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The problem with the Niger Delta – By Babatunde Rafiu

By Babatunde Rafiu, NNP – June 2, 2011 – It is easy, convenient and fashionable to blame the Federal government for
the underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region. This is the position of
the editors of www.xclusivenigeria.com, Nigeria’s internet newspaper.
Indeed, this tendency is the recourse of Niger Delta politicians and
so-called activists when they are held liable by their own people for the
under-development in the region. Many an educated indigene of this
troubled, oil-rich region, which lays the nation’s golden eggs, is quick
to point fingers at the federal authorities, and so far for that matter,
are the ordinary folk. Local politicians and traditional rulers from the
region have built and honed their careers on this profitable enterprise.
Blaming the federal government is an effective tactic too.

And for good reason. By Nigeria’s peculiar federal system, the government
controls the purse strings of the region’s vast oil resources, and indeed
of all the mineral resources in the land. Using such parameters as
population, geography, needs and other debatable indices, the authorities
fund the states annually by allocating monies from the Federation Account.
But critics have suggested that some states get more when they should get
less. Needless to say, almost 96 percent of the Federal Budget is based on
oil revenue, which of course is produced by the Niger Delta region.
Since the discovery of oil deposits in Oloibiri village in the Niger Delta
in the 50s, Nigeria has made trillions of dollars from oil export, and as
we have stressed earlier, the country now depends wholly on this
enterprise, an untoward situation which has made the authorities at both
federal and state levels to jettison agriculture on which the nation once
depended in the 60s.

Indeed Nigeria was once a world-famous agricultural nation, acknowledged
as the producer of such export commodities as cocoa, groundnuts, timber,
cotton and palm oil. Today the nation is a world-famous importer of
everything from toothpicks to toilet paper. We, the editors of
www.xclusivenigeria.com, Nigeria’s internet newspaper, want to join other
Nigerians in asking: What went wrong? That is a subject for another day.
Since the Federal government controls the purse strings, allegations and
claims of discrimination, unfairness, favoritism and lopsidedness in the
allocation of federally generated revenue is a past time of communities
who feel unfairly treated and of so-called opinion leaders in various beer
parlors across the land. With a multiplicity of ethnic groups, many of
which were independent nation states in their own right hundreds of years
ago, forging a true Nigerian nation about 105 years after the amalgamation
of Nigeria by British colonialists, have been a will-o-the-wisp.
The agitation by the oil-producing Niger Delta region for a fair deal in
the Federation symbolizes this contentious atmosphere. The agitation has
spawned a militant movement with often controversial and debatable
legitimacy. The writer and playwright Ken Saro Wiwa, executed along with
several other activists by the late dictator General Sani Abacha, gave the
Niger Delta agitation international recognition.

 Saro Wiwa’s execution ignited a militant movement in the Niger Delta
region sworn to propagating the yearnings of the people not by dialogue
but by force of arms. The daredevil militants have gone from asking for a
better deal in the federation to asking for control of their oil
resource. Resorting to kidnapping oil workers for ransom and bombing oil
facilities appear to have besmirched their objectives, and pitted
themselves against the federal authorities who have offered a carrot and
stick approach to quell the uprising and to rein in the militants.

The government’s spirited attempts to meet the militants half way and to
boost the Niger Delta’s recognition in the scheme of things appear not to
have appeased the agitation. Niger Delta politicians and local rulers who
have thrived on the status quo, have practically hinged their careers and
livelihood on providing political leadership to the agitation for a better
deal for the region. As we have argued, it is fashionable for them to
blame the Federal government for the region’s woes. However, despite many
concessions in the past, as we have posited, and with vast resources at
their disposal, these politicians have sadly failed to put these resources
to good use. As attractive a punching bag as the government is, and indeed
as blameworthy as it appears, and perhaps rightly so, the people of the
region have apparently failed to come to terms with perhaps the key source
of their problems: the corruption, ineptitude and greed of the region’s
politicians and local rulers.

The Niger Delta states have received billions of dollars from the
Federation Account over the years -or perhaps more revenue than other
non-oil producing states-but there is nothing on ground in the states to
show how these vast resources have been spent. Niger Delta politicians and
local rulers have failed their people. Working in cahoots with oil
companies, they have enthroned a feudal system of the
haves-and-the-have-nots, and have elected to lord it over those whom they
are supposed to be serving.

We, the editors of www.xclusivenigeria.com, Nigeria’s internet newspaper,
propose that by their actions and inactions, these politicians and local
rulers have helped to create the quagmire that is the Niger Delta crisis.
They are as liable as the oil companies which have been exploiting the
region’s resources for decades with extreme prejudice, and without regards
to the welfare and destinies of the people. Some may argue that Niger
Delta’s political elite may indeed be more liable. Perhaps so. Indeed
those who hold this view would appear to appeal to a larger audience.

In our view, the solution to the problems of the Niger Delta is not
far-fetched. It is simply and squarely that of delivering good government.
To continue to perpetuate bad government, unaccountability, corruption and
ineptitude in government will serve the Niger Delta no good. Not today.
Not tomorrow. Not only will the region’s political leaders be held
accountable someday in the future for their stewardship or lack thereof,
they will sow the seeds for poverty, hunger and squalor in their
communities. Only political strife and social instability can result from
such short-sightedness. Or perhaps mean-mindedness?

Nobody will deny that elected leaders and other politicians are entitled
to the perks of office. That is the way of public office. Or isn’t it? But
what the citizenry are saying, and we say too, is that these democracy
dividends should be extended to the citizenry as well. What is the purpose
of democracy if the people do not share in its booty? Need we say more?

Babatunde Rafiu, is executive editor of www.xclusivenigeria.com, Nigeria’s
internet newspaper.

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