Nigeria clocks 58 years today as she gained her independence from the British colonialists on October1,1960. Fifty-eight years down the road, how has the nation fared? Is there anything to celebrate? Our correspondent went to town to get the views of a cross section of Nigerians and their responses are as amazing as they are interesting. Exerpts.
Hon Awaji –Inombek Abiante, House of Representatives member for Andoni Opobo/Nkoro
What are we celebrating? Are we celebrating constant power or free education? Our contemporaries have gone ahead of us. If you look at countries that started like us, many of them have left us behind. At 58, Nigeria is now the world capital of poverty. If really we are going to celebrate development, which one have we seen? Is it for the attainment in respecting the rule of law?
For us, if we cannot have an honest leadership recruitment process, then, we cannot be celebrating anything. In the last elections, we had reports of vote-buying. Is that progress?
To my mind, the independence anniversary calls for reappraisal and sober reflection, and rededication for better foundation.
Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe (Ijaw Leader)
Well, there are lot of things to celebrate. Over the years, there have been several attempts to disintegrate the country, but it has failed, secondly, seemingly, we are alive, thirdly, we are moving towards democracy, even though what we have now is still military democracy. The America we are seeing today is over 200 years and Nigeria is just 58. So despite the crisis, we are still alive.
We are moving from a poorer nation to an average one, looking at our population and we are able to feed our people.
“However, there is need for improvement. Our democracy and political system is not yet mature. We should see politics as service, we must not see poltics as self gain, and for self enrichment. We should ask ourselves what we can do for our nation. We should rather move our economy from public to private.
We should also think of restructuring the country, so that every section can move to contribute to nation building. Restructuring is the way forward in this country. Our security architecture also needs to be changed. It should be spread in such a manner that every part of the country will have a say in the security apparatus of the country. If we can do all these, then our country will change for the better.
For me, this year’s independence anniversary celebrations should be reflective. We have to look back and see how far we have come as a nation. There is a saying that ‘when you look at your neighbour, you will know what God is planning for you.
So, the question is: who are we looking at? You cannot really achieve much if you don’t have a goal. When it comes to the comity of nations, other nations that are developed and are where we aspire to go should be our model. Today, people from Dubai and the United Arab Emintes are no longer going to America. When you get there today, you will discover that at a time in their history, they were looking at America and today, they were able to achieve something close to America. Today Americans are visiting United Arab Emirates. Even we Nigerians leave our country to go visit Dubai. Unfortunately, these are countries that we were better than in the 60s and 70s, but today, they have gone past us. In the 50s and 60s, people were riding on camels there, but today it’s no longer so because they had a vision and pursued it.
The problem we are facing today is because we don’t pay attention to history. Some of the mistakes we made before, today, our politicians and leaders are still making the same mistakes. Things that are happening today had happened before. We have to learn from history. So for me, we have to do a reflective celebration this year.
“Nigeria at 58, to me we have done well having sustained democracy for 19 years. It’s a pointer that the country is making headway. But more needs to be done among political elites who by their quest to grab power have thrown the country into a chaotic situation.
“The present administration headed by President Buhari has actually not performed creditably. The reasons are that the administration has actually not reached out to the people, and there is practically non-human capital development in the country. That is the more reason why there is tension among the citizenry.
“In the first place, Nigeria is an independent nation, and that is very key, but the persons who celebrate must have a good reason to do so. You know celebration is associated with two things, joy as against kill – joy. Now if you look at the masses, the question I would like to ask is “are the masses happy? Even if you go to the North, some Northerners are not happy. So many of their people have been killed and anybody in mourning cannot be happy.
“Now let’s come to the area, where civil servants have been agitating for salary increase, that too have not materialized. And as you the workforce in Nigeria has greater percentage of the population. These workers also have children in higher institutions and primary schools. If you go to some families, to eat three square meals has become a problem. So many children, those families who have managed to train their children out of school, their children don’t still have jobs and they keep on feeding them – for such families, there is nothing to celebrate.
“For the civil servant whose dream of acquiring new minimum wage, it has not materialised, so for civil servants I don’t think there is anything to celebrate.
“Now if you look at the political atmosphere, the only people who don’t have retirement age are politician. If my grandfather was alive today, as a politicians he would have gone to pick intent form to contest election even at the age of 74. These are the things we are talking about while referring to the youths as leaders of tomorrow. Forgetting that for anyone to be a leader of tomorrow, he or she must undergo tutelage or training, and given a sense of belonging. But you discover that it is not the case in Nigeria. All we see around are old people, who don’t want to leave the political stage, instead they are prepared to adjust their age, in order to perpetuate themselves.
Comrade Opi Erekosima, Rivers State Chapter Chairperson of Radio, Television Theatre Workers Union
I want to join my voice with many other well-meaning Nigerians to congratulate the country as we clock another 58 years. Whether we like it or not, there is every need for us to celebrate. Despite the challenges before us which I see as obstacle, we can surmount, these are things that can make us stronger. I want to congratulate Nigeria for clocking 58 years at least for the first of life. You will really appreciate life when you visit the hospitals and the mortuary. And every Saturday, you hear obituary announcement, at least, that’s when you will appreciate life.
