ON the occasion of this historic third All-Nigeria Socialist Conference, the Delta Peoples Academy would like to extend fraternal felicitations to all delegates and organisations. This is the first time that a gathering of this significance is taking place in this part of the Niger Delta. It should be recalled that Benin City where we are gathered to chart a new direction for the forces of revolutionary change was burnt down by the British imperial army in this same month of February 1897. That horrendous event happened 106 years ago. The British undertook that "Operation Tropical Storm" because the King of Benin, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, refused to surrender the sovereignty of his kingdom to her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria of England. The systematic plunder and foreign domination that resulted from the Benin invasion are still going on in Niger Delta and Nigeria till this day, albeit in a more refined and rapacious manner. The celebrated anti-imperialist dramatist, the late Oba Rotimi has immortalised this British banditry in his inimitable tragic play, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi
This conference is taking place at a time when Nigeria is at another political crossroads. Elections are being expected with grave apprehension. The Nigeria bourgeois ruling class which inherited the power of oppression and exploitation from the British in 1960, are embroiled in intra-class skirmishes and bloody brawls. As has been the case since the 1970s, the scramble for power is being conducted in a deadly manner because the central objective of the bourgeois politicians is to help themselves to the spoils of oil money earned from the bowels of the Niger Delta. Meanwhile, the neo-colonial yoke fashioned by international finance capital is strangulating the working class and poor masses of the country. We of the Delta Peoples Academy are delighted to observe that the conference agenda includes dialectical debates on the spectre of capitalist slavery that haunts the masses of Africa's "giant nation with limbs of clay."
It is noteworthy that this conference is being held 155 years after the publication of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. That document was the first prophetic statement that proclaimed the ascendancy of the working class as a ruling class. In their usually vibrant and robust style, Marx and Engels concluded the Manifesto with a charge to the oppressed and dispossessed of the world to revolt and break the chains that held them in servitude. "Workers of the world unite ... you have nothing to lose but your chains," so declared St. Marx and St. Engels.
That revolutionary social command resonated throughout the globe. The first spark (Iskra) of its messianic message was in Russia in 1917 where centuries of czarist tyranny were turned asunder under the fury of proletarian and peasant uprising. The deluge of change instigated in Russia surged afield and uprooted ramparts of capitalist and feudal oppression in Eastern Europe. Mighty China joined the socialist vessel in 1949. North Vietnam and North Korea soon embraced the proletarian gospel. Indonesia followed in the 1950s but relapsed into bourgeois barbarism.
The Afro-Caribbean revolutionary forces in Cuba snatched their homeland from the jaws of American Yankee imperialism in 1959. Steadily and triumphantly, the liberating ideas of socialism penetrated all continents of the world, ushering in a new international order of the fraternity of working people's power. For a while, Nicaragua and Grenada in South America and the Caribbean hoisted the banner of "freedom, fatherland or death." The revolutionary aroma of the Manifesto and allied literatures transformed humanity in such fundamental ways that in 2000, that is 152 years after, the conservative voice of global capitalism, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) named Karl Marx "Man of the Millennium." Britain, lest we forget, was where Marx and Engels generated and propagated the ideas that ferried a third of humanity safely across the gulf of capitalist catastrophe.
Africa's freedom from colonial and racist rule was part of this universal harvest of socialism. The African chapter of the global drama came to a kind of end in 1994 when Comrade Nelson Mandela became the first elected president of post-apartheid South Africa. Nigeria's flag independence in 1960 was a dividend of this socialist renaissance. The course of change as Vladimir Lenin of the Soviet Union warned many years ago, moves in leaps and zigzags. Reverses have been recorded; the former Soviet Union has fallen to the treachery of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika. All of the Eastern European nations in the socialist orbit have succumbed to dollar pressures and "fleecing" enterprise. Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea Conakry and Guinea-Bissau have also fallen into the snares of Structural Adjustment Poison (SAP). For the Nigerian Left, it has been no longer at ease as the invitation to this conference acutely recalls. Yet China which hosts one-fifth of the world's population marches on with a dialectical compass. In the last ten years of post-Soviet Union tragedy, China's economy has been the fastest growing in the world. And we the Nigerian survivors of the turbulent zigzag are gathered here to celebrate and rev our imagination to go forward and multiply in compliance with the summons of the Manifesto.
Internal Colonialism in the Niger Delta
European imperialism was first implanted in what is now Nigeria from the creeks and waters of the Niger Delta. From 1472 to 1885, various European powers rampaged and looted the natural and human resources of the region. The holocaust of the 300-year Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was more devastating on the Niger Delta than anywhere else in Africa. From the 1880s, the British started their colonial project from the Niger Delta with the establishment of Oil Rivers Protectorate. The amalgamations of 1900, 1906 and 1914 completed the process of "things fall apart" for the 398 independent nations that make up the country. Every section of Nigeria was oppressed and pillaged by the British and their merchants. But the bulk of the wealth that Britain stole from the country came from the Niger Delta.
