Nigeria Matters

How Not To Resolve The Niger Delta Crises

Despite the army of million dollar salary earning crises managers and PR executives in the employment of the oil companies operating in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, It is still baffling that the oil companies did not see the current crises coming. If they did, it is either they underestimated the power and might of the Ijaws in being able to take their destiny into their own hands, or the shylock executives of Shell, Chevron, Agip, ExxonMobil and the rest of the greedy foreign oil exploration companies operating in the region have also been heeding the counsel of false oracles.

Now the conflict is threatening to spill out of proportions just like the oil and flames spewing forth from the many burst oil pipelines and wells scattered around the Niger Delta region. The story and plight of the Ijaws as well as the other indigenes of Nigeria’s oil producing communities is not new to the world, but the world seemed to have taken only a scathing and perfunctory notice when Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight members of his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) paid the ultimate price in 1995.

Perhaps Saro-Wiwa’s struggles and death should have been a wake-up call for all who have been milking the cow to death, and feasting alongside the vultures in the region of death but avarice appeared to have taken the upper hand. The judgements of the Nigerian governments starting from the federal and state governments to the local governments were beclouded, they refused to listen.

Of serious concern is the way the Nigerian government have gone about managing the crises, there has been an almost befuddling passivity on its part with regards to the Niger Delta crises. To think that the government has not yet considered a constructive Marshal Plan to resolving the crises which is threatening Nigeria’s chief source of revenue, and which could potentially undermine the current socio-economic reforms in place makes one to wonder what the members of the federal executive council discuss at their weekly meetings. While flagging off the election campaign for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt recently, President Obasanjo admitted the neglect of the region by successive governments, according to him “Let us say the truth; there had been neglect of this region in the past. Neglect at the community, local, State and Federal levels. There have been neglect at the oil company levels, don’t let us deceive ourselves”. To the disappointment of his listeners, there was no outline of planned solutions and strategies towards a resolution.

From pictures beamed around the globe by publications as the National Geographic and reports by organisations such as the ‘Chop Fine report’ by Human Rights Watch, one could easily see that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta People (MEND), the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and the several other militia groups operating in the region have a case, and they sure mean business. When pictures of the balaclava clad, A-K 47 totting militia men first emerged in 2005 alongside the pictures of the first set of kidnapped oil workers, Nigerians and some members of the international community scoffed at the boys and rubbished their antics, some others simply went about their business in the anticipation that it was a one-off incident and ill wind that would eventually blow away. However, we are now into the second year and the kidnappings rather than abating have increased in intensity. The militia men have become more daring serving the world media daily doses of their kidnapping exploits. Lending his views to the Niger Delta conflict, Sabella Ogbobode Abidde, A prominent Ijaw indigene and Washington based public analyst called on all Nigerians especially Niger Deltans to intensify their protests against the injustice in the region, quoting Elie Wiesel, Mr Abidde said that “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. “The time to vigorously protest this blatant injustice is now. The time has come” he concluded. Echoing similar views, Victor Dike, author of Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria warned that “without social justice there may be no peace in the Niger Delta and economic growth and development will continue to elude the region. He charged political leaders to work harder for peace in the Niger Delta because “without peace, growth is impossible.”

The Nigerian government attempted to contain the crises in 2006 when it announced that the government would spend billions of naira to construct bridges and flyovers across the Niger Delta area. The announcement itself which is a warped PR idea shows that the government is not fully in touch with the realities on the ground in the Niger Delta region. Although the government defended its decision by claiming that the effort would help provide local jobs, the announcement hardly addressed the core issues at the heart of the Niger Delta crises such as resource control, poor living standards of the indigenes of the oil producing communities, gas flaring, oil spillages and other ecological disasters that have plagued the region as a result of the activities of the oil exploration companies. The Nigerian government’s proposals to build bridges and flyovers across the Niger delta region stems from a poverty of thought and have not strategically addressed the core issues hence the insurgencies and unrests in the region have not abated.

Perhaps this may be a good time to either review the modus operandi or scrap totally the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Though set up with the best of intentions, the organisation has however become a nesting ground for corrupt government officials whose penchant for diverting allocated funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region for personal use has meant that the communities in question increasingly wonder where the billions of nair

a the commission claims it has invested in the region have gone to. The sleaze culture in the commission was epitomised by its former chairman, the exiled runaway and billionaire fugitive Professor Eric Opia who took the commission to the cleaners when it was still known as the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). Its immediate past and current executives have also been known to be nursing political ambitions, placed into context in a country where candidates for governorship elections require hundreds of millions of naira in campaign funding, it may not be difficult to fathom the sources of the electoral war chests of the likes of Onyema Ugochukwu and Mr. Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, both former managing directors of NDDC.  Ugochukwu is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in Abia state in the coming April/May general elections,   while Aguariavwodo, the immediate past managing director resigned his appointment to vie for PDP’s gubernatorial ticket in Delta state. The former Executive Director, Finance and Administration of the NDDC, Timi Alaibe has now been confirmed as the new managing director taking over from Aguariavwodo, and Alaibe is also known to be eying the government house of oil-rich Bayelsa state, the home state of impeached governor D.S.P Alamiesegha.

The recent comment credited to Nigeria’s Vice President Atiku Abubakar is worrisome, he alleged that the Nigerian government has placed orders for weapons and ammunitions worth over $2 billion which it plans to use to quell the Niger Delta insurgency. While accepting that the statement should be cautiously received considering the raging feud between President Obasanjo and the vice president, it has to be said still that should this be true, then it must be worrying news to all those who have been following the Niger Delta crises.

The Obasanjo government would be doing itself a disservice if it proposes to use violence against its citizens because memories of the Odi and Zaki Biam massacres are still fresh in the memories of Nigerians. Such an approach will escalate violence in the region because violence begets violence. The government should still explore dialogue with all the stakeholders, an option that it doesn’t seem to have considered very much in the past. The Nigerian government should also understudy America’s situation in Iraq before going ahead with its proposals. It is not always the man with superior weapons that win wars. The Niger Delta militia are at home in the creeks of the Niger Delta and would not be easy prey for the federal troops the government is planning to send into the region. The government should think twice before embarking on this road to perdition which spells doom for the innocent citizens living in Niger Delta communities, the militants and the federal troops that may be paying with their lives fighting an unjust war just like US soldiers in Iraq.

To the credit of the Niger Delta militants, they have not embarked on large scale execution of kidnapped oil workers most of whom they eventually release except in exceptional circumstances. The released oil workers have also come out to their defence maintaining that they were well treated while under captivity thus showing the human side of the militants, a side that is amenable to dialogue. It is this human side that the Nigerian government should be exploring unless the Obasanjo government wishes to add to its catalogue of human rights abuses and injustices against the Nigerian people.

The Long Harmattan Season by the author is slated for release in March 2007. February 2007. info@uchenworah.com

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