So I have every reason to say congratulations, first to myself and to Nigerians, then to the nation and then to my state. Yes, we are approaching another triumphant entry, I am talking about the 2019 elections and tempers are rising. Nigeria right now looks like a pot that’s boiling and someone needs to open the pot to see what the content is. So whatever the content is, I want to appeal to everybody to be calm. We need to be patient and hardworking.
Godwin Oruigoni, Civil Servant
As far as there is life, there is something to celebrate, even as an individual, you will discover that as you grow old, you see people celebrate life even when they don’t have anything to show with the belief that their tomorrow’s maybe better than today. That’s the same picture we are putting Nigeria into.
Yes, there are a lot of pitfalls and people’s expectation of the country is not what it’s supposed to be and that is why a lot of people are not excited to celebrate. However, if we don’t celebrate, it will look as if we have lost hope as a nation.
So we are celebrating to keep faith that no matter the pitfalls stemming from bad leadership, poor economy and infrastructure, we are still hopeful.
“As a Christian “we are expected to believe that our tomorrow will be better. We are not looking at the indices but we are looking at our potentials. Before this government came on board, there was so much hope, but today we are disappointed.
So we believe that it’s much more than the indices we are seeing now. For me, I believe that at this point in time, there is more God can do to change Nigeria for the better.
Dr Isaac Mieiamuno-Jaja
My opinion will be based on the Scriptures. The Bible says in every situation, we should give thanks to God. At 58 years of our independence, the country may not have arrived to the level everyone may have aspired to be. So in all, every good thing that has happened, some people have lost and in every bad thing that has happened, some other people also gained. On the totality, Nigeria has not gotten to where it supposed to be, but that does not mean that we have not made progress in some areas.
If for nothing, at least Nigeria is at peace and that is enough for us to be happy and thank God.
“So in thanking God, there is nothing like low key and high key thanksgiving and I believe that we must thank God in all fullness, especially for the life that we have. There is every reason to thank God for our independence, the issue of low key and high key does not obtain.
Nigeria @ 58: The Journey So Far
Nigeria’s journey to independence came to fruition when on October 1, 1960 the British colonialists granted her request to be independent. Since then, the country’s development has been described by many from different perspectives all through the emergent Republics and actions of politicians.
On the whole, rather than see the country’s existence to date as development, many prefer to view it as mere “moving on”, because, as they are wont to put it, “there’s nothing tangible to show for it, only suffering”. To what extent this is true, is dependent on who says it. A cursory look at Nigeria’s political history puts a lot of what the country is going through under perspective.
At independence, or on attainment of the First Republic, the dominant political parties were Northern People’s Congress (NPC), led by Sir Ahmadu Bello, National Council of Nigerians and Camerouns (NCNC), under the leadership of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Action Group (AG) led by Obafemi Awolowo and Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), with Malam Aminu Kano as its figure-head.
These parties were in control of their regions and areas of dominance. For instance, the Ahmadu Bello-led NPC was in firm control of the North, save for areas controlled by Aminu Kano’s NEPU. It is the same way that Azikiwe’s NCNC held sway in the Eastern part of the country, while Awolowo’s AG was in charge of the Western Region.
Some of the parties did well for their regions in such areas as infrastructure, education, and commerce. It is important to note here, for instance, that the benefit of Awolowo’s free education policy for the people of the old Western Region is still being reaped till date. The reason is that the people of the region embraced the policy and sent their children abroad to be educated. The result is that currently in Nigeria, the South West Zone has the highest number of educated people.
Awolowo also used proceeds from the sale of cocoa, which his region had in abundance, to build the first television station in Africa and the famous Cocoa House in Ibadan.
One notable snag in the politics of the period was the inability of the political parties to embrace unity and avoid electoral violence. This led to the first military coup of January 15, 1966: a group of young officers led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogu toppled the government of Tafawa Balewa, who was Prime Minister, while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was President in the parliamentary government the country operated at independence. Following the coup, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi became the first military Head of State.
Ironsi’s rule was cut short as it lasted for only six months, following a counter-coup staged by mostly officers from the North who believed that the first coup was one sided in favour of the South-East.
A young Colonel Yakubu Gowon was then elevated to the rank of General and became the second military ruler of Nigeria. He remained in power until August 27, 1975 when he was overthrown by another group of officers led by General Murtala Mohammed.
General Mohammed’s reign was short-lived as he was assassinated in another bloody coup. But the coup was aborted and Murtala Mohammed’s second in command, General Olusegun Obasanjo took over the reins of leadership and continued with the transition programme initiated by his predecessor in 1976. The transition was to put in place a civilian government in 1979, and also move the nation’s capital to Abuja.
Obasanjo successfully implemented the return to civil rule in October, 1979, which led to the emergence of the Second Republic, with an initial five political parties being registered: National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), People’s Redemption Party (PRP), and later Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP).
The NPN emerged as the ruling party after the elections with Alhaji Shehu Shagari becoming the first Executive President to be elected under the Federal Republic. This period witnessed some level of stability following the alliance of the NPN and NPP in a government of national unity. Although this alliance packed up later, the NPN still won in the 1983 elections. But no sooner had NPN won than the military struck again, this time under the leadership of General Muhammadu Buhari. The coup brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983.
