The Niger Delta

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The Niger Delta:

An Open Sore Of A Shameless Country
 

By

 

Said Adejumobi

 

culled from GUARDIAN of October 10, 2004

I have been opportuned to live in the Niger Delta. I had my national youth service some 17 years ago in Ugehelli, then part of Edo, now Delta State. Fortunately, I served with the Directorates of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI)-that money guzzler that Babangida set up and was managed by his friend-Larry Koinyan. DFRRI afforded me the opportunity to travel through the length and breadth of the Niger Delta by road and sea. Although it is 17 years ago that I was there, things have not changed for the people of the Niger Delta, it has really worsened. I can share with you what I saw in the creeks of the delta.

The Delta is a wasteland, a site of griming poverty, disillusionment, despair, frustration, and hopelessness. The sin of the Niger Delta people is that they have oil, and produce the petrodollar that our godless leaders and the rest of us share and spend. Because the Delta people produce oil their farmland becomes barren, their water contaminated, their air polluted and their trees dwarfed. They cannot farm, fish, graze cattle, cultivate trees, and inhale good oxygen, which the rest of the country does easily. They are completely demobilised, helpless and hopeless. Their males have resigned themselves to despondency, and hang on local gin all day.

Prostitution is the only viable vocation for all categories of ladies in the delta-young, old or middle age. It is the only place I have been to in the World where mothers deliberately encourage their daughters to go into prostitution in order to raise money for the family. I saw a mother who wept openly simply because her daughter was dating a young man of her age who was not working in an oil company. She wept soberly and counseled the girl to emulate her friends who go out and bring back money for the family through the sale of their bodies. The criminality of the Nigerian State has upturn family ethics and the moral values of the Niger Delta people.

The oil workers are the "local emperors" in the Delta region. They flaunt their wealth, cruise the local girls, and drive recklessly through the cities. Yet, the local people see them as 'saviours'. Without them life will come to a standstill for the people. At least there is some trickle down effect through local bars, eating joints and the prostitution business that the oil workers nourish in the delta region. There is also a local elite in the delta region-some known names who have either held political power at the national or state level and are now settled back at home or those who are in active connivance with the oil companies as commissioned agents serving as local contractors etc. Unfortunately, these are the people that the government often regard as 'opinion leaders' and usually negotiate with whenever there is crisis in the delta region. They represent nobody but themselves and are as opportunistic as those negotiating with them.

If there were anybody who is in doubt about the pitiable situation in the delta region, and the complicity of the Nigerian state in sustaining and aggravating that condition, I would recommend that he or she reads the following testimonies on the region. S. Ekine, Blood and Oil: Testimonies of Violence from Women of the Niger Delta (London: CDD, 2001), Ogoni: Trials and Travails. (Lagos: CLO, 1996), Terror in Ogoni: Action Report by the Civil Liberties Organisation (1994) and Ken Saro Wiwa, A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1995). These are reader-friendly documents, they are written in free flowing prose and give vivid accounts of how the Niger Delta became a killing field and a site of rebellion for militant youth groups in the area.

It is against this background that the recent threats issued by Asari Dokubo and his Niger Delta Volunteer Force can be understood. This action by the group that they will blow up all oil pipelines by October 1 2004 if their demands are not met, resonated around the world, hiked up oil prices in the international oil market and forced the government to negotiate with them. A lot of controversy has trailed the action of the government in the media. Some argue including Reuben Abati and Kingsley Osadolor that these are a bunch of terrorists, who should be mercilessly crushed by federal firepower and order forcefully restored in the region.

They feel that conceding to this group constitutes a bad precedent that will open a floodgate of rebel culture, which may unravel the Nigerian state. Osadolor (Guardian, October 9) reeling from the diary of Tam David West indicted Dokubo as a known 'criminal', who since 2001 should have put behind bars for harassing a high profile person like David West who incidentally is one of their own in the delta region. On the other hand are those who passionately stand in defence of the 'warlords' (see, Ovie Ughewanogho, Guardian, October 9).

