By Tony Uranta
“MEND, by coincidence, has an acronym which poses itself as a kind of contextual option to ‘rebranding’. Is Nigeria worth ‘rebranding’ or is it ‘mending’ that is required?”— Professor Wole Soyinka

Dear Professor Omafume Onoge, Many people suspect that you died of a broken heart because a President who has proven himself incapable of keeping his word where your beloved Niger Delta is concerned.

A President that promised both Lagos State and the Niger Delta that monies unconstitutionally held bac from them by OBJ would be paid back; and then went on to pay Lagos State whilst declaring the Niger Delta’s “expired”.

A President whose agents oversaw the calculated obstructions laid in the path of a Presidential Committee whose Report he has not even done the barest honour of mentioning to date, let alone releasing the necessary Government White Paper on it, even though the Niger Delta, Nigeria and the world await it with bated breath.

Prof, we mourn you as we remember how you sacrificed your health, in service of this ungrateful country, during the rigorous seating of President Yar’Adua’s Technical Committee on the Niger Delta; which (as we found out within the first twenty-four hours of its inauguration) was set up to fail! But true progressive Nigerians saluted the determination of yourself and your fellow forty-eight other colleagues to produce the supposedly-desired Report against all odds.
You must be at peace in your new after-life abode, which must be heaven compared to the odium of life in this land of inequities called Nigeria, which you had grudgingly called home for over sixty decades of your iconic life of service and sacrifice in this nation-space of institutionalized injustices and inequities.

You are probably cursing being born into this nation-space called Nigeria; a land where truth is turned on its head and even ministers of justice are at the forefront of promoting wholesale injustice with impunity…a land of the institutionalization of the twin evils of corruption and violence, even in the supposedly hallowed courts where God is worshipped, as we are daily reminded in the north’s regular orgies of religious violence.

We were all aware of the unwholesome working environment and circumstances your Committee was calculatedly subjected to by the Presidency and its agents.

Nigerians heard severally how a distinguished but old sick man like yourself was subjected to the ridiculous stress of having to wash and iron your clothes (as were your distinguished colleagues) even though you were put up in the “prestigious” Transcorp Hilton in Abuja.

The world heard how you were denied the simplest courtesies like drinking water in your Hilton rooms (unless you bought them yourself out of personal funds) after you would have spent upwards of twelve and sixteen hours debating and writing vigorously in an attempt to chart a viable course for sustainable peace and progress in not only the Niger Delta, but in Nigeria as a whole.

Finally, we celebrated, as hopeful Nigerians, on December 1, 2008, when your Committee submitted your “final” Report to the President-in-Council…even though the Presidency had withdrawn all secretarial staff, equipment and support weeks before, and you and your colleagues had been forced to once again dip your hands into your pockets to fund the publication of that seminal work!

Many of us have since wondered at the sincerity of President who declares that he wants peace and progress in the Niger Delta; and even goes ahead to make this “desire” one of the cardinal points of his administration’s putative seven-point agenda; but creates the perception that he’s totally ignorant of the existence of a Report that lays out the best road-map to that desire’s fulfillment … even though he had himself collected the Report from Barrister Ledum Mittee, the Chairperson of the very committee he, the President, had personally entrusted with the task of advising him on how to solve the riddle that is the Niger Delta today.

We have learnt, with chagrin, how to receive Presidential declarations and proclamations (even where they do not seem to concern the Niger Delta region directly) with a serving-spoonful of salt-and-spices.

How are we expected to believe a President who promises us 6000 megawatts of electricity (up from a straggling-1000megawatts) in six months when he has not shown a readiness to deal justly with the peoples of the region supposed to provide most of the basics – gas- for that miracle?!

Or to take positive steps that would free supply of this energy source from agitation-driven sabotage.

How can the President be taken seriously if he will not even respect the minimum desire of the peoples of the region…which has always been that he re-institutionalize fiscal federalism so there’s resource ownership, obliterate or revise certain obnoxious laws like the Land Use Decree/Act (not by the obnoxious way the Petroleum Bill is currently weighted against the region), fast-track development of the region by dedicating a minimum of 5% of the federal budget to that purpose (the way it dedicated 3% to the development of Abuja) [not in the insulting way Niger Delta resources are being brazenly diverted to build institutions in the north that are more relevant to the oil-rich region] etc…in short that he should implement the simple recommendations of the many extant Reports on the Niger Delta issue [which recommendations the Technical Committee, as the President had mandated, had simplified and summarized in its December 1 Report].

After all the trouble that the many distinguished gentlemen and women that President Yar’Adua’s Technical Committee on the Niger Delta went through to produce what even the armed youths in the creeks termed “the last chance”, President Yar’Adua has done all of Nigeria a grave disservice by willfully dumping this painstakingly produced document in his trashcan (thereby showing how little regard he has for the peoples of the Niger Delta and their wishes!) and instead embarked on a specious programme of amnesty, not unlike the resources-wasting pseudo-programme of “Rebranding” Nigeria.

One wonders at the priorities of a President who is so enthralled more with perception than reality that he believes that re-painting a rickety malfunctioning danfo bus is to be preferred to repairing/mending it (apologies, Professor Soyinka); and thus prefers to relish rebranding shadows instead of mending substance.

So long as the President plays the ostrich and refuses to begin squarely confronting the issues of this much-demonised region, by publishing the essential White Paper showing exactly what his comprehensive intentions are for the Niger Delta, so long will his administration flounder on the twin rocks of injustice and underdevelopment of the region…and so long will his national rebranding efforts (rather than mending), which depend largely on the resolution of the Niger Delta’s crises, fail.

As a young Niger Delta scholar in Diaspora recently put it to the peoples of his region, “You must choose one kind; the pain of pressing on, or the pain of giving up”. From all indications, the region has chosen to press on ….even beyond their borders, if need be…at least, until it is mended. Verbum sat.

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