PREAMBLE ——— I consider as my first task, that of expressing my sincere gratitude to our host, the members of the Association of Rivers State Communities in the United kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (ARCUK) for gathering us here today, to rub minds on a matter that is of utmost importance to everyone of us. For if the mess in the Niger Delta is predicated on lack of development, we all must have realized by now that development cannot take place in the presence of permanent insecurity. The issue of unrelenting insecurity must be addressed for investment to flow and development, flourish.
Next, let me commend our host again for coming together to reactivate this Association, despite their diverse origins from the various communities in the Rivers State. To my mind, this invigoration and gregarious action have emerged from a recognition of the common destiny of the people of the state. Your wish to have a permanent edifice, to be christened Rivers House, to further enhance your existence and provide a venue for your future interactions, is also laudable. Your fortitude in committing your selves to such a venture, is reminiscent of that behind current happenings back home where the Rivers State itself, in under a period of two years, has been converted into one huge construction site consisting of massive urban renewal of the state capital, construction of over 250 primary schools, 300 roads, 100 health clinics and an audacious creation of a Greater Port Harcourt City, with all its promise of a Greater Tomorrow for all sons and daughters of the Rivers State. I call on all Rivers men and women, wherever they may be, and indeed all men of goodwill to associate themselves with the construction of Rivers House in this capital city of the United Kingdom. When completed, Rivers House must serve as an umbrella for serious-minded men and women to assemble and think through those polices that would benefit the masses of the State, who despite the abundance of God’s given wealth within their borders, have remained in a pitiable condition of deprivation and poverty.
Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Having therefore, allowed, through many acts of omission and commission, what commenced in the 1960s as benign and legitimate “verbal complaints” by the inhabitants of the land that covers the deltaic arrangement of the River Niger, for an equitable share of the oil wealth that emanates from their land, to degenerate to the present horrendous debacle in the area, with its attendant reign of permanent insecurity, Government must see it as its purpose to take apposite steps now to eliminate the root causes of discontent that fostered the state of permanent insecurity through violent agitation. The expectation is that such equity and fairness, if resolutely applied and with all sincerity, can still contain the violence which has become endemic as well as the associated criminality that has been hoisted on the people by elements who have taken advantage of the calamity.
Like the plethora of papers and publications which the Niger Delta quandary had evoked, this current one will give some information on the composition of the Niger Delta, crude oil production – the backbone of Nigeria’s current economy as well as the bases for and complexities of the discontent in the region. Like others, it will elaborate on the multiple outcomes that are traceable to the insecurity of lives and property for which the region has now acquired notoriety. However, in doing so, the paper will also place some emphasis on the systematic destruction of the future of the youths in the region, sequel to the violence and state of insecurity – an aspect which had not received sufficient attention in some previous writings. The multiple, fitful, disingenuous and flimsy efforts government had made over the years will be reviewed and in the closing remarks, lack of sincerity on the part of government, emphasized as the most important cause of the failure to bring the Niger Delta problem to a close.
THE NIGER DELTA OF NIGERIA
Two large bodies of water – the Rivers Niger and Benue constitute dominant features on Nigeria’s topography. Arising from Guinea and Cameroon respectively, the two rivers effectively partition Nigeria, at their confluent point in Lokoja, into three large land masses which are situated in the northern, eastern and western parts of the country. They then run as a single body of water southwards, towards the Atlantic Ocean until they arborize close to Onitsha into multiple rivers, creeks, canals, swamps and a huge deltaic drainage basin, the third largest in the world, which is rich in mangrove forest as well as sediments, called the Niger Delta of Nigeria. The drainage basin stretches for about 150miles from north to south and spreads along the Atlantic coast line for about 200miles.
