TOPIC: NIGER DELTA OIL CONFLICT: The Reason, Current Status; the Demands and Western Influence, etc.
Good morning African students, ladies and gentlemen. I am indeed thankful to be here. My special appreciation goes to the Association of African Students, Niger Delta Justice Network for deeming it necessary to discuss the Niger Delta region, its predicaments and the way forward. Ms. Crystal Azu, president of NASA and Itohan Irene Udogie, the co-president of Niger Delta Justice network deserves special commendation. They work tirelessly to communicate with me and make possible this journey. Thank you all.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta oil conflict in Nigeria can not be concisely dealt with or handled without briefly discussing the history of Nigeria. Reason being that the conflict is a product of the artificial and ill-conceived creation of the country by the British. Therefore, my approach to this presentation shall be five-prong: brief history of Nigeria, Oil discovery/background of conflict and demands, Current status, Western influence and the way forward or solutions to the conflict.
BRIEF HISTORY OF NIGERIA AND NIGER DELTA
The birth of Nigeria was signaled when in 1914 the British colonialists proclaimed the Southern and Northern protectorates for their administrative convenience. By October 1, 1960, Nigeria was officially born. That is, on this day the country gained independence from colonial Britain. It is worth of note that the nation in discuss was formed by force. The different ethnic groups, which have today run into more than 300, were forced against their wishes by the British into an un-bargained marriage between the bride and the bridegroom. And you know what happens when a man and a woman are forced to marry against their wishes.
The name Nigeria, which is reportedly derived from the River Niger, was brought about by the wife of Lord Lugard who was one of the last colonial governors. Interestingly, but not surprising, to this day, these once independent peoples or ethnic nationalities are still held by force of arms. No thanks to Britain which prepared Northern Nigeria for a continuation of the colonial agenda though internal colonialism this time.
Some have argued that the Nigerian State was born solely for the Britain to reduce the tax burden on its citizens or taxpayers at home, because Northern Nigeria had little or no means of creating a budget. It had to depend on British taxpayers to run a budget. The amoral amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates became an avenue to transfer said burden to the south which had and still has the riches in Niger Delta and few others.
By implication, when the British left in 1960, the North, which it trusted to be suitable for indirect rule in a sense, was entrusted with rulership. The British taught the people of the North how to control the rest of the country with guns. They were also taught how to exploit and maintain the siphoning of wealth from the south (today known as south-south) to run the north. Forcing the wealth of the Niger Delta to run the North has unfortunately become the trend and reality to date but with the western and eastern states inclusive.
Before this period, however, the Niger Delta, like other ethnic groups was already in existence. This implies Niger Delta as a region is older than Nigeria. The people of this region got in contact with imperialistic Europeans in about the 1800s, when Europeans of British and Portuguese extractions especially began their expedition of the area. They had combined trade, Christianity and forced control, which happened by way of unjustifiable invasion, hence conquering and subsequent colonization.
About 1885 to 1893 Niger Delta, which then comprised aspects of eastern region was known as the “oil rivers” because it was an important palm producer. It was known also as the “British Protectorate” but changed to the Niger Coast Protectorate. And during this time a British company known as the Royal Niger Company was effectively stationed to collect and ship palm produce to Britain and other parts of the western world and also collect levies or taxes and make treaties up to the early 1900s.
THE DISCOVERY OF CRUDE OIL
In 1956, Shell BP or British Petroleum, which transformed from the Royal Niger Company, discovered oil in a small village called Oloibiri in present-day Bayelsa State. Two years later (1958) the company discovered oil in large commercial quantities in Ogoni. The Oloibiri oilfields were quickly extracted and they were dried off. Nothing of tangible nature was put back in the place to indicate petrodollars were carted away by the Federal Government and Shell Oil. What could be said to be the only significance was a fenced land meant for the development of an oil museum which has not been done as I speak.
The Ogoni and all other communities where oil was found had the same fate. Shell and the Federal Government (through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC) recklessly explored and exploits crude oil. High pressured pipelines are laid in their numbers on the earth surface and at close proximity of human habitation. This resulted and still resulting to environmental hazards which includes but not limited to incessant oil spills from corrosive, outdated pipes exposed to sun and other natural agents. These spills run into rivers and creeks and poison protein-based sea food, fish and other resourceful contents. They also pollute the water which happens to be the people's only source of drinking water.
