DEEP IN THE OIL FIELDS WITH A MILITANT (2)
Reader, please permit me this morning to use as a symbol, the lifestyles of the Gwari woman of Abuja and her Egbema counterpart to pep up this gist. And in so doing try as much as we can to bring into critical focus the socio-economic contradiction that is Nigeria. In the course of my research, I stumbled into these women of interesting backgrounds. These women, who are miserably poor, unfortunately live side by side with opulence associated with crude oil.
They both have been deprived – the Gwari woman her land, the Egbema woman her crude oil. About the Gwari woman, she is dark- complexioned, lanky and pretty. She has all the physical attributes to qualify to win any organized beauty contest.
In every sense, she is homeless; her place of natural abode having been confiscated by the feds to enhance the development of Abuja. The Egbema woman is also dark complexioned. But she is plump with all the female physical attributes that would surely make a head turner any day. Ka ma kpuro, (like the Yoruba would say), she too, is cute. The Gwari Woman like her Egbema counterpart is a mother, a wife and a sister. She, like her Egbema counterpart, uses her back as a pram. Both are intensely agrarian.
They trek long distances back and forth, day in, day out, to fend for the family. Both live by the symbolic river (wealth) but bathe with the symbolic spittle (miserable poverty). They have developed bald shoulders occasioned by using that delicate segment of the body for ferrying firewood and sometimes water. Both watch wealth flow by. One lives very close to Abuja, the very shiny little kingdom created by Nigeria's moneyed class for self. The other lives with the source of the wealth from where the whole fantasy that is Abuja is created. Let's repeat it, both are deprived.
The Gwari woman sometimes fetches water from running streams but (give it to the feds) she drinks portable waters drawn from an always functioning bore hole which like nomadic education follows her here and about. Unfortunately, her Egbema counterpart bathes in running guinea worm infested streams, thoroughly polluted by oil spillage. You need to watch her from a distance (like I did) shove the waters apart with her two palms before she scoops or takes a dive. At night, the Gwari woman who may be living somewhere within the precincts of Abuja enjoys good life by association, by default.
Where ever she finds a shanty, there is usually electricity. It's a mystery I am still struggling hard to unknot. She views splendor and luxury as she embarks on the near daily suicidal mission of trying to run across the expressway, where sometimes she gets knocked down. Here, her husband comes in to offer needed protection, sometimes using the cow as a shield. She is indeed luckier as even presidents stop a 'times to let her and the cows pass the expressways – in walking grace.
While the Gwari woman lives her life as a nomad, trailing her sons and husband itinerant herdsmen, her Egbema counterpart lives in an enclosed cave constantly with alms under her jaw watching helplessly as her wealth ticks away like a pipe dream through multiple oil pipelines. Most often she watches helplessly as the wealth of the nation created by God in her part of the domain is siphoned. The Egbema woman needn't run across any harsh highway to fetch water. She harbors no fears of being knocked down by speedway vehicles. She lives no luxury life directly or by association. There are no federal highways in Egbema.
There are no federal establishments in Egbema. In Egbema, you are likely to run into three redundant boreholes struggling for breathing space in one location. And because the oil-producing community has no reliable power supply, the boreholes depend on equally malfunctioned or ill-maintained generators to pump water up into gigantic reservoirs that service the needs of the people. Strangely when we visited, none of the boreholes was functioning. In the absence of regular water supply, the people, therefore, regularly drank from the highly polluted River Orashi or the multiple streams that surround the villages, particularly during the rainy season. One of the boreholes my guide told me was built by Shell, the other by NDDC and the remaining by the very unstable, wastepipe – Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission – ISOPADEC.
You also need to see what passes for roads in the Imo segment of Egbema. There is this little, heavily manned footpath-looking ramshackle that passes for a ring-road built around the village of Abacheke. It has all the attributes of work done in a haste either to shut up restive youths or appease the community that has produced the likes of Mike Okiro and Eze Nze Obi. Ironically my investigation revealed that most of the roads in Egbema were built by contracting firms owned by Egbema indigenes that compromised quality. I learnt that the soldiers manning the road blocks as you enter the town are a crack squad deliberately planted with a standing instruction to shoot at little provocation. 'Incidentally' according to my guide 'the soldiers do not have a proper grasp of the geography of oil wells and installations in Egbema. That's the reason the militants could run a ring around their heads whenever they wanted.'
In all, you must take it to the bank; the fields of Niger Delta are, literally speaking are fields of gold. Singer Sting, please permit me the usage. That's some of the startling discoveries I've made researching this subject. And anybody telling you that oil is exhaustible should find another story. From my findings, I discovered that oil regenerates. That is to say, it is inexhaustible. That's why oil wild-caterers of California and some parts, off, the Gulf of Mexico make a daily killing, foraging old, disused oil fields and wells that look abandoned. And that's mainly the reason why western science researchers are hell bent on finding an alternative to oil to power their self-inflicted, over indulgent, luxury lifestyles which has kept demand high.
From Buguma to Enugu and from Sapele to Yenagoa; from Asaba to Warri and from Warri to Egbema, all you get if you tried to scratch the land intensively is a seismic pool of fluid lying beneath the earth asking to be tapped. As is with the south, so it is with the middle-belt and even far north - oil is everywhere in Nigeria. The Niger Delta is enjoying oil prospecting dominance only because of its nearness to the sea - where production logistics are enhanced by nature. If the Nigerian government and or other oil exploring firms dig deeper in the Nigerian middle belt area, it will find oil - in commercial quantities. A Nigerian geologist, I met on a chance encounter in the course of my research confirmed this to me. He works for an oil firm in Bahrain. He unfurled a satellite induced geological (survey) map of the area to convince me.
But as long as the exploration and exploitation continues the way it's currently going in Nigeria, the life style and welfare of the people who truly own the oil will not see any improvement. It's so, so sad that on top of the oil fields of Niger Delta which ought to be the quintessence of riches and wealth and happiness as is in the Mississippi, what you get instead is melancholy, gnashing of teeth deprivation, desolation, ecological devastation and disruption of primordial ways of life.
On top of the field of gold what you get is not as pleasant as that which is under the field which has directly, negatively affected activities on top of the field. The top soil, which sustained the people have been scraped bare – literally speaking, particularly, by Shell. The natural perennial fishing methods epitomized by the creation of mobile fish ponds are, also gone. Gone with them are the means of livelihood of majority of the natives, who essentially form a sizeable segment of the Nigerian rural folk.
The ecology is in shambles. The atmosphere is on a daily constant assault. The peoples' general standard of living has taken a reversible tailspin. That reminds me of the gas flaring points we encountered on our visit to the oil fields of Niger Delta - a huge two by Shell in Egbema. Add that to the other multiple flaring points found in Obrikom and other oil producing communities in the Niger Delta and appreciate the volume of wealth lost through preventable exploration and exploitation circumstances. When you consider that this waste has been going on since 1956 or thereabout, you pity the planlessness that is Nigeria. Our segment of the Niger delta ozone, too, may as we speak, have been terribly compromised that this region might as well be the headquarters of the predicted apocalyptic that will be occasioned by weakening ozone.
Now the big question which I know have been asked over and over again is: when will the feds face up to reality? When will a president (from Niger Delta) put in place by circumstance none of his making stand up to assert his authority and influence to begin to right the wrongs done on the people of the Niger Delta. When will the Nigerian government put an end to the disgrace associated with gas flaring in the Niger Delta and when will those under whose earth crust the oil is drilled and exported begin to truly enjoy a livelihood fit for a people of the twenty-first century.
[email protected] 070 251 61 236