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Oil: the Niger Delta crisis

On January 11, 2006, four oil workers were kidnapped in the Niger delta in Nigeria by the militias and were released only after several weeks of negotiation between the local authority and the central government. As in so many other places, the basic issue was oil.

Nigeria's Niger Delta crisis goes back to 1920 and the treaties that the forefathers of the people of the region signed with the imperial masters in Bonny. The Niger Delta spreads out over several states and even before Nigeria's independence in October 1960, there had been serious tensions surrounding the arrangements for the government of the region.

Warri in Delta state is the second most important oil town in the country after Port Harcourt, the capital of River state. Delta state produces approximately 40 percent of Nigeria's oil, and it is the richest state in the Nigerian federation. Its capital is Asaba near Onitsha, the biggest commercial market in Africa. But Warri town is claimed by three ethnic groups. Port Harcourt, the capital of River state, has a mixture of small ethnic groups.

When you look at the situation in the Niger Delta, you will see reasons why they took fighting the Nigerian federation. The Niger Delta has been devastated by pollution from oil spillages. Shell has caused a lot of destruction on their land. Capitalism is only interested in making profit at the expense of the poor masses. These people have no shelter; no food, no electricity, no hospital, no school, no road, even no water for them to drink.

This struggle started in the sixties when the late Major Isaac Adaka Boro, a renegade Ijaw soldier, declared an Ijaw secession in February 1966. After him came the writer Ken Saro Wiwa. He fought against environmental pollution in the Niger Delta under the junta of General Sanni Abacha. He was tried and condemned to death by hanging in the late 90s. Recently, Alhaji Dokubo Asari, leader of Niger Delta Peoples' Volunteer Force (NDPVF), started a rebellion against Nigeria. The NDPVF has been in existence since the late 1980's but not on as high a level as today.

The Niger Delta oil is shared in the following ways by the political bandits: Shell owns 30 percent, Total (formerly Elf) 10 percent, Agip 5 percent. The rest goes to Nigeria and the private partners in business. According to OPEC, Nigeria's total oil production is 2.018 million bpd per day. And a barrel of oil cost $30 to $35. Where is the money from oil since the sixties till today?

The Niger Delta crisis has been going on for years but no government in Nigeria has taken the problem seriously. The people have been appealing to the government to negotiate by a peaceful political process on how to increase the little percent of oil revenues that was given to them but the government never bothers to deal with the request or the suffering of the people. And that is capitalism for you.

On December 30 1998, some unarmed Ijaw youths went on a peaceful demonstration to express their grievances to the military administrator of Bayelsa state to tell the multinational oil corporations operating in Ijaw lands and territorial waters and indeed in the larger Niger Delta to pack and leave. Instead of calming the youths down and passing their message to his boss, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, the governor ordered his military boys in the state house (which was built with oil money) to open fire on the protesters. And some protesters died and some were wounded from the gunfire. And that made the youths to go wild in their struggle.

President Abubakar and the governor who were being paid their salary from the tax collected from the poor people, moved in artillery pieces, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as fast attack amphibious craft with 700 soldiers to kill their fellow compatriots whose gold and glass skyline rose out of the Delta's wealth of poverty.

The current president, Obasanjo, promised the Niger Delta that if he was elected, he would introduce a comprehensive development plan for them. But, all those promises were false; after all what did he do when, as General Obasanjo, he was head of state from 1976 to 1979?

The Nigerian military regimes have stolen so much money from the country that they have impoverished it. Each time the Niger Delta people protest, the government refers them to the secretary to government or the minister of petroleum resources or some other officials who really have no capacity to take decisive steps to address the problems.

The stealing of the Nigerian mineral resources by few groups of political bandits at the helm of government has caused Nigerians to drench in misery and abject poverty. These politicians are happy to drive Lincoln navigator, Lamborghini, limousine, Cadillac, Ferrari, helicopter and jets. Whereas millions go to bed on an empty stomach in this one world. And thousands of people squeeze themselves into dilapidated buses that have no roadworthiness again or technical control.

The oil in Niger Delta is enough to sustain born and unborn Nigerians happy till eternity if properly shared among the people. Not to mention other mineral resources like coal in Enugu, rubber in Benin, cocoa in the West, palm produce, precious stones, tin ore, bauxite and even groundnuts, etc.

Because of the government negligence to the masses, unemployment is massive. Master’s degree holders from reputable universities have devised their means of surviving by using motor-cycle to carry passengers for commercial purpose. Armed robbers are terrorising the poor masses. There is no security of life and property as a result of capitalism.

Today the political juggernauts who were elected to improve on the standard of living of the people are now using the resources of the people to buy property overseas. The majority of the Nigerian politicians often have up to ten executive cars in their homes. Some even have helicopters and private jets, all at the expense of the poor masses. Without talking about their special suites in the Nicon-Noga hotel and Sheraton, all in Abuja for free at the expense of the masses from the Niger Delta oil.

The Nigeria finance minister, Mrs Ngozi Okonji Iwuala, is working tirelessly to retrieve the millions of money that was sent overseas by our political leaders, whereas millions of Naira are lying on her doorstep from these corrupt politicians. These politicians don’t pay taxes or rates. They are institutions and untouchable. Nigerian politicians drive their cars freely on the roads without police control because they all have police escorts that are always with them. But, for a poor Nigerian to travel from Lagos to Enugu or Owerri or Umuahia or Abakaliki or Uyo or Calabar is like trying to get into heaven. The Nigerian police and the tax collectors are everywhere in the Niger Delta to the Eastern Nigeria roads stopping commuter buses and taxis every hundred metres demanding for tax and rates from the people whose resources are taken overseas by the capitalist leaders.

It was because of the nonchalant attitude of the government, the marginalisation of the Igbos and other minorities in non power sharing, together with outside capitalist interference, that triggered the declaration of independence by Biafra in 1967. And today many are rising against the state, such as Niger Delta Peoples’ Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and the Oduduwa Peoples’ Congress (OPC) for the Yorubas. Also, the Arewa Republic for the northerners. Today, many Nigerians are no more thinking of one Nigeria but thinking of their own state secession.

Remember too that the oil that is produced in the Niger Delta costs more money to buy in Niger Delta than in Abuja or in Sokoto, which is about 3500km away from Port Harcourt. Capitalism has no soul or respect for humanity in this one world. Capitalism in Nigeria should be totally eradicated from our society otherwise there will be more kidnapping, armed robbery, guerrilla attacks by militias, strikes, violent demonstrations and anarchy that can lead to total collapse of Nigerian federation like Yugoslavia. The cruelty of capitalism in Nigeria is so cumbersome that 70 percent of Nigerians live on under one dollar per day. While a privileged minority of capitalists and corrupt politicians live more like Bill Gates.

Many Nigerians are running away from the country in search of white collar-jobs in the West because of abject poverty, political crisis and ethnic and religious inquisitions that the government cannot control. In the process, many have died in the desert or on the sea trying to cross borders to the West. Many are languishing in prisons in Europe and America, just on immigration offences. Nigerians in the diaspora and at home should organise against capitalism and take the challenge upon them to address the raging crisis in Nigeria for the interest of the people through a political and economic revolution.

BAMIDELE C. ILOANYA