Buhari’s government was toppled in another coup led by Brigadier Sani Abacha, which brought in General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangia (popularly called IBB) in August 1985 as Head of State.
One major innovation Babangida brought in his tenure was to change from multi-party system to two-party system with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) setting the motion for the Third Republic.
The subsequent election that resulted from Babangida’s transition programme in 1993, though adjudged the “freest and fairest” elections Nigeria ever had, was annulled for reasons best known to the government then. The presumed winner of the elction, Chief Moshood Abiola, popularly called MKO Abiola, was not inaugurated as President.
Shortly after, the military set in motion another return to civil rule, following which the PDP won the 1999 elections to commence the present Fourth Republic, which set the record as the first time a civilian government handed over power to another civilian government.
So far, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who emerged the President of the Fourth Republic, had served two tenures of four years each and there had been Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, and currently, Buhari.
In analysing the country’s political growth since independence, political analysts are of the opinion that what all the political parties in power seem to lack is ideology.
Two scholars stand out in this instance: Dr. Emmanuel Onah and Dr. Ferdinand Ottoh, both of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos.
According to them, “the political parties have no ideologies. They do not have a guiding principle to run their affairs”.
Otto, for one, is of the belief that it is this lack of ideology by political parties that has played out in the recent massive defections from one party to another.
“If we have ideology-based parties, it will be difficult for politicians to leave their parties for another. Instead, members would remain in their parties to remedy any challenge or problem to make the party stronger.
“The defections are for selfish reasons, and what we are witnessing is not healthy for our democracy. Some politicians, unfortunately work to satisfy their selfish interests”, he said.
On his part, Onah said multi-party system is good, but having 90 parties to contest an election is outrageous.
According to him, “it makes the system uninteresting because the big parties will certainly swallow the small ones. I think it is better to have two or three strong parties that should have strong national base and ethnic or religious influence”, he said.
This level of selfishness has no doubt transcended to all facets of the country’s being, so much that every other consideration seems to supersede the show of patriotism to the nation, which is the essence of governance.
In looking at economic development, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, while stating the importance of budget in the economic life of a nation, was quoted by Observer in 2015 as seeing budget in the light of it being “the roadmap to our future. It outlines government revenue and expenditure for a given fiscal year”.
From the perspective of the layman, the budget is what guides a government in what money is available, what amount should be spent in what sector, and at the end of the total amount what is earmarked as expendi-ture? This means that care would be taken to plan and execute it. Anything less is likely to spell doom for a country. The question therefore is how has Nigeria fared in this wise?
An idea of the answer to this question can be imagined from the experience of 2017 in Nigeria: Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo signed the nation’s Appropriations Bill into Law on June 12 in 2017. This was well over five months into the 2017 financial year. What this means is that for over five months, the government was spending funds that were not appropriated.
Interestingly, this misnomer is not new to Nigerians, even as it runs contrary to the dynamics of modern development which weighs heavily on effective planning and management of resources in the attainment of development objectives. This no longer happens in developed climes.
In fact, in most developed countries, the time span from the start of the preparation of budget proposals by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to the enactment of the Appropriations Act before the beginning of the financial year takes at least 12 months and there are defined time limits for each of the milestones in the budget process. This is currently not the case in Nigeria. The result is that monies are often spent at will, and later “retired”.
What this means is that, unlike budgeting in the private sector, which relies on free-flow of information between consumers and producers, with price signals reflect consumer preferences, customer satisfaction, and supplier costs and producer performance, while competition eliminates poor performers and shifts resources to those entities that improve efficiency and elevate utility, in the public sector, governments generally use past funding levels to determine future resource allocation.
In doing so, they virtually do not consider reflecting on preferences, satisfaction, or performance of the previous budget. This has no doubt given room to avoidable profligacy, and encouraged corruption, which seem to be the only truly developing phenomena in the country.
To counter this trend, and hence be seen serious in developing its economy, Nigeria needs to, among other things, adopt Performance-Based Budgeting to checkmate unnecessary and unwarranted spending.
Religion in Nigeria’s political space has always been with the country right from its inception as a nation in 1960 when the British colonialists handed power to Muslims.
In their paper titled, “Religion in Nigerian Political Space: Implication for Sustainable National Development”, Ntamu, G. U. , Abia O. T. , Edinyang, S. D. , and Eneji, Chris-Valentine Ogar captured it thus:
”Given the philosophy of Islam as a complete way of life for Muslims, Islam has always been closely attached to politics in Nigeria, especially in the Muslim dominated north. As alluded above, the British government duly recognised this fact in their dealings with the northern Islamic societies and explored it to legitimise their colonial rule in the region.
“Oyegbile and Abdulrafiu, (2009) observed that after the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria and emergence of indigenous national politics, Islam has effectively represented a source of ethnic identity, group unity, political mobilisation, de-mobilisation, regime legitimisation and de-legitimisation in the country.
“As a result of this, the northern Hausa-Fulani therefore see themselves as the off-springs of the Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, representing the epitome of the Islamic holy Jihad and a product of an enviable Islamic socio-cultural history.
