Nigeria Matters

An Open Letter to the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)

From the Fireside Critic

Part One

Dear Brothers:

This letter would have come a lot sooner if I had not been attending to my health. A couple of weeks ago I started experiencing severe chest pains, and realized that the stress from my last year of doctoral studies and adjustments to a new job and city had caught up with me. In other words, I knew that there was nothing wrong with my heart, since I used the treadmill frequently, sometimes piling up as many as ten miles at one time when watching a football (American) or basketball game. Nonetheless, I needed a doctor to confirm my diagnosis and to recommend the needed treatment: rest. I start the letter with this little bit of information about my health not with the intention to broadcast the state of my health to the rest of the world or to win sympathy from anyone, but to make it abundantly clear as to why I had written nothing on the current hostilities between you and the Joint Task Force and the loss of hundreds of lives, according to media reports.

These are indeed very difficult times, and as your brother I will take the liberty of speaking straight from the heart. Several years ago, a friend of mine and I stumbled on Kenny Rogers’s famous song, “The Gambler.” We were very moved by it not because we drank, or smoked, or gambled, but because we recognized in it one of the most profound philosophical statements on life. The part that stirred us the most is the injunction of the old gambler to the young man that he should know when to hold on to his cards, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run, and, finally, to never count his money until the dealing is done. In the subsequent weeks and months that followed our encounter with “The Gambler,” we often caught ourselves singing these lines to each other when we met, as if to remind ourselves that in the long course of the rest of our journey in life our success will depend on how well we kept the old gambler’s precepts.

Brothers, I recall my encounter with “The Gambler,” because I want to use it to frame my discussion with you. I do not know how each of you came by his role in the very tragic story of the Niger Delta. I came by mine the day I visited Bundu Waterside shantytown in Port Harcourt and saw the miserable shacks that people called homes, and made the connection between the bone-jarring poverty that clung to them and the various islands of the Niger Delta where reckless oil exploitation had created an environmental nightmare in which once healthy creeks and rivers had gone fallow. I wrote a poem, “The Hermit Crab,” to capture my existential agony, and to achieve a level of catharsis by purging myself of the unbearable feeling that these islands may fall silent one by one, and only the hermit crab would be left wandering back and forth in the abandoned wastelands.

I needed to speak. I needed to act. I needed to lift up my voice and scream. But whatever I did I knew that it would never involve taking the life of another, or hate, or despair. I knew too that whatever I did must never embrace a separate nation for my ethnic group, because like many other young men and women who had passed through the Federal Government Colleges and made friends from all over the country and shared the same hopes and dreams of a Nigeria that would one day find itself and grow into the fullness of its great promise, and subsequently show the way to a very robust democracy and economy to the rest of black Africa, I was too invested in Nigeria. In the woes of every child, woman, and man of black Africa I saw myself, not in the sense of racial insularity, nationalism, or romanticism, but as a recognition of the fact that if there was anywhere on the face of the earth where the need to raise a sea of humanity out of existential misery was greatest, it was black Africa, and I saw my own country, Nigeria, as playing a leading role in that effort because of its vast endowments in natural and human resources.

So no matter how I thought of the Niger Delta and its seemingly intractable problems, it was always within the context of a thriving Niger Delta in a thriving Nigeria in a thriving Africa. It was never in the context of a thriving Niger Delta unmoored from all its neighbors, an oasis of vast abundance made possible by oil wealth, while all around it was human misery. Such a narrative did not appeal to me, for it sounded hollow, irredeemably vulgar, and an offense to all that I held dear about my role, no matter how little that may be, in the journey of humanity.

In casting about for how best to play my role, I stumbled on three great Americans, Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln in The Gettysburg Speech and his Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who challenged his country to live up to its highest ideals with regard to its population of African descent, who had endured centuries of slavery, and as he put it, “nobodyness.”

I remember the first time I read those famous lines in The Declaration of Independence, namely, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” I came very close to developing goose bumps, made more so by the fact that I put Jefferson in the Nigerian context, and held the nation to account with regard to what was going on in the Niger Delta, the unchecked oil spills, the devastation of the rivers and creeks and of aquatic life, the gas flares, and the massive displacement of people from their ancestral homes into slums in the cities, and, above all, the back-breaking poverty, misery, and existential angst in the midst of a sea of oil wealth drawn from the bowels of the land, creeks, and rivers of the inhabitants of the Niger Delta.

But I was also a Christian, and as I said, a great lover of my country, and so I knew that in trying to find a solution to the problem, I must not create a situation where at the end of the day I could not sit at the same table with my brethren from the rest of the country, because the methods I had used in fighting for my rights had created a permanent breach between us. This was the appeal of Martin Luther King’s tactics to me.

King, by many accounts, including that of his older sister, Christine King Farris, had in addition to his very strong Christian faith come under the powerful influence of Henry David Thoreau, in “Civil Disobedience,” and Mahatma Gandhi, who had employed Thoreau’s insights in non-violent ways to bring down British colonialism in India. King also developed great affinity for Søren Kierkegaard, whose philosophy, like that of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher, engaged the individual and how he acted in the midst of others. The individual, any individual, had personal worth that cannot be reduced to nothingness, “nobodyness,” or, as Aime Césaire would put it, be “thingified,” that is, the individual cannot be turned into a thing.

One of the core principles that King embraced in this vision of life was that in the attempt to throw off the shackles of his dehumanization, he must not dehumanize others, and that beyond the differences between him and the other stood another human being, a brother, a sister, a mother, a father, an uncle, a cousin. And so, in trying to cure the psychological and existential wounds inflicted on African Americans, King did not want to inflict new ones of his own. He wanted to be a healer. He wanted to help create a more perfect union where black and white and people of all color and faith could live together in harmony.

Now, brothers, you have a right to point out that, yes, King’s house was bombed, a deranged woman stabbed him with a letter opener and almost

killed him, and he was eventually felled by the bullet of an assassin; but that after all was said and done, King spoke to those in authority who had the conscience to listen to him. In other words, had King faced in the American government or people a people who had decided to act toward African Americans the way Hitler had acted toward the Jews, nothing would have come of King and his message. And I am sure, brothers, you will also remind me that Gandhi only succeeded in throwing out the British because as Césaire puts in Discourse on Colonialism, Hitler’s mass extermination of the Jews and his onslaught on the rest of Europe had very clearly and unmistakably spelt out the underlying racist basis of colonialism and its logical conclusion in his so-called Final Solution. In other words, if the colonizer could exterminate all the “brutes,” there will be none between him and the land and the resources of the colonized. And because the West was careful to make it clear that it was not Hitler, it could not employ a final solution to Gandhi and his harmless followers. Therefore, from the moment Hitler stepped into history, the death of colonization was only a matter of time.

Brothers, I am sure you will also remind me that when our own Ken Saro-Wiwa employed Gandhi’s principles under the rule of a military tyrant, he and key leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People were quickly picked up, framed, and summarily executed. You will also remind me that the very document that enabled me to do an adequate intellectual evaluation of the condition of the Niger Delta, The Declaration of Independence, came out of a push toward a violent overthrow of the yoke of British colonialism. You will also remind me of the immortal lines of Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Furthermore, you will remind me that when all peaceful strategies have failed to produce results, John F. Kennedy’s immortal dictum will ultimately come into play: “Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” You will perhaps also remind me that it was the realization of this stark truth that made the great German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer to agree to take part in an assassination plot against Hitler.

Brothers, I am aware of all these arguments and now want us to make a systematic examination of the Niger Delta condition and the work of those to whose mantles you claim heir. Many of you claim heir to Isaac Boro’s mantle, and it is important that we do a brief examination of Boro’s engagement of the Niger Delta condition.

2 Comments

  1. I have taken my time to read the whole of your ACADEMIC article. However, unlike you, I will be less academic – but be PRAGMATIC instead in my comment. Your article makes for a good reading, but you failed to provide a concrete solution to the suffering of your/our people in the N.D.

    You quoted Martin Luther King in your article, but, for the sake of objectivity and balance of opinions, I expected you to mention as well Malcom-X and James Baldwin, whose approach to resolving the black predicament in the U.S. was totally different from that of King. If you don’t mind, I will like to recommend to you for reading Malcom_X speeches and one of James Baldwin’s books, “The Fire Next Time.” You will also find the book of the Pultzer prize winner Taylor Branch “Parting the Water” a sort of biography of King and the history of the civil rights movement, interesting to read. The BITTER TRUTH i s that if there was no Malcom-X, blacks would still continued to be lynched and suppressed till today. Thanks to Malcom-X’s approach of “AN EYE FOR AN EYE” the civil rights movement was able to achieve remarkable result that was elusive to the blacks for centuries. The bitter truth is that the non-violence approach – praying and singing in churches and ‘turning the other cheek’ – was not very effective in liberating the blacks. But Malcom-X and James Baldwin’s position that ‘if the life and properties of a white man was not threathened’ by blacks, he would not lift a finger to correct injustice. Non-violence is the dream of the white man.

