Senator Fred Brume And Resource
By Onoawarie Edevbie
Watch the debate on resource control and the chances are high that one will observe how sinister, efforts to undermine the rights and interests of the people of Niger Delta have become. Resource control is now a favorite subject for cruel jokes and intellectual sophistry and dishonesty as one can infer from the series of essays by the likes of Bala Usman, Lamido Sanusi and their supporters. The intention is of course clear: to ridicule as untenable, the central basis of the agitation for resource control by the oil-producing communities of Niger Delta, which is that they own the land on which they live. Those who challenge the rights of the oil-producing communities to control resources located on their land, hardly appreciate the extent of the problems and difficulties that oil exploration has placed on the lives of the people.
The essays have created a considerable amount of resentment among Niger Deltans who feel insulted and humiliated by the type of rhetoric coming out of the towers of CEDDERT at Bayero University, Kano and government offices in Abuja. Even the call from Mr. Fred Senator Brume, the senator representing the Delta Central District in Abuja, for caution in dealing with matters of resource control did not soothe nerves but instead it infuriated the people more, his apologies not withstanding. The Senator’s recent remarks have in fact raised concerns about the moral imperatives of resource control, which is what this essay is all about. With each passing day spent on this debate and given the deliberate simplistic approach to the vital issues involved, opponents of resource control, probably, had cherished the hope of deleting Niger Delta from the map of moral concern.
But can resource control as an issue for the people of Niger Delta ever be wished away? Certainly not until the Nigerian state accepts full responsibility for the problems it created in Niger Delta and work to remove injustice done to the people. In spite of the levity shown by those in Abuja, the threat to life and property in Niger Delta remains real and enormous. It is frightening to imagine what could happen in the next few decades if oil exploration is allowed to continue in its present form, a system of drilling for oil that pays little or no attention to the degradation of the ecological system. Flaring of gas and the resulting acid rain have devastated the land, making it unsuitable for farming and for wild life to survive. Frequent oil spills have also left the rivers and streams polluted and marine life destroyed. In many of the riverine areas, people have no safe water supply and they are forced to drink contaminated water with serious health consequences.
But where is the world’s anger for what the oil companies in cohort with Nigerian government are doing to the region? Niger Delta seems far away and obscure even to Nigerians that live outside the area, one that they hardly understand or care about. This is the kind of indifference that allowed King Leopold II of Belgium to decimate the land and wealth of the people of Congo, the Afrikaners to seize the South African gold and diamond mines for themselves, and emboldened the act of genocide that left a million people dead in Rwanda.
The international community, of course, reacts to such heinous crimes by reverting to what R. W. Johnson described in his review of Linda Melvern’s book, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide (London Review of Books, June 14, 2001) as “the politics of remote catharsis”. Such politics allows one to assume “the moral high ground by showing an apparent humility and contrition about sins, which were not yours, about events safely concluded even before you were born”. This state of affairs provides the basis for flurries of apologies we hear tendered every now and then by political and religious leaders across the world for slavery, holocaust against the Jews and Gypsies, and what was done to the Aborigines in Australia, American Indians, and Maoris of New Zealand, and other forms of crimes against humanity.
The apologies no matter how genuine or sincere they may appear, cannot absolve an indifferent world of the crimes committed under its watch, especially when such crimes could have been prevented or even stopped early enough to save the millions of lives that were wasted. What all this means is that the responsibility for protecting the Niger Delta from unfair encroachment and for making the region economical viable and safe for habitation, belongs to the people of Niger Delta themselves. That is why as Professor Ekeh had indicated, it would be most foolish for the people of Niger Delta to leave matters to chance. If Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, the former Inspector General of the Nigeria Police, and his group are prepared to go war for control of oil revenue, the people of oil-producing communities cannot be expected to be less determined and ready to defend their land and the resources including the oil reserves, which God has chosen to locate in or on that piece of land.