Excessive gas flaring by Shell and other companies, which is one huge cause of global warming according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, has caused untold havoc and hardship due to poor agricultural yield. Shell Oil, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Agip, etc., have not conducted any Environmental Impact and Social Assessment Studies since the discovery of oil, to determine the environmental and social effects or impacts of their business. As foreign companies, they will not do their kind of business in North America and Europe with conducting these studies.
Although they also sponsor some if not most of the law makers during campaigns in the continents mentioned above to make laws that will protect them, they are not allowed to behave the way they do in Nigeria. These corporations finds it easy and economical to do their deadly crafts in Africa because the continent leaders, Nigeria in particular are ignorant, selfish, and greedy and do not consider the interest, safety and security of the masses. Pollutions from gas flaring and oil spill which have been happening for more than 50 years cause birth defects, premature births, rashes; and prickly heat among others. They also result to deaths.
The deaths (before the physical killing Shell's paid military) cause by the oil company's reckless activities is what Ken Saro-Wiwa called ecological warfare. Because in this war no guns are shot, no stone thrown but human beings continue to die due to suffocation from noxious gasses, polluted water, poisoned crops and other forms of environmental pollution. In short, Niger Delta is a home to coastal rainforest and mangrove habitats…a beautiful place it was, to live with nature. Unfortunately, the region has been degraded by oil exploitation. And this is to the extent that a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development found the region is the “most endangered river delta of the world.” The reckless and inhuman activities of foreign companies in the Niger Delta are considered “environmental racism,” because they do in Niger Delta what they dare not do in their home countries.
Meanwhile, the core Niger Delta is made up of about 30 different ethnic groups with distinct language and culture. It has a population of about 20 million people; and currently span through six states namely Edo, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers and Delta. Notwithstanding the core States mentioned above, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo extended Niger Delta to include all oil producing states in 2004.
Consequently, Ondo, Abia and Imo States were added because they have in recent time discovered oil on their land. The core Niger Delta States have certain peculiarities that are common to all Deltas of the world. Deltas are regions of coastal terrain. That is, they are wetlands; a rainforest or areas surrounded by water and have special vegetations such as with the Amazon of Brazil and other South American nations. The Niger Delta oppression and struggles is synonymous with the core region. As such we have argued that all the states of Nigeria that end up producing crude oil should not be called Niger Delta, but oil producing areas or states because they do not have the features attributed to the core Niger Delta. More so, the region's struggle has a unique dimension…its people have been the sacrificial lambs.
Also, because anything is possible almost all 36 states that make up the country might have oil in the future and to call all of them Niger Delta and erasing the actual and uniqueness of the original or core Niger Delta will not be just and will result to more complications in terms of resource allocation and development. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has no doubt given out some funds to the Niger Delta states through their governors. These funds have made little or no impact because the governors, who are most appointed and not elected by the people, divert these funds for their private use-they dump them in American and European banks, especially Swiss.
And because most of them are there as state governors to be the eyes of the federal government and by imposition the federal government has always done nothing to investigate and try those accused of corruption and money laundry. One thing is to give the region piece-meals for development which has not been seen after more than 50 years. Another thing, and very important and righteous is to give them what is actually their and as of right. And that is allowing them their right to own their land and oil/gas resources and use them to develop at their own pace. That is the just, moral and federalistic thing to do that will conduce to peace and stability. Building new towns as the government is reported to be planning recently would only care for the physical infrastructural needs.
That is, if not abandoned as usual. Making noise about infrastructures that is found nowhere like the “bridge to nowhere” will not solve the real problems considering that said development is government's responsibility. Niger Deltans are not supposed to struggle, be killed or bear arms before getting these developments, which should be made possible with their oil resources anyway. It is a truism that no other region in the country has to experience death or take up arms against the federal government literally and physical to be developed. They of course use monies from the Niger Delta for their development.
Therefore, the government is only fulfilling its duties to the people and doing nothing special to solve the conflict. It should stop allocating 13 percent-piece-meal oil-based funds to Niger Deltans; and also stop allocating funds similar to the former which are oil monies to states without oil unless they have something to contribute to the national coffers. Most of these states surely do not have anything to offer at the moment.
The government has no right whatsoever to continue to share Niger Delta oil money to Niger Deltans nor does it have right to share same to others? The righteous thing to do is share federal government funds derived from its hard work in investment, national and international trade, commerce and taxation to the Niger Delta states and others. Using guns to force this so-called revenue allocation on the throats of the people is the most absurd, devilish and criminal thing any federation can or should do.
