A lot has been said and written about the Niger Delta. Even so, not many people who live outside of the region have a complete picture of what the ”riverine” areas are truly like – in terms of the toxicity of the land, the ”foetidness” of the air, the abject poverty and the miserable social systems. The Stone Age living condition of those who live along the bank of the rivers cannot be compared to any settlement in the Niger Delta: it is truly a picture of man‘s inhumanity to man. These are the wretched and the miserable.
They are wretched, even though their lands and waterways are part of the goldmine, the nation‘s breadbasket. But is the Nigerian government responsible for the nightmarish conditions that are available in the region? Of course! We all blame the government and the various multinational oil companies because a fragile state like Nigeria seems not to have the political will or the common sense to get conglomerates to do the right thing; and the companies themselves are too socially irresponsible to act right all the time. They do in Nigeria those things they otherwise would not do in law and order societies.
In all of these, rarely have pundits and political referees examined the blame-worthy role of the elites and state governments in the oil-producing region. Somehow, we seem to forget that governments and powerful individuals in and outside of the region are also responsible for the ill, the indifference and the calamities that have come to characterize the region. In other words, for all the blames at the door step of the oil companies and the federal government, the elites and the state governments are also culpable.
They have, in no small measure, contributed to the abysmal state the people are in. There is ample evidence to show that those at the upper echelon of the political and economic ladder have, for the most part, engaged in predatory practices – practices that have for so long been inimical to the progress and wellbeing of the common man. Although the aforesaid is not unique to the region; if the elites and the state governments were humane and sensible, they would have approached the congealing problems in a more honest and concerted fashion. But instead, they allowed, and in some cases left their own people to suffer, while they bask in opulence and institutionalized waste.
Considering the state of the nine oil-producing states, one must ask: where have all the monthly allocations gone? Where are the roads and the schools and the clinics and hospitals? Where are the libraries, the science laboratories and the parks? Where are the waterworks, the bridges and the industries? Where are the social services these governments are supposed to provide their citizens? Stolen? Mismanaged? Where, where has all the money the various states in the Niger Delta received since 1999 gone?
Although some have argued that the current revenue allocation formula is unfair, not proportionate to the contribution of the region to the national purse, still, the region continues to receive hefty and stupendous amounts when compared to previous eras. Frankly, whether fair or unfair, these governments have not judiciously spent the amount they have been receiving since the beginning of this republic. Considering their monthly allocations, and considering also what‘s available on the ground, it seems that some 70 per cent of monthly receipts have either gone into the pockets of the ruling class and their cronies, or have been scandalously misappropriated.
The aforesaid being the case, the time has come for all honest and purposeful citizens of the region to turn their attention and energy to the culpable activities of their local government chairs, state and federal legislators and other elite who parade themselves as champion of the people. But most of all, it is time for Niger Deltans to critically examine the activities of their state governors and their deputies.
The question concerned and pained citizens must ask is this: ”Why, in spite of the billions of dollars that have been collected by various state governors – for the sole purpose of developing and advancing those states – is there very little progress commensurate to the total amount they have received since the summer of 1999?”
The nine federating states of the Niger Delta may have received more money than the next twenty states combined. Together, their yearly allocation is more than that of Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad and Togo combined. What have the governments in the Niger Delta done with these robust allocations? What happened to the people‘s money?
The ongoing struggle for justice and accountability must not end with the federal government and the oil companies. Activists, the police and law enforcement agencies, commentators, and freedom fighters in the Niger Delta must also investigate the activities of the so-called elites and oligarchy within the region. We must not allow them to shift all the blames to ”outsiders.” Governors from the region (1999-2010), were and continue to be part of the problem. In some cases, they are bigger problems than the federal government and the oil companies combined.
Ten years from now, all the aforementioned governors will still have a life of opulence and privilege. So will their children and grandchildren. Nothing would have changed. A sweet life they all will continue to have. But not so for the poor and the commoners in the Niger Delta: their lives will continue to be typified by squalor and poverty. Nothing would have changed, except change for the worst. A bitter life is what most will have.
Let there be no doubt: The Federal Government and the Oil Companies share some of the blame for the economic, social, political and environmental problems that has befallen the region. No doubt about that! But the time is here for the people of the Niger Delta to hold their leaders accountable for the theft and mismanagement that are commonplace. I also think that the people of the region share in the blame for tolerating and encouraging third rate leaders: men and women who should be anything but governors, ministers, commissioners and or local government chairs.
Three-and-half- decades after Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia left office, his legacy lives on. The same is true of Brigadiers Mobolaji Johnson, David Bamigboye, Jacob Esuene, and Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff. These were men who had to govern much larger territories with a tenth or less of the current monthly allocations; yet, their achievements have, in some cases, outweighed the achievements of all their successors combined. After all these years, Nigerians still thank their Lord for these and a few other leaders.
The Great Chinua Achebe and a few others keep reminding us that the greatest problem we have as a nation is the dearth of leadership. Indeed, what we have are men and women without the prerequisite skills, training,
character and vision parading themselves as leaders. This is more so more pronounced in the Niger Delta. More than a few consider Governor Donald Duke (Cross River, 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007) an exception. It‘s been said that he, in some ways, justified his stay in office. This exception aside, what are we to say, what will history and posterity say about all the men, and women, who, beginning in 1999, presided over the affairs of their respective states?
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