This letter from the Edo National Association/Edo Community in the Americas is well-thought out and it is courageous . We are delighted that the Niger Delta has not been abandoned by our kinspeople in Edo State. The moral outrage which we have expressed on the invasion of Bayelsa State has strangely been mocked by some persons who a few months ago thought some of us were committing treason for saying that Olusegun Obasanjo should be given space for governing the country. How much difference six months have wrought in loyalties! Clearly, your show of friendship and support means a lot to the Niger Delta.
I believe we are right in asking for accountability. Strong governments do not invade and destroy towns and districts under their domain for the wrongful acts of a few people. I have seen quite a few letters from correspondents in the Edo Community who seem to imply that destroying a whole town and the killing of innocent citizens by soldiers is ordinary law and order. It is wrong when it is done by youth gangs. It is infinitely worse when it is done by your own Government. I grew up during colonial times when kids were trained to run away at the sight of government agents (sanitary inspectors, policemen, forest guards, and tax collectors). Should we really be terrified of own officers? Your well-nuanced letter suggests that the root cause of the crisis in our beleaguered region should be understood. Even if the Federal Government is unwilling to undertake that much, we must all insist on finding out how many people were killed by the invasion of Bayelsa by the Federal Government of Nigeria. We are so used to throwing our people into mass graves, we can all be guilty of assuming that they have no value. Most of the thousand people who were roasted to death at Idjerhe on October 17, 1998, were thrown into mass graves. The Niger Delta does not need more mass graves. Surprisingly, this type of plea seems to fall on the deaf ears of those who believe Government can do no wrong.
I happen to be quite conservative in my own political ways. My inclination is to support any elected government. But blind support for all government policies and actions, even when they are immoral, is not in the realm of conservative vocation. I see that many of your correspondents do not bother to refer to the various issues that are being raised by those complaining from the Niger Delta. None of your correspondents seems worried that Nigeria continues to employ military forces for domestic law and order. For how long will we continue with such an abnormality? Why can't some of those who have caviled against complaints from the Niger Delta not employ their talents to discuss the methodology of domestic policing? Are they satisfied with the Nigeria Police Force? If not, is the alternative solution of continuing the use of military forces for domestic law and order a good one? Are they satisfied with the proposal, floated by Mr. Jemibewon, that the oil companies should support the Federal Government in the training of our police? I fear that, by implication, some of your correspondents are saying that whatever the Government decides as the best method of law and order is okay. I dearly hope I am wrong.
I do not want to give the impression that I am satisfied with the conduct of Niger Deltans who kill fellow Deltans at the least provocation. If the Federal Government had come into the region for the sake of protecting victims of the unfortunate bloody conflict between Ijaw and Itsekiri, its actions would be a lot more justifiable as an act of good governance. Sadly, no matter how well disguised its motives are, the action in Bayelsa was taken to protect foreign oil companies. I wish the oil companies good profits for any legitimate business they transact in the Niger Delta. I believe the Federal Government should provide security to all in its domain -- but it is wrong to discriminate against Nigerians by giving sensitive security to foreign companies while allowing Nigerians' lives to be wasted. You only need to remember Idjerhe and Ekakpamre to see the unfinished dangers we in the region face. What is thoroughly aggravating is that the Federal Government is so beholden to the international oil conglomerates that it seems too frightened to correct their behaviors. What governments in North America or Western Europe will allow Shell BP and Chevron to create the sludge, as in creeks of the Itsekiri or Ijaw, or set fire-traps, as in the lands of the Urhobo, Isoko, and Ukwuani?
From some responses coming from several sources to complaints from Deltans in recent days, it is clear that most other Nigerians do not understand, nor care about, the gravity of the environmental crisis we face in the Niger Delta. We are not talking of Love Canal whose pollution has been discontinued. We are talking of active and continuing attack on our environment. Our very lives and futures are in deep danger. It is not simply the wealth that is carted away from the region. The continuing pollution of the region is deafening and maddening because the Federal Government is unconcerned about it. As one who appeared before several fora in the United States during discussions on transition-to-democracy in Nigeria, I am aware that the United States Government might be willing to assist in combating the pollution of the region, because Americans have the experience of having successfully combated pollution of their environment in the 1960s and 1970s. USAID is currently in the process of pouring sizeable funds into Nigeria. Is it too much to ask the Federal Government to bring our problems to USAID and other foreign agencies that can tackle the problem? Frank, this not another innuendo: We know that the luxurious demands of Nigeria's powerful ethnic groups matter more to President Olusegun Obasanjo's Federal Government than the genuine problems of the Niger Delta.
Deltans will be committing suicide if they do not reveal to the world the weight of their problems. The area will be destroyed completely in a matter of decades if events continue as they are. The Federal Government seems to be intimidated by the oil companies, thanks to the sad fact that it needs immediate cash from oil exploration. In Urhoboland, community leaders now mount watch for signs of fires, Shell BP's Fires, such as those that destroyed tens of hundreds of lives in Idjerhe and Ekakpamre. We do not even know the health consequences of these acts of pollution. In my mother's hometown of Kokori, gas flares have been burning since the 1960s. What are the health consequences? The Federal Government and the distant Advisers on Petroleum do not care about such matters. The cash flow is all that is important.
Your point about dialogue is important. But dialogue implies respect. The strong impression in the Niger Delta is that the President despises the Niger Delta. It is amazing that he will send the "Niger Delta Development Commission" bill to Parliament without consulting the views of representatives of the Delta region. In the event, the NDDC Bill is badly flawed. In a way it is a package that will sanction the havoc of what has happened in the area, asking the people to pay for the pollution of their lands. In political matters, there are complaints from the western Niger Delta that the region's political fate has been zoned to a single non-Deltan party chieftain, operating from Uromi in Edo State, who recommends and in effect authorizes political appointments and contracts from Delta State. This single party chieftain has chosen to ignore the western Niger Delta -- and so the President goes along with it. That is the information those who complain about the neglect of the western Niger Delta in political matters are given. Yes, the President needs to open his doors wider for dialogue. Our people will appreciate it.
There is also room for dialogue between Edos and Deltans. It appears to me that there has been too much preaching from the Ed side to Deltans in recent times. Some of the statements coming from individual Edo community correspondents have also been surprising. As one who is attached to Edoid matters, I realize that "Edo" is a very broad umbrella. I even fear that many of those enthusiastic correspondents do not know of the humiliating problems we all experienced together before the creation of Midwest in 1963 and during the brief Biafran conquest of the Mid-West. I believe that most Deltans expected greater kindness than has appeared in your pages. Indeed, by my reckoning there has been more sympathy from the Yoruba for Deltans' expressions of their predicament than there has been from our Edo cousins. I have received a good many complaints from Deltans about "insensitivities" from Edo Community correspondents. That is why your statement here is so very important and so reassuring. Maybe a dialogue will help to promote our mutual understanding of ourselves and of our common problems.
Frank, I did not mean to write a long letter. Sadly, Niger Delta matters have become soul-consuming.
I thank you and the organizations which you head for this kind gesture.