By Constance Meju
Chief Constance Meju
The Niger Delta, a specially designed natural habitat filled with enough goodness to promote human development and a prosperous livelihood with enough to even share to others, has rather than become a blessing, turned a problem child.
The goose that lays the golden eggs has for long been denied a taste of the egg it produces, so much so that hunger, deprivation, marginalization, forced her youth to take up arms in anger against the Nigerian government.
Every one of us here is a part of this history and we are gathered here because overtime, the returns from our land as gains from our soil have been denied us. Hunger, poverty, deprivation and violence unleashed on us by oil companies and their allies, the Nigerian government security forces, have become our portion.
Unemployment rate in the South South is huge despite the presence of heavy oil and gas exploration activities here. All of these are possible because we constitute what is known as Nigeria’s minority; the group with a smaller population which translates into a weak voice. Our voice is low so issues about us like the important Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB are not able to fly in our national policy making bodies like the National Assembly.
But this should not be so if we understand our importance to the national economy and use it collectively to lift our demands high enough for deserved attention and better service.
How you may ask? Even though the presence of oil and gas demand a serious security attention, the South South is not in the security leadership structure of this country yet no region has a military presence as heavy as the Niger Delta. Look around you; we have a full contingent of the army, navy, Civil Defence, police. Add to that the DSS; all directly having an eye on oil facilities and installations in our communities.
This is the only zone in the country where communities are over-run and made desolate at the spark of a face-off with security operatives and nobody takes stock of our losses after. Bilabiri Community in Bayelsa State has just been ransacked by the military. Last year it was Kalaekuleama Community in Kula, Rivers State. The brutal massacre of persons including, electoral officers in Abonnema during the 2019 general elections are still fresh in our minds. You recall the Odi Massacre in Bayelsa State and Gbaramatu Community attack by the military in Delta State years back. More communities will still be harassed because we are yet to muster the needed strength to tell the nation that we are tired of being used as footmats.
Time past, our youths made the noise for us with the barrel of their gun but as society advances, a weapon stronger than the bullet, a weapon which impacts are stronger and more lasting is needed and that is the VOICE, using the instrument of Dialogue.
To build a voice strong enough to attract notice and fear enough to force change to happen, this region must learn to build rather than dismantle its leaders. The few persons we have in positions of authority from the South South must see one another as one body representing this special zone. It is time for a rethink. Let us pause, take stock, identify and appreciate ourselves, identify and adopt our peculiar problems and our needs as a region and push them forward as a challenge the nation must address to put the Niger Delta in its rightful place. However, we can only do so singing in OBE STRONG VOICE regardless of the party or ethnic divide we belong to. That will produce for us the strong South South Force currently missing in the national equation, very necessary for peace to reign.
Right now the South West speaks in one voice and works to grab for itself, as many possible high ranking positions as possible and it is same thing with the North which, with the grace of a sitting president, has succeeded in enthroning Hausa/Fulani in all significant strata of the governance of the country. And they had room to do so because we here were busy thinking of which one of our brothers and sisters in positions in government to pull down.
Thanks to our agitations the NDDC is facing a period of uncertainty. The Senate has duly approved after screening, a list of nominees sent in by the president but rather than swear them, in the same presidency approved the appointment of an interim body, an act outside the regulations governing the NDDC. I call this interim administration a distraction imposed on us because the presidency understands that we are too disunited to check the drift.
Truth must be told; we created room for this confusion through numerous petitions and actions following the nominations. We never act in one voice but, are often so against ourselves that we end up getting short-changed by the system.
The lesson here is the need for us as a people so endowed that others look on us with envy, to pause, re-examine how we have been doing things against how we have fared to consider if it is proper for us to keep running to the very ones who have so marginalized and denied us our rightful place in the Nigerian map, to complain against our own appointed, to manage the little crumbs falling our way from the federal table. Washing our linen in public merely attracts more envy from the larger Nigerian society and can truncate the continued flow of that privilege as more eyes pry into it. Once Junaid Mohammed announced to the larger Nigerian society that the 3 per cent derivation allocated to the then Oil Mineral Producing Communities was more than the monthly revenue allocated five northern states, release of funds to that commission began to dwindle until it was dissolved to form the now NDDC by the Obasanjo administration.
Present day Nigeria demands that you understand who you are and what you represent and guard it jealously so you do not lose the little you have.We have to put the Niger Delta in its rightful position which implies that we have to pull our support base for our representatives in top government positions so we will like the stronger zones of the Southwest and the north, become a true formidable entity of the Nigerian nation. This is not to say we will not demand accountability from them but we have to maturely and subtly arrive at a meeting point with both the leaders and the led putting the general interest before self-interest.
It is in line with this that as a chief and mother representing mothers of the Niger Delta, the very group that suffers more from conflict and poverty in the South South, I join my voice to in the interest of peace and progress, plead for a halt to the numerous open and silent campaigns against Prof Charles Dokubo, one of our own charged with the responsibility of driving development in the region through the Presidential Amnesty Programme and as special adviser to the president on that matter.
As has been said by earlier personalities, it will be less troublesome to allow him finish his tenure so he can concentrate on giving the job his best shot, now that the learning period is over. Let’s sit back and recall how tough it was for us to get this Federal Amnesty and how much the programme is helping to change the story of some of our ex-militants. We can only ask for more positive development Fortunately, the Presidential Amnesty Office not averse to improving, has put together a monitoring team to review its activities in the last 10 years and suggest areas to improve for better service delivery. This is commendable as it will strengthen the agency and in due course, return the smile to the faces of our brothers and sisters, the aggrieved ex-militants and contractors. This therefore is a call for a handshake by both sides – the SA Amnesty and the people, to promote unity for the progress of a true Niger Delta.
As part of the Concerned Chiefs and Elders of the South South who have come here from all the different states of the Niger Delta to make this call for a truce, permit me to also ask our son Prof Charles Dokubo to rise to the occasion by giving the best to this region and by so doing, help build a more satisfied and united Niger Delta whose voice when the need arises, would so boom that nobody would want to mess around in her backyard.
Thank You and God Bless you and Keep Our Niger Delta Safe!
Being a presentation at the Concerned Citizens of the Niger Delta one day Peace Summit held at the Nigeria Bar Association Hall, Moscow Rd, Port Harcourt on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.