By Ugoji Egbujo
The future of the Niger Delta looks bleak. It is not hopeless because crude oil will soon become worthless. Crude oil lives on borrowed times. And those who have hung their faith on it will pay for not reading the times.
The future of the delta is however horrendous because oil boomed and corroded work ethics and degraded the environment. Oil itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was greed and laziness, selfishness and indolence, which oil and its easy wealth, cultured and fostered in the delta.
Niger Delta children are now born in chains. They come out shackled with a grotesque sense of entitlement that induces fantasies of easy sudden wealth, discourages hard work and endows them with a brittle temper. Many while in adolescence are crippled by the delusion that they are privileged princes of a land flowing with milk and honey, and they do therefore need not exert themselves if they are sufficiently conscious of their heritage. Many so afflicted do not therefore bother to go to school.
Many of the companies that operate in the delta are compelled by host communities to have thousands of ghost workers on their payrolls. These lazy youths and their pugnacious fathers sit at home idle and collect pay checks at month end. They justify that slothfulness by pointing at the kleptocracy of politicians whom they believe are agents of a rapacious system that has lived parasitically in the bowels of the Niger Delta.
The Niger Delta is now full of people who have the psyche of “area boys.’ And this mindset pervades even the echelons.
When crude oil which is on death row finally dies, the Niger Delta could be a forsaken land. There will definitely be no more vacancies for ghosts. There may be no resources to control. The youths who have developed a large appetite for state government handouts could be stranded. And with minds that have learnt easy recourse to violence, it could be nightmarish.
But it could be worse.
The Niger Delta could actually be unlivable.
Yes, youths who have learnt slothfulness and arrogance could turn to cannibalism. The literal strangle hold of cults on Ahoda and parts of Rivers State is a strain of the cannibalism I have in mind. But that which could come could be more disastrous. A scenario where gangs and cults will share sovereignty with the state.
But that isn’t even the most frightful of them.
The Niger Delta could be truly unlivable.
All kinds of hustlers and rapacious businessmen register as Waste management companies. Waste management is lucrative. But it becomes more lucrative than drug peddling if you don’t have to treat the waste. It happens in Europe. Shady European companies collect waste. They know waste treatment can be very expensive. All they need do is find a third world country where they would bribe one or two officials and get the toxic waste smuggled in and dumped. Italian toxic waste arrived Koro near Warri in thousands of barrels labeled building materials in 1988. The public erupted. But that seems eons ago.
Many waste management companies in the Niger Delta are given contracts by drilling companies to handle waste. The wastes are harmful to the environment. Treatment requires detoxification before disposal. But these companies collect the hazardous waste and dump them in the villages. The village youths get their commissions. The traditional rulers are settled.
Most of the companies don’t treat the wastes. They simply dump. And hurry to the bank. And the owners become billionaires. The state and Federal Environmental Protection Agencies sit and watch. They will get their dues. And the dues a much fatter if the rules are broken.
Wastes that are not buried in the ground are poured into the sea. Most of the waste management firms in the Niger Delta are strategically located by the sea. The trucks come in with waste in the afternoon. They wait for night fall. And pump them into the sea.
A truck driver once asked a friend of mine why a company had to make him drive such a long distance only to do what he could have helped them do without wasting his fuel, for a little fee.
But the drivers are made to come into the plants for a reason. Everyone is in the loop but the waste managers have to go through the motions. The oil companies inspect the treatment plants before giving service contracts. But the cost of treatment is high. And the installed capacities of the plants are too small to handle the waste that would be sent to them. The certification is all theoretical. The plants are a facade. The oil companies know.
The communities know the wastes are harmful. But they live for today. The politicians know the practice is dangerous. But they need the youths and the youths need the commissions. The drilling companies look away, they want the place quiet. If the wastes are treated then a lot of people will be denied their payoff. So everybody has a hand in the gang raping of the Niger Delta. They will not stop till she expires.
They know she will expire soon, at the rate they are trusting and thumping. They know the waters are becoming ‘fishless’ and the lands are being forced into early menopause. But no one cares about the delta and her tomorrow. Not the militants, that masquerade as freedom fighters. Not the elders, that moonlight as peacemakers. Nobody. Not the politicians and their short-sightedness. Nobody.
When the story of the Niger Delta is told in the next century, it could be a truly sorry tale.