The curse of Niger Delta

Niger Delta leaders are the curse of Niger Delta- a region blessed by God but cursed and turned into a scotched land by her privileged leading lights.

The ongoing probe of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) opened with the incredible story of its immediate past Acting Managing Director, Dr. Joy Nunieh about how pressure was mounted on her to give out Christmas palliatives to the tune of N10 billion package covering among others an emergency consultancy contract to “construct Infant Jesus”.

Then the incredible story by its Acting Managing Director, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei of how N81.5 billion was frittered away between January and May under various headings- ‘COVID-19 palliatives for NNDC staff’ (N1.3 billion); media support for forensic audit (N641m); travels (N85.6m); condolences (N122.9m) etc. all at a period of COVID-19 lockdown.

Senator Godswill Akpabio who claims to be on a mission to change the narrative fingered corruption as the bane of NNDC which according to him once spent N4.2b in one day and yet ‘could not even buy a house they could use as an office after 19 years”.

But he has also been fingered by Peter Nwabaoshi, chairman of Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs of collecting contracts worth N500 million from the NDDC in 2017 alone without execution, a charge he denied saying the contracts were never awarded let alone paid for.

He however did not deny lobbying Nwabaoshi for the contracts. Akpabio for now has the last words. Nwabaoshi, along with lawmakers from the Niger Delta states according to him cornered over 60% of NNDC contracts.

But the rain started beating the helpless and impoverished people of Niger Delta long before the warring Nwabaoshi and Akpabio.

The region’s traditional rulers, military stars, celebrated politicians, thorough intellectuals, journalists, and the business elite have all betrayed the poor people of Niger Delta that look up to them for direction.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, who told us Africans kill their own “sun” was consumed by Niger Delta traditional rulers he had described as “vultures” for collecting bribes from multinational oil companies polluting the rivers, the air and the land.

But there are other more vicious blood-feeding vultures-the successive Niger Delta governors. Diette Spiff was a governor under Gowon at about 25.

His only legacy was scraping the head of Journalist Amakiri with a broken bottle for reporting a strike threat by unpaid River State teachers, a report he regarded as an embarrassment on his birthday.

The young governor who could not pay teachers was missing during Murtala Muhammed 1975 change of government and was to be located on the high seas days later carousing with women inside his private ship, later seized by Murtala Mohammed along with some 16 ill-acquired properties in Port Harcourt.

Peter Odili, accused of financial infractions against his own people by EFCC secured a notorious perpetual court injunction, conferring immunity on him even out of office.

And but for the British intelligence, we would never have known how much Alamieseigha the self-styled ‘Governor General of Ijaw” squandered on properties in France, Britain and German Town, Maryland in USA.

It was also a British Southwark Crown court that “on April 17, 2012 jailed James Ibori for 13 years after he ‘pleaded guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and stealing $50m from the Delta State treasury’.

Intellectuals and journalists from the Niger Delta have similarly failed the Niger Delta poor. The former after providing intellectual support for the region’s quest for bigger portion of the national cake often end up joining the thieving politicians in government.

The latter control the commanding heights of the print and electronic media but it took the intervention of CNN after Obama’s stiff penalties for multinational oil companies responsible for oil spillage in South America, to call the world attention to pollution and degradation of Niger Delta environment that had gone on for over 50 years.

Niger Delta business elite are unarguably among some of the most accomplished business men in Nigeria. Yet while the Benin – Warri portion of Benin – Port Harcourt road contract awarded in the early 80s to one of their members remained unattended to until the 90s, all they did was to fly their private jets from Lagos to Warri from where they connected their various villages.

Even with the already toxic Niger Delta rivers, air and land, it was a Niger Delta businessman that imported toxic waste that Europe didn’t want to bury in Europe because of its effect on human lives and the environment to Koko, a remote village in Niger Delta.

If the north as it is often claimed, controls more oil wells in the Niger Delta than the rest of the country, it is probably because there have been many Niger Delta petroleum ministers ready to sell their birthright for a pot of porridge.

Apolitical Tam David-West as petroleum minister tried to be more Nigerian than Ijaw forgetting that charity begins at home.

All he got for his pains from Babangida, was a jail term for a gift of wristwatch. Dan Etete was a ‘true son of the soil’.

He secured for himself a very lucrative oil well and kept his peace while Abacha continued from where Babangda stopped.

The status quo remained under Diezani Alison-Madueke as petroleum minister under a Niger Delta president.

She however took care of her close associates and family members that, according to EFCC, own multi-billion-naira prime properties in Britain and Dubai.

Unfortunately even Pa Edwin Clark who has spent all his life serving the Niger Delta people – Mid-West Commissioner of Education (1986-710) Bendel State Commissioner for Finance and Establishment (1972 –75), Gowon’s Federal Commissioner (1975) and a Senator (1979-1983), has paid attention more to external enemies than looking inward to see the real curse of Niger Delta.

He not too long ago in a reaction to critics of endless looting by Niger Delta politicians angrily queried: “Who are they to tell us how to spend our money?”

On the other hand, few initiatives to improve the lots of Niger Delta poor that can neither fish nor farm due to polluted rivers and scorched land have come from outsiders.

While Niger Delta politicians were trying to outdo themselves in sponsoring militants and oil bunkerers specializing in vandalisation of oil pipelines with its negative effects on the environment, it was Obasanjo who in 2000 set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) with the mandate of ‘developing the Niger Delta and ameliorating the suffering of the poor’.

And it was President Umaru Yar’Adua who, while retaining the NNDC, created in September 2008 the Ministry of Niger Delta.

But for Pastor Tunde Bakare and civil society groups that embarked on Abuja demonstrations that forced the National Assembly to come up with ‘the doctrine of necessity’, Jonathan who was fiercely opposed by the Yar’Adua mafia headed by James Ibori would never have become an acting president. He was to later ride on the back of Obasanjo who after outwitting the north over PDP rotational policy, carried him on his back around the country to become the first minority elected president.

Niger Delta however is a metaphor for Nigeria which Awolowo had likened to a fattened cow held down by some while being milked by a few powerful individuals.

The curse of Nigeria are Nigerian leaders who as a result of the benefits they derive from our current lack of direction, out rightly rejected “the path to Nigeria’s freedom”.

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