These are really strange times in the country. There are ominous indications of tension all over. From the tip of Lake Chad through the savannah lands of the North-East and North West, across the forestlands of the Middle Belt region unto the Mangrove swamps of the South-South and the surrounding South-East, the tension is palpable. In other words, the obvious nationwide insecurity from the unpredictable strikes of insurgents in the north alongside large-scale kidnappings and the new militancy in the south, Nigeria is held hostage by every definition.
But of the foregoing, the new militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta poses major security risk today. And when you consider the huge economic losses the country has had to suffer following activities of not the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which many a Nigerian had come to terms with in the years past, but the more determined Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, Joint Niger Delta Liberation Movement, JNDLM, and the Ultimate Warriors, you will appreciate the insecure future Nigeria is headed.
Today, the nation is at standstill, no thanks to rising cost of doing business, falling crude oil production and de-marketing of Nigeria’s investment opportunities given the restiveness in the Niger Delta.
By benefit of hindsight, one is forced to state that late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua must have envisaged the foregoing scenario when his administration ably championed the historic amnesty programme that resulted in relative peace and calm in the region.
Alas, seven years after the amnesty agreement persuaded most militants, especially of the MEND fold, to put down their weapons in exchange for monthly stipends — and in some cases, contracts to guard the same pipelines they used to bomb — the Niger Delta, a region of more than 20 million people, has slid back into chaos.
Last month, Niger Delta Avengers claimed several separate attacks on oil installations and promised to cut the country’s oil output to zero. The Ijaw Youth Council, an influential grassroots organisation that has its roots in the armed struggle of the 2000s, and advocates for local control of natural resources, was to warn that the security situation in the area was “rapidly deteriorating and getting out of control.”
No doubt, President Muhammadu Buhari’s perceived abandonment of the region sits atop the grievances list of the militants. The slashing of funds for the amnesty programme and of revoking some of the pipeline security contracts cannot be unconnected to this. When he called off his first planned presidential visit to Ogoniland for the UN-endorsed cleanup of the devastated area recently, people saw it as proof that he does not care about the Niger Delta. The militants also cry for appropriate rewards for the resources being taken from their land, including jobs for the people, compensation for devastation of their environment, quick redress of lopsidedness in appointments into public offices, upgrading infrastructures in the area to be in tandem with other parts of the world that boast of such economically relevant resources; they want the Eldorado that the late Yar’Adua’s administration planned for the area to start to manifest.
Aspects of The Nigerian Nostalgia 1960 – 1980 Project, a most revealing on-the-spot report on the debacle called the Niger Delta, speaks volumes of the path not taken by successive governments in the country ahead of the avoidable insecurity issues we now have on our hands. Written by renowned personality, Victor Oladokun (June 2014), it rubbishes any claim the average Niger Deltan pretends to have on the wealth of this country.
Instructively, most Nigerians really do not worry about the state of things in the Niger Delta insofar as oil continues to flow. The aspect reads:
VISITING NIGERIA’s EL DORADO
I’ve just returned from the creeks of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. I know the terrain pretty well. Between 1981 and 1982, as freshly minted university graduates, my cousin – OmoBola Awosika Oyeleye – and I were ‘itinerant’ evangelists in this then remote part of Nigeria. With our newly acquired film projector, gasoline generator, reels of Christian movies, and a bed sheet for a screen, we would bundle ourselves into engine powered canoes and make our way into the creeks to preach the Gospel. We were not always welcome, but for the most part, we happened to be the only major ‘entertainment’ gig in town. God blessed our feeble efforts in many a community.
For decades, the Niger Delta has poured trillions of dollars into the coffers of Nigeria’s Federal Government. However, more than 50 years after the first crude oil explorations began here in Oloibiri, Bayelsa is a sight to behold, and not for all the right reasons.
Unlike its distant oil-rich Gulf cousin, Dubai (the world’s quintessential ‘22nd Century’ hi-tech nation), Bayelsa and much of the Niger Delta remain squalid and poverty stricken wastelands. A land where the major highlight for a teeming population of unemployed youth and former militants is the monthly allocation of amnesty checks (cheques). A land where women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of manual labour, and where life expectancy is miserably low.
My destination was Koluama, a small oil-rich fishing community that’s a 3-hour speed boat ride from the capital city of Yenegoa. As you wind your way through the narrow mangrove and head toward the Atlantic Ocean, the frightening evidence of poverty assaults your senses every nautical mile of the way.
It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve been back to the creeks of the Niger Delta. Sadly, time has stood still. Nothing much has changed. Electricity, pipe borne water, basic health services, good schools, and decent jobs, are almost non-existent.
When I finally pulled up at Koluama, I was greeted by a wailing crowd. As I scrambled out of the boat, I wasn’t too sure that I had arrived at the most expedient of times. Two young men with blood shot eyes and reeking of alcohol were the vanguard of my early morning welcome party.
Very quickly, I was introduced to a young man who introduced himself as the ‘Chief Security Officer’, and shortly thereafter, I was brought to the community’s very articulate traditional ruler, Chief S.E. Edi-Mangi.
I gathered that two days earlier, a late night tidal surge from the Atlantic had swept away more than a hundred meters of its tree dense coastline, and with it, families who were still missing. Brackish water from the Atlantic poured unimpeded into the Koluama River. According to Chief Edi-Mangi, ever since, many in the community have been too scared to sleep at night.
It is no surprise that residents of this eco-rich mangrove have a tendency to see the crude oil beneath their feet as a curse, rather than a blessing. For more than 50 years, this sleepy community has borne the brunt of the environmental cost of crude oil extraction, oil spills, and gas explosions. With no real power to enforce the need for Ecological Impact Assessments, hapless residents literally fold their arms as oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and Agip, conduct business with wanton impunity.
Today, local livelihoods have pretty much been displaced, agriculture has been impeded, and health disorders have risen astronomically.
I met Rebecca, a widow with six children to fend for. She proudly ushered me into her humble hut with a little furnace in the corner with which she dried smoked fish. Until recently, she had barely been able to survive. Thanks to a trawler net provided by the country’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture, she said for the very first time, she had enough to feed her family and was make a decent living.
I also met Chris, a young college graduate who is committed to saving his community from ecocide, the ravages of the sea, and the impunity of oil companies.
Every household in Koluama has a story to tell. Of hopes dashed and an uncertain future.
As I left Koluama, I could not help but think that Bayelsa and the Niger Delta, lay bare what for decades has epitomised all that is wrong with the Nigerian State – corrupt, brutish, cynical, adrift, aloof, lacking systems that make for good governance and functional societies, the absence of innovative ideas, and the lack of political will with which to bring about real change.
In short, the Niger Delta continues to be a modern day gold rush that makes El Dorado pale in comparison. An El Dorado, where might is right and where lip service is given to lifting the serf-like conditions of millions of rural poor who hope that ‘some day’ change will come.
May God bless the people of Koluama, the Niger Delta, and may God bless Nigeria.
The foregoing underscores the plight of every Nigerian from the Niger Delta today. Moving forward, therefore, let government right the perceived wrongs done the people, their environment and collective pride. That way, economic activities will pick up there again and our ever flowing oil and gas will easily translate to needed wealth for the nation and its people. That is the Win-Win situation that we need immediately. It is the path that we must take.