By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South,Â who visited Netherlands
THEÂ six-hourÂ flight, February 23,Â from the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos on a KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines to Netherlands for the February 25 -26th â€œNiger-Delta Peace Consolidation Conferenceâ€ , organized by the Hope for the Niger-Delta Campaign (HNDC) in The Hague was enjoyable and relaxed.
I was in a hurry to depart Murtala Mohammed Airport that February 23 night because of the searing climate and the state of things in the airport. Some of the workers were asking for tips, even after I had collected my boarding pass. Time of flight was 22.55 pm.
Flight number, KL0588, an airbus, touched down at the Schiphol Airport, Netherlands.
Schiphol is a by all standards a spectacle. Welcome to Netherlands. With the reporter was the national president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr. Chris Ekiyor, activist and lawyer, Advocate Mike Igini and his Abuja-based wig counterpart, Barrister Alex Ofehe.
Waiting for us at the Arrival Wing of the airport was the founder/president of the HNDC, Comrade Sunny Ofehe, who, decked in the full regalia of the Dutchman, with a battery of friends and video crew in tow, was the cynosure of all eyes, as he stepped out to welcome us.
We all hailed Sunny, the â€œWarri boyâ€ for representing his fatherland well in the white manâ€™s land, as we shook hands, waiting for Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, who was due to arrive in a few minutes from London before taking off to The Hague.
The Netherlands is a kingdom. Itâ€™s full name is the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It consists of the Netherlands itself and six islands in the Caribbean Sea: Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles.
The Netherlands is also sometimes called â€œ Holland â€œ. The word features in the names of the two western coastal provinces, North and South Holland , which have played a dominant role in the countryâ€™s history. Thanks to their location on the estuaries of two major West European rivers, the Rhine and the Maas. These two provinces are still very important for the economy.
With Rotterdam , the biggest port in the world, the Netherlands is an important gateway to Europe. And not only by water: Amsterdam Schiphol is one of Europe â€˜s biggest airports. Each of the Netherlands â€˜ major cities has a distinctive character, even though they are all so close. Amsterdam, The Hague , Rotterdam and Utrecht all belong to the Randstad conurbation, with a population of 10 million. Amsterdam attracts many tourists, with its historic centre, majestic buildings, museums and unique ring of canals.
But The Hague, Delft, Haarlem, Utrecht, Groningen and Maastricht also have their share of historic buildings, museums, traditions and attractions. Rotterdam is renowned for its strikingly modern architecture, as exemplified by the Erasmus Bridge, known locally as the â€œSwanâ€.
The weather is generally cold in Netherlands and from Schipol airport, it was clear to me I had to wear a jacket on top of my suit if I was not to visit a doctor within my first 24 hours there.
Unbelievable, no potholes on the roads
The trip in a car from Amsterdam, which is the capital of Netherlands through Rotterdam to The Hague, the seat of government was another congenial one. Like somebody who similarly left Abuja, the capital of Nigeria for Lokoja in Kogi state on his way to Benin-City, I was expecting to see potholes and failed portions on the road. But there was none.
Instead, I was cruising on a three_lane roadÂ with no traffic warden to direct the traffic. The traffic lights were on. Nobody forced the drivers to obey the rule. They obeyed and even waited for those walking on foot to cross the road when the light indicated so. It was like another planet.
Working transport system
As we drove through, I observed that all the streets were tarred and it was difficult to catch a glimpse of sand on the streets of Netherlands. The road network and general transportation system were excellent. From trains to planes, buses and cars, things were amazingly working. I was looking for big and flashy SUVs but curiously, I did not see the kind of grandiose cars we like to drive in Nigeria. On inquiry, I was told that Netherlands is not Nigeria. That there, nobody cared a hoot about the car you drove.
What I saw were small cars and because the transportation system was working well, not many found owning a car a big deal. For those who drove cars, they paid a lot of tax for parking space and so, many, preferred driving smaller cars and so pay little taxes than to drive a big car and pay huge taxes. In other words, that you own a car does not make you richer or better than your neighbour.
Cars are cheap there and people even see owning one as a burden. One of them is a Nigerian from the Eastern part of the country, Chief T Osuji who is residing in Netherlands . He recently contested an election as councilor in The Hague on the platform of one of the political parties.
Bicycle, a preferred brand!
I saw quite a number of Dutch citizens on bicycles, which means that they prefer tem to cars for shorter distances. I did not sight a motor_cycle or okada throughout my one-week stay. The environment was clean. Except at Rotterdam where I sighted some bungalows at Amsterdam and Hague, virtually all the houses were high-rise storey buildings, whether itâ€™s is office complex or residential apartment. The beauty in them is that the environment is well planned, from lane to lane, and street to street.