The Nigerian government has of course demonstrated repeatedly in the past that it will not come to the aid of the oil-producing communities. Instead, it has always chosen to take sides by placing its enormous military might at the service of the warmongers. Hence to challenge the alliance of the multinational oil corporations and these corrupt political leaders is to run the risk of becoming the victims of outright repression and violent acts. It is therefore a dangerous business for communities to organize to protest the destruction by oil companies of their land, homes and means of livelihood, or to campaign for their rights to control their resources. The Nigerian political leaders including many of the past military leaders and their supporters, who are notorious for allocating large portions of oil revenue for personal wealth, appear determined to eliminate anyone who challenges them. The series of military excursions into Ogoni, Odi and other oil-producing communities, in the opinion of many, are carried out not only to guarantee the flow of oil for foreign companies but also to perpetuate the well-established practice of graft and greed. Oil is now the main driving source of massive corruption that has come to dominate public life in Nigeria.
Yet in spite of efforts to stifle opposition to government policy on oil revenue, many groups have sprung up in the Niger Delta and are working to create public awareness of the need for resource control. The Delta State Government under the leadership of its Governor, Chief James Ibori is leading the campaign for resource control. Chief David Dafinone, Chairman of Urhobo National Assembly and his Deputy, Chief Johnson Ukueku, have helped to organize the Union of Niger Delta as a platform to reach other Nigerian groups interested in the struggle for justice, equity and fairness. Other notable personalities like Dr. G. G. Darah and Professors Itse Sagay, Godwin Sogolo and Peter Ekeh have also contributed through lectures, essays and other forms of publications to enlighten the general public on issues of resource control. Also worthy of mention are the efforts of Honorable Ms. Temi Harriman (Delta) who sponsored a series of amendments to Petroleum Act of 1969. The amendments that could have provided an opportunity for some meaningful discussion of resource control were branded as unconstitutional, and were shut down before they could be debated by angry legislators from Northern Nigeria led by Honorable Alhaji Ibrahim Zailini (Bauchi), Chairman of the House Committee on Judicial Matters.
While these efforts by some leaders from the Niger Delta region, seem laudable, not everyone is thrilled especially at the prospect of sustaining the campaign for resource control. Authorities in Abuja have resorted to blackmailing proponents of resource control by filing lawsuits and dispensing of misleading information to the public. Many legislators of Niger Delta origin are also believed to have been approached and advised to drop the issue of resource control if they want to be re-nominated for the political offices they now hold. Some legislators could buckle under the weight of this form of harassment and intimidation and begin to show signs of ineptitude.
Already there are leaders who are perceived to be more interested than anything else in rationalizing government policies even when such policies are detrimental to the interest of the people they represent. When political leaders or senior government officials from Niger Delta exhibit this kind of ambivalence in dealing with issues that concern the welfare of their people, it becomes difficult to ascertain where the loyalty of these officials lie. The result of this kind of politicking has been so devastating for the people to the point of paralysis where issues of concern to Niger Delta are no longer given any serious consideration.
Take for example, the fire disaster that occurred near Mosoga in Idjerhe (Jesse), an Urhobo clan in Delta State. The tragedy that claimed over 1000 lives, did not appear daunting to General Abdulsalmi Abubakar, the last Military ruler of Nigeria. He made during his visit to Idjerhe, remarks that were clearly disrespectful of the people of Niger Delta, especially the Urhobo community there, when he referred to the victims of the fire disaster as scavengers. These remarks which were made without the benefit of any inquiry into the cause of the fire, gave the unfortunate impression to the world that the tragedy was self-inflicted. Had the General waited for the result of a proper investigation, he would have known that many of the victims were innocent children and women whose only crime is that they have the misfortune of living near pipelines that carry refined oil from Niger Delta to Northern Nigeria.
The General was accompanied by Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, an Urhobo man, on the trip, obviously to help as a guide to the area. Yet the presence of Major-General Mujakperuo did not seem to have deterred General Abubakar’s display of insensitivity and hostility to the people. Major-General Mujakperuo was seen by many to be in position not only to recommend some kind of emergence relief package to the families of the victims but also to advise his commander of the sensibility of the people before the false and insulting accusations were made at the scene of the fire. Could the military officers have been as insensitive and callous as they were in Mosoga if the Idjerhe incident has occurred somewhere in the north ?
