The Niger Delta region of Nigeria as the economic life wire of the Country has not known peace since the birth of Nigeria. The scramble for development due to the years of gross neglect and criminal balkanisation of the oil-rich region has resulted into socio-economic crisis between the warring and restive youths of the region and the Federal government of Nigeria.
At the point of independent, prominent Niger Delta leaders such as Pa Harold Dapper Biriye of blessed memory agitated that the independent of Nigeria without the Niger Delta region being given any special status means that the minority ethnic groups will have no future in the Country. The colonial government considered his position and thus, set up the historic Henry Willink Commission of Inquiry in 1958 to look into the grouse of the Niger Delta people.
The Committee submitted its report with a recommendation amongst others to declare Niger Delta “A Special Area” for development. The Government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa on when Nigeria had gotten independence, set up the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in compliance with the recommendations of the Willink Commission in the 60s.
While the then Head of the Government, Alhaji Tafawa Belewa sourcing for how to fund the newly established Board, the military boys overthrew the Government and killed the then Niger Delta Messiah, according to Major Boro in the process.
This made the seemingly frustrated Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro to declare Niger Delta a Republic from the oppressive Nigeria in February, 1966. Though his revolution was crushed within 12 days by the federal forces, his armed campaign gave birthday to Rivers State in 1967.
Even with the creation of Bendel and Rivers States which gave some level of political autonomies to the core and geographic Niger Delta region, the area was still largely underdeveloped. This made the youths of the region to become increasingly agitated on seeing the people living in squalor and abject poverty in the midst of the economic wealth that is feeding the Country.
In the early 90s, a nonviolence campaign was launched by Ogoni people led by an Environmentalist late Kenule Saro-Wiwa. He externalised the agitation for economic autonomy for the Niger Delta region through the platform of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Himself and nine other Ogoni comrades were gruesomely executed by Gen. Sani Abacha (late) through some trump up charges of murder.
On the 21st of March, 1993, another deadlier group sprung up, called: Movement for the Survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND). MOSEIND drew its inspiration from the heroic exploits of MOSOP and its martyred leader, Ken. Saro-Wiwa. Some leading members of MOSIEND were T. K. Ogoriba, Patric Aya-ebi Dimaro, Uzutu Nabodi, Marshal Kunoun, D. D. Kalasuo, Oyinfie Jonjon, Kime Engozu,
Others are: Patrick A. Ziakede, Welman Warri, Ambah Binaebi, P. K. James, Canus Robinhood, Nelson Douglas, Asari-Dokubo, Malin Angha, James Samson, Ceylon Okpokpo, Owei Bosini, Captain Goodluck, Dan Daniel, P. C. Dikpein, Pedro Igom, Harrow Zuokumor, Bolous Indiamoawei, Sgt Weri Digifa among others. Their agitation compelled Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd) as the then military President to establish the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1993. However, politicians from the Niger Delta region killed the vision of OMPADEC by turning it into a looting spree.
While MOSIEND was engaging the Federal Government in violent confrontations, other groups came up such as: Environmental Rights Action (ERA) led by late Barr. Toronto Douglas, ND-NERO, Arogbo Freedom Fighters led by Hon. Kingsley KuKu, Febagha Ogbo of Okerenkoko led by Government Ekpemupolo, Meintubutus led by Lawrence Akpeti, Ebis Moni, Hendrick Okpukeme, Dibi Yinkore, Chikoko Movement led by T. K. Ogoriba amongst others.
All the above groups and others gathered at Kaiama town in Bayelsa State in December, 1998 and resolved to form a unified body through the declaration of Charter of Vision, christened the “Kaiama Declaration ” with demands to have control of all natural resources within Ijaw lands and same applied to other Niger Delta tribes. This gathering of the youths at Kaiama town gave birth to the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) in 1998.
This declaration was greeted with peaceful protest by all the participating groups. The Federal Government of Nigeria according to Human Right Watch declared state of emergency in the Niger Delta region. In consequence of the government’s declaration, warships were deployed to the region, while contingent of armed forces deployed to the Niger Delta to quell the peaceful agitations opened fire on the protesting youths at Kaiama, Yenagoa, Warri and Imbiama, etc.
