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The crude mix of oil and illiteracy

THE Warri Federal Constituency that I represent at the Federal House of Assembly provides close to 30 per cent of the crude oil exported from Nigeria, but it remains the least developed area of the country.

In spite of the huge wealth emanating from the resources in my constituency, which comprises Itsekiri, Ijaws and others given its historical cosmopolitan nature, the Federal Government and the oil companies have met our needs in trickles of hopeless nature. Prominent among our needs are good schools, social infrastructure, communication facilities and employment for the teeming population of vibrant youths.

If we juxtapose the wealth my constituency has provided for our nation with the quality of education the area has received in the last 40 years, we cannot help but feel real pity for the area. Whereas so much wealth has been excavated from the bowels of the Warri Federal Constituency, very little can be said of the Federal Government and oil companies in terms of reciprocity.

Save for the efforts of Governor Uduaghan’s government in ensuring that education gets proper attention in the region since 2007, the Federal Government and oil companies’ impact has been minimal.

Rather than being a blessing, oil exploration and exploitation in my constituency have generated more conflicts and crisis situations in the last 40 years. The situations have in the past decade degenerated into intra and inter-community clashes, leadership tussle, violent confrontations which further exacerbate the underdevelopment in the region.

Besides the growing spate of ignorance and inadequate education, the situation has been highly compounded by wanton devastation in the region, preponderance of restive youths, the dearth of professionals, among others.

I cannot help but describe the last 40 years of oil exploration and exploitation in my constituency as the years of Federal Government and oil companies induced ignorance. I say so because all through the years, we were as a people unable to take advantage of the resources in our area and, if for no other thing, use these resources to build qualitative education in the area.

I commend the efforts of Dr. Uduaghan’s administration in the state and his on-going effort to improve educational infrastructure and create the required base for industrial take off. But given the nature of our terrain and limited funds, it will be a most difficult task for the Delta State Government to fully resolve the crises of education in my constituency.

I have often wondered why the clamour for roads, houses, hospitals and many other social amenities in oil-producing communities precedes education. But that is the reality we have been faced with in my constituency in the last 40 years.

These infrastructures are no doubt very important, but government and oil companies place less value on the intellectual empowerment of the people. Thus far, we have received some form of compensation from oil companies and government agencies like OMPADEC, NDDC and DESOPADEC have provided some vital infrastructure in the constituency, but that doesn’t seem to be a commensurate improvement in the level of knowledge and education among the teeming population of people in the area.

Quantum of knowledge

The emancipation of oil producing communities like the Warri Federal Constituency is largely dependent on the quantum of knowledge available to the people. I am talking about real education here,: not the type that equips the individual to become selfish.

I believe strongly that if every child in the region is adequately equipped and exposed to the right form of education, such a child will be more adequately prepared to confront the challenges of life and of his or her immediate environment with profound wisdom for the collective good of all. Such a child cannot be coerced into violent agitation without being sure of his or her motives.

Suffice it to say that our capacity for reckless destruction, without giving a thought to the dangers ahead is borne mainly out of ignorance. The more ignorant we are, the more we are likely to pursue the wrong enemy.

The intra and inter-communal wars that ravaged the Warri Federal Constituency some years back have only come to prove that we would become stronger in the Niger Delta if we unite in spite of differences in ethnic groupings and would become weaker and vulnerable, if we pursue personal and tribal interests.

Unfortunately, we are still paying a huge price today in the educational sector for the errors of the war.
The real enemy of the Ijaw man is not an Itsekiri man. The real enemy of the Itsekiri man is not the Ijaw man. Collectively they need foresight and knowledge. Knowledge is the major weapon they require to identify the real problem.

Oil exploration and exploitation have caused wanton devastation in our riverine areas and have continuously made these areas educationally unfriendly. A sizeable population of people in many oil producing communities are illiterates, who live in the midst of polluted land and air. Many of them live in absolute poverty and penury, and basic amenities have remained permanently scarce.

Many of our oil-producing communities are in very bad shape and ill-prepared for quality education. With the absence of electricity and basic social amenities, many teachers and educational support professionals are unwilling to take jobs in the region. No teacher would like to work in an area where potable water is a scarce commodity, where easy and safe transportation network is unavailable, where basic communication network is almost non-existent and where basic social life is utterly primitive.

The devastation in many oil producing communities is not just inimical to growth and development, it is definitely the bane of educational development. The discovery of oil in the Niger Delta appears to be more of a curse than blessing.  This may sound like a cliche, but it is worth repeating. It is indeed a paradox that a region where crude oil is exploited is peopled by highly ignorant and uneducated persons.

The devastation in oil producing communities has therefore grown beyond physical infrastructure, air and land pollution. The psyche of the people has also been greatly devastated.This has created additional burden to the growth and development of education.

Suffice to say that the persistent war against gas flaring and the ferocious clampdown on oil spillages may open up opportunities for growth in oil communities. A better community relationship between host communities and oil companies is urgently needed to attract developmental projects to these communities and make them more education friendly.

There are three categories of youths in oil producing communities today.

First are those who are tempted by the lure of fat salaries paid to unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Rather than further their education, this category of youths prefers to earn fat salaries for doing menial jobs with oil companies.

Their action is predicated on the fact that many university graduates do not even earn a salary as high as what they earn. Thus, why bother to spend an extra four or six years in the university?

Unskilled and semi skilled workers

For instance, unskilled and semi-skilled workers earn between N100,000 and N200,000 monthly in oil or oil servicing companies located in oil producing communities. I know of a university graduate who has worked for a publication company in the last 10 years that earn a paltry sum of N90,000 monthly.

It is even painful to note that many of these unskilled and semi-skilled jobs are available mainly on a contract basis from between a year and two years. But these youths would rather earn so much for a year or two and remain unemployed for some years before another opportunity surfaces; if ever another opportunity will come.

The period they are unemployed, however, does not just pass without their recourse to agitation and violence. Sometimes, the basis for agitation or communal violence is highly questionable. The task to orientate them and re-engineer their psyche remains ultimately critical. The prospect of a well educated man or woman is far higher than that of an illiterate.

The second category of youths comprises the limited population of university graduates that have abandoned their professional callings to accept menial jobs because of the attractive salary offered by the oil and oil servicing companies. In a country where millions of university graduates are unemployed, earning N200,000 for just doing the job of a labourer appears a better deal than being unemployed. The choice to focus on earning money than career development gives an impression of the caliber of graduates we produce todayindividuals who are unwilling to see the big picture and determined to take giant strides.

Another way to look at the foregoing scenario is to recognise that these graduates are sometimes caught in a dilemma. Is it not better that they grab what job is available than wait for a highly paid one? Indeed, it may be better, but they should not allow such opportunities to terminate their search and determination of getting a better job or seeking career improvement and growth.

Often, their attitude gives the impression that they have lost confidence in themselves, their communities and their countries. It appears as if they have given up on life and would accept just anything.

This is a dangerous precedence in the development of education in our country. What we need at this trying period are graduates with the requisite credentials – graduates who are bold to defend their professional calling and who are endowed with strong creative and inventive potentials. We definitely need quality education to cultivate highly inspired university graduates.

The third category of youths comprises those that have discovered the huge financial benefits from engaging in community activism and militancy. In many of the oil communities in my constituency today, quite a sizeable number of youths play the role of agitators for better life and living conditions. They ensure that oil companies and oil servicing companies pay compensation to their communities. Many serve as agents to these companies for labour matters.

There are three fundamental truths we can deduce from the crisis of emerging youths in oil-producing communities:

One, that many of the youths have lost the enthusiasm for acquiring quality education.
Two, that a few of them that are graduates are de-motivated and have lost hope completely on the unlimited prospects associated with quality education.

Three, that many of the youths in many oil producing communities have so much disdain for education.
The scenario painted this far indicates that every effort to evolve quality education in the Warri Federal Constituency or any part of Nigeria would require a total transformation of the psyche of the youths.

Oil exploration and exploitation have brought a mixed-bag of educational fortunes and misfortunes in many oil producing areas. In a few communities, government intervention agencies have built schools and provided quality educational facilities, but the quality of education available to be provided have remained low because of the absence of quality teachers.

I had once commissioned some good teachers to work in a remote riverine area in Warri Federal Constituency. A group of elders had approached me to provide teachers for children in Ugbege community -educational activities were almost grinding to a halt in the community. I was able to get some and I offered a far higher salary than what teachers earn in the cities, but they eventually declined after a familiarisation tour of the community.

