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The Courage to Challenge

By Ikedi Ohakim

Paying the Price

Nigeria has become the black sheep of the world oil producing community for her lack of accountability and unproductive use of the oil revenue. Among the OPEC countries, Nigeria is the least enterprising in the management of oil revenue. In Africa, Libya, Angola and Sudan have utilised their oil revenue better than Nigeria.

There is a price to pay for the wrong turns we have taken in our development as a nation. And we are paying heavily. The price is in the grinding poverty that pervades our country, in the deterioration of our values, in the devaluation of our people and our environment and in the general collapse of living standards and our social system.

I used to believe that Lagos was all gloss and glare. I thought that every part of the then national capital was all skyscrapers, like in Marina and Broad Street; that it was all about flowers and fun, as in Victoria Island and Ikoyi. But I was shocked to the marrow when I began to see the other side of Lagos. Even on Lagos Island, poverty squirreled in shanties, like anthills, beside the skyscrapers. Inside those brown, dreadful face-me-I-face-you houses and rickety ancient story buildings, older than Nigeria, hapless Nigerians battled with survival against the dregs of the swirling lagoon and threatening Atlantic Ocean.

Here, people pack themselves like sardines inside one room apartments because it is all they could afford, children grow up under the bridges of Obalende wondering if those who live in the towers above them were those created on Monday by God. From Lagos Island, Nigeria’s oil wealth looped an 8.6 kilometre wonder bridge over the sprawling and expansive Lagoon to Oworonshoki. On the banks of the Lagoon, the Ilajes live in rafts just a few feet above the lagoon, below sea level.

But like the Ancient Mariner, they have “water, water everywhere, but none to drink”. Their kids are unlike the uptown babies; they live from hand to mouth, they know what hunger is like. Their next door neighbour is the University of Lagos, whose Ivory tower rising 10 storey above sea level and their Guest House on the lagoon remind the Ilajes in the shanties of the civilisation next door, and out of reach, like the heaven just above their heads.

A trip to Ajegunle underscores the predicament of the common man in Nigeria. “AJ City,” as its residents fondly call it, is not just an urban ghetto, it is a mirror of judgment for Nigeria as a nation to know whether it has used its talents appropriately and allocated its resources judiciously. At AJ City, in addition to traffic hold up, there is human hold up too. Every inch of Ajegunle is tight with a surging wave of human misery, urban squalor, overcrowding, poverty and consequent crime.

Oil was first struck in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibiri, in present day Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. On June 17, 1958 Nigeria exported the first 400 barrels of oil to Britain. More oil was discovered in quick succession and the Niger Delta soon became a crude-oil delta.

Campaign for the National Republican Convention (NRC), in 1991. Many people know that I have been in the political arena years before I became governor.
Campaign for the National Republican Convention (NRC), in 1991. Many people know that I have been in the political arena years before I became governor.

In the olden days, the zone was known as the Oil Rivers because of the volume of palm oil traded with the European traders. Today, the palm oil has dwindled to be hardly enough for consumption. This is because crude oil, popularly called black gold, and gas brought immense wealth, and less labour.

As at December 2007, Nigeria had earned about $600 billion from the export of crude oil since 1958. About 75 percent of this amount or $450 billion according to anti-corruption agencies is estimated to have gone into private pockets.

The consequence is  a multitude of problems that have made Nigeria a model of how abundance leads to poverty. An excursion into the Niger Delta will make any man with a living conscience shed tears of sorrow. Asuccession of corrupt rulers without conscience and without ideas of where the world was headed retired the oil revenue into their private pockets.

Today the Niger Delta is aflame with legitimate discontent of the oil-bearing communities. Nigeria is on edge as the Niger Delta accounts for over 75 percent of the national budget and over 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings. As at the end of February, 2008, Nigeria had over $46 billion in foreign reserve, all earned from oil. From 400 barrels in 1958, Nigeria now produces 2.4 million barrels daily and is the eighth largest exporter of crude in the world, and the 6th in OPEC. But in the Niger Delta there is nothing on the ground to justify the obligation of the government to the oil communities.