“Based on this, the popular Hausa-Fulani Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, asserted that Islam has a cultural and religious affinity with its members, thereby providing ‘many common cultural elements’ that united the people of the region who become adherents together (Human Rights Watch, 2005, Ihedirika, 2011 and Okune, 2011) thereby empowering them to be politically cohesive and formidable and using same for political mobilisation.
“It is however popularly held that the north were absolutely been held in contempt because of its unique historical, religious, cultural and political antecedents (Akaeze, 2009). Thus, Islam has since been conceived to be synonymous with the North in the political matrix of the entity called Nigeria”.
The result is that this has set the pace for religious politics in the country. The fact that political parties are still formed based on religious (geographical) divides, and efforts are still being made deliberately to balance positions within political parties along religious divide only confirms religious politics in Nigeria. Another way to note this is deciphering the origins of most top government functionaries.
Religious politics has in Nigeria’s 58 years proven to be a key factor of under-development as it encourages people being appointed to positions of trust just for the reason of them being of the same religion as the President, without recourse to their competence. It has also comes to play in political leanings in which incompetent persons are handed positions for which they have little understanding of.
The late playwright, Chinua Achebe summed it up in his book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, when he said the county’s problem “is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land, climate, water, air, or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership”.
Consequently, the state of Nigeria’s pitiable socio-economic development has been a direct consequence of the actions and inactions of the leadership class that has managed the affairs and wealth of the country since independence. The result is that at 58, Nigeria is still yet to find her fit as the acclaimed “Giant of Africa”.
The situation is such that the numerous achievements of Nigerians the world over are greatly dwarfed by the bigger picture of the country, even as countries still respect individuals who have genuinely excelled in their fields of endeavour.
As Nigerians mark 58 years of nationhood, therefore, one key factor that should never cease to bother their leaders is how the country can truly allow the Rule of Law to take its rightful place: How can Separation of Powers be made functional? And, when shall the people truly enjoy their resources?
These are the banes of Nigeria’s development.
Wike: An Agent Of National Cohesion
With the passage of time, the familiar refrain, “though tongues and tribes may differ, in brotherhood we stand”, may long have been forgotten by many Nigerian citizens.Yet, a few, into whose consciousness this has permeated and still rings a note, have continued to uphold our unity in diversity as the basis on which our collective independence was signed.
For such ones, issues of peace, brotherhood, unity and national cohesion come tops in their daily decisions. They are found in virtually every geo-political region of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Here in the South-South, when it comes to forging common alliance to promote unity and advocacy for cohesiveness, especially among a people already fragmented by religious, linguistic and cultural disparities, one name stands out.
His Excellency, the Executive Governor of our dear Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, has remained a personality driven by the goal of nationhood, in keeping with the dreams and aspirations of the founding fathers of our great nation.
Chief Wike’s passion and drive for national cohesion dated back to the year 2003 when he was elected into the national presidency of All Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON). This opportunity provided him the leverage to interact with 774 local government chairmen across the country. Their deliberations on issues affecting the politics and policies of the country, no doubt, may have constituted a springboard upon which the nationalist fervor in him was stimulated.
Amazingly, his appointment years later as a Minister of Education, precisely in 2011, took him deeper into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. This further elicited the nationalist potentials in the governor believed to have been incubated in his early years in local politics. His footprints in Nigeria’s political landscape are living testimonials.
Governor Wike’s ministerial portfolio did not only launch him into the national political theatre, it also signalled the dawn of his ministry as an agent of national cohesion. It is therefore, significant for providing a window through which the long-incubated nationalist tendency in Mr Governor was hatched.
As the country’s education helmsman, Chief Wike explored the role of education in fostering peaceful and harmonious coexistence as well as unity. He held many expectations for the education sector. Thus, constructively and holistically, he drew plans for implementation and helped midwife and breathed life to the sector.
His faith in the school as an instrument to raise an ideal labour force for the country’s manpower requirement, seasoned leadership for its bureaucracies as well as refined citizenry for an enlightened social order, made him to embark on a massive investment in teacher education.
Wike’s detribalised posture manifested in his execution of Almajiri Education Programme (AEP). Irrespective of whether a place is Islam –prone or not, Almajiri schools were established in all the geo-political zones of the country. This did not only serve as integrative mechanism, it created an atmosphere of homeliness for a folk which ordinarily was alienated by religious disparity.
The extent to which he used education for the purpose of national integration is a remarkable indication of his desire and willingness to foster ‘‘one Nigeria.’’ This is because he realised that the country was in a real crisis situation that could only be resolved through education.
Even as a state governor, Wike has continued to build bridges of friendship across different frontiers both within the country and beyond. His administration has played host to several national and international retreats and conferences. They include the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Rotary International , the African Bar Association (ABA) just to mention a few.
The Governor’s flare for national cohesiveness has earned him many encomiums which are absolutely devoid of flattery as is common with people in power and their psycophantic fans.
To further buttress his passion for national unity, Governor Wike delved into sports development which he describes as a string that binds all Nigerians together with no visible political party as a rallying force, having very crucial impact in our lives.”
