A New Dawn in Niger Delta?
(By Peluola Adewale)
With the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as the Vice President of Nigeria, it was not out of place for some people to have expected improvement in the Niger Delta crisis. This hope was strengthened with the release of Asari Dokubo, the leader of the Niger Delta People Volunteer Force, whose incarceration by Obasanjo government was acclaimed as one of the cardinal reasons for the violent activities of militants. To scale up the hope, the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) announced a one-month truce with the government. To crown it all, President Umar Musa Yar’Adua has pledged to call a “stakeholders” conference with a view to addressing the Niger Delta crisis once and for all.
So far however, the post Obasanjo dispensation has only brought false hope. Worse, the crisis has assumed a frightening dimension. Toddlers are now the targets of the militants. For instance, since June, three kids have been kidnapped and released after huge ransoms paid, though nobody has owned up to the fact of ransom as the bail bond. The MEND and NDPVF have joined the groundswell of local and international condemnation of kidnapping of children, saying it is antithetical to their principles, and threatening fire and brimstone to deal ruthlessly with the culprits. These mainstream militant groups must be living in a fool’s paradise if they think they alone dictate the trend of violence and militant activities in the region. The Niger Delta situation has grown beyond individuals; it has become juggernaut even for the Nigerian state and capitalism that created it.
The living condition in Niger Delta has kept degrading. Oil spills and gas flares destroy farmlands and water and thus render fishing and farming, the tradition occupation of the local people, useless. Worse, no alternative means were provided to engage the people. Nigerian State has realized about $400bn from crude oil since the independence. An estimate put this at the equivalent of what was spent to rebuild the Western Europe through the Marshall Plan after its colossal devastation by the Second World War. But in Nigeria case, neo-liberal capitalism and corruption have meant that there is nothing to show for this colossal wealth in terms of infrastructure and living condition of vast majority of its population. Paradoxically, the Niger Delta is the worst hit. It is rated among the least developed coastal areas in the world. Bayelsa State, where the crude oil was first discovered at commercial quantity, is not connected to the national electricity grid. Side by side with extreme poverty lie stunning opulence of the multinationals and the Nigerian fat cats belonging to the one per cent thieving ruling elite, as the World Bank has revealed, who alone accumulate the 80% of the gas and oil income.
In a nutshell, the neglect of the Niger Delta by government, its plunder by multinationals and the consequent extreme poverty have thrown up able-bodied but unemployed young people who are ready to take up arm as a means of livelihood. Under this situation hostage taking has turned out a lucrative business. Freeing hostage itself is a goldmine. Only the militants are on the spot, the masquerades acting as middlemen in the hostage business have not been unmasked. It is powerful syndicate fishing in the troubled water.
All the celebrated efforts of the government to address the crisis in the region are mere public relations stunts. Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) activities are jobs or contracts for the boys and crumbs for the lucky communities. While tens of millions of naira is spent to propagate falsehood on NDDC impact, living condition and infrastructures have been very marginal.
The Vice Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, is seen more as tokenist ruse than attempt at taking the region to the very heart of the governance. He was the immediate past governor of Bayelsa who, like all his colleagues in the region, can hardly point to where he spent the monthly allocation, which includes special derivation on the account of oil, in terms of infrastructural development, provision of social services and improved living standard of the people. Yet, the annual budgets of the states in the region are larger than the budgets of some countries in West Africa.
Resolving the crisis of the Niger Delta would require sacrificing the huge profits of the multinationals and greed of the Nigerian ruling elite. But this is not possible in a neo-colonial capitalist country like Nigeria, which is held hostage by imperialism.
Therefore, if the basic needs of life such as food, shelter, decent jobs, education, health care, electricity, water, etc. are to be guaranteed to the working masses and youths, not only of the Niger Delta but also of the entire country, the whole capitalist arrangement must be done away with. The task of overthrowing capitalism and reorganizing society and bringing the resources of society, e.g. oil, under a public democratic management and control, is the challenge before the working masses themselves.
As much as we support the struggle of the Niger Deltans, including their democratic right to secede from Nigeria, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) completely frowns at hostage taking, kidnapping and all other individual terrorist activities. This is because, any act of individual terrorism creates basis for government to spend more resources on arms and ammunition to unleash state terror on the working people under the pretext of fighting the militants. Besides, it erroneously presents the militants as liberators among the masses and thus stunts the development of working class struggle.
However, we in the DSM are not pacifists. We, in fact, even support the right of the masses and youth to defend themselves with arms where and when necessary against unjust attacks by the capitalist state and its neo-fascist gangs of secret cults etc. However, the best of armed struggle is the one that constitutes a part of the pan Nigerian mass movement of workers, poor masses and youths against the iniquitous capitalism and imperialism the country.