With the discovery of crude oil mainly in the deltaic basin of the River Niger, and the proliferation of states in the country, defining those states that qualify as states of the Niger Delta became a major political issue. In 2000, the Federal Government established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and in the Act that created the Commission (Act 20, No. 6 – Federal Government Press: 2000, vol. 87), government defined the Niger Delta States as being Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. Not only do the people of these states ( population, about 31 million – 2006 population census) come from diverse ethinic groups (about 40) and speak different languages and dialects (about 250), the content of crude oil reserves within their respective borders, and ipso facto, the collateral damages each suffers from the exploration and exploitation activities of crude oil, differ substantially. Not surprisingly therefore, a number of other descriptive terminologies have emerged which suit various political arrangements: the Oil Producing States; Littoral States; South-South States. However, many would accept that Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Akwa Ibom States, not only constitute the major oil producing states of Nigeria, they are the core states of the Niger Delta.
Over a period of five decades from the 1960s, the Niger Delta, especially its core states, has been in the limelight, locally and internationally, for two principal reasons:
- Crude Oil Production
- Agitation, Violence and Instability
CRUDE OIL PRODUCTION IN NIGERIA
Crude oil (petroleum) was first discovered in Nigeria by Shell `D Arcy in commercial quantities in 1956, in Oloibiri, which was in Rivers State but now in present day Bayelsa State, and two years later, in 1958, the first barrel was shipped out for sale in the international market. From this small beginning, the industry has burgeoned, including deep water and off shore drilling, to become the nation’s major commercial business, eclipsing all others, especially agriculture, which until then, was the major source of employment and revenue for the country. The industry is currently operated by foremost local and international conglomerates like Shell, Mobil, AGIP, Chevron, Texaco, Monipulo, Afren and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
With proven crude oil reserves of 36 billion barrels, and, until recently, with an average production of over 2 million barrels per day (Mbopd), Nigeria was the largest producer of crude oil in Africa, 6th in OPEC, and 11th largest supplier in the world. Furthermore, with gas reserves of 187 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), which are substantially higher than crude oil reserves, Nigeria has the 10th largest gas reserves in the world and 30% of Africa’s reserve. Nearly all these reserves (oil and gas) are concentrated in and around the Niger Delta, especially the core Niger Delta states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Delta.
Much of the nation’s petroleum is classified as “light” or “sweet”, meaning the oil is largely free of sulphur and is easy to refine; the country being the largest producer of sweet oil (Bonny light) in the cartel of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Sadly the bulk of the country’s natural gas is flared off as associated gas which is obtained during oil exploration and it is estimated that the country loses over 18.2 million USD daily from this.
In terms of export, the U.S. remains Nigeria’s largest customer for crude oil, accounting for 40% of the country’s total oil exports; Nigeria provides about 10% of overall U.S. oil imports and ranks as the fifth-largest source for U.S. imported oil.
VIOLENCE AND INSECURITY
Outside a background of some level of insecurity involving assassinations, armed robbery and attacks on financial institutions, which occur in many countries, including Nigeria, the armed conflict with its associated violence and insecurity as is presently the case in parts of the Niger Delta is not the first of such experience that Nigeria has had. Let us rekindle our memory by recalling a few of such other experiences.
In the late 1960s to early 1970s one Ishola Oyenusi, along with his boys, established a reign of terror in Ibadan, Lagos and other parts of the then Western Region, killing and maiming people at will, especially police officers, and robbing various banks. The government in its desperation placed a ransom on Oyenusi; he was eventually arrested, tried and publicly executed. Similarly, in the late 1980s, some armed gangs led by one Lawrence Anini and his cohort, Osumbor, terrorised and killed many in Benin City and parts of the then Bendel state for a protracted period until he was apprehended, convicted in a law court and also publicly executed with the approval of the then Armed Forces Ruling Council. In both instances, with the execution of their leaders, the activities of their gangs came to abrupt ends. Even as recent as this week, a battle of sorts is ragging between an armed group known as Boko Haram, led by one Mohammed Yusuf and the police in the north eastern parts of the country – from Bauchi to Maiduguri and spreading westwards towards kano, the intention of the group being to overthrow the federal government of Nigeria and impose a strict version of Islamic law on the country. Mohammed Yusuf we are informed, was captured along with a good number of his followers. According to information that emanated from Police circles, Mohammed Yusuf was shot dead while trying to escape from Police custody on July 31, 2009. These insurrections, as well as a number of other instances that time does not permit us to cite, were/are from common criminals, robbers as well as those who were fighting in the name of religion. They differ substantially from the situation in the Niger Delta, which unfortunately has arisen from long standing injustice, perpetrated by government, on the people of the area. Let me elaborate.
