“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein
Since the first part of this article was published last week, many people have contacted me from far and wide to respond to it. It is interesting that many people felt that what I initiated was a timely and worthwhile debate. I have therefore chosen to raise a few more issues that can help us deepen the conversation in search of solutions. There are those who rather than take on the issues I raised, decided to attack my person. One of them, Ms. Ann Kio Briggs even contacted my university. Her mission for such an act is not clear to me. However, I am grateful that many persons who learnt about her action condemned it and amplified my position that she is not an activist but a conflict entrepreneur who has benefited immensely from the neglect of the Niger delta region. After more than six years of deliberate silence, I listened to her inciting young people in Port Harcourt to secede from Nigeria. How else will one describe hypocrisy? The last time I saw Ms. Briggs, she was being escorted by four mobile policemen in a convoy of cars. A classical way of not talking while on the table. Activist indeed!
But we must not allow any distractions or blame game to distract us from what sounds like an engaging and timely debate. It is not time to be judgemental either. Rather it is a time to revisit and rigorously interrogate what we now know and call the Niger Delta cause. Was/is there a cause? If we all answer in the affirmative, then do we mean the same thing? Is the cause about lingering questions lacking in clarity or are there answers already provided? Was the cause/answers in economic, political, environmental issues or a combination of the three? Is it the same thing as resource control or the amnesty programme? If there are questions, have some answers been provided? Which one? My point here is that there seem to be no coherent Niger Delta cause, rather a plethora of causes submerged and almost lost in the pursuit of self-interest and opportunism.
When a politician, a traditional ruler, a youth leader, a fisherman, an indigenous oil company, a multinational oil company and a government official come together in one room to talk about the Niger Delta, will we expect any form of agreement? Beyond the Ogoni Bill of Rights and the Kaiama Declaration, where else can we find the Niger Delta cause articulated? Do we turn to the Niger Delta regional master plan or report of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, the so-called Ledum Mitee Committee? We need to be guided appropriately.
Who should speak or act on our behalf going forward and do they have our consent? Do they represent our collective interests and do they report back to us? What approach will be most fashionable? Will going back to the creeks, as many people including the Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan seem to be suggesting, be helpful or an avoidable complication? Is the Niger Delta cause the same as the Ijaw cause or is it broader? Without pretending to have all the answers I argue that while the Ijaw is a dominant tribe in the region, there are more than 40 ethnic groups and 250 dialects whose interest we need to consider and whose consent we need to seek. There are the Ogonis, the Ibibio, the Esan, Bini, Itsekiri, Isoko, Efik, Annang, Oron and others. There cannot be a better time than now to have an inclusive conversation that will give equity and voice to the minority who have been murmuring since the days of the Willink’s Commission.
With the new government coming into power in the coming days, this is a time for the Niger Delta people to undertake a deliberate stocktaking and introspection. The region is lucky to still have people like Governor Rotimi Amaechi and Adams Oshiomhole who are likely to remain prominent in the new administration. We must revisit the issues of the Niger Delta, but more systematically this time. We must be more strategic, more issues-based and less adversarial. This is no longer a time for a few people to select themselves as representatives and give themselves the license of speaking for the Niger Delta for their own self-enrichment.
Beyond the implementation of the UNEP Report and the comprehensive clean up of the region, omnibus agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) need to be reviewed and restructured from being a centre of patronage, which it is at the moment, to a development agency that it ought to be. The continuous flaring of gas in the region must be resolved immediately with the right policy approach. Not to forget the speedy completion of the Oloibiri Oil Museum, which is an important part of history. Long-term sustainable development of the region must be anchored on revenue beyond oil and alternative sectors need to be developed, while the oil money is still flowing. The amnesty programme should be reviewed immediately. Putting monies into the pockets of the rich all these while has not taken the region anywhere.
There must a deliberate effort to create employment for the teeming jobless youths in the Delta. Those who are funding and abetting the mindless proliferation of small arms within the region must be told that the stray bullet can hit anyone. States must prioritise infrastructural development. Inter-state collaboration should be strengthened based on comparative advantages. The Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta (BRACED) Commission and other similar organisations that have potentials of harmonising policies, especially on security and drawing in investment from the private sector, should create the much needed jobs and reduce the pressure on oil revenue.
The Niger Delta is a regional unit of Nigeria and the plan to develop it should be an integral part of the holistic effort to move the country forward. That is the way to build a society that provides for a majority, regardless of social status, ethnic group or party affiliation. Those who want to profit from calls for secession should be made to understand the meaning of treason as soon as law enforcement kicks. Those who betrayed the Niger Delta are here with us. However, the betrayal is reversible if we engage constructively in the coming months. To some people, the truth hurts, but to others a debate is a gratifying opportunity to learn.
Uche Igwe writes from the UK, and can be reached on email@example.com