Yet, the Niger Delta question
• Thursday, Oct 23, 2008The Niger Delta question dates back to the nationalist struggle that preceded the second world war of 1939 – 1945. And from that time till today, the agitation by the people of the Niger Delta has been growing by the numbers.
The geographical terrain of the people of various ethnic groups that constitute the core Niger Delta and their quest for infrastructural development gave rise to agitation that culminates in the famous Will-Iinks Commission of 1958. Lord Boyles presided over this commission in London and it approved appropriate developmental agenda for the core Niger Delta. It was a fallout of this Commissions approval that the Niger Delta Development Board was established by Royal Fiat.
By 1953 Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) undertook some survey across the Niger Delta and the resultant effect gave rise to the exploration of crude oil. 1958, the first crude oil shipload was exported abroad from Oloibiri of present Bayelsa State.
Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro then a final year industrial chemistry student and a student leader at University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and later National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) leader grew up to see the exploration and exploitation of crude oil, coupled with criminal neglect of his people and became consumed with passion and took his youthful energy to stage the infamous 12 days revolution in the Niger Delta in 1965 and the rest is now history.
Between 1970 and 1995, there were several intellectual approaches to the Niger Delta struggle where eminent statesmen like Chiefs Dappa Biriye, Okilo, Fiberesima, Amachree, Obi Wali and others were involved. The resultant effects of such brainstorming were not far fetched. Ken Saro Wiwa was an apostle of non-violence but was killed in cold blood in the midst of the struggle and that made the comity of nations to make Nigeria a pariah state.
Today, with the means of information technology and the whole world becoming a global village, the youths of the Niger Delta can view events from the other land such as Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan via the satellite on a daily basis and what they so viewed had shaped their psyche. Oil bunkering has become a very lucrative trade in the Niger Delta and in the process guns are procured for this business. This business that started with just a few hands has now grown to a large army and a threat to national security.
Asari Dokubo came into the struggle and laid claim to the resurrected Boro. He undertook series of running battles and later made peace. Even when he appears to embrace peace, the other youths have vowed to stay in the mangrove swamps and creeks to actualize the struggle. This terrain is dangerous and it is not easily navigable. Some observers say that the creeks of Niger Delta are more dangerous than the Vietnam jungle may be.
Because of the constant cry of infrastructural development, resource control and others, successive governments over the years have put a number of committees in place to actualize the wishes and aspirations of the Niger Deltans. The Justice Belgore Committee of 1992 offered a very excellent report. Also 1994 Chief Don Etiebet produced another report, which it submitted to government. And lastly in 1999, the famous Popoola Committee worked assiduously and submitted its report to government as well.
The distillation of these various reports is anchored on how to achieve sustainable development, economic prosperity and political peace in the Niger Delta. After these major committee reports, other small seminars and summits have equally proferred suggestions on how best to develop the Niger Delta but the political will to execute the plan is lacking.
During the Obasanjo era, a national conference was held with a view to proffering solutions to some pressing matters. The issue of the Niger Delta brought this conference to a fiasco. It is in the light of the above that those calling for summit are only out to begging for more time for their hidden agenda.
There have been so many reports on the Niger Delta but what is lacking is the political will and some level of sincerity. Not too long ago, a Niger Delta master plan was drawn up by the NDDC and it was expected that the much-needed solution has been found. One is therefore surprised that people are still talking about summit. This is because the Niger Deltans are tired of rthetorics and now want to see action of massive infrastructural development and participation in the down stream sector of the petroleum segment.
During the General Abacha two million man march, youths from the poor villages of the Niger Delta were transported to Abuja where they saw how the black gold from their soil has transformed Abuja- a virgin land in the Savannah, into an Eldorado.
They reasoned that policy makers are engaging in a constructive hide and seek game, and questioned how many conferences and summits were held before the massive infrastructural developments in Abuja were put in place.
The years are rolling by again and we are still talking about what that people of Niger Delta want? Such statements are nothing short of challenging the sensibilities of the Niger Deltans. It amounts to criminal neglect, rape and shame to treat those who provide the nation’s wealth with neglect and disdain. The neglect has both physiological, and economic implications which has now turned the Niger Delta into a breeding ground for militants and terrorist activities, second only to Iraq.
The NDDC was put in place as an intervening agency with its hand tied to its back because of neglect and lack of funds. It is most surprising that a total of over N285 billion is owed this agency by government over the last three years. In the light of this gross abnormality, how can we talk about development for the Niger Delta?