My Countrymen Lie On A Bed Of Nails

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

Those who argue that the resolution of the hostage conundrum in the Niger-Delta can best be attended to via the conflict-resolution-cum-civilized process of a dialogue had better remember that there are people amongst us who will never give in and allow for peaceful change. If we hearken to the semi-immortal words of a certain American preacher in Letter from Birmingham Jail, we would recollect that, ‘There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair…’ Sometime in the past, there was a man who was an environmental and minority rights activist who championed the cause of a people whose land had been devastated by British and Dutch oil interests. He was arraigned before a kangaroo tribunal with the charge that he killed four pro-government Ogoni activists and was hung, despite the international outcry that his trial generated. The immediate result of the price he paid was Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth until 1999, the so-called golden year of our nascent democracy.

We came to the realization much later that the judicial assassination of Ken Saro-Wiwa on November 1995 was borne out of the fact that the arrow head of that assassination was a military despot who had little or no sagacity in matters of diplomacy. All he did was what any sanguinary despot would in circumstances where there is just a little push from progressive radicals. A sanguinary despot is wont to kill, unmindful that history has an impeccable record that reveals that the killing of political opponents who champion the interests of a hapless people is counter-productive and generates many more radical progressives in the event of the death of the protagonist. This scenario resembles that that was presented in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, where the protagonist boasted to his persecutors that even if they ended up killing him, his blood would water the many seeds of the revolution that was looming and which his detractors want to stifle.

So with the death of Kenule Saro-Wiwa, those that thought that the issues of environmental degradation and pollution that the activist championed were already swept under the carpet and are now subject for the archives. But the fact remains that that worthy’s death has always brought to the fore, the decades of neglect and marginalization that is the lot of the Niger– Delta and the catalyst that triggered off a chain of reactions that we are unable to control now.

The Niger-Delta. My Niger-Delta. Why has it been difficult for me to jump in the fray for as long as the conflict in that area has lasted? Am I immune to the devastating effects that oil exploration and the debilitating effects that poverty has on the disposition of the aforesaid region? Would intelligent people not take my arguments as being subjectively motivated and ill-conceived because I now throw down my gauntlet in the defence of my antecedents? Well, from the onset, I thought (and still do think so) that those who are there now fighting the cause and pressing our case are doing a yeoman’s job. At the same time too, I also felt that the issues were getting truncated and trivialised and we were veering away from achieving the objectives of the struggle: just when our advocates made a really strong case for a control of our God-given resources, and staged a meaningful walk-out from the National Political Reforms Conference, a certain champion of the struggle was apprehended abroad with money enough to feed his village for the next two decades. From that point on, I had little zest left to respond to the many detractors who told us to our face that we were our worst enemies and the stumbling blocks in the way of the realization of our objectives-that is, until the hostage-taking tactic became another strong method of drawing attention favourable to the cause.

Ordinarily, the hostage-grabbing ploy to draw attention to the plight of a hapless people and condition (for that is what it is) can be comparable to Osama bin Laden’s terror tactic of bringing down the twin-towers. But I stand to be corrected and express it with all sincerity that Osama did not just wake up one nasty morning and decide to bomb the United States. Something equally nasty in Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, that action and reaction are equal and opposite (and composite, I may add), must have precipitated these attacks on foreign nationals who wantonly despoil us and pay a royalty to the federation account. I see the hostage-grabbing thing from the eyes of one of my mentors-that ‘sometimes, it is necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal…’

Let me now attempt to answer to one of the questions that I raised in the fourth paragraph of this discussion, the one that had to do with whether or not I am immune from the environmental and debilitating effect of the presence of oil in the Niger-Delta, and whether or not we should chuck grenades at oil prospecting multinationals or take them hostage as a way of fighting for our right to control our resources. My little village is a metaphor for other little villages in the Niger-Delta. It has been in the business of oil prospecting from the very day that that oily business started in my country. In its halcyon days, we had lots of fish from our rivers, lots of groundnut, lots of kpokpo garri, lots of bush meat, lots of snail and lots of shrimp. Our ecosystem was considered as dense as that of the Brazilian Amazons in terms of the rich diversity of the plant and animal population of the Niger-Delta Basin. Today, all of that is gone. In its place and wake, we have rivers and lakes that cannot yield the fresh fish and shrimps that I once saw as a kid as a result of pollution. Come to my little village at night and the place is perpetual daytime because gas is flared there twenty-four hours. There is mostly no power supply and most times too, there is no pipe-borne water. What about our young people? They mostly struggle against the elements and against the time and tide of life on their own without the patrimony of the multinational companies that render my village and our villages impotent. Take the statistics of their number employed even in these corporations and you would find out their number is a negligible proportion. And some of them have visited Abuja and have seen what the proceeds from the oily business has been put into. Indeed, it really surprises me that a lot of people are surprised that all of this hostage-taking is taking place right now. In other climes and other temperatures of this country, you know as well as I do that people will never be held hostage in their own villages for as long and as agonizingly as this.

Let those who are planning presidential this or that as panacea to the problem of the Niger-Delta hold their peace and keep their jobs. The sort of jobs they have in mind for the people of the Niger-Delta are menial jobs and I do not encourage any Niger-Deltan worth his father’s name to accept such second-helpings. For me, what I know would be acceptable to Niger-Deltans is a hundred percent control of their resources or a master plan as comprehensive as that that transformed Abuja into the city it is today. Anything short of this may not help matters.

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emily isoyi May 4, 2007 - 2:34 am

it's ridiculous

Yetunde November 1, 2006 - 9:56 am

Well written article, Your articles are always informative and entertaining. I visited Nigeria in September after almost 20 years in the US. I was shocked and depressed at the state of matters. I have seen a growing number of Nigerians "moving back home" in the past 5 years but more than 80% of them move back to the US within 2 years.

One point of correction, you can not feed one person on 50 a month talkless of a family of four. Regardless, Nigeria is an expensive country to live in.


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