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.
Checking Fire Outbreaks In Rivers
Recurring and pathetic fire outbreaks in Rivers State have become unacceptable. Time and time again, residents of the state wake up with discouraging stories of devastation from infernos. These do not spare residences, business complexes, worship centres, markets, among other areas, with enormous resources in ruins and precious lives lost.
Fires caused by tanker accidents, faulty electrical cables or poor wiring, pipeline explosions and malicious activities by illegal crude oil refiners stink to high heavens. Experts are examining the possible fundamental causes of these disasters, hoping to stifle them. Unfortunately, they are in the upsurge, often with recurrences at specific locations.
Recently, fire razed to the ground properties worth tons of Naira at three specific locations in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Last weekend, residential houses at Isiokpo Street, D/Line, in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area and Zenith Bank Plc, situated at Rumuokoro, Obio/Akpor Council, were taken down by inferno.
The third fire incident occurred last Monday at the Bonny/Bille Jetty and burnt several boats, consuming goods and property. It was gathered that the three fire scenes were precipitated by adulterated fuel and kerosene, popularly called “kpofire”. An unconfirmed number of fatalities was reported in the Bonny/Bille incident. Some observers said about 10 persons had lost their lives to the fire, prompting a violent backlash by the mob on sighting the fire service.
The fire outbreak at the Bonny/Bille Jetty occurred following the shipment of food components and illegally refined fuel stocks in the boat with passengers on board. The Rivers State Commissioner for Special Duties, Emeka Onowu, who spoke at the D/Line, where the initial fire event transpired, lamented about the incidents and grimaced at the activities of illegal crude oil vendors.
Recall that in February this year, a fire outbreak destroyed property worth millions of Naira at the Marine Base Timber Market in the old Port Harcourt Township. The cause of the fire could not be directly determined. The incident happened almost five days after a comparable fire occurrence razed property worth millions of Naira at the famous Mile 3 Market.
In October this year, about 20 persons were scorched to death in a fire explosion that cropped up at a forest in Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area following an illegal artisanal oil refining (Kpofire). It was learnt that one of the cooking pots caused the fire at the site of the oil refining activities whose pipe they interconnected to other pipes which exploded.
There is the probability that it is petroleum products that are responsible for most of the fire escapades. This does not portray the state in a positive light. Hence, the government should take harsh measures against those who participate in the illegal refining of petroleum products, since their operations have moved so many innocent people to their premature graves.
Likewise, gas stations, fuel depots and public and private buildings should ensure that they have fire extinguishers handy as first aid in event of any fire accident. All electrical devices not in usage should be turned off and pulled out from the sockets to suppress electrical sparks from an energy surge. Media outfits have a considerable role to play in informing and enlightening.
Security agents should intensify their endeavours to restrain criminals from gaining access to the outlawed product. Anyone caught in the act should be sanctioned according to law to ward off other felons from attacking government resources that were established for the good of the public. Specifically, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), whose responsibility is to secure the nation’s assets, must be up and running.
Similarly, the state-owned fire service station should be appropriately endowed with contemporary amenities to rescue the situation whenever there is a fire surge. The service has to live up to its statutory mandate of forestalling and mitigating fire emergencies. Firefighters must be proactive by showing up at fire scenes early, combating it and cutting back its spread. They can accomplish this if the state complements their efforts by promoting constant training of the work force.
Government officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should carry out sensitisation campaigns to inform the youths on the need to safeguard public resources in their sphere. Law-abiding citizens should be attentive and declare illegal refining enterprises in their neighbourhoods to law enforcement agents. More fire preventive procedures have to be taken, chiefly as the harmattan season is fast approaching, which is associated with drought and wind.
Unfortunately, ‘the black soot’ wrecking the state’s environment is mainly attributed to the actions of illegal refiners of crude oil in the state. That is why there is a compelling demand for partnership between the Rivers State Government and the federal authorities to end the menace that is mainly answerable for the serial fire eruptions in the state.
A broad-scale investigation should be conducted by the state government to untangle the actual sources of the rattling fire incidents. Recent government pronouncements to set up a panel of inquiry are laudable. This will not only reveal the origins of the fires, but provide a remedy to them. Forestalling fire incidents is a collective obligation. Precaution and alertness are required.
NASS’ Attempt To Trivialise NDDC
A move by some Senators from other regions, especially from the South-West, to incorporate non-Niger Delta states in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was outrightly shunned by lawmakers from the oil-producing areas, hence, resulting in intense bickering in the upper chamber.
