17 Feb 2006
The Niger Delta has the richest biodiversity and the largest concentration of petroleum resources in Nigeria. In the midst of these riches, majority of the people of this area live in shacks, have no clean water, no electricity and have a high rate of unemployment. Oil-generated pollution is increasingly rendering their environment unfit for subsistence farming or fishing.
As if these woes were not enough, the region has been plunged into despicable violence that some analysts are comparing it to what obtains in Colombia and Chechnya. Violence in the area is responsible for the deaths of about 1000 people annually according to a Shell-funded report. The situation of the Niger Delta reflects what typically happens to places in Africa that have been blessed or would I say cursed with natural resources. The people of Angola, Congo D R, Sierra Leone and Liberia know better what such natural resources have done to them.
The Nigerian government laments that the crisis in the area has caused the country some $6.8 billion in lost revenue so far. This amount reflects what is lost due to the disruption of production alone and not that associated with oil bunkering. Oil bunkering (the big grammar they use for stealing) has complicated the situation and made it impossible to differentiate the wolf from the sheep. Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged for genuinely championing the fight of the Ogoni people against the irresponsible behaviour of the oil companies. Today’s activists are more likely to turn out to be greedy warlords than selfless leaders like Saro-Wiwa.
Dr Edmund Daukoru (Obasanjo aide) admits that oil bunkering could provide enough funds for the criminally minded to create private armies. This was corroborated by a Shell funded reported that said “one day’s worth of illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta will buy quality weapons for and sustain a group of 1500 youths for two months”.
At the time this report was released, oil prices were around $35 per barrel. The stakes are certainly higher now that oil prices have doubled.
I foresee the situation of this area degenerating if drastic and far-reaching measures are not taken now. Fortunately for Nigeria, she has Charles Taylor as a guest. He can explain to the Nigerian government how he and the late Sankoh created a war around minerals in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The reality is that there are many people parading as champions of the people of the Delta region that will not embrace any settlement that will benefit all their people. This group of people will like to perpetuate a situation of disorder and lawlessness because such a situation is conducive to their illegal activities. The unfortunate people of this area certainly have many more dark days ahead just because they are sitting on the black gold. The Nigerian government should not waste time reading colourful dissertations by arm-chair intellectuals claiming to offer solutions to the crisis of the Niger Delta. Millions of dollars earned from the sale of stolen oil are creating a ‘little Colombia’ in this part of Nigeria. It is only when this oil theft is brought under control, can Nigeria attempt to solve the real problems of the people of the Niger Delta.
I tell people that I always pray that petroleum or minerals should not be discovered anywhere near my village. People think that I am mad. I am not mad. I know that in our part of the world, such natural resources are a curse. Many Africans do not yet know this. That is why some of them are still erroneously praying for those resources.
Copyright©2006 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah