By Prince Abugo
THE story of Niger Delta resonates with the contributions, sacrifices of heroes and ordinary citizens over the years. Their sacrifices redefined the area and made it the main issue since Nigeria’s creation. The area witnessed and continued to witness untold economic exploitation that had kept it in economic and political subjugation to satisfy the greed of a powerful class.
The Niger Delta is wealthy but poverty- stricken. During the colonial era, it thrived in palm oil and salt production, fishery, rubber plantations and other cash crops that brought the British to the area in search of raw materials and cheap market.
But they soon imposed the authority of their sovereigns over us and encouraged conflicts. This brought resistance. And in the event, Oba Ovonramwen of Benin, Nana of Koko, Jaja of Opobo and several other historical figures who stood for our values as Africans were humiliated. Isaac Adaka Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa suffered the same fate post British occupation of Nigeria.
Unfortunately the political and economic subjugation of the Niger Delta continued after the British left our shores. In 1956 when crude oil was discovered in Oloibiri, then Eastern Nigeria, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa wrote Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to congratulate him, saying: “It is gratifying that the Eastern region will have more funds to develop their area”. This was because fiscal federalism that allows each region to develop at their own pace while paying taxes to the centre was enforced, but military rule erased it. During the civil war, General Yakubu Gowon appealed to the nation that all resources needed to be centralised to win the war before reverting to the status quo. Unfortunately, after the civil war, the military which had become intoxicated with the sweet aroma of oil wealth, developed cold feet and refused to revert.
Agriculture was sacrificed for crude oil Dollars. Consequently, the famous Kano groundnut pyramids disappeared, the Western region cocoa boom soon became a thing of the past and the Eastern Region palm and coal industry died. Since then, every section depends on crude oil. Like beggars, all states come to the central government to collect crude oil allocations. But the Niger Delta, where the crude oil comes from is shamefully neglected. And it has continued to be exploited like a girl raped in captivity and abandoned at old age.
The signs of its continued violation are there. The ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri, Sapele and Koko have all been sacrificed for economic politics and only Lagos ports are functional.
Delta Steel Company at Aladja near Warri is in comatose and its investments in drains. DSC has long been taken over by grasses, lizards, criminals and the insane, while what is left of the its property has been sold by land speculators. What a shame!
As if to punish the Niger Delta further, all the major oil companies have relocated from the region to Lagos, settling instead for draining crude oil through oil pipelines from Niger Delta. While this is going on, gas flaring, oil pollution and other environment hazards associated with oil exploration continue to endanger the health of the occupants of the area.
The story of the struggle to put things right in the Niger Delta cannot be told without a significant mention of of Chief E.K. Clark, who many prefer to call “Mr. Niger Delta”. This is because for years he has been a national voice against injustice meted out to the region. Indeed, Clark has for years been in the forefront of the agitations for a better federation, of understanding our differences and using our diversity to create national cohesion, of government to be accountable and leaders to serve without ulterior motives.
His has been a story of fighting corruption which is the bane of development, justice, freedom and equality where all are treated equally before the law. It’s a story of triumph of ideas over ignorance.
As he clocks 90 years on May 25, 2017, it goes beyond merry making because the Edwin Clark I know would not support lavish celebrations when many still swim in privation and suffer grave injustice. But his birthday is now beyond him given the fact that he is a national figure who is the visible face of the Niger Delta and acts as the rallying point of the cries against political marginalisation and economic exploitation of the region.
This is why I strongly advocate that the nation should use his birthday to honour him by restructuring the federation and return the country to true fiscal Federalism.
Any government wishing E.K. Clark well should commit itself to development and upliftment of the people, constructing roads, providing water, housing, social amenities and bridges that link creeks of the Niger Delta to the mainland. The birthday should be a clarion call to shun greed and corruption, shun divisive tribalism that had dwindled nationalism.
A Clarkist like an Awoist is one committed to ideals of Federalism, justice and peace; who believes in equality of all men created by God to live in a secured environment. Apart from Clark, the Niger Delta has no other national voice that is acceptable to all the ethnic groups in the region. The region truly adores him.
President Muhammadu Buhari should honour Pa Clark by embracing PANDEF as partners in the development of Niger Delta. He should compel oil companies to relocate to the Niger Delta, open ports in the region, revive DSC and begin linking the creeks with upland. Doing this will foster peace, security and economic activities.
It will also make ”Mr. Niger Delta” happy as he celebrates his birthday. And my prayer is that God should bless Pa Clark with good health and longer life to see the fruits of his struggle.
*Mr. Abugo is Secretary, Publicity Committe of E.K. Clark’s 90th Birthday Celebration.