By Patrick Dele Cole
THE plight of the Niger Delta has never been worse than it is now. The people are a lot poorer than ever before. They are restless, nearer revolt; the low level insurgency is gone. The original militants have been compromised and their leaders even more so. Today we have a people who prey on themselves. The voice of the older leadership is raised only when they need something and slink away to quietude once the proverbial bone is thrown to them.
They are, like most of Nigeria, led by Governors whose sole distinguishing feature is their mediocrity and inability to lead. No woman of consequence has come from the area. Each potential woman leader is compromised by a system determined to perpetuate a lineage of lower than usual mentality and insufferable selfishness, bolstered up by a massive cult followership. Industries in the area have all gone, while oil service companies have disappeared.
The oil companies have all relocated. The chiefs live on small stipends thrown to them by the oil companies’ public relations departments and NAPIMS. They fight like hell to prevent one kobo to be used in their towns and villages for public development. The governors keep these traditional rulers as trophies to be displayed at photo-shoot every now and again; each photo-shoot is like a scene from central casting in Hollywood. All the governors have no compunction hauling abuse on these traditional rulers. One governor went so far as to seize their walking stick now given to them by the governor!
Chastened, with their tails between their legs like the proverbial dog, they collected their walking sticks and brown envelopes and went home. Is this what militancy rule has brought to the oil producing area of Nigeria? At one stage the old maritime school in Oron was to be upgraded to a university – but the governor was to make a token commitment of five per cent for this purpose. But the Governor of Rivers State refused and I hear there may well be a Maritime University in Daura!
The cost of militancy include the death and murder of Ken Saro Wiwa with eleven other chiefs for daring to claim more for his people and that his area should be cleared up from the proverbial pollution of the oil companies. The case had to be taken to the Hague where justice was won – but nothing by way of cleanup has begun.
Among the Ijaw, there were militants led by Dokubo and others. I have no idea what has happened to him but he has been gentrified and now lives across the borders with his own university. Tompolo is said to have relocated the technical oil college, Petroleum Training Institute, PTI, in Sapele/Warri to his village where he now lives as the king or some other high local office holder. Ateke Tom sits as a chief, it is claimed, on a golden throne in Okrika!!!
Meanwhile, the militancy, thank God, is dead. But should the people equally die? What has the militancy achieved? Rich lawyers have made a fortune out of the hundreds of cases brought up by the people. Payment, when made, is never full; it comes in drips and drabs and divided between the lawyer and whoever happens to be available.
The atmosphere of insecurity occasioned by the kidnapping of a foreign oil company official eventually led to the relocation of the oil companies out of the area to Lagos. The last bastion of oil company activity was in Kidney Island in Port Harcourt. The lawyer and the litigants have succeeded in persuading Shell to give up Kidney Island: when Shell leaves Kidney Island, who would pay, who would employ the thousands who used the Island as a technical base for supply of the rigs?
The oil companies resorted to flying personnel from Lagos to Port Harcourt and Warri. In Port Harcourt the governor imprisoned the pilot and officials and detained the helicopter at the Port Harcourt Airport – a federal institution!
In Warri, during the heyday of oil operations, at least there were estates built by Nigerians which Shell and others rented. Those estates are mostly empty and dilapidated. The same can be said for estates in Port Harcourt: Shell even moved its operational headquarters to Port Harcourt only to abandon it for Lagos. Eni has also moved to Lagos; Agip has a powerful presence in Lagos; so does Mobil, Texaco, etc.
The Trans-Amadi industrial town is now a ghost town. We had warned at the height of the insurgency that these activities were self-defeating. Go to any old oil-producing town today – all you see are Northerners operating commercial motorcycles aka okada and selling suya; young unemployed men beaten to submission by their leadership. A few steal crude oil and sell “diesel” which only implodes your generator, causing grievous bodily harm. Nevertheless, the swagger is still there, signifying, as Shakespeare said, nothing.
There is a prevailing myth accompanying the militants’ swagger that if it was not them, there would be no 13 per cent derivation for the oil-producing states and no NDDC. Neither of this development had anything to do with the militancy. NDDC was a PDP platform that rose out of producing a better organisation than OMPADEC for the development of the area. That it has failed is not as a result of militant activity or the lack thereof. As for derivation – that was a political solution to an original plea for total resource control – which should continue to be the battle cry of all the oil-producing states.
Militancy grew rich out of the Amnesty Programme but uncontrolled, ill-defined recipients of militancy money went the way all such money goes – smoke filled hotel bills, girls – and of course ownership of universities and “royalty”. There is, however, a cautionary tale.
In Evwreni, the youths were so irate at the inability of their former king to explain what he has done with the oil money given to him by the oil companies that they beheaded him. Unfortunately, having laid the mark of this disinformation, the North East Development Commission copied NDDC for the development of North East which from reports is more successful than NDDC.
The South-South oil-producing area needs a massive cleanup which I suspect will never be done because no one, except foreign NGOs, talk about it. The final deregulation of the area is the illegal refineries selling poisonous and exploding diesel to the people. Attempts have been made by the well-intentioned to upgrade these “refineries”, but no one takes them seriously.
So what is the plight of the South- South now with its oil a wasting asset? What would happen to the area under the PIB? At no time in the history of Nigeria have few people in the area benefited from oil – not in employment, not in resources, not in general well-being – instead they wallow in poverty.
The Warri, Burutu, Sapele, Calabar ports and ancillary roads are closed. All the industrial parks in all these towns are closed. The Warri Airport is closed. The volume of Port Harcourt Airport is lower. Unemployment in South-South is nearly 65 per cent. It is visibly the poorest area of Nigeria. There is no agriculture, less fishing, greater expectation, more drugs and greater unhappiness: a powder keg waiting to explode. The axial East-West Road which traverses the South-South is a disgrace. No South-South town is progressing.
If those who bought Warri Airport do not want to use it, why can’t government take it back? What is the moral here? The South-South state governments, as a matter of urgency and priority, must see the return of the oil companies to the area. The area must stop electing shallow characters as their leaders. Cultism must stop.