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.


EKENYERENGOZI Michael Chima said...

This is the best analysis of the Niger Delta crisis I have read in recent time. Because, you addressed the root causes from the angles that most analyst often ignore. The NNPC and their multinational cronies and corrupt rulers.

A must read.

God bless.

FireSpeaker said...

Great blog. This is the most truthful writing on the Niger Delta crisis I have ever read.

Very insightful.