Perhaps, some may want to ascribe Mujakperuo’s feeble response or lack of response, to the kind of helplessness one finds oneself in the Nigerian military culture of greed, corruption, utter disregard for human lives and recklessness with the law in general. But what about Mr. Fred Brume, a senator who represents Urhobo people in the Delta state’s Central District? What prevents him from condemning the Nigerian government’s handling of oil pipe vandalization and the resulting fires when he had the opportunity to do so? The Senator presented during the 2000 Annual Dinner/Lecture of the National Association of Niger-Delta Professionals held at Bauchi, a paper entitled: "Oil-Pipeline Vandalization In The Niger Delta: The Way Out." Like General Abubakar, he towed the usual government position by blaming the various incidents of fire explosion in Urhoboland, on the poor villagers whose homes, unfortunately, were also located close to the pipelines. According to Senator Brume, the villagers have essentially resorted to this
unlawful method of recovering or scooping what is seen by many as their wealth that is being unfairly carted away to Abuja and other places, while they wallow in abject poverty and unemploymentWith this kind of posture in place, it is not surprising that the senator did not at any point in his presentation, come close to even suggesting what has become obvious, that the acts of vandalization were for the most part carried out by some unknown individuals and not by the unfortunate villagers. These persons, by all calculations, do not live in the area but appear to have access to privileged information that details the network of the oil- pipelines. The pipelines, in many instances, lay buried deep underground where they cannot be reached by anyone without proper training and the use of sophisticated equipments. Besides, in areas where the pipes surface above ground, the pipes have been observed dripping with oil from eruptions. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), owners of the pipelines, obviously have not kept up with the maintenance schedule as required. Consequently, the pipes have become corroded with age, making them highly susceptible to eruptions or explosions that could result in leakage or in outbreak of fire. It is also important to know that the pipelines have been in place for over twenty five years and from all available records, none suggests that the anyone in the communities traversed by the pipelines has, until recent accusations, ever tempered with the lines.
The omission of these essential facts from the paper by its author, may not have been deliberate but it precluded any need for him to recommend or call for any investigation that could have helped to identify these privileged experts and the equipments they use in stealing oil. The Nigerian government itself, of course did not care about the niceties of an investigation. Instead it chose to send military forces into Ekakpamre, Amukpe, Adeje, Ijalla-Ifie, Oviri Court and other affected communities where the soldiers involved, stand accused of burning down homes, maiming, killing and arresting many indigenes, and driving some others into hiding.
This application of what Susan Sontag described in the speech she made while accepting the "Jerusalem Prize For the Freedom of the Individual in Society in Israel," as the Doctrine of Collective Responsibility being used as an opportune excuse to inflict collective punishment on innocent people for the action of unknown criminals is most unfortunate. This type of group punishment have left deep scars on the people, in ways that many Nigerians outside the region, regretfully cannot understand. Hear what the prizewinner had to say that might well prove instructive for Nigerian political leaders and others in the world community:
I believe that the doctrine of collective responsibility, as a rationale for collective punishment, is never justified, militarily or ethically. I mean the use of disproportionate firepower against civilians, the demolition of their homes and destruction of [their farms], the deprivation of their livelihood and their right to employment, schooling, medical services, untrammeled access to neighboring towns and communities. all as a punishment for hostile …. activity which may or may not even be in the vicinity of these civilians.Susan Sontag, herself an Israeli, probably did not have Nigeria in her mind, when she spoke in Jerusalem to condemn her government’s handling of Palestinian people in that on-going Middle East conflict. But the Nigerian government has under the guise of protecting its ‘property and resources’, repeatedly applied the same doctrine to suppress many communities in the Niger Delta region including the better known cases of Ogoni, Kaiama, Choba and Odi. Many of these communities, however continue to insist on their right of ownership and control of the same property that the government wants to keep for itself. For the communities, resource control is a serious matter which they consider essential or necessary for their survival as a people.