Dissatisfaction and agitation regarding the region’s neglect and underdevelopment which have ballooned into the violence and instability that now characterise the area and even threaten the stability of the country, predated the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta. Indeed at the pre-independence Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples, while decrying the underdevelopment of their part of the country expressed fears of discrimination and marginalization by the governments of the day.
This led the British colonial government to set up the Willinks Minority Commission of Enquiry to “ascertain the facts about the fears of minorities in any part of Nigeria…” and corroborating these fears, the Commission’s Report, which was published in 1958, stated:
We were impressed by the arguments indicating that the needs of those who lived in the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta are very different from those of the interior. We agree it is not easy for a Government of a legislature operating from far inland to concern itself or even fully understand the problems of a territory where communications are so difficult, building so expensive and education so scanty…
However, the safeguards that were recommended in the report, including the creation of the backward and underdeveloped Niger Delta region as a special area for speedy development were never implemented.
Then came the discovery and subsequent escalation of crude oil exploitation in the country; notably, the discovery, has so far, only been made in the Niger Delta region. Revenue accruing to the nation from the sale of this commodity galloped in astronomical proportions, dwarfing and almost bringing to a halt, commercial activities in most other productive sectors.
Unfortunately, due to endemic bad governance and systemic corruption, the bulk of the revenue that accrued from the sale of crude oil was not ploughed into developing the country to any appreciable degree, – its infrastructure, especially power supply, transportation system, communication, the environment, housing, health care, education, its polity and so on, let alone developing the Niger Delta, from where the “black gold” is extracted.
So, instead of the development of the environment and improvement in the quality of life of the people, as would be expected from the large wealth generated from the Niger Delta, the place and its people were and continue to be badly shortchanged as the number of those that are poor have increased over the years, with the people having little or no access to the basic necessities of life like portable water, electricity, modern means of communication and transportation as well as basic health care. The land itself has been scourged by the pollution of its rivers, and arable land through crude oil spillage, leading to the destruction of aquatic life and food crops. Gas flaring has permanently turned night into day with all its consequences and in addition, thrown up of noxious agents into the atmosphere
Confronting this attitude of contempt, ingratitude and disrespect for the people, from whose land wealth is extracted, in non-violent and violent ways, has existed in the area of the Niger Delta, even during colonial times, when unlike crude oil, palm oil was the article of trade. Such instances included the Akassa war of 1895, and the resistance offered by Jaja of Opobo and Nana of Itsekiri. With the advent of crude oil, the actions of some organised groups are also noteworthy. These include the group that was led by the late Jasper Adaka Boro, which masterminded the Kiama Declaration of December 11, 1998, as well as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) which was led by the late Ken Saro Wiwa and which similarly enunciated the Ogoni Bill of Rights of August 26, 1990.
Following the 2003 elections in the country, bitter rivalry ensued among some gangs and cult groups which had allegedly been used by some politicians to ensure victory and this enmity not only led to a rapid proliferation in the number of these groups and gangs, but also, drove each group to arm itself with highly sophisticated weapons of warfare, thereby militarizing the Niger Delta zone to a point of saturation. Furthermore, in order to assert supremacy, each claimed ownership of the Niger Delta course. Thus, a cacophony of voices spoke for the region even as the groups and gangs engaged in a number of unwholesome actions, partly as sabotage to the government of the day and partly as a way of financing their existence. It was also at that time, that the Niger Delta movement became infested with criminality, which, not infrequently, overwhelmed an unarguably justified agitation.
