Some time during Abacha’s infamous, brutal, sadistic and despotic tenure in Nigeria, the combined Nigerian armed forces and the Police launched an assault on the Niger Delta, shortly after Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed. One of the British TV stations (I forget which one) showed a documentary of the assault. All I could say was that this documentary reminded me of the genocide in Rwanda. Whole villages were destroyed, dead bodies were lying around and the Nigerian soldiers were shown to be at their brutal best. People were displaced and there were clips of indescribable sufferings perpetrated by Nigerians on Nigerians. I was in tears most of the documentary and came to the conclusion that while we Nigerians tend to think we are a civilised and sophisticated people, we were no different from the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda in the way we regard human lives. I was thoroughly ashamed.
Then during Obasanjo’s quasi-democratic administration, the Odi massacre happened in 1999, unfortunately for him, when he had just assumed office. Now what we have is the Yar ‘Adua administration doing the same evil, if not worse. For the past 2 weeks or more, the Nigerian armed forces, through the Joint Task Force (JTF) finally decided to push through a military offensive, ostensibly aimed at curbing and breaking the Niger Delta militants, but in fact waging a genocidal war against other Nigerians. Only God knows how many innocent Niger Deltans have been killed within those two weeks and how many more will be killed, not to talk of displaced. And don’t forget the JTF had been fighting militants in the area for the past one year or so. And the militants are fighting back, so this is not just an operation to secure the area in order for the oil to start flowing unimpeded again, but a real internecine war going on.
At this juncture, I would like to say that like many other Nigerians, I strongly condemn this tactics of the Nigerian Government. Niger Deltans, militant or civilians, at the last count, are Nigerian citizens, and we should tell the Yar ‘Adua Government that its action is abominable and unforgivable. The military must fight within reasonable limits, and this is crux of the matter; the military are not fighting within reasonable limits. Innocent people are being killed and whole villages are being sacked because of the activities of a few people, and this tragic. If the Nigerian government thinks the Niger Delta crisis can be addressed with maximum military force, it may end up inviting bigger sophistication from the militantst. It is a shame on the Federal Government of Nigeria and a shame on the Nigerian people, most of who are insulated and far from the war-front.
Having said this, we now have to seek ways of ending this shame and genocide. However, we must recognise and admit that everybody on both sides of the fence will have to share the blame in this crisis.
I will concede that any responsible government in the world can not just sit passively by and watch while law and order breaks down in any part of its territory or tolerate any act which will see a disintegration of its sovereignty or territorial integrity. This is precisely what the Nigerian Government has a responsibility for as entrenched in the Constitution. It is the methodology that is being adopted that is the problem. Knowing our soldiers, who are quite, trigger happy and crude in their tactics, innocent lives will inevitably be lost. As Frederick Forsythe wrote in one of his novels, The Dogs of War, African soldiers tend to close their eyes when firing their guns, thereby just shooting indiscriminately at anything and everything in sight. Nigerian soldiers are not exempt from this trait.
From stories and pictures that have been seeping out of the war-zone (and this is a war-zone in the real sense of the word) the horrors of the JTF operation in the Niger Delta is explicitly one of a harrowing disaster, as we are moving towards a full-scale war, which reminds one of the Biafra War. It will further disenfranchise that section of Nigeria and is a positive (if I can put it that way) move towards disintegration of the country. How can we look at our brothers and sisters of the Niger Delta in the eye and say “You are Nigerians”?
However, we have been asking for it for decades. We have never really addressed the problem of the Niger Delta, and all past governments have been indifferent to the plight of this area of Nigeria which is the source of the wealth of Nigeria. And what with several government officials from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, saying the JTF are merely keeping the peace to one Hon. Balla Na’Allah quoted in the newspapers as saying that Nigeria should sacrifice 20 million Nigerians for the rest 120 million people, we are in a very unfortunate situation. That means the whole purpose is to preserve the source of the oil and who gives a damn about the Ijaws and other Niger Deltans? Let the oil flow to oil the Abuja machinery of corruption.