In some cases, the communities have asked the oil companies and their
personnel to vacate the region until such a time when all issues of ownership
and control are fully resolved. The government, instead of sitting down
to negotiate with the communities, responded each time with more violent
repression. And of course, the demand of the oil-producing communities
continues to be treated with disdain, often reduced to such triviality
as what Oronto Douglas of Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria (ERA),
calls “the politics of compensation seen as resource allocation and derivation”.
The Nigerian government has strategically placed roadblocks in the way of efforts by oil-producing communities to regain control of their land and its resources. These roadblocks, nicely coded as ‘constitutional provisions’ the most recent of which were erected in 1999 by the Abubakar military government without the approval or mandate of the Nigerian people to do so. These provisions are terribly unfair and should be viewed as such as they run against the universally accepted convention that governs the underlying principle of self-determination for people in a pluralistic society like Nigeria.
Hence any attempt by the government to use the law courts and legislative process based on these so called constitutional provisions, to resolve or adjudicate matters of resource control is bound to fail. The provisions because of the unfairness inherent in them do not constitute the appropriate basis for handling such problems. As Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte recently stated in his dissenting ruling on the on-shore/off-shore oil law suit, the assuming by the Supreme Court of Nigeria of “jurisdiction in the matter would result in violation of one of the fundamental principles of adjudication”. The Nigeria government had filed the suit, based on the unfair provisions, to contend that all natural resources located in territorial waters of Nigeria, belong to the central government and not to any of the littoral states lying on the borders of these waters. What the people need is not a legal bullying of the sort used by the Nigerian state but a mature and objective discussion of resource control and related issues at a sovereign conference of ethnic nationalities.
The people of Niger Delta therefore expect their legislators at all levels of government, local, state or federal to call for such a dialogue with the people. The legislators must reject the misconception that only the government, in a legislative or executive capacity has the power to change or order a new constitution based on some pre-determined provisions. To accept this notion is to doom the possibility of any legislation dealing with issues of minority interest that may not be to the liking of the powerful majority groups in Nigeria. Senator Brume illustrated the difficulty of using the constitutional process in a recent interview with Mr. Abiodun Adeniyi, that was published in The Guardian News of July 1, 2001:
…….. to get constitutional amendment [to permit resource control], you require two-thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly. That is two-thirds of the legislators. Not only that, you require at least two-thirds of the states of the federation to agree. And I tell you that if you are on the ground and you know the inclination of the people [from non oil-producing regions] in this country, you are going to struggle and for many years before you will be able to effect such a constitutional amendment – if at all.
Here one is faced with an instance of internal colonialism. The majority groups have constituted themselves into powerful colonial masters that rely on the seizure and misuse of power to deny minority groups especially those from the Niger Delta region, their fundamental human rights including rights of expression. The opponents of resource control can hide behind these provisions and say to the people of Niger Delta:
Tough luck. You minorities from the oil-producing communities, who are agitating for resource control, do not have the numbers to win and there is nothing you can do beyond accepting it as an act of God, to live with your misfortune!
This attitude of intolerance and abuse of power may well be ingrained in some people. But it is the duty of Mr. Brume and other legislators as representatives of the people to fight to change this system of governance that provides no relief for minority problems. It is not the place of Senator Brume or any legislator especially one from the affected minority areas, one would think, to affirm an oppressive system or to turn himself or herself into a mouthpiece of the oppressors.
May be Nigerian legislators need to take a cue from the Honorable James Jeffords, Senator from the State of Vermont who quit his political party to become an Independent in the United States Senate. The Senator changed his party affiliation mainly to protest the decision of the Senate Appropriation Committee controlled by his fellow Republicans not to include enough money for Special Education, funds that he considers essential for the education of children with special needs in his state.
Now compare Mr. Jeffords’ idea of senatorial responsibilities to that of his counterparts in Nigeria. All members of Niger Delta’s origin in both Nigeria’s National Assembly and Senate were elected on the platform of the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP). So are all the state governors and a majority of state legislators in Niger Delta, which means that the people of Niger Delta overwhelmingly voted for (PDP) in the last set of elections that were completed in 1999. Yet a PDP controlled-central government and a PDP President in Nigeria, have clearly chosen to work against resource control, an issue of major concern to the people of Niger Delta. In spite of this show of disregard, many legislators from Niger Delta, unlike Senator Jeffords, have apparently chosen to stick with their party and enjoy party patronage rather than to challenge a government that is unashamed of its hostility towards minorities in particular and the interests of Southern Nigeria in general.