So it was that the festering discontent in the region, which was justified and originally non-violent, moved on to a higher stage of manifestation – that of violence, which sadly has not only consumed communities in the region, but has also acquired notoriety on account of its infection with criminality in which foreigners, Nigerians and even indigenes of the region as well as children and the elderly, some as young as 3 years, others as old as 80 years, have been kidnapped for ransom!!
OUTCOME OF VIOLENCE AND INSECURITY
The outcome that has trailed violence and insecurity in the Niger Delta are many; they cannot be sufficiently covered in a short presentation as this. The effects of the various outcomes have been felt in the Niger Delta, in the rest of the country and beyond. They include:
The deleterious effects of the violence and insecurity in the Niger Delta are felt by all tiers of government.
- Reduction in crude oil output.
Nigeria’s crude oil production from its vast reserves has increased annually from the time of its discovery in commercial quantities. Between 1999 and until recently, daily production averaged 2 million barrels per day. However, violence and insecurity resulting in short down of production sites have decreased daily production from time to time forcing several companies to declare force majeure on oil shipment. Early this year, the average production fell to 800,000 barrels per day and currently runs at about 1,000,000 barrels per day. Speaking at the Senate hearing of a Proposed Petroleum Industry Bill, on July 26, 2009, Mr. Mitiu Sunmonu, Managing Director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) told the Senate that SPDC onshore oil joint venture in Nigeria is producing at less than 30 percent of capacity due to the unrest in the Niger Delta and funding problems.
- Reduction in revenue from sale of crude oil.
The contribution made by the sale of crude oil in international markets to government’s treasury and foreign exchange earnings rose with increase in crude production. Between 2000 and 2004, 79.5% of the total government revenues and 97% of foreign exchange proceeds, came from the oil and gas resources that were exported from the Niger Delta of Nigeria and it is estimated that over the years, Nigeria has earned over 400 billion USDs. from that trade. However, since 2005, with increase in violence, accrued revenue has dropped due to increase in shut outs. By the first quarter of 2009, oil revenue fell by as much as one half compared to the last quarter of 2008. “Crude oil export stood at 735.4 billion naira (4.9 billion dollars/3.4 billion Euros) – a sharp decrease of 734.2 billion naira or 99.8% over that of the fourth quarter of 2008” (National Bureau of Statistics, July 2009). Also, speaking at the Senate hearing of the Proposed Petroleum Bill to which reference had been made earlier, Mr. Mitiu Sunmonu, Managing Director of SPDC indicated that Nigeria has lost about 7 trillion naira (47 billion U.S dollars) as a result of the shut-in of the SDPC output since 2006 in the country.
- Reduction in federal allocation to states and local governments.
Like it is for the federal government, crude oil provides the main source of revenue for the states and local governments; allocation from the federation account being disbursed to states and local governments on monthly basis. With the fall in the revenue accruing to the Federal government, those to states and local governments also fell. For instance, the total allocation that was made to Rivers State and its local governments between January and May 2008 from the Federation Account was N 148,310,473,954.6 while that for the same period for 2009, was N 87,329,749,440.48 giving a drop of 41%.
Sabotage is directed mainly at the large multilateral companies who are operating Joint Venture contracts in the oil industry in Nigeria. The idea is to disrupt production which would in turn reduce revenue to government.
- Destruction of oil and other infrastructure
Destruction of oil infrastructure takes several forms but is more readily carried out through the blowing up and vandalisation of pipelines which are usually, easily accessible. Such actions increased tremendously from 2005. Records from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company’s Annual Statistical Bulletin for 2007 showed that whereas there 497 of such reported incidences in 1999, by 2007, the reported cases had increased to 3,224. These acts of sabotage are usually limited to oil infrastructure that are located in the Niger Delta. However on Monday July 13, 2009, militants operating from the Niger Delta attacked and destroyed the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos which is one of the major arteries supplying refined petroleum products to Lagos and most parts of the South-west. A number of security officers were killed in the process.