The Governor believes that inspite of our political differences, there is always no differences among Nigerians when it comes to sports. For this reason, he said “whoever wants this country to be united will always support sports”
His choice of sports development as a unifying factor, did not only earn him a local recognition by the national and Rivers bodies of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN),he was also honoured by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) in Brussels, Belgium, where he presented a paper on “Peace and Progress through Sports in the Niger Delta”
The governor’s recognition was hinged on his consistency in raising the bar of sports matters as well as effectively using sports as a veritable vehicle to fast track communal growth along the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and engaging a booming but restive youth populace.
During his investiture as the national patron of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), by its National President, Alhaji Saidu Abubakar, he said “ I believe it does not matter which party you belong to, what matters is to promote the image of Nigeria and its unity.”
In his demonstration of the spirit of oneness (Espirit de Corp), Governor Wike extends his scepter to all irrespective of party affiliation, religious and ethnic differences. Leaders and renowned personalities in rival political parties have at different occasions been invited to inspect and commission projects executed by his administration.
It would be recalled that on June 27, 2017, Governor Wike paid a Sallah visit to the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III in faraway Sokoto State just to felicitate with him and his caliphate members on the Eid-el-fitr celebration. The reception accorded him during the visit was not only unprecedented but also instructive.
While in Sokoto, the governor was quite unequivocal on his stand on national unity.
September 18, 2017 witnessed a delegation of Northern Governor Forum led by the Governor of Bornu State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima to Chief Wike in Government House, Port Harcourt, to express their gratitude to him for what they described as an urgent step he took to nip in the bud, the crisis that erupted between members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) and some Nigerians from the North in Oyigbo Local Government Area of the State.
Again, the visiting governors commended Governor Wike for his strong commitment towards national unity. Their words, “Governor Wike we are mightily proud of you and to associate ourselves with you. Nigeria is greater than political differences. We belong first and foremost to one political family, and that is the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You believe in the Nigerian project, for that we remain eternally grateful’’.
Most importantly, Governor Wike’s state wide broadcast in the wake of the IPOB crisis in Oyigbo will forever be remembered for not only dousing tension in the air, but for also restoring peace in what would have possibly degenerated to an ethnic squabbles.
His words,’’ As a people, we shall continue to support the unity and peaceful co-existence of all ethnic nationalities and work towards actualising our collective aspiration for a just, inclusive and progressive nation’’, clearly demonstrates his zeal in promoting national unity and cohesion instead of encouraging unnecessary animosity in the polity.
In all, Governor Wike’s verbal expressions, body language and actions in his political life, summarise him as a rare breed, bridge builder, ambassador of peace, above all, an agent of national cohesion.
Sylvia ThankGod – Amadi
Nigeria At 58 : Niger Delta In The Eye Of The Storm
As Nigeria marks 58 years of nationhood today, 58 years she gained independence and emancipation from British colonial rule, keen observers of the political development of the country would agree that it is not yet uhuru for the people of the Niger Delta.
It would be recalled that the British Union Jack was lowered in Nigeria on October 1, 1960, and the country’s green-white-green flag was hoisted in its place, thus, heralding the nation’s political independence.
Independence for the country was, indeed, a defining moment, a new beginning and a new dawn for the country and her people. This was because it came with it high hopes and great expectations, especially as the indigenous people were for the first time vested with the full authority to run the affairs of the country, and take their destinies in their own hands.
The jubilant Nigerians, both at home in the Diaspora, foresaw then, a great future ahead of them, a future of a great country, consisting of great people, with great dreams, great aspirations and potentials, a common destiny, unfettered love and unity, inspite of their diversities in language and religion. They, therefore, clinked glasses and exchanged banters gleefully. But the celebration was short-lived.
Because it did not take quite long, before cleavages, conflicts that engendered mistrust and hate, started manifesting. Resentment, discontent and disillusionment became pervasive, and ostensibly dampened the initial enthusiasm of the people for self rule. An ominous dark cloud hung in the horizon. The first test was an avoidable Civil War which lasted for almost three years and claimed thousands of lives.
As if that was not enough, the ghost of disenchantment, accentuated by bad governance and corruption continued to hover in the air. The cries of injustice, marginalization and exploitation became deafening. Nigerians across various divides caught the bug. Widespread agitations, which have continued up till this day, 58 years after independence became trenchant. The fear of domination, among the minorities by the major ethnic nationalities like the Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, which informed the setting up of the Willink Commission of 1957, refused to abate.
It is within this context that one can conveniently situate the Niger Delta region, the Treasure Base of the country, the home of hydrocarbon, oil and gas deposits, Nigeria’s economic mainstay.
The core Niger Delta region comprises Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta and Edo States, which are located within the South-South geo-political zone of the country. However, Abia, Imo and Ondo States were later co-opted into it as oil producing states.
The Niger Delta question is as interesting as it is intriguing, going by the important place the region occupies in the country’s historical and economic calculus. The Niger Delta encompasses about 8 percent of Nigeria’s land mass and is the largest wetlands region in the African continent. In 1956, oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, a sleepy community in today’s Bayelsa State.
This singular incident apparently altered the political-cum economic equation of the country to the extent that issues concerning the Niger Delta have continued to occupy the front burner of national discourse for over four decades now. The discovery of oil equally re-shaped the course of events both in the region and the country at large. There is a widely held view that the basis of Nigeria’s unity today is oil. But the bigger question is: have the people of the Niger Delta benefitted maximally from this unity? Unfortunately, the general consensus is that the discovery of oil has rather been a curse than a blessing to the people of the Niger Delta.