They were satisfied with the salary, but rejected the offer of appointment because the environment did not present any form of comfort.

I fear that many children in riverine oil producing communities will remain deprived of quality education if we do not make available incentives to encourage teachers to work in such areas. The Delta State Government has made some effort in this regard, but much still needs to be done; and I strongly suggest that the Federal Government,and oil companies should be involved in this direction, among others.

The quality of education we crave in the riverine oil-producing communities transcends mere physical structures.

A big beautiful school block could stand firmly in a community for many years, but if the students taught in the building every year are not equipped with quality education they would turn out to be useless to the community.

Quality education requires quality teachers, quality laboratories, quality libraries, quality curriculum, quality environment and many more.  How come the best students in NECO and WAEC examinations come from the cities all the time? How come many of the local and international scholarships offered to bright students go to students in the city?

The answer is simple – the best would always come from areas where better education is receivedThere are several categories of leaders we can talk about in oil producing communities in Nigeria.

There are youth leaders, who usually provide leadership for the militant wing of the community; there are appointed or elected elders, most of whom are elders that are often a blend of illiterates, semi-literates and literates; and there are activists and agitators, some of whom are appointed by the respective communities, and some others gradually become leaders because of the prominence and visibility secured from their robust activism.

It is often difficult to get these different categories of leaders to cooperate and agree on issues of urgent importance to their communities. Sometimes subtle disagreement translates into blatant crisis that often escalates into violent conflict situations.

The community becomes embroiled in internal crisis and wrangling that keep development on hold for quite a long time. Rather than work in collective harmony to confront the external forces that had held them down for so long, the individual quest for supremacy and selfish desire to gratify the interest of a few persons dominates their reasoning. The eventual reward for the community is usually calamitous.

The fundamental truth to be deduced from the foregoing is that community leaders in oil producing communities have not given enough attention and priority to the core need of their community – quality education.

This could be viewed from two different perspectives – the education of the leaders themselves and the education of the people of the community. Education in this respect transcends just building ‘of schools and recruiting teachers. It speaks of the need for leaders to constantly review their knowledge on the subject of leadership and seek wider information on how best to attract the best form of development to their communities.

I believe so strongly that when leaders in communities accord education priority and equip their indigenes with requisite skills and knowledge (real knowledge that transforms), the people are more likely to articulate issues on their progress assertively.

There are many cases today where progress is stalled in oil communities because of the self-interested demands of leaders. Let us consider the avalanche of complaints of many government contractors assigned to carry out projects in some of our riverine oil communities.

A particular case in hand is that of a construction firm commissioned to build some units of bungalows in a riverine community. The firm had to pay very high charges to the youth leaders of the community before it could bring in its equipment. And for every bag of cement, every ton of sand, every ton of gravel, the firm had to pay certain charges to the community.

The youth leaders were determined to stop the construction except their demands were met. When told by the head of the firm that their demands could frustrate opportunities for development in their community, the youth leaders argued that the government can go to hell with their development plans. In other words, the leaders would rather satisfy their self interest than fight for the rapid development of the community.

I must admit that, given the foregoing scenario, some of our leaders cannot really see the big picture. They blame the system, yet they cannot come up with proactive plans and constructive engagements to build their communities.

I understand the need for certain community levies to be paid by contractor, but this should not be at the detriment of development in any community. I strongly believe that if leaders in the communities get the right measure of exposure and education, their yearnings for a better future for their communities would be more intensive.

Leaders in riverine oil producing communities must, as a matter of urgency, be exposed to quality education. They need to explore the secrets of other successful oil producing communities in the world and apply their those strategies that have made such regions to thrive. They need to embrace the culture of quality education and ensure their environment is saturated with it.

A refined and well exposed leader that bothers about the future of his or her community will not sacrifice growth in his or her community for personal gain. Our energies and resources as leaders should be invested in the education of our people. We need to give greater priority to education. It will not take too longour agitations will become more constructive; our perspectives will become more refined and global; our ideals and yearnings will become more productive.

As I conclude this piece, I am fired by an unbridled hope that we are about to move out of our dark years in oil producing communities. We have seen it all – lives have been lost, our environment has suffered wanton degradation, our people have remained backward for so long, our infrastructure have suffered slow growth, and many more.

Mr. DANIEL REYENIEJU is a law maker representing Warri Federal Constituency in the House of Reps.


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