Despite the penetrating cold, the immediate feeling was that one would like to remain in this country. But we soon got to the Novotel Hotel in The Hague, the venue of the conference and our temporary domicile in the next couple of days. Leader of the Niger-Delta People Volunteer Front (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and a number of others had already arrived and it was a kind of Nigerian party in the hotel when we joined them.
Dokubo-Asari who had taken time off to go round Netherlands before our arrival shared the same opinion of things working in the country. Keyamo and Ekiyor took separate expeditions to see things for themselves. Keyamo went to the Queenâ€™s Palace, amongst other places and joined some protesting citizens when he ran into them.
No power outage
Throughout my stay in The Netherlands, there was no power outage. Electricity was in constant supply, even when I moved from The Hague to the Rotterdam after three days to feel the pulse of European country.
The point of utmost interest is that Netherlands, spanning 41, 528 square kilometers with a population of 16 million is below sea level like Niger-Delta with 70,000 square metres. Yet, the Dutch have conquered the sea, while Nigeria has not even come out with a blue-print for the development of the Niger Delta, since 1958 when the Henry Willinks Commission came up with a report on the situation in the region and more than one yearÂ after the most recent group, the Niger-Delta Technical Committee, headed by Mr. Ledum Mitee, submitted its report to the Federal Government.
Dividends of proper planning
In terms of infrastructure, agriculture and natural resources, the government of Nigeria has not really come down to say what it wants to do and achieve in the Niger-Delta. Whatâ€™s ground are haphazard plans. Farmers have been chased out of their farmlands by oil pollution while the fishermen can no longer ply their trade because of the same reason.
There is no ambitious road/bridge network for the riverine communities and the ports are not serving its best. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has been harping on Warri ports and lately, Koko port. But in the entire region, the ports are underutilized.
But take Rotterdam,Â which has the largest port in Europe, with the rivers Meuse and Rhine providing excellent access to the hinterland, Rotterdam in 2006Â was the worldâ€™s 7th largest container port in terms of 20_footÂ equivalent units (TEU) handled.
The portâ€™s main activities are petrochemical industries and general cargo handling and transshipment. The harbor functions as an important transit point for bulk materials and between the European continent and overseas. From Rotterdam, goods are transported by ship, river barge, train or road. In 2007, the Betuweroute, a new fast freight railway from Rotterdam to Germany, was completed.
In The Netherlands, a highly mechanized agricultural sector employs four per cent of the labour force and provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports. The Dutch rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the United States and France, with exports earning $55 billion annually.
A significant portion of Dutch agricultural exports are derived from fresh-cut plants, flowers, and bulbs, with the Netherlands exporting two-thirds of the worldâ€™s total. The Netherlands also exports a quarter of all world tomatoes, and one-third of the worldâ€™s exports of chilis and cucumbers. I understand that farmers are treated like kings in Netherlands and are exempted from tax in most cases. The sad reality in Nigeria is that our farming is going extinct and our farmers cannot provide food for the country due to lack of government support.
The available gas in Delta state alone is more than the entire gas in Netherlands . But for many years, the Federal Government has not been able to get put its acts together to reap the benefits from gas, which is the wealth of the future. It saw oil and faced oil, and is even flaring its gas up till date.
One of the largest natural gas fields in the world is situated near Slochteren in Netherlands . Exploitation of this field resulted in a total revenue of â‚¬159 billion since the mid 1970s. The country utilized it to build infrastructures and develop the place and with just over half of the reserves used up and an expected continued rise in oil prices, the revenues over the next few decades are expected to be at least that much. Unfortunately, Nigeria is still searching for a way to enter its gas fields, not even to tap the resources yet.
Is it not surprising that even with the international headquarters of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in The Hague, the country is not a producer of oil but it has a lot of refineries that refine crude oil from Nigeria and Nigeria imports this oil at exorbitant rate for use by its people and industries? Industry experts had over the years advocated that Nigeria should stop exportation of crude oil because it makes no sense for a produce or crude oil to be importing fuel.
Conquerors of water
Till now, the scourge of most Niger_Delta communities is the sea. Most of the communities are on the verge of being wiped out by sea surge and the government is helplessly watching, though, through some state governments and the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had handled some delicate ones. But unlike Nigeria, Netherlands, which lies on the delta of three major rivers: the Rhine, Maas and Scheldt, is proud of its conquest of water. The country owes its existence to feats of hydraulic engineering. If Nigeria does one quarter of what the Dutch government has done, militancy will be banished from Niger-Delta region.
The struggle of the people of Netherlands to keep dry has helped them develop a can-do attitude. And since controlling water requires many parties to meet and plan together, it has forced them to learn how to work as a team. That is why their European partners and the broader international community regard the Dutch as bridge- builders and often ask them to serve as such.
