If Umaru Yar’Adua had lived in the world of John Stuart Mill or that of Immanuel Kant, it would have been easy to tell why he is such an ardent fan of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian approach to political economy. It would have been easy to tell why he wants the greatest happiness for the greatest number of Nigerians. Recently he ordered soldiers to the Niger Delta to ‘restore peace’ and implement the terms of an amnesty he has, like an emperor, graciously bestowed on the supposed criminals from the Niger Delta who have been a thorn in the flesh of the rest of the country. But he didn’t live there and then. Perhaps, if he did or had read a little something about John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice, a treatise that made its debut in the early 19th Century, he would have found out that trying to do good things for the greatest number of people has its drawbacks. For before that book got written, people were already complaining that ‘what maximizes the total amount of happiness may differ from what maximizes the number of people whose happiness is advanced’. What that means, in the Nigerian context, is that trying to keep the rest of Nigeria happy does not necessarily mean that every other person’s happiness should be mortgaged on a platform of ensuring the greatest happiness for the greatest number of Nigerians. And that was what Rawls tried to say in A Theory of Justice, to wit, that justice is the first pillar upon which social institutions are built, that the primary domain over which justice is built is that goods upon which democracies are built must be evenly distributed.
But these goods have never been evenly distributed in this country. They have been taken by force or subterfuge by antagonists of the Niger Delta from the Niger Delta, and used to develop other places, in this same country. A very good example of one of the places that doesn’t produce much but where monies from the Niger Delta have been used to develop should be the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. In contradistinction however, violent fracases involving sons of the Niger Delta and the thieves who plunder the collective patrimony of the Niger Delta had gone on for as long as the plunder had gone on. In 1962, just a few years before the Nigeria/Biafra Civil war, Isaac Adaka Boro declared a federal republic of the Niger Delta and took on the federal government of Nigeria in a twelve day war that he lost, unfortunately. His cry was that if the federal government must take oil from Oloibiri, that exercise must be done with a contingency plan for sustainable development for the community that provides the meal ticket for the entire nation. But they arrested and sentenced him to jail on a charge of treason. And just when the federal government thought that it had effectively silenced the voice of agitation against the wanton despoliation of the Niger Delta, with an amnesty reminiscent of the one Yar’Adua is dangling around now [that enabled Boro to fight the Nigerian cause against the Biafran], they killed him under circumstances that cannot even be ascertained today. Thirty three years after, another champion of the creeks, Ken Saro-Wiwa emerged and continued to ask Shell to do that same thing that Adaka Boro struggled and died for. But in November 1995, a kangaroo court sentence Saro Wiwa to death. What was his offence? Together with the now popular Ogoni eight, they protested that their lands were ‘subjected to environmental despoliation and economic deprivation’ from several years of oil exploration by Shell. Even when the world pleaded for an amnesty that his death sentence be commuted, Sanni Abacha hung him and allegedly burnt his remains with acid.
So for the federal government to continue to send soldiers to the Niger Delta simply means that the real problems that Boro, Wiwa fought and died for, have never been addressed. The best thing that successive governments and oil companies have done is that they have pursued a deliberate utilitarian policy of divide and rule with the establishment of OMPADEC, the NDDC and lately the Niger Delta Ministry, which are mere conduits for their cronies to siphon monies. But as the government goes on with its outdated scheme, to wit, to wipe out the Niger Delta from the Nigerian map, it should realize two things quickly. The problems were not started by the people of the Niger Delta but by successive Nigerian governments. Take for instance in 1999 after the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP captured power. To continue to be the party in power at all costs, and be in control of the oil rich region, they armed the young people today whom they refer to as ‘militants and criminals’. They gave them lots of money to harass their political opponents. They sponsored them to kill and maim. And like the enlightened and very well educated Boro, these so-called ‘militants and criminals’, fighting for the rights of the Niger Delta eventually turned their guns on those who used to sponsor them because they seemed to have realized what the PDP was up to. They got to find out that Yar’Adua’s amnesty meant a throwback of the type the Yakubu Gowon gave to Adaka Boro. They have seen it as an ordinary ruse to call them out into the open and manacle them. Therefore, when Nigerians listen to supposedly ‘distinguished’ senators and members of parliament suggesting to the federal government that it should wipe out 20 million Nigerians in favour of the rest 120 million, we cannot but be dismayed at their display of arrogance and insensitivity. Most of them, whose salaries and entitlements are paid from revenue accruing from that region, should have realized that all revolutionary ideas and ideas sometimes inevitably degenerate from the original course.
So, what anybody who has access to the man in power today should be telling him is that he should take the SHELL OPTION. The company recently realized that a clue to its corporate existence is in coming to terms that its activities in the Niger Delta caused a dislocation in the lives of the people and has paid a compensation called which it said is ‘humanitarian’. No matter. The federal government should do likewise. It should beg the people of the Niger Delta for amnesty instead of the other way round, and implement the conditions its predecessors spelt out in the Niger Delta Marshall or Master plan