At independence in 1960, Britain handed over the political control of the "minority" nations of the Niger Delta to the power blocs of the numerically larger groups. This process of internal colonialism was intensified during the 1967-70 civil war and its aftermath. The second colonial conquest of the Niger Delta was effected through familiar imperial mechanisms, which we summarise below.
Note that in 1968, the same Gowon-Awolowo diarchy gave a directive to all oil companies to move their administrative headquarters to Lagos, the then Federal Capital. This apparently innocuous order had the effect of diverting financial and technocratic capital from the oil-producing region to, first the West and later Abuja. Thus, Niger Delta investors and professionals were compelled by the iron law of survival to join the exodus to the financial and political centres of Nigeria. Most of these entrepreneurs and their investments are still trapped in Lagos and other business entreports of the country, leaving the Niger Delta economy underdeveloped and famished. Lagos became the most populous city in Africa in the past 30 years as a result of the diversion of investment resources from the Niger Delta to the western industrial hub. Whilst the Marina on Lagos Island and Victoria Island have a skyline, including the tallest building in Africa (NITEL's 37 storey tower), the tallest building in Delta State is the 5-storey NNPC office in Warri. Yet Delta State produces 35 per cent of the country's oil and gas.
We urge this conference to support our demand for the relocation of the administrative head offices of the oil multi-nationals to the states in the Niger Delta where each company has the bulk of its operations. Thus Shell and Chevron should move to Delta State, Agip and Texaco to Bayelsa and Rivers States, and Mobil to Akwa Ibom State. This is the practice in the United States of America, the world's leading oil nation and home of FIVE of the oil majors in Nigeria.
The Role of International Capital
About 100 years ago, Lenin described imperialism as the highest form of capitalism. The iniquities of that international order are manifest in the economic and social deprivation suffered by the Niger Delta since the civil war years. The Federal Government conspires with the multinational oil companies to exploit the people of the region. The Federal Government owns an average of 55 per cent of the shares in the oil companies. But due to the neo-colonial weakness of the government, the real control of the oil economy is in the hands of the foreign multinationals. The companies are more powerful than the Nigerian Government. The companies have their own police and security systems and when they need brute force to suppress and kill protesting "natives" they get assistance from the Almighty Federal Government. All human rights conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory are wantonly violated in the oil-producing states with the connivance and active support of the Nigerian government.
Government has set targets for employment of indigenes in the oil sector. For lower rank labour, the target is 100 per cent. For so-called middle level workers, the law says it must be 75 per cent minimum. None of these regulations is adhered to and the Nigerian State protects the companies from fulfilling their obligations. The technical jobs are monopolised by foreign nationals. The bureaucratic and administrative middle levels reserved for Nigerians are occupied by people from the three favoured ethno-national regions of the North, the East and the West. For example, Shell is a vineyard of the power blocs of the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba West and non-oil producing sections of Igbo-speaking Eastern states. Chevron is a virtual colony of the Yoruba, so much so that Yoruba language is the lingua franca in the Escravos terminal of the company. Of course job recruitment and award of juicy contracts are done in Lagos and Abuja.
About 80 per cent of the electricity generated in Nigeria is from the gas turbines in the Niger Delta. Some of the electricity is supplied to Niger Republic in the Sahara Desert. But over 70 per cent of the 3,000 communities and settlements in the core Niger Delta has no electricity. The ocean ports of Calabar, Onne, Port Harcourt, Warri, Sapele and Koko are owned exclusively by the Federal Government. As some are being privatised under instruction from the World Bank, the potential new owners are well-connected feudal lords and capitalists from non-oil and landlocked states of the country.
Our Revolutionary Resources
The evidence provided above are some of the ways the territories, people and resources of the Niger Delta have been reduced to colonial serfs in independent Nigeria. The historical task of the masses of the region has been to smash these neo-colonial yoke. Some episodes in the liberation saga are mentioned below.
The people of the Niger Delta, like colonised peoples elsewhere in Africa and the rest of the world, have not submitted meekly to the pillage of their lands and wealth. From 1800 to 1960, the various nations in the Niger Delta fought titanic battles with invading European powers. Some of these epic encounters produced martyrs such as Jaja of Opobo, King Dappa Pepple (Perekule) of Bonny, leaders and masses of the brave city-state of Nembe, King Ossai of Aboh, Nana Olomu and Festus Okotie-Eboh and Alfred Rewane of Itsekiri, King Oghwe, Oshue, Mukoro Mowoe, Samuel Mariere and Thompson Salubi of Urhobo, Udo Udoma of Ibibio, Dr. Okoi Arikpo of Ogoja, Ambakederemo and Wenike Briggs of Ijaw, Dennis Osadebay of Asaba, Oba Ovonramwen, Oba Akenzua II and Humphrey Omo-Osagie of Benin, Michael Imoudu of Ora, Oba Momodu of Auchi and Anthony Enahoro of Esan (Ishan).
Since the second phase of internal colonialism began in the 1970s, our people have been fighting and dying to secure their lands and resources from plunder by local exploiters. Let us involve a few of the heroic efforts:
Our Modest Proposals
In view of the foregoing, we of the Delta Peoples Academy call on Nigerian socialists and their allies in struggle in Nigeria and worldwide to: