Ever Felt Like Mortar?
By Philip Ilenbarenemen
The Author Philip Ilenbarenemen in this articles tries to unearth how the Niger Delta people really feel an the impact the April 2007 Presidential elections will have on the oil industry in Nigeria
The Niger Delta or the South-South region, comprising States like Akwa- Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers States of Nigeria is right now in ferment as the people reacts and rises up to resist the wanton systematic degradation of their environment and the looting of their resources, which is effectively carted away to fund massive developments elsewhere like the shinning and sprawling Federal Capital territory, Abuja, Lagos and the various tarmacs crisscrossing much of the Northern part of Nigeria.
The level of the peoples’ anger at the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and the Federal Government, has now given rise to armed, efficient organisations of very young, mostly, very highly motivated and articulate people who are determined to be listened to through their exploits on the battle field. These young men are tired of the lack of amenities and basic infrastructure necessary for the most basic economic development in their area – they would rather die on their feet than to keep living on their knees. I must say here that Nigerians are a fantastic bunch of people who would obey government directive, pay taxes, rents and rates but are now not so enamoured to doing these things because of the mind numbing levels of corruption of their “elected” – in most cases, selected or self-appointed rulers and the unabashed way they flaunt their ill-gotten wealth through opulence in indolence.
Pushed against the wall, unable and unwilling to take any more abuses, not trusting their “leaders”, these youths have formed themselves into the Joint Revolutionary Council, JRC, made up of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, NDPVF, Martyrs Brigade, Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and sundry other groups. They have now made a clear demand of the Federal Government to release one of their leaders Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo who they describe as “the leading light of the Ijaw and Niger Delta struggle”, to contest the governorship position of Rivers State a position they are sure to win or they will roll out the drums of war to carry out a revolution against the interests and agents of the Nigerian State as well as its imperialist collaborators.
Since this renewed offensive between the JRC Militia and the Government’s joint Military Task force, JTF, in August, the Government forces seems worse off, losing about 13 soldiers in a particular ambush on October 2 while escorting two oil vessels in the Cowthorn Channel. This they claim was to “show the armed forces of the Nigerian State that they can take them on anywhere, anytime and anyhow.
Concluding that, “this is just the beginning.” The two vessels where also sank in the operation. As these youths continue to vandalise oil pipelines and installations, costing the government nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day, take oil company worker hostage and ambush to kill Nigerian soldiers, the elders turn a blind eye because the Government has not shown genuine interest in their affairs – rescue them from tattered penury, criminal deprivation and neglect. The JRC has made it abundantly clear that the only thing that will placate them now is the unconditional release of Asari-Dokubo who would then be free to contest elections along with many of their members so that they can take control of their lives and environment. The demand for Asari-Dokubo and the youths is a vote of no confidence in the current leadership of government in the area whom they see as lackeys and puppets of the ruling oligarchy. I am very confident that unless these demands are met, this violent uprising and armed insurgency to collect their piece of the national cake – oil money will go on unabated and the conflagration that will follow, will waste more lives, suck in foreign military powers who would be bogged down for God knows how long and further send global energy crisis spinning out of control.
I wish I can be as optimistic as the erudite lion-heart and consistently courageous human rights and democracy advocate, the Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka who told a radio audience in the USA when asked how he saw the issue of hostage taking by the militants recently, “Well, it's unfortunate that they have that image. I've discussed this with them also. I’ve tried to persuade them, for instance, that hostage-taking will be counterproductive and will actually alienate lots of supporters that they should – they must learn not to follow a particular pattern of condemnable violence. And I have a feeling that once the negotiations, which have yielded a certain result at the Yenagoa Accord, once the conditions, the conditions of those accords are fulfilled by the government, once the international community actually supervises and compels the federal government to, you know, abide by those agreements, I have a feeling that we will – and once a greater deal of autonomy is conceded to that region, in other words, the right to control their own resources, to pay a tax to the centre and to determine the priorities of their own development, whether it’s education, health, to actually develop that entire degraded area.
The oil companies are expected to pay compensation for the damage they have done to the environment as well. Once these just demands are met, I have a feeling that we'll see the end of unrest in the Delta region”. Unfortunately I do not feel that optimistic because I cannot see the Federal Government or the oil companies keeping their side of these Accords. Ad-hocism is still the preferred style of dealing with serious matters in Nigeria. One of the commonest phrases in the lexicon of Nigerian politicians and militricians is “let’s move forward”. After every injustice or fraud against the people; after every critical episode in the annals of the country, they resort to “let’s move forward” instead of critically appraising the problem with a view to making amends with justice and fair play. Thus the injustices that led to the genocide against the Igbo by a section of the population on the excuse that the January 15 1966 Coup de tat was carried out by mainly Igbo Army Officers as if coup plotters consult their people before they execute the putsch, are still present in the body politic while the rot in the police, the judiciary, the civil service and the imbalance of power in all other facets of the system – the economy, military, etc, etc, persists till date. I have a sinking feeling that unless the restive youths are given what they want or a South-South President who has directly felt the brunt of these problems emerges in 2007, Nigerian oil industry will suffer incalculable losses and Nigeria will be the worse for it.