Mr. President, I love my country. Whenever I think of Nigeria, I think of the poet Olu Oguibe’s words, “I am bound to this land by blood.” Therefore, Mr. President, please think seriously about the set of recommendations that I am going to make here. The recommendations should be seen as supplementary to the recommendations of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta. I make them because the situation is very urgent, and every one of us who loves the country should do our best to ensure that the guns stay silent.
Mr. President, while writing this letter, I learnt that you have finally made good your promise to make the central government set aside five percent royalty to oil-producing communities. It is a generous act for which you deserve praise. And I applaud you accordingly, and suggest that you immediately set up corruption-proof structures to ensure that the royalties are not used as instruments of political patronage or gobbled up by very greedy and heartless local chieftains and strongmen, who may be already conjuring up strategies on how they can get their thieving hands on the money. The fate of every royalty kobo and naira must be accounted for, and the full weight of the law must be brought to bear on any thief who gets his hands on the money. Mr. President, we must break the vicious cycle of corruption and the attendant misery it causes to the people.
Mr. President, next, please set definite dates for the oil companies for the stoppage of gas flaring and indiscriminate oil spillage. Also give them definite dates for the replacement of dilapidated oil pipelines. Please read “The Price of Oil,” the report of the Human Rights Watch on oil prospecting in the Niger Delta at http://www.hrw.org/reports/199/nigeria/Nigew991-05.htm, even the oil companies accept that they have outdated infrastructure. Mr. President, it is little wonder that we are a laughingstock. People can’t understand why these practices are still going on in Nigeria. When I was a teaching assistant at the University of Washington, I built some of my freshman composition classes around the environment, and whenever we read the poems of Tanure Ojaide and Gabriel Okara and discussed the oil-related environmental problems of the Niger Delta, my students would be dumbfounded. “How can you people allow these things to happen?” they would ask. “It is not as if an external power is ruling you.” It is then I would patiently explain to them the ethnic and sectional nature of Nigeria’s politics, and its corrupt ruling elite, who see public office as nothing but an avenue to fill its pockets with the common wealth. Invariably, some would ask, “What can we do to stop what is going on in the Niger Delta?” And I tell them, “Other than writing to your congressmen and women to make laws that would make it impossible for the oil companies to continue these unfortunate practices, there is very little you can do. Ultimately, the solution lies with a responsible Nigerian government that could look into the eyes of the chief executives of the oil companies and say, ‘The game is up. You either clean up your act, or you get out. It is that simple.’” Mr. President, the world is waiting for you to take that bold step.
Mr. President, implementing the above policy will create a groundswell of goodwill for you, not just in the Niger Delta, but elsewhere in the world, where people have been keenly following what is going on in the Niger Delta.
Mr. President, let me now address the issue of providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Niger Delta before the end of your presidency, particularly in the next couple of months, because it is apparent that if the ex-fighters, who are sequestered in camps and have nothing to do are left in that state for too long, jobless angst could easily give way to thoughts of violence and crime. Mr. President, my first suggestion is that you engage the entire Niger Delta people, including those who are outside of the country, and encourage them to come up with ideas on how to develop the Niger Delta. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs can coordinate the exercise. The project needs goodwill, creativity, and resources.
Therefore, Mr. President, I suggest yet again that you release the funds that the central government owes the Niger Delta Development Commission. If you use that money to set up a Niger Delta Development Bank, those who have business ideas will have a place to go to for a loan. If you put a very resourceful manager in charge of the bank, s/he should be able to complement whatever the government puts into the bank with funds from non-governmental agencies, even as s/he builds the financial base of the bank through prudent management of its resources.
Mr. President, bring dynamic young men and women of the region into the oil-lifting sector and charge them with a mandate to give employment to the hundreds of thousands of jobless people of the region. Till today, oil-lifting is done by the beneficiaries of political patronage. It is time that oil lifting becomes a major source of development of the region.
