Sunday, June 12, 2016

Good governance as panacea to Niger Delta crises

Rebellion cannot exist without a feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified – Albert Camus

For decades, the Niger Delta region has been enmeshed in all manner of crises – political, social and economic. The volatility of the region arose from absence of good governance in many of the over 500 communities making up the area. There are six states making up the Niger Delta geo-political zone. They are Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo and Delta States. Outside the zone, other oil producing states include Ondo, Imo, Abia, Anambra and recently, Lagos. I have the privilege of doing my National Youth Service in Delta state and thereafter have been to all the oil producing states on official assignments. What you see in many communities there is poverty in its absolute form. There are no good roads, potable water, electricity, hospitals, and other social amenities. Upon all these, the ND environment is highly degraded as a result of inhuman attitude of many of the multinational oil companies operating in the region. This is heart rending as this is the goose that lays the golden egg for the nation. The oil wells of Niger Delta create the commonwealth upon which the bulk of the country’s national income is derived.  

The ecosystem of ND is destroyed due to decades of oil spillage without proper remediation steps by the international oil companies. This resulted in loss of means of livelihood by the farmers and fishermen of the ND as the soil, having been degraded can no longer be cultivated for any farm produce. The water too is polluted with the aquatic life destroyed by the highly toxic oil spills. Thus, those professional farmers lost their means of income. Because of environmental degradation, the people of Niger Delta do not have clean water to drink. Take for instance the United Nations Environment Programme report which says the water in Nsisioken-Ogale-Eleme in Eleme LGA contains cancer-causing Benzene (carcinogen), which is 900 times the World Health Organisation’s standard for water contamination. As with water, the ND people are also faced with a lot of air pollution due to the gas being flared by the IOCs who are engaged in oil explorations in the region. Government has announced different end dates for these IOCs to end gas flaring but such directives have been largely ignored.

For so long, the international oil companies operated with impunity in the region. They constitute themselves into parallel government. They despoil the environment, engage in cosmetic remedial actions if at all they did, refuse to develop their host communities, fail to pay appropriate taxes and royalties, sponsor divisions in many communities, abuse expatriate quota, discard our local content laws and engage in all manner of sharp practices and malpractices. They jettison international best practices or minimum operational standard in Nigeria.  They use their home governments to mount pressure on Nigerian government to soft pedal in holding them to account.

Truth be told, these IOCs are not the only guilty actor in the Niger Delta crises. The political elites, particularly the Niger Delta bourgeoisie are also part of the problem. Likewise many of the community leaders.  Information has it that these leaders armed their youths to deal with their opponents especially during the electioneering campaigns. The welfare packages from some of the IOCs are also diverted for their own personal aggrandisements. It is noteworthy that at least three former governors of ND have been convicted for corruption in Nigeria and Britain.

The let down from the IOCs, traditional rulers and political leaders of Niger Delta gave birth to different kinds of agitations. This was pioneered by Isaac Adaka Boro in the 70s. His rebellion group was quickly dismantled by the government forces. In the late 80s and early 90s, Kenule Saro-Wiwa engaged the powers-that-be in nonviolent agitation for the betterment of ND.  He used his intellectual prowess as a playwright, poet and orator to draw attention to the deplorable situation in his Ogoniland and the Niger Delta region. Many of us will remember ‘Bassey and Company’ a satiric play produced by Ken Saro Wiwa and aired on Nigerian Television Authority for many years.

Ken led many street protests, addressed many rallies and embarked on series of nonviolent actions to bring about positive change in ND. Rather than listen, the powerful forces among the political elite in cahoots with some of the IOCs framed him and eight others for the murder of four Ogoni chiefs. Against international appeals for their release, the Gen. Sani Abacha regime in 1995 summarily tried Ken and eight others and had them hanged. That action turned Nigeria into a pariah nation as the country was suspended from Commonwealth and Canada even closed down its embassy in Nigeria in protest for many years.

It was the Abacha’s inordinate political ambition of wanting to transmute from a military Head of State to a civilian president that fuelled the Niger Delta agitation for development. It was reported in the media that during the ‘One Million Man March’ organised by the group known as Association for Better Nigeria to drum up support for Abacha, the youths of Niger Delta who were bussed in to Abuja to partake in the solidarity march saw the palatial buildings in Abuja, the well paved roads and other social amenities in the Federal Capital Territory and returned to the creeks to start agitating for the development of their region like the FCT. Of course, having realised that Ken Saro Wiwa did not achieve much through the nonviolent agitation, the new crops of agitators decided to go violent. That is what led us to the challenge we currently have on our hands with the emergence of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta and at present, the Niger Delta Avengers.

I have to put on record the efforts of different levels of government to develop the Niger Delta region. These include the payment of 13 per cent derivation fund to the oil producing states, the ecological fund, the establishment of the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta, the setting up of Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission and later Niger Delta Development Commission, the Amnesty Programme for ND militants, various Corporate Social Responsibility programmes of the IOCs, establishment of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, the recent flag-off of the cleanup of the Ogoniland and the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill from which host communities are supposed to enjoy 10 per cent of revenue derived from the sale of oil drilled from each community.

Why then is the country still experiencing violent agitations from the Niger Delta militants? Because there is no good governance. Despite these various initiatives, the people of Niger Delta are still living in misery and squalor. They are yet to experience dividends of democracy and development. That is the missing link government and IOCs need to fix.