By Donu Kogbara
TWO weeks ago, I decided to quit being a member of the Presidential Oil/Gas Sector Reform Implementation Committee (OGIC), which is chaired by Dr Rilwanu Lukman, the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources.

In the resignation letter I wrote to Dr. Lukman, I said that I wanted to leave OGIC for personal reasons; and I was being truthful. I did indeed have personal reasons for concluding that I would be better off if I politely distanced myself from OGIC.

But the whole truth was more complex.

I sometimes succumb to emotional cowardice; and I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell Dr. Lukman – a distinguished father figure and former OPEC boss with whom I’d had a warm relationship for several years – that my decision to absent myself from OGIC was also partly motivated by professional frustrations and political concerns.

The bottom line is that I had long felt that OGIC was not displaying enough interest in engaging media outlets and Niger Delta stakeholders in constructive dialogues. And I became profoundly miffed about the fact that I – the only OGIC member who was a journalist and indigene of an oil-producing area – was politely ignored whenever I suggested that we adopted a more communicative stance.

Without wishing to sound smug or to gloat ungraciously, I think I can safely say that my belief in inclusiveness and interaction has gradually been vindicated.

The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) – an OGIC product – contains many positive aspects, but they are being unfairly overlooked. South South Governors have complained about PIB, as have various commentators and activists.

Simultaneously, some individuals have chosen to launch enraged verbal assaults on Lukman himself.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that the PIB is not perfect. Let’s face it: Can any document that was prepared by mere mortals completely lack flaws?

But it really upsets me that certain critics are furiously rubbishing the entire document instead of just calmly saying that it can be improved by a few additions or subtractions. And I don’t like to hear Dr Lukman being insulted as if he has no finer qualities.

I even suspect that some of the PIB’s detractors have not even bothered to read it from cover to cover and are only reacting negatively to it because they think that OGIC has operated too arrogantly and needs to be taught a lesson!

I am absolutely convinced that we’d have avoided this acrimonious and embarrassing wahala if we had invested more energy in discussing our vision with interested parties at an earlier stage and in an amicable and respectful manner. I saw this Niger Delta backlash coming and resigned from OGIC when I realised that though I was treated affectionately, my views were dismissed as irrelevant.

When you have been a successful writer, broadcaster and PR consultant in a sophisticated and meritocratic environment like the UK, you expect to be regarded as a useful human resource when you relocate to your own country.

And it’s a real confidence-wrecker and shock to the system to discover, when you hit your home turf, that the powers-that-be are not ready to cooperate with you on a high level.

Having said all this, man is a contradictory creature. You can be justifiably annoyed with anyone who has not taken you and your geopolitical brethren seriously enough, but you can also continue to care about essentially decent people you’ve worked with and dined with and gisted with for ages; and I want to seize this opportunity to beg everyone who is clinging to a hardline position to stand back and think again.

Nigeria – the Giant of Africa – should by now be much much more than a collection of tribes that are constantly trying to outdo each other.

And we won’t survive as a nation if we continue to misbehave and to encourage dangerous hostilities that are based on selfish ethnic considerations and could eventually lead to another civil war

Those who are saying that Niger Delta militants should destroy every pipeline and expel the Hausas who live in their communities should suppress their bitterness.

Those who are pursuing an aggressive do-or-die, now-or-never Northern agenda should stop taking us to the brink of a dark  abyss that may engulf us all. Those who refuse to admit that Niger Deltans deserve a better deal should get real.

Let us please relate to each other like brothers and sisters. Let us patiently listen to each other more so we can understand each other more. Let us judge people by the contents of their characters rather than by their geographical origins.

I know a lot of Northerners who are kinder or smarter than Southerners and a lot of Southerners who are kinder or smarter than Northerners and a lot of Nigerians who are thoroughly sick of living in an adversarial, dog-eat-dog society.

So let us jetisson prejudice and employ people because they are qualified and not because they are from our backyards.

Let us lovingly help those who need to become more accomplished instead of promoting them above their abilities simply because they are our tribesmen and defiantly insisting that anyone who dares to bellyache about such blatantly unjust appointments should jolly well go to hell.

The situation in this country is sad but salvageable. And the ruling class MUST  humbly embrace the challenge of winning hearts and minds NATIONWIDE.

It is very obvious to me that there won’t be riots in the North – or perpetual unrest in the Niger Delta – if our elite sincerely sets out to eliminate poverty and provide every citizen with a tolerable existence and basic human dignity.

Leaders should inspire not bully and nurture not neglect. There will be no need for military intervention in Bauchi, Delta or wherever if the guys who run the show accept their moral responsibilities and get us out of the mess they’ve put us in.


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