With respect to other infrastructure, the attack on the Germans who were working for Julius Berger Construction Company on the East West road around Emouha in July 2008, is probably the striking example. All these actions of sabotage are designed to deal a blow to the heart of the nation’s economy.
Bunkering is a term used incorrectly in Nigeria, to connote the stealing of crude oil from oil field production wellheads, or from the many government and private jetties in the littoral states of the country. From such points, stolen oil is loaded into barges and boats and carried to larger ocean faring marine vessels in the labyrinthine creeks of the Niger Delta or transported into the hinterland and sold off with no revenue accruing to government. Sustained by the violence and insecurity in the region, this illicit business, which, allegedly is perpetrated by highly placed individuals in the country, is so pervasive in the region, that it is thought to be responsible for the loss of about 600,000 barrels of crude daily. In July 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua described bunkering as “blood oil” as he considered it a serious act of economic sabotage to the Nigerian state. Iit I uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuntBunkering
From time to time ships that berth in Nigerian waters to carry out legitimate business are attacked by gunmen and persons therein taken hostage as well as their cargos seized. On 3 May, 2007, gunmen attacked and seized foreign workers from an offshore vessel in Okono, Rivers State.
By all accounts, the youths in Niger Delta are bearing the brunt of the insecurity and continuing violence in region. Not only are they the ones that most commonly perpetrate the violence, the consequences of the unrest are also most noticeable on them. The net effect is that the future of the youths in the Niger Delta is being systematically destroyed. It is horrendous to speculate on what this portends for the region and the country at a large.
Although accurate figures are hard to come by, unemployment in the Niger Delta is presumed to be high and more than that of the national average. Dwindling job opportunities occasioned by movement of Companies out of the Region with alleged reluctance of the International Oil Companies, who do business in the region to engage the services of the indigenes of the state. Speaking at the 75th sitting of the Rivers State House of Assembly, early this year, the Speaker, Mr. Tonye Harry, lamented that 90 per cent of employable youths in the state are jobless because they have been denied employment opportunities by companies operating in the State. But the Commissioner of Employment and Empowerment Generation, attributed the poor employment situation to the challenges posed by militancy activities which is forcing companies to relocate to safer parts of the country. Job losses also increase as Companies lay off workers due to forced reduction in operational capacity, consequent upon militancy. In 2008, SPDC cut 1,300 jobs for this reason.
The saturation of the Niger Delta with weapons of warfare comes from two sources – partly from the weapons acquired by militants from the proceeds of illegal bunkering and ransom from victims of kidnapping and partly from those brought into the region by law enforcement agents like the Police and JTF, to check the activities of the militants. The Niger Delta is therefore said to be containing the heaviest concentration of weapons in the country – a situation which makes it similar to that of a war theater. The sad thing is that most of these weapons are in the hands of youths who should be utilizing their times in more profitable ways.
Everywhere, hard drugs and alcohol are often used by persons engaged in warfare to dispel fear and encourage boldness. In a prospective epidemiological survey which was carried out in 2000 at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital to find out the health effects of long standing communal conflict in relation to the Niger Delta problem, among persons of a community in Rivers State, cases of drug related disorders were twice as common in adolescents (mean age 15.5years) as compared to controls. Furthermore, discussions with victims of kidnapping in the region who had been released, including the author of this paper, confirms that militant boys who effect kidnapping (average age, hardly 20 years), do so under the influence of hard drugs and alcohol.
Nigeria is high on the list of countries whose young girls fuel the prostitution industry in Europe. In 2004, it was assessed that 60% of foreign prostitutes in Italy, were from Nigeria. Non-Governmental Organisation who are involved in the business of negotiating the return of such girls to Nigeria, confirm that the bulk of them come from states in the Niger Delta and that such girls gave as one of their reasons for eloping from the country, the insecure environment that was imposed by militancy activities. Furthermore, it is known that militants force some girls to “live” with them in order to service their sex desires.
Direct interaction with some of the militants (by the author and some other kidnap victims), confirm that many of them are primary and secondary school drop outs who have lost all appetite to return to school. Furthermore, the state of insecurity in the region has resulted in the continuing closure of some primary and secondary schools especially those that are situated in the creeks of the riverine parts of the region.