The wonder I saw in Netherlands is its many bridges, dykes, windmills and pumping stations, which give it a unique appearance and illustrate its long struggle against the sea. The crowning achievement was the Delta Project, a chain of dams protecting Zeeland and South Holland from the North Sea.
Work on the Delta Project began after the 1953 floods, and it ended in 1997 with the completion of a storm surge barrier in the Nieuwe Waterweg. The barrier has two enormous hinged gates that can be lowered in severe weather to close off the 360-metre-wide waterway. It protects greater Rotterdam â€˜s one million inhabitants from flooding without harming the environment.
A quarter of the Netherlands â€˜land area lies below sea level. The low_lying areas consist mainly of â€œpoldersâ€, flat stretches of land, surrounded by dikes, where the water table is controlled artificially. From the 16th century, windmills were used, not just to keep the land dry, but even to drain entire inland lakes.
Amsterdam, worse than Sodom and Gomorrah
Though,Â Roman Catholicism is the single largest religion of the Netherlands, forming the religious home of some 26.3 per cent of the Dutch people, down from 40 per centÂ in the 1970s with other religions and faith accounting for the remainder, one thing I wish Nigeria should not copy from Netherlands is the Red Light District (RLD), a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, where from the brothels to sex shops thrive. What I saw in the sex shops is unbelievable. No sex joint in Nigeria equals the carnal display I saw in Amsterdam.
The sex shop leaves nothing to the imagination. The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is unlike any other place. TheÂ Red Light District that everyone knows about is the one where women, of all nationalities, parade their wares in red-fringed window parlours, many ready to offer more than a school boy peep-show in a private cabin.
Another familiar image of the red light districtÂ is of packs of men, young and old , couples holding hands and pointing in shock of it all, giggling groups of women celebrating a hen night, and busloads of Japanese tourists toting cameras (except not in the direction of the female entertainers). This is proof enough that the RLD deserves a visit, if not a little look in.
Policemen provide security for prostitutes
Prostitution is legal in Holland, and in Amsterdam, most of it is concentrated in the Red Light District where it has enjoyed a long tradition of tolerance. Since October 2000, window prostitutes have been allowed to legally ply their trade. Today, prostitutes in the Netherlands are also tax payers. Unfortunately, discrimination is still very much part and parcel in this trade as many prostitutes report that some banks even refuse to grant mortgages for example.
However, now as a legal profession, the government ensures that all prostitutes are able to access medical care and work in better conditions by regulating and monitoring working practices and standards. Help is also at hand in the district itself thanks to the Prostitution Information Center. Also, contrary to popular belief, the RLD is actually the safest area in Amsterdam as clusters of policemen, and private bodyguards employed by the girls themselves are always on duty.
Netherlands generally has a lot of sex shops both in The Hague and Rotterdam that I concluded that the god and goddess of sex live in the country. It has what it is called Condomerie, a kingdom of condoms, so to speak. Here, you see condoms of all colours, shapes, sizes and flavours. Some are even hand painted and are for decoration only. You may find there a surprising amount of information and books.
Window prostitution is distinct to the Netherlands. Until recently, there was also a tipple -zone (pick-up area) servicing the needs of clientele on the move. Utrecht , 30 minutes east of Amsterdam , has its own canal-based RLD. Rotterdam has a number of sex clubs or private houses (privenhuizen) and smaller cities like Groningen and Alkmaar have also jumped on the red light bandwagon.
Like Netherlands, things can work in the N-Delta – Ofehe
Comrade Ofehe said, â€œSex life apart, things are working in Netherlands because the leaders and not selfish. People vie for public office not to loot the treasury but to contribute their quota to the development of their country.
â€œYou can see it. This is a typical topography like the Niger-Delta. It was all enmeshed in water but with a determined and focused government, they have reclaimed all these land from water and built a country from resources that are not up to what we have in Niger-Delta. This is the challenge for the federal, state and local governments in Nigeria.
I am saying that we can replicate the good things we are seeing here in Nigeria . You can see the industries, virtually, all the major companies in the world have their presence here in Netherlands , we need investments in the Niger-Delta. We donâ€™t have to scare investors with our behaviour, our youths should understand the way the world is moving, our leaders should show exampleâ€, he said.
According to Ofehe, â€œAll we need is the â€˜can doâ€™ spirit of the Dutch man, which is what President Barrack Obama of the USA used during his campaign. Militancy can be stopped in the Niger-Delta if the Federal Government decides to conquer the water that is threatening the lives of the people of the Niger-Delta and turn it into bridges, network of good roads, tourist attractions and industries.â€ï»¿