Nigeria, after over four decades of oil production, had by the early 1980s become almost completely economically dependent on petroleum extraction which at the time generated 25 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This rose to 60 percent as at 2008.
Despite the vast wealth created by petroleum, the benefits have been slow in trickling down to the people, who since 1960s have been forced to abandon their traditional agricultural practices. While many skilled and well-paid Nigerians have been employed by oil companies within the region, the majority of Nigerians and most especially the people of the Niger Delta States have become poorer since the 1960s.
Besides, the issue of derivation has been contentious. Whereas the derivation formula for regions that were contributing resources to the Federation Account in the First Republic was 50 percent , oil producing States in the current dispensation are given a paltry 13 percent as derivation. Though this is an improvement from the initial zero percent, one percent and later 3 percent earmarked for them, it is still seen to be grossly inadequate going by their contributions to the national coffers.
In the 1950s, before the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta, the three largest ethnic nationalities in the country provided Nigeria’s major resources. The North dominated by the Hausa/Fulani produced groundnut, hides and skin while the West populated by the Yorubas was famous for cocoa production and the East controlled by the Igbos produced palm oil and kernel.
It is worthy of note that the Niger Delta region has streadily growing population estimated at more than 30 million people in 2005 and accounts for more than 23 percent of Nigeria’s total population. The population density is also among the highest in the world, with 265 people per square kilometre, and it is expanding at a rapid rate, particularly in the oil rich Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, among other large towns and cities within the Niger Delta enclave.
Major Isaac Adaka Boro who was born in Oloibiri in 1938 was one of the early people who began the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta. He challenged the exploitation and deprivation of the region, as the oil resources from the region were channeled to develop other regions of the country.
Boro declared the Niger Delta Republic on February 23, 1966 but was jailed for treason by the Federal Government under General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi.
Having a father who was constantly being transferred from one school to another as headmaster, Boro followed his education keenly and even entered the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he was studying Chemistry and later rose to become the Student Union President.
Being in the Eastern Region under which the Niger Delta was grouped, he was exposed first hand to what he viewed as exploitation of his people, where the oil money gotten from the Niger Delta was being enjoyed by the Federal Government and nothing was given to the Niger Delta people, who were already being subjected to various environmental hazards resulting from oil spillage.
In fact, he believed that the people of the region deserved a fairer share of proceeds of the oil wealth and therefore, formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, which attacked a police station in Yenagoa, raided the armoury and kidnapped some police officers.
Boro and his armed militia Ijaw brothers also blew up oil pipelines and gallantly battled the federal forces for 12 days but were finally subdued by the superior federal might. This made the Aguiyi-Ironsi regime to arrest him and his men and were tried for treason and condemned to death.
Though they were granted amnesty by the General Yakubu Gowon administration and were enlisted into the Nigerian Army, Boro died on May 16, 1968 under mysterious circumstances while fighting on the side of the Federal Government during the Civil War.
The modern day conflict in the Niger Delta first arose in the early 1990s over tensions between oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron and a number of minority ethnic groups in the region which felt that they were being exploited, particularly the Ogonis and the Ijaws.
Ethnic and political unrest in the Niger Delta has continued till this day though it has reduced to the barest minimum in recent times. There is no denying the fact that the people of the region are still aggrieved and agitated today. Competition for oil wealth had fuelled violence between ethnic groups, thereby causing the militarisation of nearly the entire region by ethnic militia groups, the military and the police, thus, leading to serious energy supply crisis, which culminated in the vandalisation of oil installations and facilities. This discouraged foreign investment in new power generation plants in the region.
In 2004, violence also hit the oil industry with piracy and kidnappings becoming the order of the day. This trend continued until the Federal Government under the watch of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua put in place the Presidential Amnesty Programme in 2009, which has been providing support and training for ex-militants.
When it comes to agitation for improved conditions for the people of the Niger Delta, the case of the Ogonis in Rivers State occupies a central place.
Petroleum was discovered in Ogoniland in 1957, one year after the discovery of Nigeria’s first commercial oil deposits. Incidentally, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corporation in particular had established their base in Ogoniland for exploration activities for over 20 years. Shell started drilling oil in Nigeria in 1956. The Ogoni people and other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta would agree that at that time, the government began forcing them to abandon their land for the oil companies which offered them negligible compensation for such lands.
The 1979 constitutional amendment which gave the Federal Government full ownership and rights to all Nigerian territory lent credence to the short-changing of the people. Moreover, the amendment also provided that eminent domain compensation for “seized land would be based on the value of the crops on the land at the time of its acquisition, not on the value of the land itself”.
This meant that the government had the authority to distribute the land to the oil companies as it deemed fit. This practice still applies today.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the dwindling of the benefits which the Federal Government had promised the Niger Delta people, with the Ogonis in particular, growing increasingly disenchanted, coupled with their rapidly deteriorating environmental, social and economic conditions. This led to the formation of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1992 with Ogoni playwright and author, Ken Saro-Wiwa as the pointman. MOSOP became the major organisation representing the Ogoni people in their struggle for ethnic and environmental rights.
