“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Publicly and privately, I have always favored political solution to the problems of the Niger Delta. I do so mainly because political solutions yield better and enduring results; moreover, the benefits outweigh military actions with its attendant destructions, maiming and the killings of combatants and the innocents. Lately however, I have been wondering and rethinking my position: does Nigeria understand any other language, other than force?
Successive Nigerian government, the international community and the oil companies have been aware of the underdevelopment, marginalization, misery and the fetid environmental conditions of the Niger Delta — and especially of the Ijaws. In other words, the collective poverty and underdevelopment of Nigeria’s breadbasket is not a secret to the government, the oil companies, local and international think tanks, the US government and the numerous embassies in Nigeria. Yet, nothing is being done to ameliorate the sufferings and hellish condition of the area and the people.
And since no one is listening to the grievances and genuinely addressing the concerns of the Niger Delta, perhaps it is time Niger Deltans — especially the Ijaws — change position and strategy. Something needs to be done to force the hand of the Nigerian State. If Abuja won’t listen and agree to peaceful change…perhaps it is time to forcefully make the Nigerian State listen. Therefore, either through military or diplomatic solution or a combination of both, the Nigerian State — with regards to the Niger Delta — has three options: (1) provide massive federal presence in terms of human and infrastructural development; (2) One hundred percent resource control; or (3) full and complete autonomy for the Ijawnation. Anything less would be foolish, condescending and unacceptable.
That said, I think the Nigerian government needs help. And so does, the president. The president needs help with refining his thinking, his judgment and his intellect. As with most other things, this president is being incalcitrant and unreasonable in matters concerning the Niger Delta. Why hasn’t anyone or a group of people impressed it upon this government (and previous governments) that unless there is justice there can be no peace, security and uninterrupted business in the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole? Sending in the military to kill, maim and arrest a group of people is not a viable solution — it is a waste of time and resources.
An intelligent reading of the ongoing situation — which will definitely worsen — points to the fact that henceforth, there is not going to be uninterrupted business. There will no longer be “business-as-usual” in the Niger Delta. In other words, the costs of doing business will become unbearable for Nigeria to bear. And not even the security pact she has with the United States of America will save her neck. Instead of doing what is right, fair and equitable, the government sends in the military. Recent actions and declarations on the part of the insurgents and freedom fighters indicate that the government does not have a monopoly of guns and arms and coercive force and brutality.
What we have in the Niger Delta, and more so in Ijawland, is exploitation, injustice, injustice and more injustice. Four decade of injustice must end. Four decade of exploitation must end. Four decade of marginalization must end. Four decade of abandonment must end. And four decade of subjugation and oppression must end. The Nigerian government and her backers can threaten all they want. They can send in the military. They can bomb the Delta. They can imprison the insurgents; but the insurgents will not bend or yield to Nigeria’s insatiable thirst for stupidity and brutality. This, the nationalists have made clear. A smart read of history makes these points crystal clear.
Any sensible student of history and international politics can surmise that it would be foolish for Nigeria to think she can “shock and awe” the insurgents into submission, and then rewrite the rules of the game by monopolizing the spoils of war. Oh no! No, no, no. The endgame, as far as I can tell, is this: since Nigeria has made peaceful change impossible, she must be ready for whatever comes her way. Since she has made it difficult for the Niger Deltans to sleep and go about her business; the Niger Deltans too shall make it difficult for Abuja to nap and go about her usual business. According to the insurgents, “all bets are off!” In other words, the injustice being perpetrated and perpetuated by Nigeria’s must stop. Forthwith!
This government, and for that that matter, no government in the history of Nigeria has shown genuine concern for the welfare and wellbeing of the Ijaws. As indicated by the speech given by Vice-President Abubakar Atiku late last year, the government’s primary concern is “its aspiration to grow national crude oil reserves and daily production by 2010.” The government wants to do this at the expense of the people of the Niger Delta — especially the Ijawnation. This government is concerned chiefly with economic growth (GDP/GNP) and not the people; not human and infrastructural development. People mean nothing to this government. But this attitude will not stand!
Abubakar Atiku was quoted by Bassey Udo of the Independent newspaper in November 2005 as saying:
“We are confident to say that the worst is over. To get to this stage, we have been deliberate, systematic and consistent in tackling environmental and social problems in the Niger Delta. We have maintained that while we are doi
ng what a responsible and caring government is expected to do to address genuine problems, we will not condone criminality and lawlessness…”
Well, he was wrong. Atiku is dead wrong! “Criminality and lawlessness” is having total disregard for the wellbeing of the Ijaws and the Urhobos and the Itsekiris and several others in the Niger Delta. It is a crime not to listen to and genuinely act on the grievances of the Niger Delta community when he, Atiku, and the president and the ruling elites are busy stealing, mismanaging and misappropriating the nation’s resources (of which 80 percent or more comes from the Niger Delta). It is criminal to worry more about the oil than the people. It is criminal to worry more about the international community than about the domestic community. It is high crime when the Nigerian State continually and consistently ignores the wishes and aspiration of an important segment of her population.
All the government and Nigeria want is the oil, oil, and more oil and gas. Nothing more. Not the human development of the indigenes. Left to the government of Obasanjo, the Urhobos and the Itsekiris and others — and especially the Ijaws — would be exiled from their ancestral homeland and relocated north of Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe or Borno State or simply confined to the hash and punishing Sahara wasteland.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) set up by the current administration to deal with developmental issues is a charade. And so are other development and peacebuilding initiatives. Successive Nigerian government have lied and lied and lied to the Ijawnation and Niger Deltans. And the current administration is no exception. Government has been aware of the subhuman conditions in Ijawland for well over four decades; and so do the oil companies. Yet nothing was done to uplift the living standard of the people. And because of the precedent set by the government, the oil companies have been thumbing their noses at the Niger Delta community.
Since political independence in 1960, the North, West and Eastern Nigeria and others have been busy looting resources and trampling on the inalienable rights of the Ijaws, belittled and disparaged. For instance, the government relate to the Ijaws as though they are less than humans and are therefore not worthy of economic and human development. Oh heavens, they should have known that these repugnant and repulsive attitudes would not last for eternity. The Ijaws are not a people to be ignored or disrespected; they are not a people to be used and abused and discard like used wrappers. The Ijaws have inhabited that part of the world for generation after generation after generation.
It is mostly on their land from which Nigeria gets the money to sustain other federating states in the country. Yet, the Ijaws live mostly in abject poverty and in inhumane condition (with no potable water, no hospitals and clinics, sewage system and tarred roads). Women and children are dying of malnutrition, malaria, air and water-borne diseases. Moreover, the lands, rivers, streams and creeks are extremely polluted causing unimaginable illnesses. Educational and other public infrastructures are pitiful and laughable where present. There is nothing to show for the billions and billions of dollars the Delta have given Nigeria and the oil companies.
In a land this endowed, the citizens live in abject poverty! Spaces are filled with hopelessness and emptiness; hearts are full of ache and pain and sorrow. But today, enough is enough…this injustice will not stand! The options before the government are simple: (1) massive federal presence in terms of human and infrastructural development; (2) one hundred percent resource control; or (3) full and complete autonomy for the Niger Delta.