This followed a debate on a Bill for an Act to amend the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for the inclusion of new oil-producing areas and states (into NDDC) and other matters connected therewith sponsored by Senator Adeola Olamilekan (Lagos West). The bill, seeking to domicile states that have realised the status of oil-producing states into the NDDC, was first read in the Red Chamber on 17th December, 2019.
Arguing for the bill, Olamilekan said following the discovery of crude oil in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi; Badagry in Lagos; and Ipokia in Ogun States, they should officially join the consortium of oil-producing states in Nigeria. The senator claimed that they were entitled to the 13per cent derivation due to oil-producing states in line with Section 162 Sub-Section 2 of the Nigerian Constitution.
The Lagos senator also said the inclusion of the new oil-producing states in the Act was cost-effective and followed precedence. “In conclusion, this amendment is to accord the same provisions of the law amongst other benefits accrued to oil-producing states in Nigeria to the new oil-producing states and future oil-producing states,” Olamilekan said.
Expectedly, senators from the Niger Delta region characterised the Bill as parsimonious and dead on arrival. The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, depicted Senator Olamilekan as a meddlesome interloper while rejecting his filibuster. Omo-Agege said dealing with the 13per cent derivation was not an issue.
“To us, that is not an issue. The issue is whether or not just because they are oil-producing states they should come under NDDC. The commission is a regional development commission. We must draw a distinction between the NDDC and the oil and mineral producing commission,” said Omo-Agege.
Similarly, Senator George Sekibo (PDP-Rivers East) said: “I congratulate these states where my friend said they have discovered oil. What I don’t know is whether the oil is in commercial quantity and they are drilling them out for sales and the money going to Nigerian coffers. That one, he has not expatiated on that one. Are they exploring oil; are they refining oil in these places and has the oil caused any devastation in that environment?”
Also, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP–Edo South) submitted: “I’m not particularly against the sponsor of this bill. I just believe that the bill should be properly posited. The area that constitutes Niger Delta is very clear. The nine states of the Niger Delta region are very clear. Today, what each state gets from the 13% derivation is a function of production. Gombe is fast becoming a host community; Bauchi and some other states. But to say these states belong to the Niger Delta region is not possible.”
Each time the minority stand to benefit from a policy or law in the country, it will be blubbered and invalidated. Such is the case here. We are in support of the senators from the South-South region for their unmitigated rejection of the bill to include Bauchi, Lagos, Ogun and other states in the NDDC Act. The bill is provocative, subversive and a premeditated undertaking to smuggle into the NDDC Act some non-contiguous states that defy the definition of the Niger Delta as a geographical entity.
This development is a bid to all the leaders and well-meaning indigenes of the Niger Delta to advance and speak against the systematised move by the Federal Government to extirpate the region. While we commend Omo-Agege, Sekibo, Urhoghide and other members of the Senate for their stand on the bill, we specifically urge the youths to back them on their audacious and commendable rejection.
The position of the opposing senators indicates that in the National Assembly, there are still men of honour from the Niger Delta region, unlike others who have kept on treating their region with disdain despite the transient positions they are holding. The bill for the inclusion of these strange bedfellows in the NDDC confirms the age-old view that the region has indeed become a toy to be played with by some Abuja politicians and the Federal Government.
This bill is obnoxious and reprehensible. Our opinion is that such states should be merely described as oil-producing and made to enjoy just 13per cent derivation and not be included in the interventionist agency because it is meant to serve the development expectations of the Niger Delta based on the deprivation and environmental degradation of the area, which is part of the recommendations of the 1958 Willinks Commission Report.
If oil is found in Anambra, Kogi, Bauchi and Lagos States, there is an extant law that states 13percent should be given to them but that should not qualify them as Niger Delta states. If crude oil is found in Kano, it should relish the 13per cent but the NDDC should remain to address the intrinsic challenges of the people. If, for instance, all the states become oil-producing, will they be known as members of NDDC?
That is why we think that the ongoing amendment of the NDDC Act to include non-Niger Delta oil states amounts to bastardisation and is offensive. If allowed to stand, it means the very essence of recognising the region as having its peculiar challenges and needs to be addressed so that it can catch up with the rest of the country in terms of infrastructure, amenities, capacity development, among others, will be defeated.
Rather than embark on a gratuitous amendment of the NDDC Act, our Distinguished Senators should mount pressure on the Federal Government to inaugurate a substantive board for the commission, publish the forensic audit report on the agency to demonstrate its commitment to openness to underscore the integrity of the entire process and bring to completion the means for the recovery of funds from contractors, firms, politicians, and staff indicted by the forensic audit report. That is the way to go.
