Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Niger Delta ' check yourselves before you wreck yourself"

Once again Oga Tunji 'the famous' making a guest posting. Since you people gave him so much love the last time sending the number of hits on this blog out into Orbit well we will have him here weekly. This post or article might have had showing on some Nigerian dailies but still worth your serious reflection. He actually says he his not a Latte Liberal but a Star beer guzzling progressive. Go figure!

The Niger Delta: Crisis or Opportunity
By Tunji Lardner

The “Niger Delta Crisis” always so simplistically framed in our national political debate is much more complicated than the present brouhaha over the selection of the Chairmanship of the proposed Presidential summit on the same issue might suggest. To be swayed by the frothiness of the advertorials in our newspapers masquerading as informed and enlightened commentary on the issue is to entirely miss the point.

The point is not whether a Gambari, Kukah, Clinton, Carter or Mickey Mouse chairs the summit, but whether a new way can be found to begin to address an old and pernicious Nigerian problem. A Nigerian problem that now has far reaching international complicity and implications, and so to restate the blithering obvious here, “the Niger Delta Crisis” is NOT just a Nigeria Delta problem, but is in fact a National Niger Delta Crisis, key word, “National as in Nigeria” with growing National Security implications that can if inadequately addressed unravel our fledgling democracy.

The extrapolation of this crisis however does not in anyway diminish the geographical ownership of the problem after all most Nigerians are cynically indifferent or benignly ignorant of the environmental and ecological damage wrought upon the good people of the delta by fifty years of rampant, corrupt and under-regulated oil drilling. (More on this point later.)

It is clearly with this understanding of the complexity of the Niger Delta crisis that Mr. President last year approached the United Nations for assistance with this issue as well as the other hobgoblin of our political life, electoral reform. That direct request for assistance to the United Nations Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon is the reason a year later after many bureaucratic hoops, that Ibrahim Gambari has been seconded to help the Presidency provide a new direction and engagement with this issue.

In the intervening year, the crisis has not abated and indeed it has worsen punctuated last month by the spectacular attack by so called “militants” on the Shell Off-shore Bonga facility, cutting Nigeria’s daily oil output by a further ten percent and bringing the country closer to a possible civil war.

Again from his vantage point possibly looking at the enormity of the challenges before him, President Umaru Yar'Adua has again reached out to the international community for help. According to a BBC report “Speaking at the G8 summit in Japan, President Umaru Yar'Adua drew comparisons between oil "bunkering" and the trade in "blood diamonds".
He said an international effort must be made to stop the trade, which fuelled unrest in the Niger Delta.
The smuggling cartel includes officials at the Nigerian state oil company, government, and the military and international oil companies, according to Delta activists. Trying to stop the trade must be an international effort, the president says, because the people driving the market are companies looking for cheap crude to feed international markets "Stolen crude should be treated like stolen diamonds because they both generate blood money," President Yar'Adua said. "Like what is now known as 'blood diamonds', stolen crude also aids corruption, violence and can provoke war."

An international smuggling cartel, a corrupt systemic and institutional cabal of government, military and oil industry officials, a growing restive, armed and sometimes criminal gangs of ex-political thugs, all in the business of “bunkering” adds up to a recipe for war… if left unchecked. Hmmm… sounds suspiciously familiar.
Mr. President’s insightful comparison to “blood diamonds” immediately throws up the harrowing memories of Sierra Leone and Liberia not too long ago, and Nigerians had better remove their collective ostrich heads from deep in the sands of denial and fully understand that we are not exempt from the horrific logic of war spawned by the Dutch disease.
If there was any doubt as to the underlying reason why some people DO NOT want any solution to the Niger Delta Crisis, Mr. President’s statements on “Blood Oil” provides impeccable proof that there are powerful forces in and out of the government and in collusion with international carpetbaggers determined to stop any open, transparent, and accountable process that could lead to a peaceful resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. Indeed one can logically argue that their strategic intent is for Nigeria to actually go to war over “ blood oil.” Why? Sky high oil prices means more “bunkering” profits, diminished ability of the Nigerian State to receive oil payments and rent, as well as brand new opportunities for selling arms to all sides of the conflict.
In my opinion, Nigeria today is the Niger Delta writ large, complete with the perils and promise of a potentially great nation unfortunately saddled with historically bad, no, really spectacularly bad leadership and a disengaged, cynical and frightful citizenry with no concept of or collective will to fight for their own enlightened interests.
I believe we cannot solve the many problems of Nigeria without first addressing the problems of the Niger Delta in an open, transparent, accountable and compassionate manner. For just as crude oil is the “blood,” (with apologies to Mr. President) that energizes and animates the Nigerian body politic, so the Nigeria delta can be compared to the heart that pumps that life giving blood, and to think that both entities are separate and can exist one without the other is to imagine a heart without a body or a body without a heart, without each other, both would die.
And so we are confronted with yet another national opportunity to mend our heart (absolutely no pun intended) and heal our body politic. The historic significance of our fiftieth anniversary in 2010 only adds to the urgency of a collective commitment to charting a new and positive direction for Nigeria. While to be sure it will require bold, visionary and even risk taking leadership in both our public and private lives, and most especially from the Presidency, it is a challenge for all Nigerians everywhere.
The easy route is to trot out the “Niger Delta Crisis” trope, as if it is something happening elsewhere, far, far away from our own respective daily grind. Well at this point that will not suffice; the Niger delta is part of us and its so-called “crisis” is actually a national catastrophe that has and continues to plunge Nigeria into deepening darkness, quite literally and figuratively. It might not immediately occur to the reader that one of the reasons why we have such a dismal power supply problem is simply the mechanical challenge of piping natural gas to various gas powered stations, especially when those pipes are routinely blown up by so called militants. So every time we are mired in darkness we have all those people, Mr. President alluded to in his statement to the G8 to thank.
So do we continue to curse the darkness or light a candle, see the Niger Delta situation as an intractable Gordian knot that can never be unraveled, or see through the current fog of confusion, fear, revenge, greed and deception a new and possible golden opportunity to sincerely tackle this “Niger Delta” crisis? The choice is ours to make. History cynically suggests that we will chose the path of least resistance and self righteously curse the darkness, but if we chose the latter, then I humbly suggest that we reflect on the following points:

