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The Niger Delta: Not yet uhuru

By Gab Ejuwa

IT is no longer news that the Yar’Adua government can now beat its chest and claim to have chalked up some sort of achievement in an otherwise barren and arid tenure.

The government’s squealing propagandists can now go to town, cities, countries and even continents to extol the virtues of the ailing  man at the Aso Rock Villa.

They would eagerly cite the ‘brilliant’ resolution of the Niger Delta crossword puzzle  as the biggest credential of the President for a second term.

Characteristically, some hitherto faceless individuals could even initiate a Nigerians-Earnestly-Ask-For- Yar’Adua movement, just like one Kanu did during the troubled Abacha years. The fellow had campaigned feverishly for the goggled one in spite of his crude philistinic disposition.

Even more characteristically, Nigerians might begin to believe the misguided yarn. However, before we begin to roll out the drums and clink the fragile glasses prematurely for the purported achievement, let us pause awhile and see why Yar’Adua’s much-trumpeted brilliance could be so much hot air, or at best a tenuous foothold.

To start with, the cankerworm that is called gas flaring is still the norm rather than the exception among the oil companies operating in the Delta. And it has been a contentious issue for 10 solid years now, without any kind of solution in sight.

And to compound it all the gas flared extravagantly away is a fortune in itself, probably more than the country is making on oil. How can Nigerians  applaud the President when trillions upon trillions of dollars are being burnt and wasted away year after year, which could be used to benefit our teeming countrymen and women.

And what about the monster called deregulation itself?

What is there in place to suggest that it will take away our oil-related problems? Pray, what is the state of our big refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna? Why do we, an oil-producing nation, import fuel and fatten the bank accounts of Europeans when our own bank balance here stands perpetually in the red? Isn’t it monumentally ironic and anachronistic that we import what we have and export what we don’t have, as somebody has most imaginatively put it?

And no less implicated in our nation’s woes are the oil companies and the oil cartels. According to President Yar’Adua, before his foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, it is market forces that will determine the prices of petroleum products.

It is no secret that smug euphemism ‘market forces’ refers to the oil companies, cartels and hawks masterminding global oil business. It refers also to the briefcase-toting cigar-puffing oil fat-cats who would sell their own fathers,  mothers and children  for some barrels of crude. The major problem of the oil companies is their remoteness to the problems of the oil-producing communities.

And deriving from the oil companies and their inefficiency is the perennially problematic marketing and unavailability of petroleum products: The lifeblood of the nation. Now getting fuel is nothing  short of looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack. Traffic-disturbing queues for fuel have resurfaced in our major cities for the simple fact that the filling stations are hoarding fuel with a view to extorting ill-gotten millions of naira from innocent work-a-day Nigerians. Who is actually ruling the country? The Yar’Adua government or the petroleum marketers?

In fact, while their skyscraping offices nestle languidly in choice locations and respectable addresses  in their sybaritic  opulence and splendour, their operations cause untold  hardships in homes standing ungainly on stills, mired in  perpetual squalor.

It is urgently imperative that the oil-companies be made to operate in the oil communities, maintaining only annexes in the cities, for them to experience firsthand the problems of the oil-producing communities.

Finally, the rehabilitation package of the government to the militants is basically shallow and unimaginative.

Giving N65,000.00 monthly to rehabilitating militants amounts exactly to what it is: Giving them  fish instead of  teaching them how to fish for themselves. This is not to say that giving the stipend is bad; it is just that it should be just the starting point.

The first imperative for this group of disgruntled Nigerians is education. What has the government done about giving them access to quality education and improvement in acquired skills. Expediently then, the militants should be conditioned to acquire both formal and informal education.

The emphasis or thrust of governmental  rehabilitative efforts should not be so much monetary inducement as infrastructural development  of the area.

The Niger Deltans need quality schools, hospitals and clinics, civic centres, industries,  good roads, telecommunication, etc, for the people of the area to participate in the basic business of living a life. Any governmental programme which precludes all these imperative for cash handouts can only crucify itself as unimaginative.

Mr. Ejuwa, a journalist, writes from Lagos.


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