That Nigeria’s Organised Crime Ranking
An exposé by the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL in partnership with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime affirms that the 2021 Global Organised Crime Index has ranked Nigeria among the dominant 10 criminal markets for trafficking in people, firearms, illicit cannabis and heroin trade, fauna crimes, synthetic drugs and non-renewable resource crimes.
The index shows that the countries with the highest crime rates are those experiencing conflict or frailty. According to the report, the Democratic Republic of Congo led the list of the criminal markets with a score of 7.75, supported by Columbia 7.66; Myanmar 7.59; Mexico 7.56; Nigeria 7.15; Iran 7.10; Afghanistan 7.08; Iraq 7.05; the Central African Republic 7.04 and Honduras 6.08.
Other high-scoring countries include Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, where conflicts have annihilated the formal economies, contributing to mass displacement and an incursion of weapons. The lowest-scoring countries with better flexibility and social safety include Tuvalu 1.54; Nauru 1.76; São Tomé & Principe 1.78; Liechtenstein 1.88; Samoa 2.04; Vanuatu 2.20; Marshal Island 2.31; Kiribati 2.35; Luxembourg 2.36 and Monaco 2.43.
Nigeria should be distraught over the revelation that blights its image and shows that the country is rarely recognised for something positive. This ranking puts us on an equal footing with lamentably failed states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the DRC. It is thus essential and demanding for governments at all levels and the citizenry to enlist forces in checking the murky transaction of purchasing and selling human beings for even more horrendous purposes.
Human trafficking is not only a problem but also a crisis. Empirical evidence illustrates that despite the steady endeavours of governments and the international community to contain it, it is the third-largest criminal enterprise globally, and ranks second in transnational organised crime. The Internet provides merchants with access to more potential victims via telephone, e-mail, instant messaging, and websites.
There is no greater violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms than human trafficking, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and other contemporary forms of fleecing. Consequently, it is imperative to collectively address the atrocity, including other forms of trafficking, and to intensify efforts to adopt more evidence-based policy measures.
A report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) together with the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in February 2021 on the main findings of the UNODC Fifth Global Human Trafficking Report discloses that children represented over 75 per cent of trafficking victims observed in West Africa. The report covers 148 countries and more than 95per cent of the global population, and is based mainly on official figures on trafficking cases between 2016 and 2019.
Similarly, the burden of substance abuse is growing and becoming a public health issue in Nigeria. Africa’s most populous country has earned a reputation as a centre of drug trafficking and management, especially among the teenage population. According to the 2018 UNODC report, “Drug Use In Nigeria”, one in seven people has used a drug in the past year. Moreover, one in five people who have used drugs in the past year suffers from drug-related complications. That has resulted in a number of criminal offences.
Furthermore, UNODC said that 14.4percent of Nigerians are involved in drug abuse. This is an adverse trend for the future of the country. Then 27.7percent of those 14.4percent were young people. We call for a reversal of this narrative to guarantee the prospects of young people across the country. A comprehensive approach to dealing with drug addiction is urgently required.
Additionally, the trend of arms trafficking and proliferation in Nigeria has affected its internal security, contributing to the violence, death and laceration of thousands of law-abiding citizens. The trafficking and proliferation of all calibres of firearms are troubling. An estimated 6 million of these weapons are in circulation in the country. This has certainly exacerbated insecurity, which has resulted in over 80,000 deaths and nearly three million internally displaced persons.
As part of attempts to hold down the proliferation of unauthorised arms, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the establishment of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW). Unfortunately, our institutions do not seem to appreciate these facts and take the necessary security measures. Now we have a preventable problem because we have not been proactive.
Nigerian governments are doing too little to limit these deadly crimes. The wave of insecurity and poverty has led to a great deal of trafficking. The authorities must inspire trust and project quality governance to lift Nigerians out of misery and lead them to hope. Those rescued from forced or sex labour abroad should be integrated into society and supported to cope with the intense psychological effects of trafficking, including shame and depression.
Appropriate funding is expected for NAPTIP, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and NCCSALW. The judiciary must take a serious approach and accelerate the hearing in all trafficking cases. There are too many matters before the courts. Also, there should be a means to protect victims, so they would not end up being hostile witnesses after members of the various syndicates have been able to contact them, threatening them with death.
Since trafficking rings are watertight, the Federal Government should maintain a transnational alliance and exchange information with other countries to promote measures to combat trafficking. Nigeria must adopt the report of the West African Epidemiological Network on Drug Use (WENDU) on the fight against illicit drug usage and trafficking in the sub-region. The report contains data on the supply and use of banned drugs which may assist member-states in developing programmes, policies and advocacy activities.
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