At no time in my life have I questioned my Nigerian identity. But I have strong doubts now. About two or three weeks ago, one court in one oyinbo country gave judgement against four Nigerian farmers in the Niger-Delta. Their farms, their only sources of livelihood were destroyed from the oil spills from the activities of Shell, a multinational crude oil prospecting company. After the case and judgement was reported worldwide, I paused to see the reaction either from the Nigerian government, or from the Nigerian president or from governors of the farmers from the affected states, or that by the governors and governments from other states who shamelessly share monies monthly from proceeds from the farms destroyed by Shell & Co. Nobody said anything apart from a few whimpers from non-government orgs. At that point, I called to mind that the destruction of the farms of the affected farmers was not just an isolated event: pollution of farms and rivers in the Niger Delta had gone on for more than 50 years. In fact, while the activities of these oil companies had enriched successive Nigerian governments, states and individuals in our so-called federation, farms, rivers, trees and the aquatic equilibrium upon which that enrichment came from were gradually polluted and eroded. I recall a United Nations Report that said any repair of whatever damage that oil exploration and exploitation had exacted on the Niger Deltan ecosystem would take nearly 200 years to carry out. I also recall that about two years ago, there was such an outrage and outcry over a single oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I will recall as well that at the end of the day, Shell, the same Shell, agreed to settle the case out of court by paying billions of dollars to the American government after the administration of Barack Obama applied pressure on them.
Therefore, since the Nigerian government or its president and governors who shamelessly share monies from the destruction of farms and pollution of rivers in the Niger-Delta kept shamelessly mum on that irresponsible judgement, I had no choice but to begin to doubt if this is really a country worth identifying with. If this judgement were to have been delivered against any other country, there would have been reasonable umbrage and outrage leading to a beneficial outcome in favour of our cheated farmers. I say this believing that what happens in the Niger Delta farms is reasonable deprivation, akin to the kind of conditions that made a young man from Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia set himself alight and ignite the Arab Spring. And that is why therefore, I believe those of us from the Niger Delta must begin to assert our nationality and identity forcefully again as Niger-Deltans as a reaction to the insensitivity to the plight of the farms in the Niger Delta where the meal ticket of this country comes from.
Thereafter again, I declare that I am from the Niger Delta first and foremost whether or not it is expedient to do so. This declaration is to spite Nigeria and I will have no apologies for being a Niger Deltan before being a Nigerian. And when I refer to myself as one from the Niger delta, I do not use the term generically, academically or politically. I use the term from two points of contention: first, as one sure of his ancestry, his pedigree and can recite the historical antecedents of his progenitors. I also use the term, aware that because it had been bastardised and woven into the lexicon of Nigerian political discourse, we all seem dazed and confused at what the Niger Delta really means. But where, in fact, is the Niger Delta? Is it that area of land being demographically insinuated as the South – South? Is the Niger Delta coterminous with the fiduciary expectations of the people of this so-called South-South… and of the Nigerian people? What is the Niger-Delta? Secondly, I use the term from the tenets of John Raul’s dictums of social and political justice based on his book, A Theory of Justice – with a highlight that justice (which the rest of Nigeria and the oyinbo court is not prepared to accord the Niger Delta) is the first pillar upon which social institutions are built.
The Niger-Delta is a metaphor for our farmlands – it should have been a collective farmland. And verily, from the way these Nigerians outsource their justice delivery systems to South Africans and to the British and get result sharp-sharp, I will like to describe what is happening to our farmers in the Niger Delta by recalling a similar antecedent in farmlands in Kenya – that case where British usurpers seized lands from the owners of the farms and made these owners work and handover the crops to the usurpers.
And based on that realisation, I cannot but recall a certain farmer in my village a long time ago. He had a farm that was his source of livelihood. Every morning, he tended to his crops as if those crops were some beloved children. He reaped a bountiful harvest and was able to take care of his family and contribute to the development of his village. But one day, this farmer developed whitlow on his right thumb. For weeks he could not tend to his farm, and therefore, weeds took over that farm. Fed up with his predicament, this farmer took his cutlass to his farm one day, placed this infected thumb on the stump of a tree and chopped it off. He bled briefly but afterward the bleeding stopped and then he was able to hold his hoe again (even though awkwardly) and got rid of the weeds in his farm.
That farm is the Niger Delta, and the rest of Nigeria is the virus that refuses to heal unless it is chopped off.