It is wrong, preposterous and against all economic principles for the federal government to create states as a means of expanding ethnic territories of those in power, and seize the wealth of the small and weak groups for the development of the non-viable groups. The proper thing as seen in America and other federations is for the owners of natural resources to produce them and pay petroleum profit and other forms of taxes to the federal or central government. Ironically, in Nigeria, the theft of natural resources is institutionalized. The federal Constitution claims all land where oil is found belong to the federation, implying federal government. This includes on territorial waters and other exclusive zones. This obnoxious or draconian law has been the crux of the Niger Delta struggle.
BACKGROUND OF THE CONFLICT
During the colonial era and between 1939 and 1951, the Eastern region of Nigeria was created as one of the three components of the nation. It was dominated by the Igbos, whiles the North and west dominated by the Hausa Fulanis and Yorubas respectively. No Southern enclave was created because it was where the most so-called minorities came from. The minority ethnic groups in the South were splited between the East and West. Conscious of the fact that the Niger Delta minorities were becoming more agitative, and showed discontent about their inclusion in the Eastern region, due to repression, and aware of the fears expressed by these groups, the Colonial Government set up the Sir Henry Willink Commission in 1958 to look into the fears for possible redress.
The commission came after a conference was held in London in 1957. This conference had in attendance members of the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference (RCPC) who went there to demand a separate state or region from the Eastern region. Unfortunately, the commission did not do anything to resolve the fears. It nevertheless created the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB). This deceit and lack of political will to allay these fears by creating a new and separate state for the Niger Delta was perceived as grave injustice. The funds from oil were not going directly to people. As a result Isaac Jaspa Idaka Boro (1938-1968) took offence against what has become the norm today; a lack of political will and deceit whiles the region's oil resource rest in private pockets of the privileged and also carted to other regions for development.
By 1966 (few months before the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to1970) therefore, Boro formed his rebel group and declared the Niger Delta Republic from the country. The declaration and secession bid lasted for 12 days. They were rounded up by the Federal troop. Members of the militant group were detained; their leader, Boro, was released and sent to the war front where he was killed in 1968. He was reported to have been deliberately killed at the front to avoid further insurgency. Notwithstanding, the government's violence and injustices perpetrated and still perpetuated against the land and people of Niger Delta did not stop.
And so 24 years later, Ken Saro-Wiwa emerged in 1993. He had quietly done his homework as someone who was intellectually sound, occasionally involved in politics and an international businessman who lived in London. He wrote and presented the Ogoni Bill of Rights to the elders, chiefs and leaders of Ogoni in 1990, and it was signed. The Bill of Rights was then presented to the Federal Military Government of Ibrahim Babangida and $hell Oil. And it was only acknowledged without any other action. The Bill, which all the other Niger Delta Bill of Rights including the freedom fighters declaration model after make upon the Nigerian Government and people the following:
The political control of the Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people; the right to control and use a fair proportion of the Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, adequate and direct representation as of right in all Nigerian National Institutions; the use and development of Ogoni language in Ogoni territory; the full development of Ogoni culture; the right to religious freedom, and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation.
These rights translate into demanding true, fiscal federalism and democracy as guaranteed in all known federation of the world including America. Saro-Wiwa formed the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). MOSOP was a nongovernmental, non political and non religious, but cultural, environmental and human rights grassroots movement. Its principle was based on nonviolence, freedom, justice and peace. And this was long after he watched Oloibiri oilfields raped and dried with nothing to show for the huge wealth taken from there.
He also saw how the government and Shell were recklessly exploiting and raping the Ogoni oilfields and others of Niger Delta and degrading the environment. He saw how death was rampant because of an environment charged with hydrocarbon and shocked by Shell's immoral activities. Apart from going to the war front in 1967 to try and save Ogonis and other Niger Deltans held under the Eastern government, he tried many times to draw the attention of government and the company to the Ogoni and Niger Delta plights. As usual they paid deaf ears.
On January 4, 1993, in commemoration of the United Nations World International Year of Indigenous Peoples he led about 300, 000 Ogonis and we marched peacefully and nonviolently to show our disenchantment with the government and Shell. This was after a 30-day ultimate was given to the company to address the Ogoni problems as contained in a “shopping list” Shell asked for but did nothing when it received it. The result was state and corporate terrorism. Ogonis were intimidated, harassed, beaten and killed in cold blood. Saro-Wiwa and other leaders were arrested without charge. There were massive and numerous protest which attracted the international community.
Then, on May 21, 1994, he was in Ogoni campaigning for the late Abacha's-led military government's Constitutional Conference. His aim was to seize the opportunity to present the Ogoni/Niger Delta case and ask the participating ethnic groups who were forced into the contraption Nigeria against their wishes to renegotiate the terms of the forced union for peace to reign. He was conscious of the fact that there is no one Nigeria but a people forced at gunpoint. And also was aware of the gimmick of quixotic experiments and the confiscation of Niger Delta oil.
Paramount on his agenda was true federalism, which will guarantee self-determination/resource control. His honesty, intellect, boldness, clout and persuasive abilities scared the government and Shell. The federal government was not willing to neither solve any problem nor resort to true federalism even when the nation is a federation of ethnic groups. The way out for them was to eliminate him by trumping him up for something he knew nothing about. He was allowed to buy his form as a conference candidate.
At this point though, Ogoni had already stopped the flow of oil from most of its oilfields. This was an embarrassment to the Federal Government, Shell, the quasi government and their international oil collaborators and consumers of the Niger Delta oil misnamed Nigerian. He was arrested wrongfully for the killing of four chiefs who were under the state government's protection at their meeting.
Yet he was not in the area when the same government alleged these chiefs were murdered under gruesome circumstances and their remains not found.
Obviously Saro-Wiwa was already forced to return to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital under military escort before the alleged incident. How then was he responsible for what he did not know about? Nor was he there when the military did what it did just to trap him.
After his arrest on May 22, 1994 and attendant torture in prison and a deal to with his campaign against Shell and government, a military tribunal which had been detailed to convict him at all cost was set up instead of a usual court in 1995. On October 31 he was convicted and sentenced to death despite the protest by the international community, his lawyers against the obstruction of justice by the tribunal, military and the prosecution team. Eight others were also sentenced with him, but his deputy (Ledum Mitee) was discharged and acquitted in circumstances viewed by the Civil Liberty Organization (of Nigeria) as “Cosmetic acquittal.”
Insofar as you were a MOSOP person you were guilty as the then Governor, Dauda Musa Komo, an Hausa declared in less than 24 hours after the alleged incident while ordering Saro-Wiwa's arrest and all other “MOSOP elements.” Nine Ogoni leaders were unjustly murdered on November 10, after a sham trial. Amnesty International declared Saro-Wiwa, “prisoner of conscience” killed for his political beliefs and international campaign against Shell.
This barbaric and unjust action compelled the Common Wealth of Nations to suspend Nigeria. America under Bill Clinton, which could have saved them if it had imposed economic sanctions on Nigeria refused to do so, but imposed a so-called diplomatic sanctions, which allowed oil to continue to flow from Niger Delta to American pumps. Here, the lesson was that oil is thicker than blood, but the problems or reasons they fought and were killed remains.
Interestingly, Saro-Wiwa had warned in a 40-page defense he was not allowed to present at the tribunal before he was killed, saying: I am a man of peace of ideas appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people. Yet, today is a black day for the black man. By this show of shame it means even the best of black men is nothing but a criminal. “I predict that a denouncement of the riddle of the Niger Delta would soon come. The agenda is being set at this trial. Whether the peaceful ways I have favored would prevail depend on what the oppressors decide, what signals it sends out to the waiting public.”
His prediction came to reality when in 2004, exactly nine years after he was killed death Mujahid Dokubo Asari, like Boro, angered by the injustices, devastation, poverty and killings formed the Niger Delta People Volunteered Force (NDPVF). The group fought with arms, disrupted oil business and the nation was again at crossroads. He was subsequently tricked to surrender his arms. Having surrender he was arrested and charged for gun-running, treason and treasonable felony or offenses.
Then in 2006, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta popularly known as MEND emerged. MEND, the most dreaded demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Asari and also reechoed the region's demand for resource control which is the crux of the conflict. It shocked the world and scared the Nigerian Government and people including the oil companies as it promised to cut production to near zero and it almost did.
This struggle though armed was a just fight taking into consideration what any Niger Deltan who attempted to protest the unfair treatment against the region has faced-death mostly. We must however get it right, that violence is not a recommended option or means of agitation for rights. In this case it is only a tool that could make a long time insensitive government or cabal respond more positively and show a willingness to resolve once and for an aged-long conflict instead of managing as it is doing presently.
By this method the international community especially the biggest consumers of the stolen oil woke up to the reality in the region. MEND struggle, though has its negatives like any other project or struggle in life succeeded in bringing the government to this point if not that same government choose to stay deceitful to the extent that it further used the politicians, elders and so-called leaders of Niger Delta to balkanize the group and has weaken them.
Meanwhile, MEND unfortunately held the first 15 Filipinos hostage to draw the world's attention to the plight in the region. And it succeeded in doing just that. During these period miscreants who were reported to have been groomed by politicians to outsmart their opponent and sometimes kill them infiltrated the arms struggle, kidnapping on nearly daily basis and demanding ransom. MEND, however, maintained its agitation and sometimes helped release those kidnapped by these miscreants. The innocent of Niger Delta were unfortunately murdered as they were trapped in crossfire between MEND and the federal troops.
About four foreign oil workers were reported killed in said cross-fire as well. More than one million barrels of crude oil out of a purported 2.5 million barrels per day reported by the companies were cut. The freedom fighter's actions threw the world especially America which depend so much on foreign oil into acute oil crisis. Nigerians were victims as well especially because despite more than 50 years of oil production the government still can not manage a refinery so refine its crude outside the country.
The Niger Delta demands are simple. I have mentioned them previously as the rights to control and manage the region's resources of oil and gas, and protect the environment and ecology from further degradation. Also demanded are mutual respect, equality, freedom and justice. Resource control means sustainable development that will be made possible by the people control over their wealth. This of course includes environmental revampment, preservation and protection. To preserve and protect the environment the oil companies must stop gas flaring or the excessive burning of fossil fuel, other noxious gases which have been fingered as a big source of climate changes or global warming.
Physical infrastructural developments and opportunities are part of the demand made upon the Federal Government but will be achieved by the people if the core demands above are ceded. In short, these developments will be treated properly hereafter. Adequate representation in all national institutions as of right and as applicable in a democracy is another demand. This means true federalism and not the unitary system that exist today. It is clear the demands are not much, but 50 years have passed and they are yet to be met.
Most of the oil majors are Western; Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Agip among others. All the technologies used in prospecting for oil are Western. The biggest oil consumers are Western. America alone buys about 40 percent, then Britain, Canada and the rest. Japan and China are also involved. China is currently working hard to out spend the U.S. to secure the most viable oil blocks. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) set the price and quota or quantities against business ethics. It is control by the west. Then dollar is used as the acceptable legal tender (money) for oil purchase to cheapen the price in the international market. The guns used to kill protesters demanding justice are manufactured by the west and sometimes given in exchange of these resources.
The oil companies themselves, as clear with corporations are too powerful that they can influence any government in the world. They of course sponsor candidates in Nigeria likewise America. Shell especially has enormous influence over Nigeria to the extent that the government does not know the exact barrels of oil per day are produced. And because of the lack of technology it accept whatever change it is given which is huge sums of money. Oil companies have influence on petroleum laws detrimental to the people, yet the government should have known better to protect the interest of its people. It does not care any way!
Most oil monies stolen by Nigerian rulers are hidden in European and American banks-Swiss banks especially. World bank owned by the west with most money from the so-called American Federal Reserve Bank owned by rich individuals and not the government give Nigeria and other African nations loans they mostly embezzle and have no means of the government to pay back. The IMF also gives similar loans, place strict rules on them even when these governments can not pay back with clean efforts. To pay these monies back Niger Delta must be exploited and its citizens killed should they protest the stealing of their wealth.
In another development, America, Britain, etc. train Nigerian soldiers and the police, other armed forces inclusive. In December 2005, former President Bush was reported to have planned the deployment of the U.S. Marines to help crush the so-called Niger Delta militants so that oil will flow unhindered to America. It also set up the African Command of its military with a submarine station in the Gulf of Guinea. Media reports also have it that he donated 2 gunboats in 2008 to the federal government to deal with the militants for American energy needs to be met. The aftermath was the use of helicopter gunship to crush the citizens of Gbaramuta and others. China was also reported to have supplied military hardware for the protection of oil installations.
More importantly, the higher the demand of oil in the west and now Asia, the more pressure and deaths in Niger Delta as government and the companies will stop at nothing to meet this demand. Ironically, these governments and people will not allow oil companies to behave at home the way they do in foreign countries such as Nigeria. The Alaskans, Texans, Californians and their likes in America and Shetlanders in Britain and other of European have benefitted enormously from oil. But these governments and companies, their shareholders have helped make oil a curse to Niger Deltans instead of a blessing. The citizens of the west have a tremendous role to play to save the Niger Delta and its environment.