The plight of Oloibiri, an Island that bubbled and petered out with oil, is symbolic of the whole Niger Delta situation. When the 22oil wells in the Oloibiri oil fields drilled by Shell finally dried up in 1978, after 20 years of exploitation, Big Oil simply dismantled their equipment, corked the Christmas trees and moved on to active wells. Consequently, Oloibiri went into a coma that it is yet to come out from.

No hospitals, no schools, no potable water and no electricity. People moved out in droves until only the old men, women and children remained. Yet the oil from Oloibiri Oil Fields built teaching hospitals, overhead bridges and skyscrapers in other parts of the country. My brother governor, Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State, says that Oloibiri is like a woman who was used by her numerous lovers in her youth and abandoned at old age. His analogy couldn’t be more apt.

Youths of the Niger Delta say that Oloibiri is symbolic of what the whole Niger Delta will be like in about 40 years time when the known oil deposits are estimated to run out. This increases the urgency of their agitation. If oil and gas run out, the Niger Delta will be without a fall-back economy because the consequences of oil drilling have destroyed the ecosystem, the environment and its agricultural endowments.

They would not be able to fish because oil spills have polluted their ponds, rivers and fresh water streams. They would not farm because the arable lands have been polluted so much that crops would not grow, and where they do, the yields are little and unsafe for human consumption.

Armed conflict in the Niger Delta started in 1966, after the January Coup that changed the course of Nigerian history. Isaac Boro, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who as a student activist witnessed the grave inequalities of the Nigerian system and the poverty of his people saw no other outlet for the ventilation of his frustration and anger, so he and youths of similar mind took up arms and declared an independent state of the Niger Delta. Though Boro’s revolution lasted for only 12days it marked the beginning of militancy in quest of social justice in the Niger Delta.

As fate would have it, Boro was born in Oloibiri, the first place oil was discovered in Nigeria, where his father was a headmaster at the once-bubbling centre of life and industry. Boro was eventually killed during the Nigeria Civil War as a Nigerian soldier under unclear circumstances.

Nigeria has become the black sheep of the world oil producing community for her lack of accountability and unproductive use of the oil revenue. Among the OPEC countries, Nigeria is the least enterprising in the management of oil revenue. In Africa, Libya, Angola and Sudan have utilised their oil revenue better than Nigeria.

But it is at the middle gap that Nigeria’s profligacy and lack of vision stands in sharp disgrace. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have all transformed the lives of their people into the envy of all. At Dubai, the skyscape has been transformed by oil money. The Dubai International Finance Centre is arguably the best in the world.

Lagos in the 60s: Planned, organised, clean and orderly before it gave way to the rot. Check out the buses, the environment. We had the world before us and the good life, indeed, greatness was our for the taking.
Lagos in the 60s: Planned, organised, clean and orderly before it gave way to the rot. Check out the buses, the environment. We had the world before us and the good life, indeed, greatness was our for the taking.

Malaysia, a country that was rated at par with Nigeria, India and Brazil, has today outpaced Nigeria on most indicators. Malaysia has no crude oil but today it has more refineries than Nigeria and exports refined petroleum products all over the world. But Nigeria cannot meet her local consumption and import refined products.

Brazil has industrialised to the extent that it exports luxury buses and technological products to Nigeria which still assembles computers and does not have an effective steel industry, let alone produce her first car engine. Nigeria’s economy is import-driven and this takes all productive and income-generating activities outside the economy, leading to high unemployment, poverty and conflict.

Similarly, Nigeria’s incompetence further shows in the power sector. Acountry of over 140 million people has only 3,800 megawatts of electricity available nationwide, against the power demand of over 20,000MW. The consequence is a nation in darkness, death of small and medium scale industries, high cost of manufacturing and services and prohibitive prices of goods and services.

The present epidemic of crime, corruption and insecurity in Nigeria is largely a direct consequence of poverty and deprivation. Previously, in Nigeria’s pastoral villages, crime was barely noticeable.

