“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
Three kidnappings, two attack on military patrol boats, and one car bombing; within the short space of four months and 2006 has written itself in the annals of history of the federation of Nigeria and the struggle of the Niger Delta people against repression and oppression by their own country men. Two disparate incidents in the past weeks bring to fore the complicated but critical issues that bedevil the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. One, was a desperate attempt of the central government to throw more money at an issue that transcends such piecemeal effort, and the other was a resounding vendetta from the militia that have been exposing the underbelly of the Nigerian federation in this desperate times.
Desperate situation, always calls for desperate solutions. But seeing the reaction of a wide spectrum of Nigerians on Internet message/discussion boards and private discourse immediately after the bombing, it dawned on me that this problem already has a life of its own. The ignorance that permeated through many responses of ordinary Nigerians to the issue was not only appalling but telling of the roots of the problem. Varying forms of ignorance including those who think gasoline is actually pumped from the ground up all the away to gas filling stations, to those who wondered aloud what suffering these Niger Deltans are talking about if any. Haba!
Suffering under four decades of internal repression, with the central government acting in concert with the oil majors the people of the Niger Delta have endured untold environmental pollution often taking away from them their means of livelihood i.e. fishing or agriculture and replacing it with ill health and rare diseases due to the various toxic chemicals the oil prospecting activities have released to the atmosphere. The unemployment rate in the Niger Delta area is almost triple the national average, for God’s sake why should distance to the oil well be inversely proportional to the benefit you derive from it? In fact, I was shocked when I moved to the oil city of Warri in the early 90s from Ibadan to find only one single tarred road in the whole city with perennial flooding after any rainfall being the order of the day. Warri was fifty years behind the city of Ibadan in development- and this is the oil city!
If you think the ignorance was bad enough, think of the ignorance mixed with a good measure of arrogance especially from Nigerians of the major ethnic groups (and I am a Yoruba man, thank you). Indeed, recently one of the Northern Senators posited that the minority groups in the Niger Delta should be relocated. I suggest, that may be it is the parasitic barren state that this honorable legislator comes from that should be given free of charge to the Republic of Niger! On message boards you could hear Nigerians from the “superior tribe” talking about a break down of culture or a lack of it as a reason for the violence. Some of them posited that these young men don’t have respect for elders! Which elders? Who is elder? Some of them even go as far as to question the ownership of the oil- saying the oil is useless if it is not extracted. What they forget to say is that the people of the Niger Delta will be better off without the extraction. Let it remain in the soil, Nigeria was better off in 1960 than today. Oil has been a curse to the people of Niger Delta and they may ask the people of Alaska that get bountiful checks in their mail every year as a share of the oil wealth, how much ownership these ordinary Alaskans have! It baffles me that this same people will not ask questions of the oil company especially Shell that has become a law unto itself. Importing arms for the government to kill the people of the Niger Delta and refusing to obey simple court order for compensation and stop to gas flaring.
Indeed, the ultimate evidence of the multiplex of arrogance and ignorance is some existential belief in the military prowess of the Federal government. Even after the militia have killed nothing less than a dozen military men and made nonsense of barrack security; statements of coming vengeance of the all conquering Nigerian Armed Forces in the creek of the Niger Delta is very common. The talk of one elephant i.e. the federal government, in the Niger Delta is very laughable considering the fact that weapons of war are very cheap and accessible commodity in the international black market today. Remember, this is not Biafra; this is guerilla war at its best. There is no Geneva Convention, no uniformed personnel, no rules of engagement and other assortments and luxury that organized warfare offers its combatants. This is fight to the finish, whose end thereof is unknown to sundry. In a country where plane carrying telecom equipment for one of the mobile operators snuck into the airspace in the dead of the night and successfully breached customs and immigration, how hard is it for a plane load of weapons from Ukraine to be successfully delivered to any remote creek in Niger delta? I cry for my country.
However, if you think the mixed bag of ignorance and arrogance from fellow Nigerians is deepening the crisis, I will say try violence. The rampant and wanton violence the Niger Delta militias will only undermine the struggle. It will alienate the common man, who hitherto may hold one or two hidden sympathies for their struggle but is the bare target of this violence. Certainly, the history of resistance is painted with the blood and tissues of the innocent; from Northern Ireland to Palestine and even Cyprus and Spain, violence have undermined the legitimate struggle of freedom fighters. Indeed, a good measure of peaceful protest and targeted violence has proven to be more effective. The case of Apartheid South Africa and East Timor comes to mind. Even our current president , was a famous and open supporter of targeted violence in the South African struggle against apartheid and what is taking place in the Niger delta is on many scales worse than Apartheid. So you will excuse my lack of diplomacy in advising the Niger Delta militias to look at this option. For God’s sake, stop targeting civilians face the military and their masters as well as their foreign colluders. A good dose of targeted vendetta fed to state government officials and their federal counterparts will definitely not baffle most Nigerians that are fed up with their intransigence anyway.