Niger Delta: When The Dust Begins To Clear
The white man who came to tap oil in 1958 seems to have run his course in the Niger Delta. It’s 2008 and the world has changed. Both in the larger Nigeria, the Niger Delta and in most other parts of the globe, wherever feelings of being repressed abound, self determinism is increasingly finding its voice.
In the Niger Delta, 50 years of crude oil production has worsted the reputation of the oil majors who gained mining and prospecting licenses from poorly informed civilian regimes and bungling military juntas. Since the turn of the new millennium, all manners of skirmishes now greet the presence and operations of these oil majors and their cronies, minions and hangers-on. Now the communities are on the ascendancy with diverse methodologies but all aimed at the singular goal of appropriating more of the petrodollar.
It’s not a light matter at all. Hundreds have been kidnapped in the melee. Few unlucky ones have died in the process. The majority of the victims have been ransomed at sums only few prefer to publicly discuss. But we all know that ransom is the end-game all the time.
Is the much wanted development now being installed in their urban centers Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar? Or in the villages and isolated islands? Since the forced repatriation of huge sums into the coffers of state and local governments and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), are roads now being constructed to traverse the mangrove forest and swamps from whose thickets bands of paddling or speedboat ruffians constantly emerge to harass civilized humanity? Will bridges soon be built to link these riverine communities and the unbridgeable islands and hamlets whose number is yet to be tracked? Will the criminal offshoot of the militancy allow such developments to be put in place seeing that this will staunch the stream of such a lucrative pastime? When the dust settles over this rumble in the jungle what will seeming reality look like?
Yes, some new roads, bridges, jetties and rural amenities will be installed. The numbers and dimensions are going to be politically determined. For one, the Niger Delta states are now separating into fairly recognizable different worlds. It is now fairly known, for instance, that just about two states, Bayelsa and Delta, harbour the real militants in this struggle, who seem to be mostly of Ijaw extraction or heavily made up from their kinsmen. There is a fairly wide agreement that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) represents the fairly respectable segment of the imbroglio in any fair dichotomy where the other side is composed of criminals, kidnappers, cultists, oil bunkerers and suchlike outlaws. The problem with tracking the restiveness would be a lot easier if the government had only MEND to contend with. Though MEND read the Riot Act to the oil majors and their expatriate staff, it is now the criminal elements who exploit the disagreement to kidnap ransomable persons and make a wildly lucrative business out of a package of hurt and discomfort to mostly private persons. Thus, when the dust has sufficiently cleared for history to be recorded, it would be found that the white man was sacked from the Niger Delta by noncommissioned officers! That is, if civilized society somehow allows them that uneasy recognition.
Meanwhile a historical transfer of wealth is taking place beneath the thin veneer of insecurity. What the forefathers of the Niger Delta denizens lost in revenue and suffered via neglect, over decades, at the hands of the much-traduced Shells, Mobils, Agips and Chevrons of this world, and their fellow travelers, is now being recouped by their sons via legal and illegal processes. The 13% Derivation Fund which legitimately flows to the oil producing states of Nigeria portends very great wealth now and in the immediate future; for the state structures and for very many others in this part of the country. That is not to say that the money is well managed. The comment is purely descriptive of the distribution of financial resources which now favors much of the Niger Delta, legally speaking. Only very few compliments can be found in any review of how the money is usually spent. As per the translation into quality of life and its appurtenances, the Niger Delta towns and villages remain backward as at press time. Perhaps a respite might come with the frenzy of various infrastructure construction, if completed.
Further, a massive transfer of wealth is also taking place in the private sector, where the business of the oil majors now seem to be clouded by hyper-sensitivity to include Niger Delta agitational conclusions in decision-making and spending patterns. Nigeria still ranks as one of the largest producers of oil despite oil short-ins , flow-station and well-head blow-ups, force majeure and all the result of the emergent unfriendliness. And despite the now-falling price of the product in the international market. To produce such quantity, billions of dollars continue to be spent annually on exploration and exploitation activities. Though the white man has been chased away to Lagos and Abuja, the oil field remains in the Niger Delta and the product is scarcely amenable to remote control for exploitation purposes. Therefore, Niger Delta peoples, especially chiefs, political warlords, top businessmen, sons of the soil and now, worst of all, nameless henchmen, whose calling card is nothing more than an aptitude for violence, are nearer to the cash-flow that sustains crude oil production.
These trends are developing and, for now, unstoppable. But matters are still too fluid to decipher any pin-point trajectory. During a recent visit to the Niger Delta, DDH gathered from locals an aggregate estimation that if current talk of Niger Delta master plan and various budgets brought by NDDC, the oil producing states, EU intervention funds and the creation of a Federal Government Ministry of the Niger Delta continue working instead of just talking, then two to three years will begin to usher some light into the tunnel and possibly give the authority better will and morale to deploy stronger force for arresting the hydra-headed criminality that now runs rampant and unchecked.
If roads are made into the isolated islands, and bridges overfly the creeks; if shallow, narrow rivers are deepened and widened and the current campaigns to build shore protection for villages on the Atlantic seaboard continue, then the criminal havens are exposed and many a security man will not be felled by snipers hiding in mangrove nor bunkerers paddle away into creeks the Nigerian Navy dare not sail. If schools are built and men are trained, even the unwary deluded(??) army of the militants stands to lose its foot soldiers, and who knows even the white man may find that their last visas are not fully expired yet!