The Fireside Critic
An Open Letter to the U.S. Secretary of State, Madam Hilary Rodham Clinton
Good morning. I hope all is well with you. Let me start by registering my profound gratitude to you and President Barack Obama for engaging in a robust proactive diplomacy to ensure that another Darfur does not happen in Nigeria. Indeed, for a while it looked like the country was headed in that direction, because on the one hand, the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was insistent that it would not take up President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer until he spelt out a post-amnesty plan addressing the issues for which they took up arms and on the other, men such as Bala Na’Allah, a member of the House of Representatives, who declared without any sense of irony that it would be better for the Nigerian nation-state to exterminate the 20-or-so million people of the Niger Delta than for MEND to choke the Nigerian economy to death, were urging the president to dispense with the niceties of working out a comprehensive and just peaceful solution and instead carry out a war of extermination in the region.
Fortunately, Madam Secretary, President Yar’Adua wisely chose to play the role of a statesman than to act as a tyrant, fiddling happily with the Bala Na’Allahs in the comfort of Abuja while the military rolled its tanks into the Niger Delta to fight MEND and inflict maximum damage on the communities of the region in the manner of the Odi Massacre. The president rescinded the central government’s decision to take the petroleum university to the North instead of implementing the policy of his predecessor to upgrade the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) at Effurun into a university. Also, through his spokesman, the president has signaled his intention to bring the oil-bearing communities into the oil and gas sector. Furthermore, the president has met with one of the key commanders of MEND and others to get the amnesty project rolling. Additionally, the president has stated that he will engage in post-amnesty talks to address the problems of the Niger Delta. Madam Secretary, these are the acts of a statesman and I thank the president for choosing to play that role.
Nonetheless, Madam Secretary, there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, several months after the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta submitted its report to the president, the president has yet to produce a white paper on the report and implement it. Madam Secretary, had the president acted on the report of the Technical Committee, it is very likely that we will not be where we are today. Therefore, Madam Secretary, I urge you to please plead with the president to act without further delay on the report, since it has a comprehensive plan for the development of the region and for the financial empowerment of the people of the region.
Additionally, Madam Secretary, as you know, the problems of the Niger Delta have an international dimension. Multinational oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, who are based in the United States, still engage in inexcusable practices in the Niger Delta. They still flare gas. Some sections of their network of pipes are dilapidated and are crying out for replacement. Oil spills occur frequently and are underreported, and have devastated the fishing-based rural economy. These practices of the oil companies not only destroy the environment; they also endanger the health of the people and impoverish them. As a result, many rural dwellers who can no longer engage in subsistence and commercial fishing have headed for crime-infested shantytowns in the cities, where life becomes even more of a Sisyphean struggle.
Madam Secretary, the people of the Niger Delta will be immensely grateful to you, President Obama, and the good people of the United States, if the U.S. government would intervene to ensure that the oil companies stop flaring gas in the Niger Delta, replace dilapidated pipes, be proactive about oil spills, and embark on remedial measures to restore the oil-ravaged rivers of the Niger Delta. Madam Secretary, the common bonds of humanity that binds us all together as human beings require these measures.
Madam Secretary, please also remind the president that peace will continue to elude the Niger Delta if politicians, in particular, those of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, do not stop their zero-sum politics in the Niger Delta. They arm youths to terrorize their opponents and rig elections. This has led to a lot of bloodshed in the Niger Delta, in particular, in its riverine areas. The islands are so small and avenues of escape from them so few that when gangs armed by politicians fight each other, the result is often very dire.
Madam Secretary, please, please, do tell the president that the nation, not just the Niger Delta, cannot experience any progress if these repeated cycles of bloodshed continue to take place. Madam Secretary, the Muhammad Lawal Uwais Committee, which the president set up to address the problems of the electoral system, has made a set of far-reaching recommendations that have been hailed by the people. Madam Secretary, please advise the president to put the country ahead of his interests and those of his party by implementing the recommendations of the Uwais Committee, so that the country can experience a new era of free, fair, and violence-free elections in the country.
Finally, Madam Secretary, the man many Nigerians fondly call “our own William Shakespeare,” the erudite Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has suggested that the central government would be wise to seize this opportunity to return the country to the path of what he called Vision 1960, the vision of a true federation. Though Vision 1960 was not perfect, for amongst other things the majority ethnic groups could not bring themselves to implement the Sir Henry Willink Commission’s recommendation that a region be created for the Niger Delta minorities to spare them from majority ethnic domination and to bring development to them, it was nonetheless rooted in the noble idea that if every constituent unit of the country mobilized its human and natural resources and worked as hard as it could, it would launch itself and the nation into the status of a great industrialized country. Today, that vision has been discarded in favor of a highly centralized form of government that has crushed initiative, rewarded corruption, over-relied on a single resource, oil, and in the process created massive poverty, and heavily stunted the development of the country. And, so, Madam Secretary, please do nudge the president and leaders of the national assembly in the direction of reforms that will unleash the massive potential of the country and enable it to fulfill the dreams that it had of itself at independence in 1960.
Madam Secretary, again, I thank you and President Obama very much for engaging in proactive diplomacy to ensure that we do not have another Darfur in the Niger Delta. I wish you and the people with you a great experience in the country. God bless you.
cc: President Barack Obama
cc: President Umaru Yar’Adua