats to national security. Encouraged by the rewards their South-South counterparts, groups of South-East extraction began issuing similar threats.
It was these groups, to later emerge as the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB that cast the first stones after the elections. Thankfully, their excesses were largely contained because they got the response they never expected – one, those threatening the state were arrested and charged to court and two, no financial gratifications came their way even though there were some premature hints at amnesty, negotiations and other claptraps that would have made their crimes juicy. They were dealing with a different government of course.
Then history repeated itself. The Rivers re-run elections in 2016 provided the cover for proliferation of arms in the South-South. Several complaints that weapons were again flowing freely into the region – and to IPOB members, to ensure a particular political party wins the elections were largely dismissed as crying wolf. But the weeks after the elections have proven that those alarms raised about the activities of a certain governor in the region were not false with the Niger Delta Avengers announcing itself as the new militant group.
The Niger Delta Avengers have so far blown up oil facilities and killed security operatives on a frightening scale. All these in the name of resource control. High ranking citizens from the region have creepily tried to explain this dangerous development as the product of injustice when the first nexus that should have been drawn is that the inadequate sanction for the militants’ first outing as MEND is behind this latest round of irresponsibility. Among those to have spoken up was Annkio Briggs, who somehow managed to smuggle in the word ‘amnesty’, the code word to demand money for the Niger Delta Avengers. It must be noted that some former militant leaders, under the aegis of Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative differed with those propping up these criminals by asking the Niger Delta Avengers to embrace peace and stop its destruction.
As we saw in the previous Niger Delta militancy and later Boko Haram, when several interests provided cover for them to fester, there are already concerted efforts to provide tactical support for the Niger Delta Avengers to gain some legitimacy that will force the federal government to enter into negotiations with them. There are already diplomats of nations that pretend to be friends of Nigeria ruling out military deployment as an option. Western “security experts”, sadly writing and promoted in Nigeria media, are already criminalising any security exercise against these criminals even before it had begun. This should tell us something that this group is not a ragtag army but possibly part of the group said to have been trained for this kind of purpose in the letter that former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to his counterpart, Jonathan.
Nigerians should exercise even more fears and worry, the claim of fighting for resource control does not add up. Even if it adds up it should be worrisome. The red flags are many. One, Niger Delta Avengers demanded the unconditional release of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, even though he is standing trial. Two, the group wants the release of a key figure in the Jonathan administration and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, standing trial over the theft of money meant for buying arms to fight Boko Haram – he is by the way from the north and a Muslim. Also, Annkio Briggs, who has spoken in defence of the group, is a known ally of the former administration. More connections and interconnections could be established in the days and weeks ahead.
The hapless youths of the Niger Delta region must act to demand action against this group if only to prove that they are not part of their crimes. When oil installations get blown up the environment gets polluted – it will take decades for the impact to clear and President Muhammadu Buhari, the subject of the militants’ venom hails from hundreds of kilometres away from the toxic sites being created. If the oil firms have to close shop because of constant attacks, the Niger Delta will suffer more job losses since they have more staff with these organisations. Oil production is down from 2.2 million barrels per day to 1.6 million and the impact on finances is already being felt; incidentally Bayelsa state is the one whose staff are on strike over non-payment of salaries. Youths from the Niger-Delta may want to interact with their counterparts from the North-East about how well the label of ‘terrorist’ fits just in case the Niger Delta Avengers eventually gets its deserved label of a terrorist organisation. If militants get monetized ‘amnesty’ as monthly stipend those who engaged in legitimate enterprise would have again been short-changed and consigned to perpetually being an inferior economic class to criminals.
It is these youths who must team up with youths from every other part of Nigeria to discuss the way forward. When they do meet over this situation they must be categorical in calling for the arrest and trial of not just the militants but also their sponsors. Economic terrorism is not lesser than ideological terrorism. Both can destroy the nation.
Youths of the country must demand that the treatment for crimes against the state should not differ: annihilation for Boko Haram terrorists because they live in an arid area without resources; clamp down on IPOB because their ethnicity trade in the absence of mineral resources; and paid ‘amnesty’ for Niger Delta Avengers because they have crude oil would be quite some opposites. The demand to President Buhari must be unequivocal; Nigeria cannot afford to again reward crimes whether for the foot soldiers, their commanders or sponsors.
****Ibekwe, is a civil rights activist and strategist writes from Enugu, Nigeria