Nothing has changed. And the probability that things would change is not there. The Federal Government claimed it granted amnesty to all militant groups who claimed to have been fighting for the region. MEND rejected the amnesty because it said it is fighting a just cause to protect and seek a better life through resource control to the people. And the group is absolutely right to fight for the region's rights after the killing of a nonviolent and peaceful crusader Ken Saro-Wiwa. “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look,” Bob Marley asked. Several militants who were groomed by the referenced politicians to force their way to power, including some MEND commanders accepted the amnesty.
The core MEND has refused to honor any call to lay down its arms. The government took advantage of the recommendations by the Ledum Mitee led Niger Delta Technical Committee which was a ploy to calm the tension down and continue oil drilling.
Amnesty is one of the many recommendations rolled out by this committee. But how could a Niger Delta indigene-based committee recommend amnesty for the freedom fighters knowing that their struggle is justified? President Yar'Adua in a bid to pacify the freedom fighters (before he became sick and went on AWOL to date) also announced a 10 percent direct fund from oil for the Niger Delta communities, which is yet to be implemented. The question though is, 13 or 10 percent of what; is it of the region's wealth? How many percent of derivative funds is allocated to Niger Deltans from other regions? This is another source of the injustice.
Although the above committee may have recommended some palliatives for the region, the most irksome issue is that most members of the committee are those who profess to be the region's foremost activists. In other words, these men and women are saying that the fighters have no good reason for their struggle hence the need to grant them pardon as a way to move forward. This committee, after 50 years of repression felt comfortable to recommend piece-meals to the region even as Niger Deltans themselves. And they all know the key to the problem is resource control; how then do you control your resources in piece-meals: 1, 1.3, 13, 20 or 25 percent of your own thing as has been the case over time? Come on people, let's get this straight!
How fair is it for your father to recommend that a stranger or government should take the whole of your shirt and only spare you 1, 3, 1.3, 20 or even 25 buttons? This is how the region's problems become more complex because those you think are leaders, elders and know what the people want are repeatedly used by the government to further oppress the people. Yet these leaders so-called will beat their chest among unsuspecting peasants and youths making them believe they have done what Napoleon could not do. They are in essence assisting the oppressive government to manage the conflict instead of permanently resolving it. America for instance is a federation therefore grants high degree of autonomy to the federating states. This is how Texas and Alaska, others uses their oil resources to develop at their pace and pay taxes to the central government.
We can see how it works and have conduced to peace. Non oil states in America use what they have for their good and also pay taxes to the federal government even as Washington give them grants and other fiscal allocations. The key is they are all contributing. In Nigeria only Niger Delta contributes to everyone's up keep that is why they do not want to relinquish the sweet taste caused by oil money. Niger Delta is demanding the same thing from Nigeria as obtainable in other federations. And it is only when these demands have been met that peace will reign! No justice, no peace; and what is good for the goose must also be good for the gander, right?
Since the so-called amnesty emerged the government has not done anything to earn trust from the people or MEND. No pragmatic approach or result has been seen to pacify the people. As always the case with government gimmicks, this administration will gamble and go out soon. Implying the same old games will be played and there will be nothing on the ground to show seriousness or honesty on the side of government. It will pass whatever ill-fated program to the next administration and the circle will stay vicious. Is this not enough reason for Niger Deltans to use what it has and go head-to-head with the federal government?
Government's unseriousness is cemented by media reports that it used the time the amnesty was negotiated to purchase more arms and its men received training from American Navy. Britain's PM Gordon Brown also announced military support instead of earnestly seeking lasting solutions predicated on justice to the problems. He was, however rebuked by the British citizens and protest by Niger Deltans, other Nigerians and their friends in London. This made him work silently with the government of Nigeria, but logistically. As it stands there has been sporadic pipe blowout recently because amnesty was not accepted by MEND and the NDPVF.
MEND had put together what it calls its “Aaron Team” which has Prof. Wole Soyinka, the renowned writer, playwright and Nobel Laureate as member. NDPVF has been claiming responsibility for some of the blowouts lately and not even MEND, though it took responsibility for some and the bomb blast near a post-amnesty conference venue in Warri on Monday, March 16. The NDPVF leader Asari has gone on self-exile having refused to accept the amnesty alongside MEND. He reportedly said his life had been attempted by government agencies few times. The handwriting on the wall represents danger.
It means there is trouble, yet the country's leaders have remained adamant and continue to exhibit the same lack of political will that stirred Isaac Boro to fight in 1966. The injustices that made Saro-Wiwa and the Ogonis struggle nonviolently remains and so no one knows what may happen next. What we are sure of, however, is that the government and oil companies have continued to drill and make money from oil while the people of Niger Delta wallow in abject poverty and ruined environment.