However, both sides miss the point. The critical issue is what kind of a society and human condition produced a Dokubo? Dokubo is simply a manifestation of a grinding social crisis, whether it is him or not, many Dokubos are likely to emerge in the Niger Delta if the situation remains unchanged. Dokubo is a by-product of the actions and activities of a ruthless militarized Nigerian state in the Niger Delta. A state that relies on force and violence to compel obedience, a state that appropriates like the colonial lords and gives tokenism in return, and a state that is shameless and has no conscience. Dokubo is a direct reproduction of those against whom he is rebelling. Since force is the main option often deployed by the Nigerian state to address the Niger Delta question, then the likes of Dokubo feel they have a high moral ground to adopt the same tactic to confront their opponents.

 

The situation in the Niger Delta, which gave rise to the Dokubo group, is not the same with that of MASSOB. They must be clearly distinguished. MASSOB is harping on an historical injustice, which constitutes part of the aftermaths of the civil war. MASSOB is grumbling over the sharing of federal resources and positions, those resources made possible by the Niger Delta. There is no Easterner in Nigeria today deprived of making in a living in their society-they trade, farm and breathe a healthy air. The Niger Delta people don't have this luxury. They are under siege and their livelihood and social survival is threatened because they need to pump money out of their soil for other people to spend. It is really bad!

Many are likely to say that what else does the Niger Delta people want since they are getting derivation from oil and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been established to take care of their interests? Are they not asking for too much? There are two basic strategies the Nigerian state has adopted to address the Niger Delta question-militarism and paternalism. Militarism in terms of deploying the military and its federal power to suppress the people there and keep oil flowing at all cost. Many have been killed, maimed, and wanton destruction perpetrated by those rampaging forces of the federal government. The experience of Ogoniland and Odi cannot be easily forgotten.

In 1994, Major Paul Okuntimo went on rampage in the Delta region through the Internal Security Task Force boasting that he had over 50 ways of killing people and that he had only applied less than 10 on the delta people. Okuntimo enjoyed the confidence of the oil companies who supported his operations in the area. Ken Saro Wiwa was also murdered in cold blood by the Nigerian state over the genuine struggle of the Niger Delta. Whether we like it or not, Dokubo and his group are students of history and products of a violent social process, who have learnt the logic and dynamics of that process. Those people came to a hard realization that you need an organized counter force to make a case before a violent state. The death of Ken Saro Wiwa confounds the logic of a non-violent struggle in the Niger Delta.

The second strategy of the Nigerian state to the Niger Delta question is paternalism. Those in the seat of government at the federal level and their cohorts in the state sit and decide for the people of the delta region what they think is best for them. They decided that lets give some token 13% as derivation from oil revenue, and also lets set up an extra-ministerial agency called NDDC like its predecessor-OMPADEC to provide some services for them. These "fathers" of the Niger Delta never bothered to know what the people want and how they think their problem should be resolved. They simply impose their will on the people and create money-guzzling machines like NDDC to reward friends and award contracts to their cronies. The strategy will never work.

 

The state governors of the Niger Delta are ready accomplices in the crime against the Niger Delta people. They siphon the derivation funds and make life more miserable for their people. From 1999-2004, Balyesa state received N 133.45 billion, Akwa Ibom- N135.13 billion, Delta- N195.13 billion, and Cross River-N 55.22 billion from the federation account including their 13% derivation allocation. In spite of these huge allocations, life has not changed for the Niger Delta people but deteriorated, while their governors and their aids live in affluence.

The solution to the Niger Delta crisis is very simple. The federal government should give voice and power to the people of the region, rather than thinking for them. Provide a forum for them to articulate what they want- and then for us to see how we proceed. This may be done either within the context of a larger national conference or for the government to call an all-inclusive conference of the Niger Delta-that will involve all groups-militant or not, ethnic or social as part of the gathering.

Government should play a minimal role in the agenda and conclusions of the conference. The interest of the government is to see how it buys into their conclusions and demands and how that can form a basis of negotiation. Suppressing their grievances will produce counter violence and mounting revolutionary pressures, which if not stemmed may consign the name-Nigeria into the dustbin of history.

 

* Dr. Adejumobi teaches Political Science at the Lagos State University, Lagos.

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