Mr. President, the rural areas of the Niger Delta are grossly underserved with regard to petrol stations. In fact, those living in the far-flung islands of the Niger Delta pay more for petrol, even though they may be living in the shadow of gas flares, than those who live in the cities. Even if it means empowering enterprising entrepreneurs to set up companies with mobile petrol stations, let us do so. Doing so will create jobs immediately, because people use petroleum products every day.
Mr. President, during the course of my research for a paper in an entrepreneurship class, I discovered that Nigeria supplies only a fraction of its sea food needs. The economy of the riverine areas of the Niger Delta was once almost solely based on sea food. The young men who are currently in the rehabilitation camps know the rivers and the creeks like the back of their palms. And they are not afraid of venturing out to the high seas; it was not too long ago that some of them made the daring attack on the Bonga Oilfield. The country has the capacity to supply all of its sea food needs through these young men and others, if we give them the resources to do so.
Mr. President, in that regard, I suggest that we bring together resourceful entrepreneurs living in the Niger Delta and outside of it and give them the resources, in form of loans, to set up fishing companies. The fishing activities of these companies can be based around some of the islands that the ex-fighters used as camps. As I suggested in an earlier letter to you, some of those camps should be developed into model towns. It will not take a lot to do so. If we bring in entrepreneurs that are willing to build decent but fairly cheap housing units in these islands, the ex-fighters that engage in fishing will have decent homes to return to after their fishing trips. In the long run, these fishing hubs will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Mr. President, closely related to high-sea fishing is the setting up of fish farms. Enterprising entrepreneurs can set up fish farms around some of the new island towns, creating a complete seafood hub. From these islands, fish can be transported to the rest of the country and even to other West African countries. Markets and supermarkets in the mainland will provide the major distribution outlets of the seafood.
Mr. President, transportation is still a problem in the riverine areas of the Niger Delta. Many of these young men are experts in the operation of the sort of small vessels that go to these islands. We can set up transportation companies that will put these young men to work, and also make it possible for the young men to hold shares in the transportation companies in which they work. If well coordinated, the transportation companies will perpetually provide steady and reliable jobs.
Mr. President, I believe that we c
an make TINAPA a major commercial hub even if we feed it only locally generated goods. Around the TINAPA area, we can set up companies that will produce the cheapest clothing, shoes, furniture, and other items that can be easily made. Three years from now, we should be able to say, “If you go to TINAPA, you will buy the best locally manufactured goods at the cheapest price.” Each area of the Niger Delta should have companies that have the ability to put thousands of people to work to complement the employment and business they get from the oil sector.
Mr. President, let me make a brief return to the issue of housing. In Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, is doing a very thankless job trying to transform shantytowns into decent places of habitation. I have an intimate knowledge of some of those shantytowns. They are dens of crime, cheap sex, disease, squalor, and violence. The shantytowns should go. But where do we place those who fled to the shantytowns from their villages because they could no longer engage in traditional forms of moneymaking such as fishing? Mr. President, we can solve that problem by shifting people, both current inhabitants of the shantytowns and those who are not living there at the moment, to some of the undeveloped islands around Port Harcourt. Again, we can turn these islands into model towns with decent low-cost housing, and make loans available, so that people can purchase them.
Mr. President, alternatively, the governor should be encouraged to develop the land reclaimed from the shantytowns with a variety of houses, from low-rent story buildings to high-rent stand-alone buildings. The gentrification process should include nature in form of trees and plants. There should be supermarkets, recreation grounds, schools, clinics, good roads, and the police. With the presence of a wide spectrum of the working class to the upper middle class, as well as the new environment, the culture of the areas where the shantytowns are currently located will change.
Mr. President, let me come to second-tier industries that should be set up for the long haul. These include bringing more people of the region into the oil and gas sector. There is hardly any need to push the point that if others can participate in this sector as major players, those who are from the area should be able to do so too. The benefits of including those from the area in the sector are obvious. They will provide jobs. They will also help to undo the sense of angst many feel in the area that while others are assigned oil wells, the number of people from the region who have oil wells is abysmally low. The question here should not be whether people can raise the money to operate these wells. If the government establishes a mentoring relationship with competent entrepreneurs, they will raise the money and the technical skills to operate the wells.