SOLUTIONS AND CONCLUSION
Although the underlining factors holding back the peaceful resolution of the Niger Delta conflict is greed of Nigeria's irresponsible leaders and a sited lack of compromise by Northern elite, politicians and their collaborators from the West, East and even South-South or Niger Delta to give up resource control. The conflict can be resolved amicably with respect, honesty, empathy, justice and understanding. And such resolution will be achieved if the leaders decide to be open, show honest concerns to the plight and needs of the people and their fundamental or inalienable rights. It will be by ceding control and management of oil and gas resources to the people of Niger Delta.
The government has always focused on development and youth empowerment which it has not spiritedly implemented at any time. It always fail because it knows the problems and answers but instead of tackling them head-on it continue to manage them by setting up committees, summits and wasting more funds on non sequitur strategies thinking it could evade the people's anger and quest for justice.
Meanwhile, the government must de-emphasize oil as the only source of national earning, but develop agriculture, solid mineral, invest in science and technology, taxes and other fund-generating sources. A monolithic or homogeneous economy is not a viable means to nation-building. Heterogeneous or multiple economies which will bailout or supplement one another should there be defect in one area is the key. Importantly, nonviable states (about 90% out of the 36 states) must be giving sometime to chat a new way of generating funds for their day-to-day business or be scrapped. The idea of creating states which can not raise an annual budget unless money comes from the Federation Account is against any acceptable economic formula.
It is not fair to the people of Niger Delta and others who can raise funds for themselves. Such nonviable states have helped the conspiracy and pressure on Niger Deltans and their land. Western nations also have a moral responsibility to stop the exploitation and killing by checking their activities especially policies relating to oil.
The sole responsibility is on the Nigerian Government and support from the people. If the government and citizens are for the good of the Niger Delta which means for the nation, oil companies, the foreign ones especially can not help but act responsibly. The government has long collaborated with these rogue and killer companies because they do not care about the Niger Deltans but the oil drilled from the people's veins. The companies therefore have blank check because the institution that gives them mining lease does not care; officials take bribes most times and ignore regulations also influenced by these companies.
Niger Deltans need to define and decide what laws apply to their resources, environment and safety; they need to approve only rules, regulations that will serve their interest, those of other regions and protect the environment. Corporate social responsibility is important but it is not more or as important as government respecting and treating its citizen's right…they would do right if government is doing right by its people it has constitutional duty to invest in and protect.
If the government is acting responsibly and cedes the necessary rights to the people they will develop themselves and may need little or nothing from the oil companies except a demand for strict adherence to environmental matters. The companies could do better also by not taking advantage of the government's ignorance, greed and lack of commitments to the people. Corporations must demonstrate integrity, and a sense of responsibility. They must be accountable because individuals own and work in them. These human beings: junior/senior staff or supervisors, managers, directors, presidents and shareholder make a corporation.
They therefore have these responsibilities tagged corporate responsibilities. Human beings have morals but corporations do not. These individuals should exhibit moral values (ethics) as expected outside corporate entities and not to just see money made possible by capitalism as the ultimate. Corporate profit should at least balance compassion, empathy hence responsibility to the host communities.
Now, the short-term solutions though fundamental government responsibility are the massive development of Niger Delta into world-class towns and cities. Educational, tourist and job opportunities, which will be achieved with oil money from the region and trust funds for the rainy days should be planned and executed immediately. We must understand that these developments or benefits are not alien to Nigeria. Those who wield power have them in their regions, but with Niger Delta money. The above are palliatives, antidotes, but what the people need is modalities that will bring about the ceding of all lands and the resources therein to them.
This is their birthright! Niger Delta must control its oil and gas resources as the panacea to the conflict. Other groups in the country own and control what is on their land except the Niger Delta. Why? It is because it is endowed with oil and the rulers, dictators who disguise as leaders and democrats claims oil belong to no one but all.
They ignore the fact that cocoa, groundnut and palm produce were not everybody's but belonged to those whose land were suitable for cultivation-under the regional government that was before independence. Government should stop ignoring the practical solutions to the conflict and do the right thing for peace to reign. The deceit about youth empowerment and other developments can never be the answer to the problems because the people will still fight their just cause to control their resources. Niger Delta demand justice and they need it now!
As mentioned aforesaid, when the oil/gas resources are ceded to the owners, these owners will have to pay Petroleum Profit Taxes or whatever levies would be agreed upon to the federal government to run the nation in addition to other measures of revenue sourcing. True federalism, democracy, good governance and accountability must also be practiced in the country to sustain the amicable resolution of the conflict.