Over two hundred youths lost their lives according to Human Rights Watch report on the Niger Delta crisis in 1999. The tension in the region and the international concerns about the plight of the beleaguered Niger Delta people whose youths were daily wasted in congealed blood by the marauding Nigerian armed forces forced former President Olusegun Obasanjo to establish the political Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which erroneously tagged all oil producing States as Niger Delta.
Miffed by the politicising of the development of the original Niger Delta region, other aggressive but well sophisticated groups came up at the aftermath of the establishment of NDDC. Prominent of such bodies are: Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), South South Liberation Movement, Coalition of Militants Action (COMA), Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), Martyrs Brigade, Niger Delta People Volunteers (NDPV), Klankes Konfraternity, Idwini Salvation Front, etc.
In a bid to douse the tension posed by these groups, OBJ set up a Security Committee on Oil Producing Areas led by Lt. Gen. Alexandra Ogomudia. The Committee presented a landmark Report to the Federal Government on the 19th of February, 2002. However, the Government consigned it to the dustbin. The followings were the recommendations of the Committee.
Increase of Revenue Allocation Formula to 50% to pacify the people and promote accelerated development;
Resolution of dichotomy between “on-shore” and “off-shore” urgently’
Construction of Lagos-Calabar Road to pass through Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River States;
Mass Coastal-Marine Transport System for Oil Producing Areas;
Prompt payment of compensation to local communities for Oil Spillage;
Transparency in utilization by State Governments of allocated funds;
Constant Dialogue between communities and Oil Companies with State and Local Government Area representatives as moderators;
Establishment of an integrated Oil Producing Areas Security and Safety System with a National Maritime Operating Centre linked to all Security Agencies nationwide;
Maintenance of all pipelines in accordance with international standards and statutory requirements to ensure integrity of the pipelines and prevent ruptures;
Control of environmental problems such as pollution, oil spills, gas flaring and effluent discharge;
Reduction in “militarization” of the Niger Delta;
Measures to ensure “effective representation at the Federal Level” of Oil Producing Areas;
Abrogation of such outmoded laws, such as: The Oil Pipelines Act, 1959; Oil Terminal Dues Act, 1965; Land Use Act, 1978; Associated Gas Re-injection Act, 1979; among others;
Correction of wrong naming of Oil Wells, fields and flow-stations which caused frequent conflict between Communities and Oil Companies;
Sovereign National Conference;
Resource Control; and
Making State Governments the focus for resolving all Community Crisis as each Governor is the Chief Security Officer of his State.
OBJ however rejected the above recommendations which later heighten the security situations in the region. The same with series of events gave birth to the most sophisticated militants’ group named: Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). MEND engaged the Nigerian military in a bloody oil war for four years with both sides recorded casualties in no smaller measures. Late President Yar’Adua in his magnanimity granted the militants a presidential amnesty which ultimately put an end to all armed agitations in the region.
Through MEND’s struggle, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Presidential Amnesty Programme were established with Niger Delta people appointed at all times to man the offices. The results we get instead of developing the region are massive looting of the treasuries.
The MNDA since its creation in 2008 has not completed any single projects in the region despite the billions of naira budgeted to it. NDDC has mounds of abandoned projects littered in the entire Niger Delta region, while the Amnesty Programme has lost focus of its Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation programmes.
These bodies were established with the blood of thousands of youths who laid down their lives for the economic-cum political freedom of the region. Over five hundred Ijaw communities were burnt down by the invasions of the Nigerian military. So many Niger Delta people are still living with the sorry tale of the military bombardments during the agitations, with many lost their loved ones to the Struggle.
The benefits we get from political opportunists who have been appointed into these offices from inception are pillaging of our common patrimony, while the region still lives in gross underdevelopments. What a self-inflicted pain?
Cleric E. Alaowei Writes from Eseimogbene Community