In my article, “The Niger Delta and Nigeria” published in August 2008, I had this to say “To my mind, we can no longer dodge the issues surrounding the Niger Delta, even as slow and indecisive to take positive action as the Yar’Adua Administration is; we can no longer evade the issues of Northern underdevelopment and it’s real underlying causes, and not shifting the blame to other parts of Nigeria; we can no longer shy away from the fact that Nigeria is not a united country, though we all seem to love being called Nigerians. One thing is certain; Nigerians want change, we want something different; we do not want a government which wastes, mismanages and steal the oil money and neglect where the oil money is coming from. We do not want that anymore. The truth is that for decades, it is the Northern elite, NOT the Northern common man and woman, who have been benefiting from the oil wealth of Nigeria, more than any other region in Nigeria, while the Niger Delta have been short-changed, abused and neglected for the same length of time. Even my own unproductive state of Oyo benefits more from the oil than the people of Bayelsa State, it would seem.
Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, especially with the Niger Delta and all the issues surrounding it. Things are degenerating very fast in this region and only sincere, focused, impartial and committed leaders will be able to defuse these problems, or else there will be no North, South, Niger Delta or indeed, Nigeria for anybody to call their own”.
This is as simplistic as I can put it. And the problem is not a simple one, neither is the solution. Our leaders have refused to take a holistic approach to the problems of the Niger Delta; hence things have degenerated to this point. It has always been like sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
So who are to blame? Everybody, I would say. And this is why the problem is not simple. I have already highlighted partially some of the culpability of our leaders, past and present. At present, there are several delegations representing the Niger Delta (and non-Niger Deltans too) trying to appeal to several Western countries (most of who incidentally have an interest in that region) to put pressure on the Federal Government of Nigeria to put a stop to the assaults. This is a good move, but I do not see it yielding much. Why did they leave it so late?
The blames should rest on the following, apart from the Federal Government of Nigeria, which carries the major proportion of the blame: The leaders – Governors and governments of the Niger Delta States, the militants, the people itself, the oil companies and the rest of Nigeria.
Perhaps very poignant are the roles of th
e Niger Delta leaders – governors, ministers that hail from the area, their traditional chiefs, civil servants, etc. I don’t need to dwell too long on this, but look at the crop of governors that have been ruling this area for decades now. Look at Ibori; look at Odili; look at Alamieyeseigha, look even at Agagu of Ondo State. What have these leaders done for their states except steal their money during their respective eight years in power? They also routinely used the militants to further their political interests and then discard them after the elections. Ibori was the chief hostage negotiator during Obasanjo’s regime; collecting money from the Federal Government, the oil companies and the militants all at the same time, and that excludes dipping his dirty hands in the state’s treasury. Ibori it was, who was recently fingered in ex-EFCC chief, Nuhu Ribadu’s interview, as trying to bribe him (Ribadu) with $15 million dollars (can you imagine?) to stop investigating him for corruption. And it is the same ex-convict Ibori now walking around free in Abuja, a power behind the throne of President Yar ‘Adua, spreading his tentacles all over the Federal Government apparatus. It is reported that he’s just bought a new private jet. And he is a leader in the Niger Delta.
And Peter Odili? The man is now afraid to enter Port Harcourt, a city he ruled and lived in for eight years, and that he virtually destroyed, while using militants to carry out his evil deeds to stay in power. He was said to have had to refund over 200 billion Naira after his failed Presidential bid in 2006, when Ribadu put his file on Obasanjo’s desk and told Obasanjo that over his dead body will he (Ribadu) let Odili become Nigeria’s next president. All his power projects in Rivers State are nothing more than scams to milk the state dry to finance his Presidential ambitions. He even has a court injunction not to arrest or molest him. So he is still under immunity. And he still is a leader of the Niger Delta today.
The Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) is another avenue that had been used to milk the money meant for development of the area. The place is a bedrock of corruption, but many people are afraid to point this out for fear of offending some sensibilities. Over the years, billions of Naira has gone into that organisation, with very little shown for it. A top official of the NDDC was even exposed recently when he burnt millions of naira to make “juju” to help him stay in his position. And he was a Niger Delta leader.
Is Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan not from the Niger Delta? I would like to really know what effect his position has had to alleviate the problems of his area. Rumour has it that he has become something of a lame duck, being prevented from even having regular access to his boss, the President, a situation similar to when General Oladipo Diya was second in command to Abacha and had to get permissions from a lowly Major to see his boss.
