Many Nigerian scholars have lamented the Lugardian Amalgamation of 1914 that established the modern Nigeria nation. They argued that it was a mistake, and that it marked the beginning of Nigeria's problems. This, I strongly disagree with. The mistake I opine was the failure of the South to chart its own independent path after 1957. The East and the West leaders failed to realize the shallowness of colonial federations that were being created at that time by our colonial masters and were perhaps driven by other individual and/or regional considerations in fighting for an independent and unified Nigeria. It is interesting to note however that, the citizens of another British colonial federation (the then Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland) had the foresight to recognize the potential danger of such a fragile federation and wisely opted for the independence of their respective countries, the present day Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. While the political leaders of Western and Eastern Nigeria fought for the establishment of a Nigerian federation, it is significant to stress that their successors have lost control of the powers to renew and restructure the federation in order to recapture the intent of their predecessors. As it is the responsibility of a responsible father within his family enclave to secure and provide for his siblings, so it is for a responsible government to listen to the aspirations of those they represent and/or lead and provide for their needs within the limits of the resources of the state. This postulation has tactically failed in the Niger Delta question and therefore Nigeria, at large.
The Niger Delta region has suffered gross neglect and deprivation of unimaginable proportion over the years despite its enormous contribution to the economic prosperity of the country. As a result of this utter neglect, there is widespread poverty, complete lack of social and economic infrastructure and lack of basic utilities. This has led to the resultant effect of high rate of unemployment and crime, sometimes organised. This state of affairs have in turn bred a frustrated population, ethnic polarization, communal suspicion, anti-establishment agitation and hostility, all of which create instability and impede development. Despite all undue political manipulations and squabbles, intimidation, victimization, oppression and injustice, alignment and re-alignment, fears, character and sometime physical assassinations, persecutions without due regard to the loyalty, support and contribution of some of the Equity Distribution Crusaders, they still enjoy the staunch support of the region’s elders, leaders and stakeholders. The agitation for resource control with the intended consequential result of the development of the Niger Delta region, an area that has been so impoverished despite her contribution to the economic unity of the Nigerian state and thus the growth of the nation, gave birth to commissions such as OMPADEC, PTF, NDDC at the Federal levels and the different Oil Producing Community Development Commissions at the states’ levels with the acceptance and implementation of the 13% derivation formulae by the Federal Government which however met considerable opposition from the Northern oligarchies. The Federal Government’s approval of the 13% derivation fund, though not with relative ease, was to further assist and encourage the Niger Delta governments in fostering the development of their different oil producing areas. These were aimed at the physical and human development in these communities with the objective of compensating materially, the communities, Local Government Areas and States, which have suffered damage (ecological, environmental, etc.) or deprivation as a result of mineral oil prospecting in their areas, opening up the affected areas and effectively linking them up socially and economically with the rest of the country by producing various forms of infrastructural and physical development.
The lack of visible development on ground that has infuriated the populace of the oil producing communities across the Niger Delta region, which have on many occasions led to loss of lives and properties can be traced to the formative structure and organogram of these Commissions which have opened gateways for corruption as the command structure in the creation of departments in which the Chief Executives initiate projects, award contracts and effect payments which has resulted in a situation where the region has been trapped in a cob-web of corruption, negating the actual objective of their creation. It is therefore worthy of mention that the problems of the Niger Delta question is one of resource management and not resource control as being clamoured in some quarters and schools of thought.
This frustration was echoed in the news headlines by the leaders of other geo-political zones in the nation as they cried out in the Saturday Mirror issue of July 05, 2008, “Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, has described the people of the Niger Delta region as a bunch of ingrates…Ibrahim said that the “tiny states” in the Niger Delta should be grateful to God for what they receive monthly as allocations from the Federal Government”. Again, according to the Nigerian Compass Newspaper of same day, the Vice-Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Senator Kennedy Waku, “These people (of Niger Delta) have taken five times more than the entire North in terms of federal allocation since 1999, what else do they want”?. These statements were then violently rebuked in the news media by Niger Deltans (including myself) for such divisive statements to have come from such highly placed leaders as they were seen to have talked for the Arewa Consultative Forum, they represented. However, one must at this juncture now ask same Niger Deltans to seek genuine clarifications from people such as the Former Governor of Delta State – Chief James Onanefe Ibori – where he actually got the monies he used in acquiring the fleet of the Titanic-sized house boats that are off the shores of the Niger Delta Coast ? Where he got the monies he used in establishing The James Ibori Institute of Policy Studies, New York ? Where he got the monies he paid to acquire a custom-built bombadiere private jet (an equivalence of Airforce One, the American Presidential Aircraft) that was confisticated in Canada in the wake of money laundering allegations against him ? It will be recalled that because of the huge sums of monies that were being transferred in his name from Nigeria in 2005, Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s name was put in the Terrorist Watch list by the CIA of the United States of America which almost brandished Nigeria a State sponsor of terrorists and even sparked off the suspicion in the international community of the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Northern Nigeria. Where did he get the monies that he used in acquiring the residences in London that are being questioned by the Metropolitan Police in London that the then British Prime Minister – Mr. Tony Blair – cannot ordinarily acquire in his own country – The United Kingdom. The few afore mentioned run into billions of dollars which would have transformed Delta State to say the least, when he was the governor of Delta State. The same behaviour of widespread corruption which was carried out with impunity characterised the Governors of the other Niger Delta States. Another well intentioned plan is being designed and implemented by the Federal Government by the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry which is aimed at the development of the Niger Delta region. Harnessing the intended aims of this lofty idea in developing our Mother-Land should now be the primary concern of every well meaning Niger Deltan and not to subject it to political manipulations as has been in the past with the establishment and operation of similar commissions that have physically yielded no results on the ground to improve the welfare of the target communities.
With the establishment of the Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Deltans expect that all-season roads be built with materials suitable to the Niger Delta terrain which should be constructed across the region to link all its geographical communities; better and well-equipped primary, secondary and tertiary schools of education to be provided, while existing ones are rehabilitated; the establishment of Federal Teaching Hospitals, the renovation and equipping of existing hospitals in the region, with basic health facilities including cottage and general hospitals established, equipped and staffed to serve the health needs of the people of the region; appropriate and efficient agricultural facilities and irrigation systems established, to enable all-season farming take place in the region; modern telecommunication facilities provided to link communities in the region with other parts of the nation and thus the wider world; compensation for and rehabilitation of persons displaced as a result of current conflicts in the region and also oil and gas related accidents in the region addressed with the urgency it deserves.
It could therefore be relevant to quote a great American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who in 1870, wrote; "The true test of the greatness of a people is not in its census nor in the size of its cities, not in its mineral resources, nor in its crops but in the kind of man the country or society turns out as its leader at every stage in its organizational and developmental process." This applies to the contemporary Niger Delta region. It will however not be out of context to say that the Niger Delta people want leaders in this region who have a vision, sense of values and energy to drive these desired policies home, logically. The large scale of underdevelopment visibly registered in the Niger Delta region have been due to the individuals that have emerged as pseudo-leaders in some of the Niger Delta states by imposing themselves fraudulently on the people and who have been watched over the past few years (as they consider themselves “untouchables”), trample upon the people they ought to govern with impunity and without the slightest regard to the natural law of existence and equity. These three critical success factors will enable any leader from the region nurture that break-through in ideas and courage necessary to take tough decisions that are required to change our existing prostrate status to a land of sustainable economic development, enshrined in peace, the rule of law and where the tenets of democracy reign supreme.
Prince Enahoro Edwin Erijoh
12th November, 2008.
Tel: 080 644 79 092