Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Oily Cesspool that is the Niger-Delta

The Niger-Delta has over the last two decades increasingly become the bane of the Nigerian oil sector and the successive governments with which oil industry operators are in alliance. It all started in the days of the the military administrations of the 1980s and 1990s which were characterized by the gross neglect and deprivation of basic infrastructure and amenities.

This era saw the oil operators become more arrogant and rapacious, often degrading the environment without any recourse or even sanctions from the government. In an era that institutionalized corruption, the regulatory authorities looked the other way if they were gratified by the faltering oil companies. It was so bad that some not only avoided tax, but evaded it in totality. The Nigerian security force became their personal army. Some acted like governments in themselves.

NNPC, manager of the Nigerian government's stake in its joint ventures with the oil companies is replete with many officials so corrupt, they would make Tafa Balogun and Alamieyesiegha seem like amateurs. There are records of NNPC officials paying themselves $500 and more per day in allowances for several months on ends to engage in official trips (which essentially were all-expenses paid vacations) abroad just so they would rake up foreign exchange, nevermind that some spent of the time they were supposed to be abroad back in Nigeria. There were, and still are the fictitious or over-invoiced contracts awarded to associates of these officials as a ploy to cart away millions upon millions of the petro-dollars they are supposed to oversee on behalf of Nigerians. If the EFCC were to cast its dragnet on past and present NNPC officials, I shudder to think of the depth and extent of the festering putrid pit of corruption they would uncover.

Local chiefs and politicians of the locales from which this vast resource in the name of crude oil is mined wised up to the situation. Not only were their environments being degraded by the mining activities, they were also being neglected. Some genuinely took up the cause and made to seek justice and redress. Various means were employed, including physically trying to stop mining operations on their lands. Of course the repressive military dictatorships of the day came down hard on such protests. This led to a degeneration of relationships between the government and activists. The government and oil operators alike used all sorts of tactics, including intimidation and bribery of identified influential activists who they tried to buy by offering huge monetary sums.

This of course stoked the fire the more as many of the activists strived to be influential so that they too would enjoy the patronage of the oil companies and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). Many known political and traditional leaders, past and present, in the Niger-Delta share in this complicity. With the growing gang of unemployed youths in Niger-Delta and the readiness of the oil companies and FGN to bestow their largesse on any activist who would “play ball,” environmental activism soon became very lucrative for the youths of the Niger-Delta and has since grown very large, with various gangs popping up hither thither, all jostling for influence, attention and the largesse of the FGN and oil operators.

It is so bad now that it seems many Niger-Delta youth now think that it is their birthright to demand (even extort) money from the FGN and oil companies. There are reports of young people resigning their good-paying regular jobs in the banking and the oil sectors only to found spurious environmentalist NGOs in order to enjoy the readily available extremely lucrative patronage of the oil companies and the FGN.

There are certainly various legitimate claims of injustice and environmental degradation perpetrated by the oil operators, the FGN and its agencies, and these need to be given the utmost priority. But in the wake of the various self-serving questionable activist groups, this is going to be virtually impossible and daunting, particularly since these rogue groups constitute a nuisance and distract from the genuine activists and salient issues.

Where lies the truth when so called activists are kidnapping and asking for billions of dollars in ransom, and the release of indicted felons of the likes of Dokubo and Alamieyesiegha? Regardless of what cause one is fighting for, once a crime is committed, it should be treated as such. It is a crime to blow up installations (treason), it is a crime to commit arson, it is a crime to kidnap, it is a crime to procure arms illegally, and it is a crime to kill a human being. These folks, MEND, or whatever name they go by have committed so many crimes. The FGN should come down hard on them and stamp out this kind of misguided and outright display of piracy and nihilism. Stamp out this malignant trend before it metastasizes into something more virulent. They are terrorists, if there ever was an organization deserving of the label.