As time went on, the conflict between the Ogonis and the oil companies rose to a level of greater intensity, resulting in MOSOP issuing an ultimatum to Shell, Chevron and NNPC, and demanded the payment of $10 million as accumulated royalties, damages and compensation.
This did not go down well with the Federal Government and so, it responded in a most rapacious manner. The murder of four prominent Ogoni sons in 1994 was apparently the excuse the government was waiting for. The Gen. Sani Abacha military junta hurriedly swung into action, arrested Ken Saro-Wiwa and several of his kinsmen, and before anyone could raise a voice, it went ahead and executed the environmentalist and eight other Ogoni sons.
In retaliation, the Ogonis, therefore, barred Shell from doing business in their territory.
The Ogoni debacle was closely followed by the Ijaw unrest. The all Ijaw Youths Conference of December, 1998 crystallized the Ijaws’s struggle for petroleum resource control with the formation of the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC) and the issuing of the Kaima Declaration, wherein the concerns about the loss of control of the Ijaws’ homeland and their lives to the oil companies were encapsulated. In it, they made a commitment to direct action and called on the oil companies to suspend their operations and withdraw from their territory.
Again, the Federal Government saw this as an affront and a threat to the country’s economic interest, and mobilised forces against the Niger Delta people. Two war ships and about 15,000 troops were quickly deployed to Bayelsa and Delta States.
And on the morning of December 30, 2000, youths carried out a procession through Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, dressed in black, singing and dancing. Soldiers opened fire on them with rifles, machine guns and tear gas, killing in the process at least three protesters and arresting 25 of them. The soldiers also repelled the youths again who demanded during a protest march the release of those arrested and shot three more dead. The military declared a state of emergency throughout Bayelsa State, imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and banned meetings. The soldiers were also alleged to have molested, detained the local residents at roadblocks and also terrorised women and girls with rape at night.
On January 4, 1999, about 100 soldiers from the military base at Chevron’s Escravos facility attacked Opia and Ikiyan, two Ijaw communities in Delta State. The soliders reportedly shot several of the Ijaws including a traditional leader. Four people were found dead and 62 others were still missing months after the attack. The soldiers were also said to have set the villages ablaze, destroyed canoes and fishing equipment as well as killed livestock and destroyed churches and religious shrines.
Nonetheless, the youths’ Operation Climate Change continued, and disrupted oil supplies through much of 1999 as they turned off oil valves in Ijaw territory. It was in the course of this face-off between the Ijaws and the Federal Government that the military carried out the Odi massacre, killing scores if not hundreds of Ijaws.
The creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the President Olusegun Obansanjo administration in 2000 was intended to calm frayed nerves of the Niger Delta people and develop the oil rich region. And since its inauguration, the NDDC has focused on the development of social and physical infrastructures, ecological, environmental remediation and human development. But in all these, there are environmental and economic challenges still staring the people in the face. NDDC itself is still grappling with challenges of poor funding, mismanagement of funds and corruption.
Nonetheless, the Niger Delta region had between 2003 and 2007 witnessed the emergence of armed groups like the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) led by Mujahid Asari-Dokubo and the Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV) led by Ateke Tom, among others which again heightened tension in the region, particularly in Rivers State.
Subsequent violence occurred chiefly in riverine villages and in Port Harcourt, with the two groups fighting for control of bunkering routes. The conflagration spurred violent acts against the local population, resulting in numerous deaths and widespread displacement and destruction of property. Civilian life was daily disrupted, and even forcing schools and economic activities to shut down.
The activities of multinationals like Shell have caused environmental degradation of the Niger Delta. At a time, Nigeria was the world’s tenth largest oil exporter. The abundant oil reserves resulted in widespread exploitation. The negative consequences are the result of thousands of oil spills and environmental destruction.
According to a report, over one and a half million tons of oil has been discharged into farms, forests and rivers in the Niger Delta since the drilling of oil began in 1956. Hundreds of kilometres of rain forest have been destroyed by oil spills. When petroleum is discharged into the soil, the soil becomes acidic, disrupts photosynthesis and kills trees because their roots are not able to get oxygen. The fish population has also been affected negatively. The region is home to over 250 different fish species and 20 of these species are found nowhere else in the world. Experts believe that if oil spills continue at this rate, the entire species will become extinct and the entire fishing industry in the country will be decimated.
This is coupled with the fact that the region daily witnesses high incidence of piracy and kidnappings. Starting in October, 2012, Nigeria experienced a large spike in piracy off its coast and this escalated in the early 2013, as the country was rated the second most-pirated nation in Africa, after Somalia. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was alleged to have spearheaded most of the attacks. Since October, 2012, MEND was reported to have hijacked 12 ships, kidnapped 33 sailors and killed several oil workers.
Since 2006, militant groups in the Niger Delta, especially MEND had resorted to taking foreign employees of oil companies hostage and over 200 of such foreigners have been kidnapped since 2006, though most were released unharmed.
However, in August, 2018, the Federal Government unleased a massive military crackdown on the militants in the region whereby a Joint Task Force patrolled the coastal waters, hunting for the MEND militants. It also searched all civilian boats for weapons and raided numerous militant hideouts, forcing thousands of local residents to flee their homes and villages. Hundreds of people may have died as a result of a similar offensive launched on May 15, 2009.