    Another very important thing that you failed to take into consideration is the fact that the predicament of the blacks in America could just not be compared ON A ONE TO ONE UNIT with what is happening in the N.D. As a matter of fact, based on my own analysis, the foundation of most of the problems in the whole of Africa was laid by the British and French through the creation of ARTIFICIAL countries that put people with completely different culture, religion, tradition and values in the same country. Nigeria is a typical example. Unlike practically all of European countries that are HOMOGENOUS in nature, most African countries are heterogenous which leads to a situation whereby each ethnic group regards political power as a powerful not only to defend its own (selfish) interests – sometimes at the expense of others – but as well suppress and exploit the resources of others.

    As far as I am concerned, NIGERIA was formed by the british to serve its own SELFISH INTERESTS. Europeans don’t need developed Africa because the moment we have competent leaders we will NEVER allow them to continue exploiting us. They need our resources for free to develop their own economies. Like you, I am a product of one of the Federal govt. Colleges. But, unlike you, I am not emotional in my analysis and recommendations. The issue of the N.D. is more than just allocating more resources to the N.D. It’s also about the LOOPSIDED terms of the oil agreements and political structure of Nigeria.

    If Yaradua and the nort are sincere in resolving the N.D. crises, all they need to do is convey a SNC – and not manipulate the people by creating a special ministry.

    Going back to Malcom-X and Baldwin, I am more than convinced that MEND is justified to take up arms against the evil northern led nigerian government. I am not talking about those criminal elements who are terrorising their own people. Both military power or force combined with psychological war fare should be used to free the N.D. from bondage. I am more than convinced that the Ijaws alone, with a population of 14 million, if better organized can defeat the northern led army. It’s TOO EARLY to ask them to lay down their arms now. This is just the beginning of the beginning.

    The north are not only parasites, liability and burden on the south, they are equally a CLOG IN THE WHEEL OF PROGRESS. The solution is to GET RID OF THEM NOW!

    In my series “How the N.D. can get their freedom: The action plan!’ I intend to provide information as regards to the tactics and strategies that the N.D. can use to defeat the northern led Nigerian army and get their freedom. Please take your time and read my articles, available on this site, and send them to as many people as possible.

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  2. A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH AND AN EYE FOR AN EYE. THE INEVITABLE DISINTEGRATION OF NIGERIA CAN NOT BE STOPPED BY THE EVIL YARADUA’S (NORTHERN) ARMY.

    As a result of the unwarranted bombings of the N.D. by Yaradua’s soldiers. My recommendation is that the militants should try as much as possible to NEUTRALISE Yaradua, the Minister of Justice, Minister of Defence, Minister of Internal Affairs, Head of JTF, Security adviser to Yaradua, Chief of army staff, Chief of Naval and Air Force and other key northern civilians/military officers including NNPC top officials and their relatives. Dimeji Bankole, who believes that the genocide in the N.D. is a PEACE KEEPING OPERATION, and members of his family, should be added to the list too. The war should be taken to the north. LET THEM FEEL YOUR PAIN TOO. A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye should be the guiding principle of the Niger Deltans! I will write more on this in coming parts of my series “How the N.D. can get their freedom: The action plan!” especially what I mean by “taking the war to the north.”

    I also want to suggest that Yaradua’s picture with the words “WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE FOR GENOCIDE IN THE NIGER DELTA!” written underneath should be published in Nigerian newspapers. His pictures should also be distributed to the indigenes of the N.D. on the streets in the N.D., Lagos, Katsina and Abuja; with the same words “WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE FOR GENOCIDE IN THE NIGER DELTA!” written underneath . There can be no better time to break up Nigeria and finally get rid of those UNGRATEFUL PARASITES than now! IF WE BLOW THIS OPPORTUNITY, WE MIGHT NEVER HAVE ANOTHER ONE FOR A VERY LONG TIME COME!

    MY POSITION IS THAT MEND SHOULD NOT GIVE UP AND FIGHT TO THE END. AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED, THE MILITANTS ARE JUSTIFIED IN THEIR ACTION. THE ISSUE OF THE N.D. INDEPENDENCE SHOULD BE SOLVED ONCE AND FOR ALL NOW! THE GUERILLA WAR AGAINST JTF AND THE ENTIRE YARADUA CONTROLLED ARMY IN NIGERIA MUST BEGIN NOW. THE PATH TO VICTORY IS NOT ROSY, OFCOURSE. BUT, I AM MORE THAN CONFUSED THAT MEND’S COURSE IS NOT ONLY A JUST ONE, BUT WITH GOOD PLANNING, FOCUS, DISCIPLINE AND PERESEVERANCE, THEY CAN DEFEAT THE NIGERIAN ARMY AND FREE THE N.D. FROM INTERNAL COLONIALISM AND SLAVERY THAT THE INDIGENES OF THE N.D. HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO BY THE DESCENDANTS OF USMAN DAN FODIO.

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