By Prince Kabari
ACTING President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, may have left Rivers State on a regional visit to interact with stakeholders with a view to enthroning lasting peace and economic prosperity in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large. Nonetheless, the incidental consequences of the visit looks fixedly on the shared agitation of the peoples of the State, and undoubtedly so.
Rivers State is unarguably Nigeria’s oil and gas capital hosting, as it does, many of the nation’s onshore oil and gas fields, two domestic refineries, the Nigerian LNG plant, the Oil and Gas Free Zone at Onne, amongst other things. This State has of course hosted several oil companies and associated firms just as it is home to the international airport intended to serve this part of the country as well as the second largest port outside Lagos.
Interestingly, Rivers State is home to the Ogoni people who symbolise in many eyes, domestically and internationally, the obvious neglect of the Niger Delta and the environmental damage that has been done to the area as the nation has exploited oil and gas to grow the rest of the economy.
According to the Presidency, Prof. Osinbajo was an emissary of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari who after the visit of the leadership of The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in November 2016 decided to undertake visits to engage with the leadership and people of the oil producing communities, to hear them, to seek to better understand their problems and concerns first hand and to offer to these communities in the Niger Delta, a new vision and a new compact.
Giving his pedigree and strong affinity for the Niger Delta having served his NYSC in the former Bendel State, now Edo and Delta, there were high hopes that the planned visits would actually serve the intended purpose and wouldn’t be characterised by gratuitous political intrigues.
In 2004, Osinbajo was the Attorney General of Lagos State, and the lead counsel in the celebrated murder case involving Major Al Mustapha, Major Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, James Dambaba and Jibril BalaYakubu who were then standing trial for the murder of late Kudirat Abiola, wife of late Bashorun MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 annulled elections.
A close observation of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria even at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice paints a picture of a man whose humility is so profound; his simplicity so infectious and gentleness so admirable. Perhaps, his arrival on the political scene was the game changer for the All Progressive Congress, APC, even though the party did not consider putting such an imposing figure with towering moral and professional credentials as Osinbajo at the front seat but a sloppier alternative.
Just when I thought I had seen how the Acting President, has given political leadership a new meaning in the last few weeks, then we are confronted with the bitter pill of some uncouth display of political gamesmanship which is in fact archetypal of the ruling APC.
In line with the publicised intendment of the Presidency to visit the Niger Delta region of Nigeria for an on the spot assessment of the level of ecological and social economic dislocation of the ecosystem and means of livelihoods by oil and gas exploration and exploitation, it was expected that the Federal Government would proceed from the Government House in Port Harcourt on Monday February13, 2017 where the issues were articulated at that level to impacted sites in the communities to also feel the pulse of the locals about environmental despoliation of their area.
Visits to some impacted sites and to revered traditional rulers of the distinct ethnic nationalities, particularly, oil bearing communities in Rivers State, as it happened at Gbaramatu, Itsikiri, Owerri and Yenagoa, could have offered a better opportunity of interfacing with those directly related to the issues.
In fact, some persons and groups who felt estranged and were not accommodated in the meeting at the Rivers State Government House would have been heard if the Acting President had considered a visit to places like Soku or even Ogba/ Egbemma/ Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State. Perhaps it would have been well advised to visit Ogoni to ascertain progress, or lack of it, on the clean-up process which incidentally could be a model for the environmental restoration of the Niger Delta region of the country. Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24 hour days.
Indeed, the parallel “stakeholders ‘meeting” at the Aztech Arcum Events Centre in Port Harcourt on February 14, 2017 which could at best pass for an APC state rally was unnecessary and provocative and was capable of plunging the state into avoidable crisis. This is even more so as the views canvassed at that meeting were not any different if not far second-rated to those enunciated at the earlier meeting. According to Martin Luther King Jr. “that old law about an “eye for an eye” leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”
It is very clear that the tiff between the two major political parties is not serving the interest of the indigenous peoples of Rivers State to say the least. It is about time we learnt how and when to set aside politics for the common good of the state. Obviously, what our political elite in the state did during the last visit of the Federal Government spoke so loudly that I cannot hear what they say. We should know that yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.
Since one of the benefits we could obtain is to attract investment to the region, and of course investments do have a choice, I wonder if the visit of the Acing President to Rivers State has not further deepened the political tension there rather than assure the necessary enabling circumstances for investment. It was Albert Einstein who said and I agree with him, that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
The question on my mind is why the Acting President would want to be identified with such intractable stroke by giving the impression that the Federal Government now views Rivers State only through the diaphragm of the APC and the others in opposition. Maybe that is the reason why the Presidency has not queried the managers of the Acting President’s itinerary for misdirecting his recent visit to Rivers State.