Wednesday, Jan 24, 2007
It is no longer news, the going, on in the Niger Delta but what continues to agitate the minds of many is, what the real and substantive issues are; the true picture of the happenings and why it seems difficult to reach a mutually acceptable agreement by all the stakeholders. In addressing these issues, I will raise some points, which in my opinion is relevant and germane to the Niger-Delta crises.
As a build up to that, it is necessary to refresh our minds with the fact that the violence in the region (between the local militants and government forces) is as a result of the cumulative effects of the criminal neglect and injustices that has remained the lot of the people of the Niger Delta. A careful look at the history of oil exploration in Nigeria reveals the soft underbelly that fuels crises in the oil rich region of Nigeria.
Point one: Crude oil prospecting and drilling is a very serious business. It involves huge financial investment and technical competence to embark on. Thus, multi-national oil companies are more interested in re-coupling their investment and profit maximization. In Nigeria for example, the first company to prospect oil in Nigeria is a German company called Nigerian Bitumen company whose activity lasted from 1908-1914 when the first would war broke out. They left without any success. The second attempt was by Shell D’Arcy in 1940. They were later joined by British petroleum in 1946 to form Shell BP. Shell BP invested heavily in oil prospecting that only yielded result with the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in 1956. This company were later joined by others in expanding the oil industry including Texaco. Elf. Agip Gulf oil. Mobil producing etc.
Point two: From the period 1908 when the first oil prospecting activity took place in Nigeria. government have contributed no kobo in oil prospecting or drilling. All monies spent in the whole venture is borne by the multi-national oil companies, yet the federal government remains the main beneficiary in all instances. The only case in which the federal government spent money in oil exploration was the NNPC/Federal government joint venture which were carried out on the North/Benue trough. Bauchi and the Chad Basin.
Point three: To effectively control natural resource especially oil in the country. the federal government since 1969 has been churning out all manner of law and decrees about land use all in an attempt to enjoy the exclusive right to oil resources. There is a need to revisit all decree about land use either to abrogate or amend them. Unfortunately the federal government seem to lack the political will to initiate meaningful developmental projects for the benefit of the people of Niger-Delta until recently.
Point four: The oil companies are mostly concerned with recouping their investment and repatriating their profit overseas to bother so much on the payment of huge compensation or getting involved in gigantic developmental project for their host communities. This can be appreciated from the fact that the federal government is the sole landlord of the oil companies to whom they are answerable. Therefore, most demands by the local populace are viewed as unnecessary and outlandish.
Point five: Assured of government protection, the multi-national cared less about environmental pollution and the hazards of oil spillage which rendered all farmland wasteful and fishing non-lucrative. In addition) the indigenes not only became landless peasants but have to suffer from health hazards. Conversely, oil workers lived in opulence, in a clean environment which remained a constant reminder to the indigenes that their suffering was not from the gods but Man- made.
The indigenes of the area sees themselves as losing the oil wealth to the development of mega capital cities like Lagos and Abuja without a corresponding development of their own region. Oil money has been used to pursue industrialization and agricultural development elsewhere to the detriment of their region. Even within the oil industry, the indigenes are not given enough quota both in the management and unskilled levels.
Some visible and vocal local chiefs and village leaders elected to represent their communities in any discussion with the oil companies end up pursuing their own selfish interest. This situation created a few wealthy individuals in many communities and a multitude of poverty-stricken people.
One fallacy that must be debunked, if our quest for a peaceful Niger Delta is to be achieved is the assumption that the people lack the capacity to confront oppression and injustices. It will be a grave mistake to grossly under-estimate the potential energy of the people and their resolve to fight their suppression headlong. Afterall, the history of the peoples resistance to injustice dates back to about 150 years ago to the era of King Jaja of Opobo.
Asiodu captured vividly the mindset of government when he succinctly stated that, “Given, however, the small size and population of oil producing areas, is it not cynical to observe that even if the resentment of oil producing states continue, they (Niger Delta) cannot threaten the stability of the country affect its continued economic development” This(mis) perception of the capability of the people of the Niger-Delta to challenge the government and the oil companies contributed greatly to our ineffective approach in resolving the crises.
The restiveness in the area which has led to the movement of troops to save guard oil installations and foreign oil workers is a clear testimony to the fact that where there is a human will to fight for freedom, demographic disabilities cannot constitute a barrier.
Therefore, to move forward in the restoration of peace, all stakeholders in the Nigerian project must discountenance force, falsehood and illusions. We must seek for situation by scavenging through the heap of historical refuse to find the missing link and once again take our bearing and chart in new course not only in the Niger Delta but in all regions of the federation.
Nmaju writes from Maitama, Abuja.