For the last forty-five years or so, the Niger Delta has been characterized by indifference and by man’s inhumanity to man. No government since the days of Tafawa Balewa and Yakubu Gowon could feign ignorance of the state of affairs in the Delta. Not even the oil companies and their governments could claim not to know of the cruel underdevelopment and hopelessness in the region. Every group and every agency has played deaf and dumb — going about their profit making operations in a harmful and blasé manner. Well, those days are over! It is time to face reality or bear the brunt of the people’s tornadoic anger.
Fortunately, there seems to be a new attitude in town, a new mind-set. We have a long and arduous road to travel, but so far so good: recent statements by President Yar’Adua sound promising and hopeful. But even if he means what he says, these are just the first steps in a thousand miles journey — a journey he must not make futile. For instance, recent reports that his government “may engage the services of foreign conflict resolution experts, particularly from the United States” are very disheartening. It does not make sense! In this particular case, we do not need foreign experts for a local problem.
The Niger Delta crisis is a local problem. And so it is the duty and responsibility of the Federal Government to solve the problem. Over the years, there have been many official and unofficial reports and recommendations regarding the state of underdevelopment and the crisis. But irresponsibly, successive governments never committed themselves to finding genuine solutions to the quandary. This time around — if specialized help and assistance are needed — Nigerian experts and professionals should be the ones at the table with the government — not some so-called foreign experts.
President Yar’Adua should rely on Nigerian professionals to do the job. There is no need wasting millions and millions of dollars on foreign experts when (1) we have experts of similar qualifications and expertise; (2) the fees and other compensations for foreign experts could be used for purposes within Nigeria; and (3) our own experts needs such assignments to bolster their own resume and international standing. Simply put: what are these foreign experts going to do for Nigeria that Nigerian experts cannot, on their own, do for their own country? Come to think of it, lessons learnt by Nigerian experts may be useful in solving other domestic and regional conflicts. Please, invest in our own people.
Nigeria has several hundred eminently qualified scholars and practitioners in the areas of crisis management and peacebuilding. They have a deep understanding of what the problems are, they know the topography, and they know the people and the culture and what’s at stake. What knowledge, solutions, magic or miracle are experts from MIT, Harvard and elsewhere going to bring to the table that Nigerians don’t already possess? We and we alone know what’s to be done to our situation. We do not need, and I will not support contacting and contracting these so-called foreign experts. Please, let’s do away with colonial era mentality that teaches the White man knows best. Heck, they don’t!
Along with the Nigerian experts should come the followings: (1) steadfast commitment on the part of the President and his administration; (2) adequate and sustained funding by the government; (3) the experts must be given free reign and unfettered access to people, places and documents; (4) the indigenes — local leaders, representatives of the agitating groups and the average citizen — must be fully involved in the proceedings; (5) the group’s report and recommendations must be made public, and government must carry out all the recommendations so long as no section of it breaches our national security interest. And finally this endeavor must not be like a dozen or so others that were half-hearted in scope and authority, funding, and implementation. There must be unassailable honesty and commitment on the part of President Yar’Adua and his team.
As an aside, if the President and his administration want to know what foreign experts thinks about the crisis, there are several reports out there, including the ones by Chatham House and the International Crisis Group. However, a more complete analysis and recommendations was given by the United Nation, a copy of the report can be found here.
No one is under any illusion that the Niger Delta crisis can be solved “right here right now;” no, it will take time and commitment and resources and other imperatives on the part of the government and others. For the time being however, I advice that: (1) there be no move to militarize any part of the Delta, and neither must there be instructions to the military and security forces to “find and arrest, kill or kidnap” any member of the militant groups; (2) government must step up efforts to bring to justice Nigerians and foreigners like the Indians and Lebanese and others who engage in illegal oil bunkering; and (3) President Yar’Adua must know that not all leaders of the Niger Delta extract are true representatives of their people. Some of these so-called leaders do not wants the crisis resolved, because, amongst other factors, there is money to be made from the crisis and continued mayhem.
In all of this, if there is justice and equity, Niger Deltans will obey the law. And in fact, Mr. President will find that the vast majority of Nigerians who call the Delta home are peace-loving, kind and considerate. Diplomacy and political settlement has always been their watchword and preference. It has been for several decades. History has however noted that there are times in the affairs of men when the other logical option is violence: coordinated violence with an endgame. If not, for how long must the people wait for justice? Twenty or fifty more years? Or until when the oil dries out and the region becomes barren, desolate and isolated? President Umar Musa Yar’Adua — if he is commitment and honest and willing — will also find willing and honest and committed partners in the Creeks of the Niger Delta.
In the end though, the President and his team must not be seen to be above the law, or act in reckless or cunning manner. His good deeds will be reciprocated by the people. His government must (1) engage in massive, sustained, and planned human and infrastructural development of the area; (2) rethink the revenue allocation formula that has been a recurrent source of variance; (3) honestly deal with the issues of corruption and maladministration in the oil sector; (4) compel the oil companies to act in socially responsible manner: they must invest in the people, provide goods and services, respect the indigenes and obey laws and guidelines. Their recklessness accounts for most of the malfeasance and ecological disasters in the region; (5) directly or indirectly allocate certain percentage of the oil blocks to citizens of the oil-producing states; and (6) encourage full participation of the locals in private and public oil sector activities.
The Niger Delta crisis is not that complex a problem to solve. The difficulty has been that the government, the oil companies and others, have never truly committed themselves to solving the problems. It’s been one lie after another, one political game after another. In addition, government has generally relied on few political leaders (some) with ulterior motives and the need to line their pockets. This time around, President Yar’Adua must device a grand strategy for solving the crisis by involving the people, their true representatives and the militant groups.
So far so good; but he has a thousand more miles to travel. If he is willing, committed and honest about this journey, he will not travel alone. We the Niger Deltans — especially the Ijaw nation – will be there for him, wishing him well and praying for him…May Allah be with him, always!