IT was in 1885 that Otto von Bismarck , the first Chancellor of Germany called a conference of the heads of all European nations in a bid to amicably share the African continent and avoid fighting each other over land in a foreign and very environmentally hostile territory. So they sat at a round table in Berlin and placed the map of Africa on the table and started drawing lines, sometimes across it, sometimes dividing towns into different countries.
Thus, by the time the conference which started in 1884 ended in 1885, they had reached an agreement on who owned what piece of the African continent and with everybody happy, the exploitation of Africa started. Meanwhile as this went on, not one of the people who attended that conference had ever set foot on African soil.
Division done and agreement reached, the imperialists began their forceful conquests of each, of the territories that had been allocated them. We were fortunately allocated to Great Britain and they being a Christian Nation came with a dual mission; to Christianise the people and exploit their resources.
The imperialists took physical possession of their colonial territories and set up an administration to run them. These administrators be they military or civilian in turn carved areas in their location which they called government reservation areas(GRAs) which they developed to suit (as much as possible) their European lifestyles. They also started building cities and towns to accommodate the locals who worked for them and with them. They built roads, albeit very narrow roads, introduced toilets into our homes, and brought in water supply systems. The exploitation or exploration also created jobs for the locals. So an economy was being created out of the exploitation.
Missionaries came with them and built churches and schools. They used the churches to preached Christianity which sowed the seed for change in the mindset of the colonies. Those who had early contact with the colonial masters are today the elite of all the former colonial territories and those who had very late contact (like my Ogoni people) continue to play catch-up and suffer under the new indigenous colonial masters. We are coming to that soon.
In spite of these relative benefits, it did not take up to 50 years for the agitation for independence to start all over Africa and by 1957, Ghana got her independence, Nigeria followed suite and the rest is history. So, 72 years after that infamous carve-up of Africa, the Europeans began the process of letting go and today, Africa though free of European colonisation is now grappling with a local form of colonisation shrouded in so called ‘government’.
Fast forward to 1985, exactly 100 years later and the ascension of Babangida to power in Nigeria marked the beginning of the sharing of the Niger Delta amongst the power elite of Nigeria particularly of the Northern extraction who used exactly the same pattern the Europeans used when they were sharing Africa. Hitherto, the oil fields of the Niger Delta were carved into blocks and shared amongst the international oil majors but with the discovery of more oil in the swamps and off shore of the region, more blocks became available and the military General, Ibrahim Babangida, this time, proceeded to allocate these new blocks to his friends and associates, in-laws, the Northern traditional rulers and leaders under the delusion that they fought a war and conquered the south and all the resources of the south belonged to them, NOT to Nigeria. This they did completely in denial that the Southerners were the main fighting force in the liberation of the Niger Delta, though commanded by Northern officers. In this sharing of the territory of the Niger Delta, Babangida did not find anybody from the Niger Delta worthy of a piece of their own territory.
Subsequent governments came and the sharing and allocation of the area continued. Today, every village, town, farm land and adjoining waters and seas of the Niger Delta is owned by a Danjuma, Indimi, Jambo, etc and these fellows like the Europeans in Berlin don’t even know the physical location of their colonial territories but they own all the resources under the ground, and that’s the essence of this long story.
That said, the difference between the modus operandi of the European colonialists who colonised Africa and that of the Northern Nigerian colonialists who colonised the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are fundamental to the seemingly intractable Niger Delta crisis our country is faced with today.
Unlike the European colonialists, who as observed above had a human face to their occupation and impacted positively on the lives in their territories., our own local colonial masters adopted the slave dealer mentality to whom human lives meant nothing more than cash and any slave that could not be sold was simply thrown into the sea. Our local imperialists simply sat in their mansions in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna and Kano and London, used the powers vested in our government to silence the people by hook or crook and proceeded to exploit the resources in the Niger Delta with reckless prodigality and collect all the royalties for their private uses. So while the cities of their residence grow with industries and skyscrapers, their colonies (the Niger Delta) remain same as it was in the 18th century with her unlucky inhabitants left uneducated, impoverished, depressed, and their youths, depraved.
Meanwhile, any out cry or protest is either met with a dangling carrot ( alias 1.5% Derivation, OMPADEC, NDDC, or AMNESTY Programme) or an outright brutal suppression as was demonstrated in Ogoni or Odi in the past. Coincidentally, this was also the initial response of the colonial masters to the early struggles for independence by the African states, but as nothing evil lasts for ever, all the suppression could not stop the struggle for independence and at least Africa is today governed by black colonialists, while waiting for real independence.
Enter the Niger Delta Avengers: “It takes a fool to do the same thing the same way over and over again and expect a different result” These are the words of a world renowned scientist and philosopher Albert Einstein and I dare say he is incontrovertible. Nigeria before and at independence was a fast developing country with great potentials until a bunch of half educated young boys all in their early and mid twenties sacked the legitimate government and imposed themselves on the country and proceeded to re-colonise the country. The result was a protracted civil war from which we have not recovered till today. The decree which they promulgated to harness resources to fight that war is still in force till today 46 years after the war ended. May be the decree is being retained to fight the now multi-frontal wars against Boko Haram, MASOB, Avengers etc.
But be that as it may, the main problem facing these new colonial masters is that the colonies have become more civilized, better educated, and more liberated than they were in the pre-independence colony, so the only means of sustaining this new brand of imperialism is through subterfuge.
Mr. Bennett Birabi, a senator , wrote from Abuja.