The Niger Delta has known more deaths than any part of Africa by hands of exploitative leaders and also, of course, by the furious force of nature or environment despoliation occasioned again by unmindful and uncaring leaders. But this piece is more about the deaths and havocs occasioned by the military. From the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa by Sanni Abacha to the pulling down of Odi community under Olusegun Obasanjo to the sacking of Gbaramatu kingdom under Umaru Yar’Adua and to the present invasion of Ayakoromor community under Goodluck Jonathan, the Niger Delta region has known untold numbers of death by hands of the military. Add the other various assaults by the military on the region and an endless volume would present itself before you. We do not intend that here.
The Ken Saro-Wiwa very sad incidence with all that went with it is been well documented. This is also true with the brutality that is Odi story. So, there is no point revisiting them here. We take this nauseating story of an apparently innate absurdity of the Nigerian military from Gbaramatu.
At Gbaramatu the military under Yar’Adua invaded all three elements of air, earth and water, and became unwanted guests. They went with the fourth element of ‘fire’. The cannons were ready to shell; the mortars set to bombard; and rocket-launched weapons, probably nuclear-powered, prepared to batter with ‘missiles’. The combatants set! And with all fume and rage, they let off. Then the bombs, cartridges, explosives and all detonators of different kinds emptied their bursts of sounds, rattling thunders, ear-splitting noise and bangs; then confusion, poisonous emission, hits on target: EVERYWHERE; and then deaths, exodus and army of occupation.
When the terror from air, land and water by fire was over, one generalissimo blared out: “We have taken over Gbaramatu Kingdom, Oporoza now controlled by us … It is now our domain”. In a democracy! I tell you: we never heard it as hard from the ‘Black Scorpion’ during those Biafran days as he went capturing one stronghold or the other. Under a military regime and with secession staring us all on the face Adekunle was even more refined, and eschewed such incivility that we are talking about here.
In a democracy, without any secession threat, and after an aerial bombardment of oil bearing Nigerian villages and their innocent villagers (sustainers of the country) that was what we heard. That was what we heard after killing a thousand and one of them and making others refugees. Paid and sustained by Gbaramatu’s oil, the Nigerian Armed Force – Army, Air Force and Navy – eliminated Gbaramatu people and leveled their villages.
We thought our gunboats, submarines and rocket-launchers etc (all purchased by Niger Delta oil money) are for enemy nations. We thought munitions and armories should be emptied because of external aggression. We thought any show of state might should not be directed to innocent and law-abiding citizens. If there is no other way we can reveal the sophistication of our military buy shall we not learn self-restraint? Shall we continue to train on innocent civilians? Shall we score our military expertise and muzzle-velocity on the goose that lays the nations eggs? Shall we determine our precision in incendiary bombs on innocent and helpless natives in their poor huts and remote villages – even when these natives ordinarily should own the skylines at Lekki, Ikoyi, V.I and Abuja, and the high-rising mansions in Dubai, Europe and North America owned by thievery by some Nigerian crooks and rogue-politicians? Is this how to tell the world and our neighbors that our military is tough?
We wondered when the destruction of Gbaramatu occurred that if the military must go for some criminals, are the years of training that have so gutted our treasuries not enough to reach some hungry criminals without letting a pint of blood; even the blood of such criminals? The military would say the terrain is difficult. Where then is the espionage militaries are known for? And if we must buy their argument, is that then not one huge reason the place that has over the years been developing Lagos, Abuja and the rest of the country and giving the world a facelift (we refer to the effect of our oil on yonder shores) should be opened up and integrated with the rest of society? Can there be such ammunition cache in Lekki, V.I, Asokoro etc as allegedly existing in the creeks of the Niger-Delta? Under those creeks lies the wealth to turn that region into Lekki, V.I, and Abuja a thousand times over. But what do you have!
While we were still finger-crossed over Gbaramatu happenings another rot pierced through. It was most sickening. One Bala, a third-term member of the National Assembly, said it was better for twenty million (Niger Deltans) to die for one million (of the Balas) to live! It was not really that he took us unawares for he merely stoutly represented what we long knew is the mindset of the northern ‘oligarchy’. Apparently having been co-opted to that oligarchy Bala must occasion some gusto somewhere within that hierarchy for him to remain relevant. And there is no way to do that other than going misanthrope. We still remember the mudslinging of the people of the Niger Delta region by the Umaru Dikkos during the failed OBJ’s political reform conference.