The shortcomings of the political leaders may have encouraged opponents of resource control to set an agenda that seems to divert attention away from the real issues involved in the debate. As indicated earlier, resource control is now seen by many as the allocation of revenue derived from the mining of oil and gas reserves. The tendency is to forget that every community is endowed with resources of land, water and air, all of which are necessary for the survival of the people that live there. It would therefore make sense for the communities to have a significant say on how proceeds from resources in their environment are derived and distributed for the benefit of mankind.
Not so in Nigeria. The Nigerian nation-state believes it has the absolute right to appropriate all lands and any mineral resources found therein and use them as it sees fit without the consent of the communities involved. This right of ownership, Bala Usman argued, is derived from the series of one-sided proclamations that the British colonial administration had used to “transfer people’s land and mineral resources to the British Crown”. An example of this type of orders was the Mineral Proclamation of 1916, section 3 of which states as cited by Bala Usman in his paper, "The Misrepresentation of Nigeria: The Facts and The Figures:"
The entire property and control of all minerals and mineral oil in, under or upon any lands in Nigeria, and of all rivers, streams and water courses throughout Nigeria is, and shall be vested in the CROWNAt independence, the crown ownership of land and mineral resources, Bala Usman further stated, was bequeathed to the Nigeria state as heirs to the crown and not to the communal owners. Bala Usman’s belief that the colonial structures are sacrosanct and ought to remain the model for ruling Nigeria should be troublesome to all true patriots of Nigeria especially those from mineral-producing communities. The British colonial masters erected these structures primarily as Bala Usman and his friends should know, to serve their best interests and not for the well-being or the needs of the various peoples of Nigeria.
What Nigeria is doing to the people of oil-producing communities, could therefore not be any different from what the Belgians and Afrikaneers did to the people of Congo and South Africa respectively. The exploits of both the Belgian and Afrikanners in Africa provide some of the classic examples of how external aggressors waged wars in late 19th century and early 20th century to seize control of mineral resources from others in foreign lands. These wars left scars of some of the worst cases of brutality ever known to man.
Hence for the oil-producing communities, resource control could not just be a matter of allocation; it is a struggle for survival. The position of the communities in the current debate reflects the desire to regain ownership, control, and management of their land and its oil resources that have been unjustly taken away from them. This position flows from a universally accepted fact that the communities owned the land on which they live. However Obasanjo military government issued the Land Use Decree of 1979, in ways that are reminiscent of what the British colonialists did in making proclamations, to seize land from the people. This seizure implies that whenever the government by itself or in alliance with the oil company requires land for any purpose, they can do so without consulting the communities who live on the land or pay any compensation for using the land.
In addition, other legal orders including Section 44, subsection 3 of the 1999 constitution, foisted on Nigerians by the military rulers without the proper mandate, vest ownership of all oil, gas, and mineral deposits in the Nigerian state. The constitution also contains a provision which stipulates that no less than 13 per cent of oil revenue be paid to mineral-producing area for its development. These legal arrangements have the unfortunate effect of redirecting the struggle for ownership, control and management of land and its resources, into one of mere scramble for compensation or allocation.
With the seeming loss of focus, the struggle is yet to pay proper attention to the serious issues of ecological damage and lack of employment opportunities for qualified indigenes of oil-producing communities. The Nigerian state because of its alliance with oil companies, has not been able to put in place, any efficient agency, to monitor and enforce compliance with environmental standards as mandated for the oil and gas industry. The top management of oil companies is dominated by people from outside the oil-producing region, These officials, many of whom are Nigerians from the major ethnic groups, are known for assisting the companies in devising policies that deny indigenes employment and reserve the more lucrative contracts for foreigners and others from outside the oil-producing communities. It is also not unusual to hear privileged oil company personnel refer disparagingly to indigenes of oil-producing communities as villagers in much the same way that colonialists referred to Africans as ‘natives’.