Ex-Governor DSP Alamieyeseigha, a near illiterate, was feted and celebrated when he was released from prison for his corrupt excesses as a governor who disgraced Nigeria in Britain with his antics of jumping bail disguised as a woman to return to Nigeria. Today, he is still being widely regarded as the Governor-General of the Ijaw nation and calls the shots in Bayelsa State politics.
And now, what are Timipre Silva, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Rotimi Amaechi and cohorts doing for their people?
And the traditional rulers who take money from the oil companies (and even from the Federal and state governments) meant for community development projects but instead either pocket the whole lot or share it with the militants or their own family members?
The militants have spoilt their own case by their activities. It is no rumour that kidnapping by the militants has become a criminal pastime rather than political pressure by them. They use kidnapping to make money. Ex-MEND leader, Asari Dokubo is now a billionaire. He was used by many Niger Delta Governors to perpetuate themselves in power and then sold down the river to Obasanjo. He should count himself very lucky to be alive today to enjoy his wealth.
It is also known that foreign oil company workers regularly collude with the militants to stage fake kidnappings so that their companies will pay the ransom and then they (the oil workers) get a cut from the ransom. The same scenarios apply to some unscrupulous politicians and businessmen in the area. And the militants are only too willing to do this.
Therefore whatever goodwill and sympathy that the militants might be accorded by both the international community and their fellow Nigerians have gone. Some hostages have been killed inadvertently and this has definitely not endeared them to anybody. A large proportion of their activities are now clearly criminal and not political.
The Niger Deltans, militants or no militants, are not opposed to sharing the oil with other Nigerians; all they are asking for is that they are compensated for the destruction of their lands and rivers adequately, in order that they will not become displaced or extinct. All they asking are that the future of their children is guaranteed under a Nigeria that appreciates their almost 100 percent contributions to its wealth. I do not subscribe to the popular call these days that Nigeria is stealing from the Niger Delta. Niger Deltans, as far as I know are still Nigerian citizens, holding Nigerian passports. The Vice –President of Nigeria is a Niger Deltan, and there are enough Niger Deltans in government to ensure that this region is well represented nationally. They also have their leaders. What they are not getting is fairness and equality in the distribution of Nigeria’s wealth or dividends of democracy, as we like to call it.
All Nigerians have enjoyed the benefits of Niger Delta oil for decades in one way or the other, be it through education, scholarships, good roads in their areas, jobs, healthcare, electricity, etc. The Niger Delta is our problem and we all have to share the blame for what is happening there now, much as we must also find a solution to it.
The Government of Nigeria is not the only side culpable; we all are, though as the government, they must be held ultimately responsible. However, it is apparent that they cannot do it alone. Other ways, bloodless ways, must be sought to resolve the problem, and this calls for cool heads, intelligent discussions and realistic and positive actions instead of a war that will further erode the thin unity of the country or push us further towards the precipice of disintegration.
I remember last year that there was talk of setting up a Government peace committee or something like that, to be headed by Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Department of Political Affairs (until the protest which forced the Government to reconsider his choice to head the committee)? What happened to this committee? Why did the Federal Government back out of it?
What are the alternatives? The international community, especially those who have an interest in Nigeria’s oil, must intervene to ensure peace and justice returns to the area. However, I am not overly optimistic about international (US and UK especially) intervention because of their vested interests in Nigeria’s oil.
The Federal Government must halt its incursion into the area and call for a sincere peace talk that will REALLY address the problems in this area. The militants, having really lost any integrity of purpose, must be ready to discuss with the government. The oil companies must also play their parts in this. The delicate situation in the Niger Delta must not be allowed to blow into a full scale civil war. It will affect all Nigerians and the international community too.
And the Niger Delta leaders must really be honest and sincere with their people and with the rest of
Nigeria in deciding how they want to bring development and progress to their people. As at last count, I do not see them doing anything to bring succour to their people. I am not from the Niger Delta, but as fellow Nigerians, they are my people, and I am sure, I and many other Nigerians share their pains and sufferings.
We must bring an immediate peaceful end to the current situation. I do not subscribe to Nigerians killing Nigerians in the name of oil or under the guise of territorial integrity or keeping law and order.