Why should all Niger-Deltans die? Is it for asking for reparation? No. Is it for demanding 100 percent of what is divinely theirs from henceforth so as to pay taxes to the federal government as it should really be in federalism? No. Is it for asking for fifty percent NOW and NEVER, even though that was the practice in situ, when the majority tribes sustained the nation? No. Why are they all dying and should continue to die? It is for asking for marginal increase of the crumbs irregularly coming their way presently; and asking for a bit of faithfulness in disbursement. This is why they are dying.
And they may continue to die because another member of the oligarchy (also a member of the National Assembly) even saw those crumbs as patronage, that is, not as a matter of right. He was specifically referring to the NDDC. He said NDDC is patronage. No wonder therefore N326.2 billion statutory an allocation belonging to the Commission was said to have expired. Tony Uranta even says now that properly recorded, Nigeria owes the NDDC from its creation till date about N1.5 trillion today.
There are oligarchs somewhere that see themselves as patrons and Niger-Deltans as some sort of beings under chains or under some form of control, and who should therefore be given some crumbs out of what is almost 100 percent theirs. When such crumbs go out even in trickles the oligarchs even think they deserve “ALL HAIL THE LORDS” appreciation, and that with full prostrate: for their (oligarchs) wonderful benevolence and benefaction. Do this, then all systems go; fail to, then twenty million bond men may have to go for one million lords to live. And the military is at their beck and call. This is the characterless and inhuman contract we have to acquiesce in.
At independence, no one was ready to use Cocoa, Palm oil and Groundnut monies to pursue Willink Commission’s recommendation on the Niger Delta. Then oil took central stage! Niger Delta was poised for Eldorado. It was never to come; instead came knocks, hard knocks. For decades now it has been all knocks. What was taught a blessing became a sweeping curse killing fishes, animals, plants, humans with their habitats and also polluting the air around and above! That is, the thievery and the bombs apart.
We thought Gbaramatu would be the end to this plot against Niger Delta, and which was while we seriously wished then that someone help us savor in these things only as bygone times. For as it was, Umaru Yar’ Adua decided to go military like his mentor, OBJ. And so we didn&#
8217;t only desire others to pray for us (ora pro nobis), we also wrote that people miss not the obvious: The wealth or monies of the region are in millions of private bank accounts with each running into millions of US dollars, all scattered throughout the whole world.
And Yar’Adua listened somewhat. He granted amnesty to the boys, and then rolled out some form of plan to integrate them to society. We applauded him though we all agreed that was only a drop into an ocean of needs by Niger Deltans. He didn’t come so enthralling in tackling the issues that brought about militancy in the first place.
But Yar’Adua soon passed on and Jonathan Goodluck took over the reins of power. Because the issues that brought about militancy are still there and overwhelmingly so militancy reared its head once more. Rather than address key issues, the military have since started shelling the creeks. Ayakoromor has been invaded. The toll is huge.
Fire has engulfed the whole place; and debates over who caused the fire are on, just as there is disagreement over number of houses destroyed. Meanwhile, internally displaced persons have taken refuge in Warri and other places. The number is understandably staggering. Worst of it: The total number of deaths caused by this invasion is something else and the military is all out playing down on the number and disputing figures everyone else puts forward. Whatever is the case: John Togo, the man the military say it is after is still alive.
Yet, General Charles Omoregie, leader of the Joint Task Force (JTF), said they train to avoid colossal damage during their operations in the region. And yet he says Ayakoromor is a friendly community. Today, Omoregie is battling to deny what some have called genocide. He is the only one qualified now to define what is or what is not ‘colossal’ having trained to avoid colossal damage.
His narration on how the militants overtook (messed up) his military strategy and encircled his army and hence had no alternative but to open fire makes some of us so ashamed and sick. It is irritatingly silly. Is our military so lacking in military intelligence and so weak that it cannot get to its target? Like with Gbaramatu we shall continue to ask that ‘if the military must go for some criminals, are the years of training that have so gutted our treasuries not enough to reach some hungry criminals without letting a pint of blood; even the blood of such criminals?’ Or, is this skewed argument about terrain difficulty their ‘strategic argument’ to continue to permit the killing of all Niger Deltans, and of which Jonathan may not be aware of!
To kill Niger Delta people ad arbitrium because of their oil is barbaric and conscienceless. Rather than deceive ourselves; rather than think military option would do, let us remove the conditions that bred the crises in the region. Let us listen to Willink Commission; let us listen to Ken Saro-Wiwa. Not to be allowed voice in extremis; not to be entitled to your due because all national documents are drafted and enacted by majority might, is simply ominous. To treat the Niger Delta people as superfluous while their God-given oil is a must grab is a superannuated mindset, a mindset that flourished in some long ages past. Not now.
The people have not asked for reparations yet. And they are damned right if they do. So, END THE STRING OF DEATHS IN THE NIGER DELTA TODAY.