For the first time in many years, the Nigerian Federal Government has yielded to known truths and formally blamed the Niger Delta crisis on the palpable negligence, traditionally demonstrated by multi- national oil prospecting and producing firms in the country.
Speaking through top public officials like the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Ufot Ekaette, the Minister of State, Godsday Orubebe and Permanent Secretary, Y.A. Abdullahi, government finally submitted that negligence on the part of oil companies operating in the area led to severe environmental problems like oil spillage, gas flaring, water and air pollution, which in turn resulted in the now militarised youth restiveness.
The Federal Government’s arrow heads on the Niger Delta question, who were speaking at a consultative meeting on the region’s environment related challenges, in Lagos, last Monday, directly accused oil firms of falling short of their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CRS) to their host communities, particularly, in the area of protecting the people from the hazards posed to them by the companies’ crude exploration activities.
The Theme of the roundtable talks, ‘Moving the Niger Delta Environmental Agenda Forward’, apt as it was, arguably brought out of government, some salient truths about the crisis. More importantly, the forum disclosed federal government’s intention to move beyond mere talk feasts and tackle various issues head on.
Ironically, that was the basis for the environment-based protestations and Civil Society advocacies for which the environmental campaigner, Ken-Saro Wiwa paid the supreme price. But such state sponsored executions rather than douse the legitimate yearnings of the affected people for proper federal government intervention, merely ended up militarising what indeed was an intellectual and non-violent civil protest.
This is why we consider it most regrettable, that what the federal government neglected years ago, in apparent anxiety to protect oil bearing firms, with interest, more in the earnings from crude than the pent-up anger of the peoples of the Niger Delta, has risen to even more dangerous heights.
Regrettably, the loud silence of successive federal governments over complaints of environmental hazards by the intellectual class, expectedly led to the hijack of the struggle by common criminals and cult kingpins, whose violent activities apparently tended to bring the government to its knees.
We say so because, all the kidnappings, threats to oil companies, militants/Joint Task Force’ armed-confrontation; countless innocent deaths; fall in crude oil production levels and more importantly, the escalation of violence in the area would have been avoided, if the federal government had listened to the intellectual protestations of the past.
Instead, successive governments partnered with the oil firms in an unholy alliance to intimidate and forcefully quell genuine protests against environmental hazards and questionable land acquisitions, on terms titled in favour of multi-national buyers with legal protection by the obnoxious Land Use Act.
Belated as this new federal government confession may seem, it non-the-less offers a fresh opportunity for all Nigerians of goodwill to right all wrongs, arising from the years of neglect. Such remedies should include adequate funding for the area, compel oil-firms to meet their responsibilities to the people and agree on concrete and mutually viable terms that would make oil bearing communities ample partners with oil firms.
More importantly, the Federal Government should, as mater of urgency and National Security, abrogate the Land Use Act and implement, without further delay, reports of the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta.
It is only when these are addressed holistically that the long awaited amnesty for Niger Delta Militants, recently pronounced by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, as a way of halting the protracted armed confrontation and ensure hitch-free oil activities, can make a meaning and guarantee lasting peace.
The familiar half-hearted measures of the past, interventionist at best will not do, what will is a transparent commitment to the yearnings of the peoples of the Niger Delta.