In some Igbo villages the story is told how farmers left some goods in trays displayed in the front of their homes and went to the farm. When a buyer came along, the next door neighbour will tell the buyer the price and request that he or she take the quantity needed and drop the appropriate amount.

In the evening when the owner returns she would find the money for the purchased items complete and safe and the balance of unsold equally safe. In village markets one could also pick a ware from an unmanned stall and drop the correct price for the owner. In those days, parents could also vouch for their children. A father whose son was accused of certain misconduct could easily assert, “My son didn’t do that!” And he will turn out right. Those were the days of innocence, integrity, hard work and communality.

Armed robbery seems to be most prevalent and closest to everybody. It seems to offer the easiest option to deprived youths and jobless adults to bridge the wide gap between the haves and have-nots. It ranges from small pickpockets to the big boys who rob banks and bullion vans. In Lagos State, in areas with population clusters and busy markets like Ajegunle, Agege, Ojuelegba, Mile II, Mushin and Oshodi, jobless boys smartly take money off peoples’ pockets easily in the bustle and hustle of city life.

In some instances the police had discovered that some are very organised and operate robbery rings using teenagers, even nine and ten years old, controlled by older masters who they render accounts to at the end of everyday. Most, however, are solo artists who may have served their apprenticeship under a master.

In traffic hold-ups, if you are unlucky to have your car windows down they can dip in their hands and snatch telephone handsets, watches, and jewelries. At Isolo, they are so brazen that they snatch handsets and sell them at the same place. In fact, if you do not like what they have on sale they ask you what type you want and give you the time to come back for it; they look for who has the type and steal it. That is stealing to order.

In the streets, armed robbery has also gone hi-tech. Apopular gospel singer, Patty Obasi, in one of his hit songs, “Ihe Emebiwo” laments that in the olden days, the owner of the house would shout, “Who is that?” and robbers will run away but that now the reverse is the case. He says that in the past thieves carried out their operations in the night but today they come in day time and without masks.

To him, it is the sign of the end times foretold by the Bible when unusual things considered abominations would become regular occurrences. Today, armed robbers write letters to their targets and give them notice to keep meaningful sums of money at home for their visits. Reports show that they make good such treats without being apprehended by the police. In many cases they mock their victims that going to the police will do them more harm than good.

Dare-devil armed robberies now take place in broad day lights. Armed robbers regularly waylay travellers along different highways across the country, dispossess them of valuables and kill many of their victims. The Lagos-Shagamu Expressway has become a notorious den of armed robbers who carry out their nefarious acts despite advertised heavy police presence.

Travellers are held hostage over a long stretch of road as the robbers painstakingly go from vehicle to vehicle dispossessing people of their valuables. In 2007, some armed robbers added a new dimension when they blocked the expressway after Ore, along the Benin-Shagamu Expressway, selected some flashy cars which they diverted to a track road where they robbed the occupants of the cars and dispossessed them of their cars.

In the 1980s, Nigeria produced many star armed robbers like Lawrence Anini and Monday Osunbor who terrorised the Benin area at will. They out-shot the police, beat all driving records and raised armed robbery to mythic dimensions until a girlfriend gave the vital information that led to their waterloo.

Nigerians still remember the histrionics of Shina Rambo, a cross boarder armed bandit that ruled the Lagos-West Coast route for many years. He was a flamboyant bandit who dressed like the actor, Sylvester Stallone, an American actor popularly called Rambo. He robbed and killed with impunity.

Shina Rambo started the era of robbers in the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, networking and cooperating to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. This peaked with the operations of Hamani Tidjani who operated a car robbery syndicate that could snatch a car from anywhere in West Africa and sell it in any other country in West Africa.

He was a white collar robber who dressed like an oil sheikh and dined with presidents and police chiefs. He was arrested by Tafa Balogun, a Nigerian former Inspector General of Police in cooperation with Interpol and is at present undergoing trial in Nigeria.