The FGN on the other hand should make sure it rights all the wrongs that have been visited upon the law abiding citizenry of the Niger-Delta. Make all those erring tribal and political leaders pay for their complicity and acts of graft as well as sanction implicated oil operators. Provide good roads and schools, access to clean water, electricity and medical care so these charlatan activists will have no basis on which to weave their self-serving causes. Then, and only then will genuine environmental groups truly make an impact. Until, then, both the genuine and the rogue will unfortunately continue to be categorized as the same.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dariye Probe - About Time

The committee recently set up by the Plateau state house of representatives to investigate the state governor, Joshua Chibi Dariye is a welcome albeit belated development. This is a chance for the house to prove that it not a pawn in the hands of the governor, who's widely acclaimed profligacy, culminated in his arrest in London in 2004 for money laundering related offences. Like his Bayelsa state counterpart, he jumped bail and returned to Nigeria. Even though his passport had not been not seized, and so he did not return to Nigeria with illegal documentation as his colleague, Alamieyeseigha had, he nevertheless broke the law by jumping bail. He is a fugitive of the British legal system, a position unbecoming of the chief executive officer of a state.

As regards the allegations of corruption and misappropriation of state resources, what the committee needs to do is clear. By matching the governor's gross remuneration over the period of time he has been governor and the alleged monies, other than his accrued remuneration, lodged into his local and foreign bank accounts, the panel will be able to prove if or not the governor has perpetrated acts of fraud.

Of course if he is found culpable, he should be impeached and made to face the law just as his fellow fugitive ex-governor, Alamieyeseigha is currently doing.

It is shameful and utterly callous of public officials in whom the general populace has bestowed its trust to let their constituencies down through acts of corruption and flagrant disregard for the wellbeing of the common Nigerian. It is even more embarrassing that they steal the money and stash it abroad going on spending sprees, cavorting about and shamelessly displaying the ill-gotten wealth. They don't just get it. They are our representatives and by displaying such crass profligacy and stolen wealth they devalue whatever respect we may have deserved from the international community, which surely sees no difference between these folks and common criminals. We need to route out these reprobates from our system. That is the only way we will ever earn the respect of the international community.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Wrath of the Godfather - Lamidi and Ladoja Rumble

This is a classic “Prodigal Son” case. Except in this instance the prodigal son does not get a feast and forgiveness. Instead, he is shunned and sternly disciplined. Today’s impeachment and alleged subsequent arrest of the Oyo state governor, Rashidi Ladoja, is another episode in the unfolding political soap opera that is currently playing across the Nigerian polity. Even though arguably malafide in intent, it is a welcome development as it goes to show that governors can no longer sit tight and prim as they go about perpetrating acts of gross misconduct and blatant corruption.

Lamidi Adedibu, the defacto leader and political demigod of Oyo, and the field marshal of the Oyomesi has once again flexed his political muscles. Reminiscent of the Adelakun – Ige saga of the early 1980s, once again the political godson has incurred the wrath of the political godfather. In a Mafioso-styled political system such as the one in Oyo, it is asinine for a political godson, who has, so to speak, made a pact with the devil, to think that he can outmaneuver the devil himself.

This is what you get when you dine with the devil and don’t do his bid. I bet right thinking Oyo citizens would prefer that both the political godson and political godfather be indicted, but for now are content with the godson. Godfathers are often more difficult to indict, but with any luck, perhaps someday soon, right thinking Oyo citizens will have their wish.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Buhari & Babangida - Strange Bed Fellows

Buhari, have you no shame or common sense? You and Idiagbon were kicked out of office by Mr Gap-tooth General, Babangida and gang because they thought you were too high-handed and were not allowing the "tap to flow," to use the words of Adisa of sainted memory. When the "Prince of the Niger" landed in Dodan Barracks he opened the tap very wide so that he and his thieving cohort could drink unfettered of the Nigerian river of resources.

The consensus of the Nigerian polity is that the Gap-toothed one destroyed the social and cultural fabric of Nigeria. Within a few months, his administration reversed the gains that you and the great late Tunde Idiagbon had achieved in the 20 months you were in power. Corruption became entrenched and the norm. Babangida surrounded himself with so many sycophants. He rewarded their loyalty by running a laissez faire ship, thereby allowing them to dip their grubby fingers into the National till. In fact, in the Babangida days, it was widely believed that you were expected to enrich yourself and immediate family through self-awarded contracts or frank graft and proclaim your undying loyalty if you were appointed to a position that gave you access to National resources. You were sure to fall out of favour and lose your position if you did not do these. Only very few appointees like the late Tai Solarin, Prof. Ransome-Kuti and Wole Soyinka were exempt from this unwritten rule.

Buhari, by forming an alliance with this self-proclaimed evil genius are you not profaning the memory of your friend and able confidant, Idiagbon? Be careful. You were once betrayed by this fox, as you know, old habits and human character die hard. A word is enough for the wise.