- Destruction of family values
Youths involved in militancy have lost parental control and proper upbringing by their parents when family values of respect for elders, honesty and the virtues of hard work are thought. In many instances, the parents of the youths that involved in militancy activities have no knowledge of their children’s whereabouts.
It is reckoned that there are currently over 60 camps dotted over the Niger Delta region, away from public scrutiny, into which young boys are recruited and trained in the art of kidnapping, bank robbery, bunkering and armed robbery. Such youths are said to have voluntarily withdrawn from society and commit themselves subsequently to a life in the bush, living in camps.
Reactive guilt is a medical condition in which one who had committed heinous crimes (kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, murder, bank robbery) is hunted by his actions in later life. At its 2008 Annual Scientific Meeting which was held at the University of Port Harcourt on Wednesday 26 November, 2008, the Society of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, deliberated on the issue of “reactive guilt” as it concerns militant youths in the Niger Delta. Members of the Association were of the view that the condition would pose major psychiatric problems in the Niger Delta in the future.
It is the sum of these graphic details of the consequences of the Niger Delta situation that affects the youths of the region that to my mind constitutes the greatest tragedy of the Niger Delta problem. The consequences affect the youths of the region in varying degrees, being worse on the youths in the riverine sections of the region, who, it would appear, embraced militancy in greater numbers. If left uncorrected, these deleterious consequences would outlive the current problems that have arisen from crude oil, which according to the Senate President, Senator David Mark, “are temporary and would soon pass away”.
No part of the environment of the Niger Delta is spared the harmful effects of crude oil exploitation and exploration. Drilling for the substance takes place on land (on shore) and at sea (off shore); transportation of the crude, does as well. Additionally, associated gas that comes up during exploration is flared into the atmosphere. Although these ill effects were not brought about by militancy, the continuing insecurity in the area, it has been argued, precludes the remediation actions which are needed to restore the place to some form of normalcy. Individual comments on the items that are bulleted under this subsection, will therefore, not be included as part of today’s presentation.
- Gas flare
- Air pollution
- Acid rain
- Ecological problems
It is the criminality that has infested the genuine agitation of neglect and insensitivity by the Niger Delta people against the actions of the major stake holders in the oil industry in Nigeria, which has done more harm than any other to tarnish the good course of the agitation. Unfortunately, some of the dreadful actions were, and are still carried out on individuals who had done much to promote the Niger Delta course.
Kidnapping, the forceful abduction of an individual to an indefinite destination, usually for ransom, was probably unknown in Nigeria, prior to the Niger Delta tragedy. It is a savage, barbaric and extremely frightening act which is condemned even in the Holy Scriptures (Exodus chapter 21, verse 16. “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death”. Also Deuteronomy 24, 7). The first recorded cases in the country, all in the early 2000, involved the kidnapping of foreign staff of International Oil Companies who were working on oil platforms and supply boats, deep in the creeks of the Niger Delta. It is alleged that the governments and oil companies, paid out huge sums of money as ransom, to secure the release of the kidnapped individuals, a number of who were also killed in the process. As the supply of foreigners dried out, due to their refusal to work in such places anymore, the kidnappers turned their attention to Nigerians who worked for such companies. When such Nigerians were also no longer coming to the creeks, the kidnappers extended their actions to prominent Niger Delta individuals and from that class to virtually anyone, living anywhere – children as young as 3 years were abducted on their way to school and the elderly as old as 80, from their homes. In its current stage, kidnapping has spread beyond the confines of the Niger Delta and is carried out in almost all parts of the country with incredible audacity. Thus, Kidnapping, which arose from the Niger Delta debacle, has become one of the greatest crimes that is threatening the existence of the Nigerian nation. While there is no accurate record of the number of persons that have suffered this fate, or those that have died through it, the Honourable Minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Yakubu Lame was quoted in the Daily Trust Newspaper of Wednesday, July 22, 2009, as saying that “Kidnappers have grabbed up to 512 people across the country this year alone – an increase of almost half of what was recorded for the whole of last year”. The Minister further revealed that 30 of those kidnapped since January died in the hands of their captors even as he blamed the politicians who used the militants for political purposes.
