Statement by His Excellency, Archbishop Felix A. Job, Catholic Archbishop of Ibadan and President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, on the Current Military/Militant Clashes in the Niger Delta in Nigeria.
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria view with grave concern the current sustained clashes between militant groups in the Niger Delta, especially in the areas of South West Warri and its environs, and the Joint Military Taskforce of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
As the Chief Shepherds of the people of God in Nigeria, we are particularly pained by the suffering, displacements and deaths of innocent citizens in the Niger Delta Region which have resulted from “operation Cordon and search” since May 12, 2009. This military operation has mostly brought about untold hardship on the ordinary citizens of the rural communities in the Niger Delta.
The bombardment of the Communities of Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Kurutie and Okerenkoko cannot be justified, particularly in so far as military operation involved the destruction of residences and the displacement of innocent citizens, who as a result, have become vulnerable to diseases, hunger and starvation. Further, this Joint Military Taskforce operation has led to the loss of many lives as well as to an unprecedented humanitarian situation in the Niger Delta.
We are appalled that over 20,000 people have been trapped in the fighting and over 65 people have lost their lives while hundreds of innocent citizens have sustained various levels of severe injuries in Warri South West alone. We therefore call for a total and unconditional ceasefire on both sides.
We call on the Federal Government to urgently halt all air bombardment of Niger delta Communities in order to arrest further destruction of lives and properties of innocent citizens. In the same respect, all aid workers, including the Red Cross, the National Emergency Management Agency, Justice Development and Peace/Caritas Nigeria should be urgently granted access to the Region in order to take care of the displaced persons and the injured.
We call on the Government to intensify efforts in fulfilling its promises to the people of Niger Delta and to exercise restraint in the hostilities between the Joint Military Taskforce and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger delta (MEND).
In addition, we call on the Federal Government to respond constructively to the recommendations of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, submitted to the President since last December 2008. The Technical Committee Report represents the most promising effort to develop a coherent strategy in the Niger Delta. The Federal Government should therefore, seize the opportunity for ending armed conflict and set the stage for sustained long-term development of the Region.
We also call on the Federal Government to implement a comprehensive and general amnesty within a program for demobilisation, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR), with the regional leaders and the militants.
The Federal Government should take urgent steps to raise allocation of Niger Delta-derived revenue to at least the 17 per cent recommended by the National Political Reform Conference of 2006. This should be done, pending further negotiated increases. In the same respect, Government should strengthen budget transparency and financial accountability at state and local government levels in the Niger Delta, so that the allocated funds are used to benefit the region and implement priority projects identified by the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP).
We call on all Niger Delta ethnic and militant leaders to reciprocate government initiatives by freeing all hostages, ending violence and cooperating in the DDR project. The respective militant and ethnic groups should consult more closely with each other, in order to achieve greater unity and improve chances for successful negotiations and regional development plans and priorities, if they really exist for the progress of their people.
We call on all business interests in the Niger Delta that have impact on the environment, oil production/exploitation, including all oil companies, to take concrete steps to implement comprehensive cooperate social responsibility plans. The oil companies must find means and strategies of reaching out directly to the host communities and implementing effective development initiatives in the area.
We, as pastors of the people, recognize the dangerous dimension that the situation in the Niger Delta has taken and we call on everyone to assume responsibility for the re-establishment of order, peace, unity and progress in the area. Let us be our brothers and sisters keepers because violence and hostilities are not the answer. Above all, let us pray in a special way for Nigeria in distress.
May the God of peace grant us sustained Peace and reconciliation and may our Lady, Queen of Nigeria and Queen of Peace, pray for us.
Most Rev. Dr. Felix A. Job
Archbishop of Ibadan and
President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria
Made in Abuja, May 29, 2009