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
Attributed to Albert Einstein,
There is a thoroughly misguided tendency among Nigerians to reduce the complexities of their private, public and national lives into simplistic nostrums that they believe - in spite of strong empirical proof to the contrary - will solve their many problems. This abject surrender to faith over and above reason in every instance is a peculiar feature in our intellectual lives, but it does not always solve our problems. The prevalent sense among some members of the political elite that all the problems of the Niger Delta have been duly identified and that the solution is the immediate development of the blighted areas, preferably by throwing money at the problems in that venal Nigerian way that we are all so familiar with. At his point it is pertinent to ask when throwing money at our problems have actually solved them on the long term? If so the billions of dollars spent by the Obasanjo regime over eight years on the power sector would surely have guaranteed that Nigeria would not be in perpetually darkness. The only beneficiaries of this approach are the legions of thieving rent-seekers extracting filthy lucre at every link of the value chain, or “licking oil” as the practice is informally called. While there is a genuine and urgent need to fix the infrastructural and ecological problems in the Niger Delta, through initiatives like the much touted “Marshall Plan,” we must understand that even that will take time, planning and meticulous and accountable execution. The original Marshall Plan was an ambitious post –war initiative to rebuild a destroyed Europe as well as create a bulwark against creeping Soviet communism. It took the entire financial, intellectual, administrative and industrial resources of the victorious Allied forces lead by America to rebuild Europe. Simply touting a Marshall Plan as is being blithely suggested does not make it happen. Or as my niece would say “no be yam” We must manage the expectations of a quick makeover for the Niger Delta and be truly honest with the people about what the real challenges are and what is expected collectively of all of us to right this historic wrong.
The Niger Delta crisis has been festering over the last fifty years stoked by greedy, visionless and predatory leaders of all stripes, it will take a new kind of leadership to even begin to address the fundamental issues and root causes of the problem. To begin to address the problems will necessarily require a much higher quotient of intellectual, moral and competent leadership that have historically set the agenda of the Niger Delta and for Nigeria for that matter. I this vein I think it is important to note that this is the first time in Nigeria’s history that we are being governed or ruled by University graduates and not artillery officers with a penchant for shooting first and asking questions later.

Again, it must be said that the Niger Delta Crisis is a Nigerian problem. While as stated earlier that unfortunately the geographic ownership and therefore the ecological brunt is limited to that space, the responsibility of resolving it must necessarily be shared with the rest of Nigeria. In the same vein some of the historical responsibility for the crisis must be placed squarely at the doors of some of their political elite who have connived to further impoverish their own people. Many of them are still deeply involved in supporting the predatory and dysfunctional culture of victimization that has evolved over the last fifty years of oppression. There are no angels here. Very few if any of the so-called political leaders or “Elders” can claim any higher moral authority or even have the political will or aptitude to begin to address the problem. They know it and the people know it and yet… And yet they are allowed the fig leaf of quasi-legitimacy by their own people. Why? Simple human psychology, when facing off a larger and external threat, in this case federal government, people will reflexively band together to fend off the enemy. With the searing experience of decades of brutal military hegemony, whatever trust might have existed between the people of the Niger Delta and the Federal government has all but eroded. Given that Nigeria has evolved to become a cynical low trust culture, the challenge now in moving the Niger Delta agenda forward is largely about establishing a new basis of trust between the people and those who govern or rule them. Compounding this is the absence of the rule of law as a dispassionate arbiter people’s legitimate grievances. The clamor for an “international figure” to mediate this new attempt is really an expression of mistrust of government’s intentions, and deeper than that, a deep and abiding mistrust of ourselves as Nigerians. If we cannot trust ourselves, even for a moment to put aside our cynicism and look at this problem anew, then we cannot and will not progress. Ironically this missing ingredient is the most important aspect of resolving this issue. The government both federal and state must begin to earn the trust of the people of the Niger Delta, and they in turn must lift the shroud of victim-hood and begin to engage the rest of Nigeria with self-reflective honesty as well as a shared sense of destiny, purpose, and resolution.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…
Honestly. We have to stop and simultaneously take a collective and individual look at ourselves in the mirror. Who are we really deceiving? The world? Our neighbors? Our selves? This lack of introspection and reflection of our true condition is as disingenuous as it is dangerous. It is disingenuous because deep down we know that we are all culpable in varying degrees for this mess that is Nigeria, and dangerous because our sanctimonious religiousness prevents us from looking at our many challenges squarely in the face, rolling up our sleeves and getting straight to work at solving the problems. Instead we prefer to outsource all our problems and challenges to God. I have often wondered aloud why one of the most avowedly religious countries in the world is also one of the most corrupt. And contrary to what many people believe, God is NOT a Nigerian, and I seriously doubt if he or she loves Nigeria more than any other country on this God given earth. After gazing long and hard into the mirrored reflection of our true selves and the refracted image we prefer to show the world, we all must ask ourselves this one question; do we really want a solution to the Niger Delta crisis?

Tunji Lardner is a budding writer and can be reached at

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