With time, militants and the criminals that have infiltrated their ranks have grown bolder and carried out indiscriminate attacks on innocent citizens at will. For instance, on May 16, 2007, gunmen attacked the country home of the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in Ogbia, Bayelsa State while on December on December 31, 2007, gunmen attacked Port Harcourt by invading two police stations at Trans Amadi and Borokiri.
There is no other action that has brought such disgrace, public condemnation, contempt and curse to the Niger Delta course than Kidnapping has done. The fact that is carried out even on Niger Delta indigenes who have supported and are continuing to support the Niger Delta course in diverse ways, makes it all the more senseless, objectionable and despicable . However, the point must be made that the rate of kidnapping, bank robberies, indiscriminate shootings and other forms of criminality within the region have reduced, and especially so in the Rivers State, where the Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had adopted a policy of zero tolerance to criminality.
Health care delivery and other social amenities always suffer in the presence of unrest and instability. While it is difficult to know the number of persons who have died as a direct result of militancy, it is also argued that the unrest prevents proper health care to be instituted leading to the propagation of disease and the occurrence of preventable deaths. .
The point must be made once again that the bulk of those who are losing their lives as a result of the militancy activities in the Niger Delta are youths. In the many encounters between them and the various law enforcement groups, some of them get killed while others sustain various injuries. Also, because of the unrest, particularly in the depths of the creeks in the region, it is difficult to set up proper medical care. This again results in avoidable deaths. In such situations, pregnant women and children are the most vulnerable.
- Chronic stress syndrome/psychiatric disorders.
Chronic Stress Syndrome involving schizophrenia and other organic psychiatric disorders are found to be twice more common the Niger Delta than in controls on account of tremendous stress that is associated with living in the region.
There a number of other health factors which have been noticed to have a higher preponderance in inhabitants of the Niger Delta but which strictly speaking cannot be said to have been the outcome of militant activities in the region. Their occurrence is more likely due to the neglect that the region has suffered which has resulted in the generally poor health of the inhabitants of the region. They include varying degrees of loss of hearing and also loss of sight, Cancers, especially cancer of the skin, cleft Palate as well as Cleft Lip. There is also the issue of insomnia among Niger Deltans who have to contend with daily gas flares as well as an HIV infection rate which is higher than that of the national average.
A state of constant fear and apprehension is common in many persons living today in the Niger Delta because of the high level of violence and insecurity in the region. Many voluntarily restrict their movements to just a few places that they visit and they do so, as much as possible, only during the day. Furthermore, most social activities like parties and marriage ceremonies are concluded in day light and fear and apprehension have taken a heavy toll on night clubs, even though this is now improving remarkably especially in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Additionally, some Influential and important persons who live in the region often go about with armed security guards; a number have relocated their families to other parts of the country which they consider safer, some, to places outside the country.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians, especially those who are not from the Niger Delta states, let alone foreigners, regards the Niger Delta as a no go area, citing the high rate of kidnapping as their reason – an unfortunate situation which has increased the cost of doing business in the region.
The deluge of favourable press comments and support from foreign nationals which the Niger Delta course received before criminality crept in, has waned considerably as many are unable to reconcile the criminal actions like kidnapping for ransom and the good course which they had perceived the Niger Delta one to be.
Sadly again, the criminality that has been visited on a number of foreign nationals while working in the Niger Delta, has drawn reciprocal anger and indignation against Nigerians by a number countries, giving rise to a situation where Nigerians receive all manner of unfriendly and shabby treatments when they travel abroad to some countries. Unfortunately, the recipients of such unfriendly actions are usually not the militants who brought about the maltreatment to which the foreigners are reacting to.
