Taking The Niger Delta To The Chatham House: Convicting The Blood! Curtailing The Oil!

Chatham House, formally known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in London whose mission is to analyze and promote the understanding of major international issues and current affairs. It is regarded as the world’s leading organization in this area. It takes its name from its premises, a grade I listed 18th century house in St. James’s Square designed in part by Henry Flitcroft and once occupied by three British Prime Ministers including William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham.

Chatham House is itself a melting pot that brings together people and organizations with an interest in international affairs. They provide an independent forum in which academia; business, diplomats, the media, NGOs, politicians, policy makers and researchers can interact in an open and impartial environment. The House is a reflection of a unique and non-aligned perspective, routinely used as a source of information for media organizations seeking background or experts upon matters involving major international issues.

July 17, 2008 is a schedule for the Federal government at the said Chatham House to testify and narrate the ordeal of the nation in the labeled of Niger Delta “miscreants”. The Niger Delta unrest is worsening the economic recession in the nation, and led to the revival of leadership tendencies in society. The region had achieved some stability, but at the cost of democratic setbacks and three unresolved conflicts frozen along cease- fire lines. In spite of declined international attention and the FG’s reluctance to resolve these conflicts through negotiations, none of the three is close to a solution. To differing degrees, these three conflicts are all at risk of erupting again in a violent manner; moreover, ethnic tensions elsewhere in the region exist that are at a risk of escalation.

The Niger Delta is in deep political and economical crisis. Armed conflict and economic collapse following the neglect have confined over half of the population of the region to poverty. Health care and education systems have suffered greatly from the economic collapse, and living standards have fallen considerably. Corruption in all spheres of society has become ram-pant and may today pose the largest single threat to the functioning of the region.

That the Nigerian economy has lost more than one billion dollars a month and hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude a day since 2006 due to unrest in the Niger Delta is not a fresh story. Since 2006, we have consistently lost between 180,000 and 700,000 barrels on average per day and we have been losing on average 1.3 billion dollars per month. There has been appeal for an ambitious solution to end the crisis in the oil-rich Delta region. The government, oil companies and non-governmental organizations needed to join forces to open up the region by economically empowering militants, awarding youth scholarships to assuage feelings of neglect by the government and building infrastructure. The Niger Delta, the base of Nigeria’s oil wealth, has been at the centre of a long confrontation between the government and militants who claim to be fighting for a larger share of oil resources for locals, as well as a plethora of armed gangs out to make ransom money.

President Umaru Yar’Adua among other African leaders met their rich G8 counterparts few weeks ago with the inevitable smiles masking bitter disappointment over broken promises on both sides. Pledges made at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005 to double aid to Africa by 2010 were yet to run on stream due to Africa’s lack of progress in tackling crises such as Darfur and Zimbabwe. For the fact that most visitors to Nigeria come away with stories of their experience of corruption – whether it is being asked to pay an “entry fee” at the airport, or to pay to pass a police roadblock, I think the most obvious way in which corruption is evident in Nigeria is the clearly staggering wealth of a handful of people in the face of the poverty of the majority. It manifests itself in other ways also – the regular power cuts and lack of infrastructure and basic services. Billions of naira is ploughed into promised improvements on roads, power supply and so on, but the tangible changes that these promises would deliver are often very slow in coming. The effects of corruption in Nigeria are considerable. Of course Nigeria faces great challenges to its development, but the biggest hurdle is the corruption. Nigeria is not a poor country; it is not aid dependent and has all the components necessary to be more developed and more successful. Yet an estimated 70 million Nigerians live below the poverty line.

There are however even more profound effects than those physical ones such as lack of basic healthcare and education. I’m thinking here about the impact corruption and unaccountable government has on the psyche of a nation. Corruption breaks trust and destroys faith in the state; it creates cynicism and muddles expectations. So in Nigeria corruption is in fact strengthened by the fact that people come to expect less and less from the state the more they are disappointed by it. This presents problems for Nigeria’s democratic transition.

The repercussions of the 2007 elections can be seen at various levels. Obviously, Mr. President recognized from the outset that his legitimacy was greatly weakened by the flawed elections. He sought to rectify this by pledging to be a “servant-leader” and to adhere without question to the rule of law. He created the Electoral Reform Committee to see to improving Nigeria’s electoral system. At another level you have the work of the judiciary through the election tribunals, including the presidential tribunal which dismissed the opposition challenges. At the state level, the tribunals have nullified the elections of seven state governors. For Nigerian citizens, although the elections process was tremendously disappointing and frustrating –and, for many, violent and
Intimidating – the work of the tribunals may go some way to restoring faith in democracy. One of the most important repercussions of the elections is the debate they have stimulated– it is an extremely positive sign of what’s to come for Nigeria that there was not a violent reaction on the streets following the elections, but there has been a reaction in terms of debate, and discussion, which shows that people are willing to participate to try and build a better democracy in Nigeria.