Mr. President, we are still unable to satisfy our total need of refined crude. If today, your government, through the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, announces that it is willing to work with entrepreneurs to set up mini-refineries, there are many who will take up the challenge. Mr. President, as you and I know, a country grows when the abilities of its people are unleashed to solve the existential problems that plague it. A government that actively challenges and provides the kind of support that is needed to advance the country will get results – from those who will rise up to the challenge. Let the Niger Delta region be a hub of non-government owned mini-refineries and we will slay the dragon that is our inability to meet our refined petroleum needs.
Mr. President, closely following our inability to supply our refined petroleum needs is our inability to supply adequate electricity. The practice whereby the government, whether central or state, is the sole supplier of electricity should be obsolete by now. The Niger Delta alone has the resources to supply electricity to the entire nation. We must move from theory to practice by bringing our best minds and entrepreneurs together to use the resources of the Niger Delta to provide uninterrupted power supply around the year to every nook and cranny of the country. If we start with privately funded, but government assisted, power-generating companies that can utilize the enormous gas resources of the Niger Delta to provide uninterrupted power supply to the region, we can take the electricity to other parts of the country.
Mr. President, once we are able to solve the problem of regular power supply, the hospitality sector will boom in the Niger Delta. Let us say that an enterprising entrepreneur decides to build a holiday resort off the coast of Calabar, a little Eden, with games, horse riding, boat riding, and fishing, workers from as far away as Port Harcourt can rent a resort room and get adequate rest for the weekend. Workers can then fully integrate work and relaxation into their lives.
Furthermore, Mr. President, if at independence, we had planned our economic growth very well, the Niger Delta should be a major shipbuilding hub by now. Countries develop their technology by learning from others that have successfully gone down the path that they which to go. Emperor Peter of Russia was so appalled by the backwardness of his country as compared to countries in Western Europe that he took matters into his own hands. Let me cite a few relevant passages about the emperor from Russka, an imaginative novel based on the true history of Russia. Peter “sent fifty horrified Russians, without their families, to Western Europe to learn navigation and shipbuilding.” He himself went to work in the dockyards. He “spent months working as a ship’s carpenter and learning the whole business very thoroughly.” Now, Mr. President, I am not suggesting that like Peter you go and work in the dockyards of the West to master the art of shipbuilding, but it seems to me that like him you could send a team of talented Niger Deltans, under an entrepreneurial framework, to do so. You can say, since the Niger Delta is a maritime region, I will use the skills of its people to make sure that Nigeria builds her own ships in, say, five years. You can then ask for plans from entrepreneurs that want to take up the challenge and give them the support of the government, so that they can send those they have recruited for the purpose to the dockyards of the country where they want to learn the art of shipbuilding. You can take this approach beyond shipbuilding to other ventures, whether it is the building of refineries, the first Nigerian car, or the supply of regular electricity. Mr. President, as I always say, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we simply have to muster the resourcefulness and the drive to copy it and make it work for us.
Mr. President, I have taken time to write this letter to state once more the problems of the Niger Delta and to proffer solutions that will help both the Niger Delta and the rest of the country. Our problems are not without remedies. They have remedies. The tragedy for those of us in the Niger Delta is that our rulers have seen and continue to see the Niger Delta as a place whose resources they should exploit at all cost. The environmental and human toll has not bothered them. Any form of protest, whether peaceful or violent, from the people to the effect that there is a better way of doing things, that the Niger Delta is not a servile internal colony, that it is indeed part of the country and should be treated as such, is met with violence. The solution to the Niger Delta does not lie in violence and threats of genocide. The solution lies in creative thinking, resourceful determination to do what is right, and a vision of the Niger Delta as a place not of misery, back-breaking poverty, disease, crime, and violence, but a place that has everything it takes to be an oasis of peace and prosperity, and the joyful cries of children ringing from creek to creek, island to island, and upland village and town to upland villa
ge and town.
Mr. President, if such a vision guides the decisions that you are now called to make about the Niger Delta, you may end up winning the Nobel Prize for Peace, but most importantly, the guns will stay silent and you will be celebrated from generation to generation.
With very warm regards,