Nigeria and Africa in general have problems with maintaining what has been developed or achieved. A contingency plan that is healthy for all business thinking, development and execution is alien in that part of the world. We must learn and imbibe this culture if we are to succeed and get out of the aged-long conflicts. Sustainable development will come with resource control. It needs maintenance and emergency planning to bear whatever risk associated with building wealth or a nation. Sustainable development will fight and control, if not completely eradicate poverty. It will bring about women empowerment, better life for our children among others.
Declaring amnesty for Niger Delta is not the answer to the problem. Amnesty can only be granted those who have committed crimes against the state and not those fighting to protect their rights and environment. Fighting for resource, environmental and ecological control in Niger Delta by MEND or any other that might come is like America fighting for independence.
The government failed conferences, think tanks, workshops, and so forth that rigmarole with same epileptic results would not help but postponing the evil days. It is applying the same tactics for more than 50 years and has same negative result. Why continue the same way and expect a different result instead of doing the right thing which is to resolve the root or remote cause of the conflict? The simple answer is to allow the owners of the land take them back and control what is on or in it. This is the moral, legal and Godly thing to do.
The people deserve a great deal of respect after more than 50 years of exploitation, environmental ruins and death. They are demanding to control and care for their environment which those who have become drunk in crude oil currently do not care for because they are not from the region and do know what it means to live with oil spills, polluted rivers, withered farm produce, and other inherent hazards. Or do they know what it means to starve in a day? The nation has what it takes to solve this problem, it should sum the courage; the political and moral will to do right by the people for peace and stability to come.
The Niger Delta question is also the Nigerian question because it will set a path for the creation of wealth; revenue pool, sharing or allocation, good competition based on regional or state viability akin to all federal systems. It will also create a roadmap for the resolution of similar conflicts in Africa in general. Peace and prosperity in Nigeria will signal same in the rest of Africa because other nations look up to her. The need to care for the environment becomes pertinent. This means the need to reduce oil consumption which will reduce pressure on the environment when oil extraction is reduced and national policies that focuses on alternative energy are prescribed to create green jobs and a lot more benefits.
By implication, more proper farming and availability of organic seeds, not genetically-based must be made a priority. Genetically-based seeds and food are common with Monsanto; a Saint Louis, Missouri based corporation which discourages the gathering and preservation of organic seeds. Monsanto support and is spreading genetically-based seeds that are unhealthy to consumers and creating food scarcity and hunger. These kinds of seeds demands huge synthesized fertilizer, which drain into the soil and further poison the environment. Huge qualities of water and other pesticides are also needed to have some semblance of progress in food production. Such unnecessary quantities of water which organic seeds will not require helps create water scarcity that is threatening the earth today. Steps must therefore be taken not to toe this route that is irresponsible.
Lastly, all of you in the audience and those not here have a role to play to make this feat possible. First, digest this information then plan an action. Form into groups or just one group as the ASA or Niger Delta Justice Network, which I believe some of you have done already. Write to the National Assembly in Nigeria expressing your concerns and the need to justly resolve the conflict. Also liaise with other human rights and environmental organizations. Send a letter to the Nigerian president or plan a visit and express same concerns aimed at peaceful and just resolution. The African Union (AU) and other powerful groups or nations in Africa can be contacted for the same purpose. The American Congress, President Obama and other Western nations and China depending on oil from Niger Delta also have a moral responsibility to assist in solving this impasse.
Therefore write them and stage protest marches, rallies. It is only when we all see the problem as ours and not a case in isolation then act decisively in honesty and truth that the conflict shall be resolved. Peace, economic stability and security will be achieved, and they will spread around the world just as the problems are also affecting it. Failure may spell dome which will elevate up to Nigerian disintegration because it's a forced nation that only truth, justice, mutual respect; understanding and a sense of inclusion or belonging and responsibility by all can further keep as one.
We must note that silence is more dangerous and deadly than poverty and HIV/AIDS. It has never protected the victims of any carnage, exploitation, environmental catastrophes, and crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Saying nothing, and doing nothing only protects the perpetrators and grants them blank checks to continue their immoral/inhuman acts or crimes as common against the people of Niger Delta of Nigeria. And insofar as the right and just thing is not done, the struggle must continue, and if you ask me I can not tell you the methods the government, people or militants in particular may apply tomorrow. All I know is that the federal government, oil companies are adamant. Also new agitators who are for the region's rights are also always fierce than the former. Therefore, something positive must be done now!