In his inaugural speech, Yar’Adua committed himself to “zero tolerance for corruption in all its forms.” As a contentious issue, tied up with how he came to power, with view to the political landscape, he must negotiate. The fact that he was one of the first and few state governors to publicly declare his assets when he was governor of Katsina state and again, was never investigated for corruption, coupled with some of the decisions he has made since coming to power, indicate that he is serious about fighting corruption.

Yar’Adua’s largest challenge is the system he has inherited. The politics and power relations within this nation, Nigeria are very complicated indeed. The president came to power with little legitimacy in the eyes of the people, while at the same time he will be beholden to some who made his presidency possible. As we come to understand; it is difficult to be in politics in Nigeria and not to be tainted by corruption. Different people, different factions, have different agendas and many have an interest in maintaining the status-quo. The president’s job is all about learning these and at the same time, able to exploit them for his own purposes –hopefully to fight corruption. This will take time for a president who was formerly little known even as Governor of Katsina state, who is seen little and who does not seem to throw his weight about so readily. His mild-manner is in the mould of the servant-leader, and this may be his greatest weakness in apolitical environment where power, charisma and force are more respected.

The Niger Delta, a network of thousands of shallow creeks opening into the Gulf of Guinea, is the heartland of 2 million barrels per day (bpd) oil industry which makes Nigeria the world’s eighth biggest oil exporter. Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch Shell, U.S. energy firms Exxon Mobil and Chevron, France’s Total and Italy’s AGIP all have major production facilities in the region. The United States, the world’s top energy consumer, has said it wants the Gulf of Guinea to supply a quarter of its crude oil imports by the middle of next decade. China depends on Africa for some 30 percent of its oil imports.

The insecurity is not a simple conflict between the government and insurgents — the line between militancy and criminality has become increasingly blurred. The gangs behind kidnappings, oil theft and violent crime in the delta were first hired by local politicians to intimidate opponents or rig elections and rights groups say their political links mean they go unpunished. The policy of successive governments to “settle the boys” — pay militant leaders off for laying down their weapons — has exacerbated the problem, giving armed gangs greater leverage. The spoils of a lucrative trade in stolen oil, which is funding the militants, benefits not only the criminal gangs but also local politicians and some members of the security forces, meaning there is little impetus to break the status quo. The illegal trade is worth millions of dollars a day.

For these, among other reason, The British government constituted an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nigeria within the Chatham House. Originally established as the APPG on the Niger Delta in February 2005, and later expanded to focus and include the whole Nigerian nation, the body aims at creating a better understanding in the UK of Nigeria and the challenges it faces, to build good relations and to support efforts to promote development and social justice in the country. In order to improve its understanding of Nigeria, the issues affecting it and to hear different perspectives, since then, the body meets with representatives from the business, NGO and government sectors from both countries.

The British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) believes that showing international support for the president is important as this will strengthen his position to take reforms forward. The group has also recommended that there be more cooperation within the European Union and with the United States to take action on money laundering within their borders. The links between the UK and Nigeria are strong and this is why so much of the stolen money from Nigeria has ended up in bank accounts in London.

However, if it becomes too difficult for corrupt individuals to launder their money in the UK they may simply go elsewhere, this is why greater cooperation is important. The Group has also recommended strengthening links between relevant institutions and government departments in the UK. The EFCC and Metropolitan Police have a good relationship and good communication, but making progress on corruption also involves the Treasury, the financial institutions, and Nigerian government departments that can share information on individuals’ identities.

The Group attaches great importance to its relationship with civil society in Nigeria. It is dependent on its meetings with civil society members, along with business, political and religious leaders, to gain insights into Nigeria, and so it is vital that every level of Nigerian society is represented as much as possible. For example, on the Group’s last visit to Nigeria it met with members of Save the Children to learn of the daily challenges faced by women and children. The group is always keen to meet with members of civil society in Nigeria and encourages interested parties to contact them so that possible meetings can be planned for future visits.

UK’s campaign to boost global oil production to bring down the price of crude probably in Britain is becoming intensive. The two helmsmen have set to track and identify people behind the trade in stolen “blood oil” to buy weapons by using international law to bring them to book. This nation has long been publicly opposed to the idea of foreign involvement in resolving the Niger Delta crisis, which is a purely domestic issue.

Yar’Adua vowed that his administration will take a two-pronged approach to the unrest, pledging development for communities whose land and water have been polluted by oil extraction but also saying he will not tolerate the presence of armed groups .Mr. President likened the puzzle with blood diamonds; where the crude is taken and part of the proceeds are used to buy sophisticated weapons which are taken back to the Niger Delta and used to shed the blood of innocent people.

Economic reforms have failed to create a truly investment- friendly environment in this region. This has given little impetus to other sectors of the regional economy. Massive unemployment pervades the region, and the economic recession has especially hit women harshly. Large environmental problems, mainly dating back to the history, have not been addressed, threatening public health in the region.

I pray there would be more attention paid to the demands of the people in the Niger Delta region, to avert what is going on in Chechnya and Colombia and other places where militant groups are able to get hold of arms and are able to radicalize the situation in an area where you do not have the kind of military possibilities for the government to be able to put this down.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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