Pipeline attacks had become common place during the insurgency in the Niger Delta but ended after the government on June 26, 2009 announced that it would grant amnesty and an unconditional pardon to militants in the region.
The Presidential Amnesty Programme ensured that militants led their groups to surrender weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, guns, explosives and ammunition. Even gunboats were also surrendered to the government. Over 30,000 ex-agitators signed up between October, 2009 and May 2011 in exchange for monthly payments and in some cases lucrative contracts to secure pipelines. The amnesty office has worked towards reintegrating the fighters into the society, primarily by placing and sponsoring them in vocational and higher education courses in Nigeria and abroad.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has managed to sustain the amnesty programme as the programme has proved to be a success with violence and kidnappings including the destruction of pipelines decreasing sharply. Petroleum production and exports have increased.
However, the programme is costly, as chronic poverty and catastrophic oil pollution which fuelled the earlier rebellion remain largely unaddressed. There are threats by the militants hovering the air here and there to re-launch their attacks in the region. The Federal Government’s Operation Crocodile Smiles which left on its trail death and destruction is still fresh in our memory. Tension keeps on building up in the area from time to time. In February, 2016, an explosion ripped through a pipeline operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary to the Shell Forcades export terminal and halted both production and imports. Speculations were rife that militants were behind the act. This reduced oil production by 300,000 barrels a day.
Shell again shut its Bonny oil facility on May 11, 2016 as three soldiers guarding the installation were killed in an attack. A week earlier, a bomb had closed down Chevron’s Escravos GTF facility. And on May 19, Exxon Mobil’s Qua Iboe was shut down and workers evacuated due to militant threats.
Another militant group in the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) publicly announced its existence in March, 2016, thus, fuelling anxiety and apprehension among the populace. Subsequently, the NDA attacked oil producing facilities in the region and caused the shutdown of oil terminals and a fall in Nigeria’s oil production to its lowest level in 20 years. Unfortunately, the attacks caused the country to fall behind Angola as Africa’s largest oil producer.
Though the avengers declared a ceasefire and agreed to negotiate with the Federal Government in late August, 2016, another militant group, Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate emerged and threatened to destroy Port Harcourt and Warri Refineries as well as a gas plant within 48 hours. The group reportedly carried out its threat by blowing up a major oil pipeline operated by the NNPC in Isoko in Delta State. It also blew up pipelines belonging to NDDC in the state, among other atrocities.
In spite of bolstering of the country’s revenue base through oil production, the Niger Delta region remains grossly undeveloped. Poor infrastructure, particularly bad road networks are still noticeable in the area. Federal roads are neglected by the Federal Government. The Oyigbo axis of the Port Harcourt-Aba Road in Rivers State is a typical example. The deplorable state of the road has given both motorists and commuters serious concern.
Apart from the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, which is currently in a terrible state of disrepair, there are no other international airports of repute in the whole region.
PHIA suffers from systemic neglect by the Federal Government today. Facilities at the airport are nothing to write home about. This is to the exent that it was recently ranked as one of the worst in the world.
Poverty occasioned by massive unemployment has become the lot of the Niger Delta people.
Democracy does not seem to have changed anything. Unaccountable politics and lack of capacity of institutions to deliver development, protect justice, ensure due process and security have resulted in collective public frustration that at times contribute to cycles of violent conflicts in the Niger Delta. The current Federal Government is a major culprit in this regard. Its policies and programmes have grossly left the Niger Delta people agitated as there are still pockets of armed robbery, kidnappings, illegal oil bunkering and other social vices here and there in the region.
The people also contend with the devastating effects of oil spills and gas flaring on a daily basis. This is a culmination of poor operating practices, weak law enforcement and an active illegal oil economy which have themselves contributed to hundreds of oil spills in the region. This environmental disaster destroys traditional livelihoods of the people and breeds mistrust and resentment among them.
Not even the intervention of the government in this direction appears to have provided a solution in sight for the people. The ongoing remediation of impacted oil sites in Ogoniland in Rivers State by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation project (HYPREP) established for this purpose, is still slow.
The Ogoni people are eager to see tangible results and the restoration of their livelihoods beyond the current rhetorics. It is true that there are efforts to implement the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland and in other Niger Delta communities, but the people of the region want to see more commitment on the part of government, international oil companies and other stakeholders.
According to research, gas flared everyday in the Niger Delta is equivalent to the daily gas consumption in Brazil. Inspite of repeated assurances by the Federal Government to stop gas flaring in the country, the trend has continued. The multi-billion dollar waste associated with gas flaring not only leaves communities without effective energy solutions, but is also the single, biggest contributor to carbondioxide (Co2) emissions in the whole of Africa. This is despite the fact that the utilisation of waste associated gas has the potential to address Nigeria’s acute domestic energy crisis and stimulate economic diversification and growth in the Niger Delta.
Ironically, inspite of its contributions to the commonwealth, the story of the Niger Delta is the story of pain, anguish, frustration, tears and blood, occasioned by several years of exploitation, injustice and under-development. When will the narrative change? Only time will tell.
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