In the May 22 2006 Edition of the International TIME Magazine, the headline was markedly devoted to
Nigeria and the caption read “THE DEADLY DELTA”. In the exclusive reports, the magazine looked at the insurgency that threatens Nigeria’s oilfields. On page 20 of this same edition, there was a more telling headline: NIGERIA’S DEADLY DAYS. These headlines sound more like the titles of a thriller movie divided into part 1 and part 2. In the introductory parts, TIME informed those of us who do not know that the Niger Delta lie over one of the biggest reserves of oil on the planet: 34 billion bbl. of black gold. It was quick to add however that the region is also home to some of Africa’s poorest people and probably the place where we have the worst environmental destruction on earth. The magazine asserted that the south of Nigeria is poverty-stricken, yet oil-rich.
The origin of crises in the Niger Delta has been reported to be almost as old as the emergence of oil companies in the area. In this vein, those who are now campaigning for autonomy in the region or more control of local wealth have been fingered or confused with those who have over the years made millions of dollars from bunkering. The problems and misunderstanding plaguing the Delta region of Nigeria is almost as diverse as the extensive creeks, inlets and tributaries that typify the zone. It is still a mystery that despite the fact that the Nigeria’s Federal Government has been promising to help the Delta for decades, there have been only little progress. Perhaps there are pockets of projects here and there. What is actually needed in the Niger Delta and indeed Nigeria is a transformation of our lives into that which is worth living. It is disheartening that Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of oil in the world and yet we have the poorest people living among us. The standard of living in Nigeria is very low, the cost of living is high and the dividends of democracy since 1999 have been nothing short of sorrow, anger and anguish.
It has been stated that the 2003 elections left a major consequence of the growing armed conflicts in the Niger Delta. The ruling party politicians were reported to have armed local youths-many of them gang members-to ensure that votes go their way. According to the TIME report, weapons flooded the region before the 2003 poll, which in many parts of the Delta was less an election than an armed contest. There is a lot of misinformation and confusion in the region now that it is very difficult to distinguish between criminals and those who are really seeking the interest of the growth of the region by the use of armed conflict. The militants have stated many times that government and oil companies understand only the language of violence. They have since changed their tactics from speech and appeals to kidnapping of oil workers and attacking of oil installations. The effect of these happenings on world business and global economy is as interesting as amazing yet the Nigerian Government treat it like a grain of salt.
One thing that is also playing out in the Niger Delta locally that needs to be mentioned is that fact that the militants have actually constitute themselves into public nuisances as well. How can one explain the undue intrusions into the private businesses of fishing companies? Possibly, there are many harassments of innocent people and other organisations apart from the oil companies that are unreported. To be sure, my brother who is a marine engineer and sailor told me how they were lucky not to be killed on their fishing boat. However, the second fishing boat belonging to the same company was not that lucky, two people were shot and had to be taken to a hospital. I was told that these victims were fortunate to be alive. If this is the extent to which the militants have pursued their claims; to turn against ordinary people doing legitimate businesses, then they are seriously misled and are not different from common criminals anymore. I was told that they carry more sophisticated weapons than the Nigerian Navy and Army put together. This actually confirms what I have read in many news about them. We know that the ransom they get over the years from their kidnapped victims can finance the purchase. But how do they get these weapons? Who is smuggling them in from the neighboring countries? Weapons cannot be that small or unnoticeable? Why should militants operating in the creeks be more sophisticated than the Nigerian military? Why are the coastal areas not properly guarded? Are the militants the only group of people who understand the creeks? When will the Navy and the other bodies responsible for safety on water and land be able to guarantee the safety of innocent people?
Concerns Nigerians and leaders of thoughts have expressed interests in the plights of the people of the Niger Delta but resolving to arm conflicts is definitely not going to solve the problem. According to Ledum Mitee a human right activist and head of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), who probably was interviewed by TIME magazine “The Delta problem is a crisis of frustration. The militants are seen as people who can stand up to the oppressors”. In my viewpoint, as far as Nigeria is concerned, there is frustration and oppression almost everywhere and we cannot all resolve to arms carrying to rights all the wrongs we have lived with for all of our lifetime. In the Niger Delta especially, the state and federal governments need to take drastic measures to correct the anomaly of many years. They have only a few months to do this. The people of the Niger Delta are rated among the poorest people in the world. This is ridiculous and it is actually a dirty slap on the face of the Federal Government. How can one explain a rich land begetting poor folks? It is like a curse from which the militants are trying to redeem their people. That is not their job. It is a duty that every government owns the citizenry, to see to the welfare of the states and the inhabitants thereof.
Let no one be deceived, the situation in the Niger Delta is a real threat to the Nigerian State. My brother expressed grave fears for the elections in 2007. In his view, and based on his encounters with the militants, he thinks that the 2007 elections is a disaster waiting to happen. He expressed concerns that a serious war can break out. Now is the time to put the militants out of business for the sake of the entity called Nigeria. Under a democratic system, the use of absolute force is negative and this is one of the weaknesses of the Federal Government that the militants have capitalized on so far. It has been said that some leaders of the Niger Delta area have contributed to the woes of the region. But now that everyone seemed to be enlightened and keen, it will be nice to see what can be done to restore the hope of the people in the Niger Delta area. We will all like to see what has been put in place to protect the environment as well. The Federal government and the various oil companies operating in the Niger Delta have a lot to do to change the region from a killing field to a place where sanity reigns.
What has happened in the last one year in the Niger Delta coupled with the harvest of deaths through assassinations especially in the South West bear ominous signs as we approach the delicate elections of 2007. Our do-or-die politicians including those who arm thugs and militants are not helping the situation at all. The season of “my opponent must die” prevails and the thoughts of revenge and witch-hunting all over the land points to lack of good governance and absolute ignorance of the essence of public service. In the south west especially, we have turned back the hand of the clock to yester-years. We are now re-writing and playing out those scripts that we were told crippled our democracy and paved way for the military to tread upon our lives catastrophically. The cumulative effects of these uprisings could snowball out of control. History can repeat itself fatally on the Nigeria state in the form of avoidable war. We already have a state of emergency somewhere. Overall, these are like dreams we will not want to live through. The ruling government has a civil duty to protect life and property. Nigeria as a country needs total re-invigorating. The people need empowerment and above all, they deserve a better life judging by the wealth that the nation accrues daily. In the short term however, it behooves on the Obasanjo government at this moment to prevent chaos in the country, now and in 2007. Bob Marley said it all, “you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”. We can all see the handwritings on the wall, still those who have ears, let them hear.