- Departure of International Oil Companies
- To places outside the Niger Delta
By a Federal Government directive, many of the International Oil Companies had relocated their headquarters to Niger Delta which constituted the principal area of their operations by the early 1990s. In doing so, they joined a number of other companies which were already well established in the area. However, problems of erratic electricity supply forced a number to relocate to other countries where electricity supply was better. But in early 2000 when militancy activities started taking root, many of the companies moved their operational headquarters first to Lagos, from where a number went to Abuja and from there again some have moved to Ghana or Angola. This movement of companies away from the Niger Delta is one important action that has fuelled the unemployment situation of the region.
EFFORTS AT RESOLUTION OF CRISIS
The brief of my presentation was to discuss the state of the current state of insecurity in the Niger Delta of Nigeria and the various deleterious effects that have arisen consequentially. In a way, this has been done to some level of satisfaction. But it will be incomplete to close without some comments, however brief, on the efforts that have been made to solve the problem of development in the region, the absence of which, arguably, contributed to the insecurity in the region.
It will be incorrect to say that the Federal Government, at which feet most of the blame for the neglect is heaped, has not done anything to develop the Niger Delta region. It has. But unfortunately such as actions are often fitful, flimsy and uncoordinated, resulting in two little, too late. Furthermore, in many instances, government had lacked the sincerity that is needed to enable it see its decisions carried through to a point of fruition. Some of the organs the Federal Government had set up to address the situation include:
- The 1960 Niger Delta Development Board
- The 1970 River Basin Development Authority
- The 1993 Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission
- The 2000 Niger Delta Development Commission
- The 2008 formation of the Niger Delta Ministry
- The tinkering of the derivation and ecological components of fiscal allocation.
The Niger Delta Ministry is a recent creation as part of President Yar’ Adua’s 7 Point Development Agenda for the entire country. It must be given some time to find its feet.
But all from the Niger Delta must look beyond the issue of what we receive from the federal government and demand greater accountability and responsible governance from our state and local governments. Indeed if the funds that had come into the region had been used judiciously, the region may not have found itself in the misery in which it is currently immersed. Happily, it would appear that this is the message that the present set of Governors of the region have imbibed. In executing their various plans, it is my plea that education be given the pride of place as the only vehicle that can salvage what will be left of a lost generation.
Let me then end this address by returning to the issue of the youths, the greatest asset of a nation, and their locus in the equation of the Niger Delta. From my presentation today, it is clear that they are bearing the burden of the crisis, even though, paradoxically, they, more than any other, keep alive the violence and state of insecurity in the region. Their future is being systematically ruined and no nation can allow its youths to go down the drain in this manner. Education remains the surest way of getting them back to a path of rectitude and to enable this nation to avoid the disaster which doing otherwise would entail.
Nigeria’s lack of total commitment to provide those conditions that would lead to equity and social justice and so reduce the level of violence and instability in the Niger Delta region has been most remarkable, qualifying the country to be considered as a failed state by some assessors. The time is now or never, for firm and decisive actions to be taken to put this nagging problem permanently behind everybody.
My last word: thanks.
- 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
- VIOLENCE IN THE NIGER DELTA: HEALTH AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS FOR NIGERIA AND NIGERIANS. Guest Lecture Delivered at the 2008 ANNUAL CONFE OF THE ASSOCIATION OF PSYCHIATRISTS IN NIGERIA (APN) By NIMI D. BRIGGS.
- 2000. The Act establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission.
- 2009 The Niger Delta Question by Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi
- 2002 Ogomudia Report .Report of the special security committee on oil producing areas
- 2008 Ledum Mitee. Report of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta
- The News vol 33. No. 04. 03August 2009
- 2009, Nimi Briggs. Women’s Health: A Nation’s Wealth. Valedictory Lecture University of Port |Harcourt. February 22, 2009
Insecurity in the Niger Delta of Nigeria and Its Outcome, A Paper presented at a forum organized by the Association of Rivers State Communities UK & EIRE (ARCUK) in London by Professor Nimi Briggs