Bank robbery seems the most lucrative in this genre. Since the bank consolidation robbers now know that people don’t really keep big sums of money at home, so they target banks and bank bullion vans. It also appears that we are in an era of activist robbers—robbers with a cause. Some of them are jobless graduates and reason that money stolen from banks is not an individual loss but a corporate loss which will be deducted as operational cost at the end of the year. They do not want to steal from the poor; rather, they target the rich and corporate bodies.

In March 2008, robbers dressed as policemen attacked a first generation bank along Wetheral Road, Owerri, Imo State, took away large sums of money and killed six people—three policemen and three civilians. In February 2007, a band of armed robbers dressed in police uniform invaded the Agip headquarters in Port Harcourt and robbed two banks in the premises. They killed nine policemen who didn’t attack them because of the police uniform they wore and carted away not less than N20 million.

Four days later, they stormed the Daewoo Oil Service plant in Okrika and stole N40 million that was cashed from the bank the previous day for operations. That was followed by a spate of robberies in Port Harcourt that led to the loss of N400 million by different banks within a space of four months.

For operational reasons, banks lose large sums of money and refuse to talk about it in order not to scare their customers by being seen as robbery-prone. To beat reinforcement, robbers now go to banks with welders who dismantle burglary proofs and security doors for them to gain entry. They have also learned to use explosives to break bank vaults and safes to get the money inside.

Some bank workers are ready accomplices. Consolidation has necessitated more jobs. Some of these employees are ambitious young men and women who are not content with their comparatively high wages. They serve as the home rat that informs the rats outside that there is meat in the house.

Every bank robbery, according to the police, has inside sources. Though customers are asked to put off their phones inside the banking hall, workers use theirs freely and some of them are informants. Bank workers also provide information for money to blue collar robbers and 419ers who require account information on their victims.
Kidnapping is the latest money spinner in the low cadre criminality in Nigeria.

Since the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, introduced kidnapping as a tool in their agitation for social justice and the fight for the release of detained Mujahid Asari Dokubo in 2000, kidnapping has come to stay as a regular crime and is spreading fast across other zones of Nigeria. They started with the kidnap of foreign oil workers whose ransom was calculated according to the price of oil. In some unconfirmed reports, ransoms of as high as N400 million were paid to free hostages.

Restiveness and Conflict
This is another product of the mismanagement of power. Today Nigeria is adrift in a turbulent ocean of conflict and youth restiveness due to the inability of successive governments to meet the expectations and needs of the citizens of the country.

Individual dissatisfaction with the negative dividends of democracy, despite the nation’s abundant wealth coupled with group despair due to lack of fulfilment in the federation of their life’s legitimate expectations, have resulted in the resurgence of ethnic nationalism and the rise of new ethnic heroes whose popularity feed on the legitimate anger of affected citizens.

Across the six geopolitical zones, legitimate discontent has led to the rise of ethnic militias to protect the interest of ethnic nationalities. In the Southeast, Ralph Uwazuruike is leading a new wave of Igbo neo-nationalism since his formation of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. Uwazuruike says he formed MASSOB in 1999 as a response to the continued marginalisation of the Igbo in the federation of Nigeria.

According to him, the Igbo, being republicans, would fare better in their own sovereign state than they would if they continue to live in Nigeria as second-class citizens, after being in the forefront of the fight for Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. He says that what Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu feared when he declared the State of Biafra in 1967 had come to pass, and there is therefore the need to actualise Biafra.

Because he touched sympathetic cords in the feeling of the Igbo, youths flocked to him and courageously faced the police with non-violence as their weapon. Unfortunately, many got cut down by police bullets. Unrealistic, maybe, as the Igbo elite reasoned, MASSOB became a successful movement and Uwazuruike wielded powers above South-east governors in the rating of the Igbo masses, because the promoters pointed out the visible facts of the marginalisation of the Igbo. Had Nigeria given the Igbo a level-playing field, MASSOB may likely not have had as many supporters ready to put their lives on the line.

General Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian regime from 1999-2007 marked a watershed in the history of conflict and restiveness in Nigeria. After the emasculating regime of General Sani Abacha, Nigerians looked forward to total liberation under democracy, which sadly did not happen. It was not only the Igbo that felt marginalised. Obasanjo’s Yoruba tribe also felt marginalised, supporting the theory that the ruling elite constitute a different interest bloc from the rest of the country.

Earlier, during the regime of General Sani Abacha, Fredrick Fasheun had formed the Odua Peoples Congress, OPC, to fight for the interest of the Yoruba. Like MASSOB, OPC felt that the Yoruba were better off in an independent state of their own. They felt that the Abacha government did not fully guarantee the future of their people, especially after the annulment of the June 12, 1993presidential election which Chief MKO Abiola, a Yoruba, was believed to have won.

The overwhelming acceptance of the message of OPC which continued to thrive even under the Obasanjo presidency, immediately made the group the highest non-governmental authority in the stubborn protection of its people. Even in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos, residents of many vulnerable areas willingly handed their security over to OPC operatives, for a fee. Disagreement over the issue of how to pursue the objectives of the group led to the fractionalisation of OPC into two.

Anew group led by a youth, Gani Adams, emerged, spitting fire. They did not want compromise or diplomacy in the pursuance of their objectives; they believed that action produced better results. In ability, OPC covered the whole of the South-west Zone and spoke with the presumed enemies of the Yoruba at the gate. Adams’ OPC shared the objective of MASSOB of achieving sovereignty for the Igbo and campaigned for an Odua Peoples’ Republic.

Though there were obvious excesses, the message was clear to the government that there were enough dissatisfaction in the polity that young men at the morning of their lives are willing to stake their promising life and careers to make the point that the Nigeria they live in is not the one envisaged by the founding fathers.

About the same time, the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, felt the same ontological loneliness and deprivation in Nigeria amidst the abundance of gas and oil wealth from around them. Frustrated with the prevarications and equivocation of the political elite, and totally fed up with the treachery of oil companies exploiting their resources at gunpoint, Ijaw youths, like their counterparts in the South-east and South-west decided to take their fate in their own hands.

For the Ijaw, the “vision” came in the dying days of the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, when it occurred to them that there was no hope of improvement in their welfare under both military and civilian regimes, unless something radically different happens. They were ready to catalyse that change.

Consequently, on December 11, 1998, an all-Ijaw Conference was organised at Kaiama, the hometown of Boro in Bayelsa State. The product was the Kaiama Declaration, which more or less was tantamount to a declaration of Independence. The Kaiama Declaration contained ten resolutions supporting the Ijaw quest for self-determination, the most important of which is, “That all land and natural resources within the Ijaw territory belong to the Ijaw communities and are the basis of our survival.” Consequently, they gave all oil companies operating in Ijawland notice “to withdraw by December 30, 1998; pending the resolution of the issue of Resource Ownership and Control in Ijaw areas of the Niger Delta.”

Earlier in 1990, MOSOP had been formed by the Ogoni under the leadership of Ken Saro Wiwa and others. It motto was: “Freedom, Peace and Justice.” Its objectives include: to promote and sustain the struggle against all forms of injustice; to create and sustain the identity of Ogoni people as a separate and distinct nation (within Nigeria) with a right to self determination, ensure the control of their resources and their environment; and to ensure that the Ogoni People obtain their rights within the Nigerian State. Unlike other such groups, MOSOP was not campaigning for an independent state but fulfilment inside Nigeria. Perhaps this is informed by their relatively small population of about 500,000 people.

Across the Niger Delta, there are about eight democratic proclamations by different ethnic nationalities. While the Ogoni have the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Ijaw have the Kaiama Declaration. The Ikwerre have Ikwerre Charter of Demands. Others are: Resolutions of the Urhobo Economic Summit, Isoko Charter of Demands, Egi Aklaka Declaration and The Warri Accord.

All these groups are demanding the same thing for their people—development, equity, social justice and inclusion in the decision-making process that determines what affect them. The denial of these fuels discontent, conflict and violence in the Niger Delta.


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