Mr. Oladimeji Sabur Bankole is the Speaker of the Nigerian House of Assembly. Although he recently joined the ranks of the Nigerian ruling class, he has steady roots in the Nigerian political landscape. Educated at home and abroad, he seems to have escaped most of the blemishes and shenanigans of the Nigerian political system, and as such tend to be more open-minded and more honest with his pronouncements. Even so, no one get to be the speaker of the Nigerian House, or of any House of Assembly, without rigorous schooling in the art of politics. And politics, for the most part, involves deception and the ability to doublespeak.
In his most recent interview (The Nation, 10/14/2009), Speaker Bankole did not exhibit either characteristics. What he did was tell it as it is. In Bankole to Niger Delta: your leaders failed you, the honorable speaker was quoted as saying: “If we are to be honest with ourselves, we have not been fair to the Niger Delta. We have been unfair to the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta has been producing the funds with which we’ve been running this country for so many years.” He got that right: Nigeria has been ridding on the back of the Niger Delta — especially on the sweaty bareback of the oil-producing communities.
When you ride on people’s back, you may be tempted to take them for a ride, abuse them, exploit them, rape them, deride them, cause havoc to their ecology, encourage social tension and dislocation, and may see no reason to engage in the development of their land. You may not think of providing amenities and other forms of human security. And if you have god complex — in addition to your tendency to use others — you may even think they are beneath you, and so you do not see them as equals, as humans.
Indeed, this has been Nigeria’s approach to the oil-producing communities since the 1970s. And now that the Honorable Speaker, who is second or third in line of presidential succession, has confessed to a long-suspected national crime, it behooves the Nigerian Government to render an apology to the people of the Niger Delta, especially the oil-producing communities, for their crime of apathy, abandonment and neglect and for several years of environmental poisoning. After a confession, an apology follows, and then a remedy. In this instance, a public apology, followed by a Marshall Plan for the oil-producing communities is in order.
The Honorable Speaker continued: “The funds we used to build Abuja where I came from this morning, those lovely roads and bridges and offices came from the funds from the Niger Delta. I have not seen such bridges and roads in the Niger Delta. I haven’t. Until those roads and infrastructure come to the Niger Delta, well, we’ll continue to put the request on the front burner of Nigerian politics.” To be fair, the Speaker discussed other salient issues — some of which I agree with, others, I vehemently disagree with. But that is neither here nor there.
We sometimes wonder if Nigerians – especially those living the good life – understands the type of fetidity those in the Riverine areas are consigned to. I wonder if they know that a sizeable number of those in creeks live an almost subhuman lifestyle: no potable water, no electricity, and no quality schools and health services. I wonder if they know that the most basic of all basics are scare in the Riverrine area — the same region that sustains Nigeria. There are no lovely road and lovely bridges and lovely homes. Nothing in this region, save the people’s spirit and humanity, can be considered lovely. Life in the Riverrine area is hellish and energy sapping.
A little digression: I wonder if the Honorable Speaker knows any Emir, an Oba, or an Obi whose is not, directly or obliquely, involved in the oil trade? Is there a retired military officer, from the North, Middle Belt, East or West and who retired at the rank of colonel and above that is not in one fashion or another, involved in the oil trade? Are there roads, hospitals, airports, colleges and universities and other government institutions, built between 1970 and 2009 that was not constructed with a high percentage of oil money? What has the oil money done for the oil-producing communities?
Private mansions, from Lagos to Abuja and from Ilorin to Kano and Kaduna, were mostly built with legal and/or illegal earnings from oil. You go to Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos and several places in Nigeria, all you see are palatial homes and fancy cars with their owners going on vacation to some of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. They go for medical treatments abroad, send their kids to the best schools abroad. How many of those living in the Riverrine areas can make such claims or have access to such opulence? These are the kinds of disparities these communities have been pointing out.
In the last 40 years, about half-a-million Nigerians have been sent overseas on state and federal government scholarships. Considering that Nigeria is a rentier state, one can safely assert that earnings from oil were responsible for their educational-joyrides. It was a good thing, but how many came from the oil-producing communities? Today, the thieving elites continue to send their children to universities abroad with oil money; meanwhile, Nigerian universities are bastions of 19-century education and infrastructure. Who does not know that American and European universities are citadels for children of the thieving elites? How many from the oil-producing communities have so benefited?
Back to where I was: When we hear certain elements from the Northern part of Nigeria speak about the oil-producing communities, we shudder in disbelief. Some speak about the Riverrine areas in contemptuous and derogatory terms. The Ijaw, for instance, are generally considered the trouble-makers, an ungrateful bunch of people. Heck, what should they be grateful for? We sometimes wonder if, in their calculations, they consider the Ijaw equals within the Nigerian polity. Government undercounts the Ijaw, undereducates and miseducates them, pollutes their environment, and promotes social discord, militarizes their land, inferiorizes their leaders, and then appropriates their oil. And then Nigerians wonder why the Ijaw are always agitating?
Consider this: The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (and his posse) have variously argued that the North own the oil. But leave it to the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to drum the songs of war. Some members of that body, some of whom I admire, would rather the government invade, expel and send these communities to the most desolate expanse of the Sahara Desert.
As yourself these: (a) how many citizens from the oil-producing area received scholarships to go abroad or attend Nigerian universities; (b) how many from the oil-producing communities have oil wells and/or are directly involved in the oil trade; (c) how many students from these districts are deployed by the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) to serve in the oil and gas sector; (d) how many university graduates from these locales have high paying jobs with the oil companies or the Nigerian oil ministry; (e) how many oil Ministers, since 1970, hail from the Niger Delta; (f) how many federal universities, polytechnics, hospitals and colleges of education and other institutions are located in the oil-producing communities.
Put another way: what’s the level of Federal Presence in these communities? Do you know? Even the much talked about Niger Delta De
velopment Commission (NDDC) was a charade. It was nothing more than a money-making venture for political insiders. Intelligence estimates of the last four years show that more about 70 percent of the prime contracts went to non-Niger Delta PDP contractors. For the most part, after mobilization and other fees were collected, contractors simply went their ways. In most instances, party stalwarts brought authorization papers from Abuja or Kaduna and contracts were awarded. These are the kinds of injustices justice-seeking groups have been fighting against.
The Honorable Oladimeji Bankole was, to a very large extend honest in his assessment. We’d like to reciprocate even though we have told the truth several times before: (a) the amnesty program will fail because it was built on deceits; (2) the government does not have viable post-amnesty plans; (3) the government does not have viable plans to develop the region; (3) the surrender of arms and ammunition was a just a show. More than two-thirds of those who surrendered were not militants; and (4) since the government had encourages cloak and dagger mentality, it will come back to harm her. Most of those who promoted the amnesty-fluff were only interested in their bank account and the expected political appointments.
And finally, Speaker Bankole went on to say that, “For some of you who have been to Lagos in the past one year, I’m sure you’ll notice the difference. And I’m not shy to appreciate that there is a difference in Lagos. It’s good governance.” Good governance? Holly Moses! Jah Jehovah!! Well then, it is time the government and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) start to promote good governance in the region. To this end therefore, the party should stop imposing the weak and the inept as governors on the people. Not doing so would be a fraction of absolution.