The Nigerian government for example, is a member of a consortium headed by Chevron Nigeria Limited to build a West African gas pipeline to transport natural gas from Nigeria to the neighboring countries of Benin, Togo and Ghana. The Agreement to join the consortium was signed without consultation with the communities that will be traversed by the proposed pipeline, and without the benefit of an environmental impact study. The Rio Declaration Agreement reached at the 1992 World Summit on Environment which is also reflected on Nigerian Environmental Impact Assessment Law of 1992, requires impact assessment for projects that are likely to have adverse impact on the ecosystem. The communities were ignored because of the wide legal protection provided to the oil companies by the Nigerian state.
Environmental groups who opposed the project have expressed fears of possible adverse effects on the environment, including the potential for fires from pipeline rupture or explosion. A report published jointly by the ERA , Oil Watch and Friends of the Earth, warned of the of negative impacts that may include “loss of flaura and fauna through clearing of vegetation, disruption of fishing activities, underminding of water quality by pollution and possible displacement of an estimated 50,000 people living along the pipeline route”.
The Nigerian government has also awarded a contract to dredge the lower River Niger again without any environmental impact analysis as required by the Rio Declaration. The proposed dredging is opposed by people of Niger Delta who fear that the dredging will further ruin their environment beyond the damage already done by oil exploration. A group of Ijaw nationals has filed a law suit to stop the project which they alleged will not benefit their people. The group believes that the project will result in massive displacement and cause unnecessary disruptions to their way of life. Although the suit has not been scheduled for hearing, the government has decided on its own, that it will go ahead with the project ; work is expected to begin on the project in October 2001.
The Ijaw group charges that the Nigerian government is embarking on the project to satisfy the Northern Governors’ demand for the establishment of inland ports in Northern Nigeria. The government wants to dredge the river to increase water depth to a level that will sustain navigability of the Niger. One wonders why the government would consider spending as much as N8 billion towards the opening of new ports when the existing ports of Burutu, Forcados, Koko, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Sapele and Warri are grossly underused. The Ijaw nationals have argued that such amount of money could well be spent on developing the Niger Delta region. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which is being touted as proof of the government’s determination to develop Niger Delta is not only as well funded as the dredging project but is also facing saboteur from government functionaries in Abuja.
If there was no oil and gas reserve in Niger Delta, the Nigerian state, will most likely not go to the extent it has to separate the people from their land and its mineral wealth. The pains of this forced separation are all the more evident when one recognizes according to Rodolfo Stavenhagen (The Ethnic Question, Conflict, Development and Human Rights, 1990) that:
Land [for the people] is not only a productive resource, an economic factor. Land is habitat, territory, the basis for social organization, cultural identification and political viability………… Land is the essential element in the cultural reproduction of the group.
The loss of land and mineral resources to Nigeria’s central government is thus the principal factor in the ongoing conflict of which the people of Niger Delta are the continuing victims. The Nigerian government and the people of Niger Delta will continue to clash over the issue of land and mineral resources; what for the former is a source of easy money to waste, for the later constitutes a vital necessity for survival.
A fair and equitable solution to the problem of resource control is further impeded by the central government’s refusal to negotiate. An over centralized government that has grown too powerful is not willing to concede any power to its constituent states. The government believes and hopes that the setting up of agencies like the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) and the recently approved Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) will compensate for the loss of land. These measures which ignore the central issue of ownership are considered too little and have come too late to appease people who have become too resentful of external directions from Abuja, to consider this piecemeal approach as genuine or helpful.
Although the British colonial administration ultimately bears the blame for initiating the attack on the land and the resources, it had, at least, showed a deeper appreciation than what Nigeria professes for environmental problems associated with oil exploration. The colonial authorities, conscious of these problems, devised a formula for revenue sharing based on the principle of derivation, which allocates 50 per cent of revenue to the area of derivation, 35 per cent to the regions (now states) and 15 percent to the central government. This arrangement endured until 1970 when Gowon military regime appropriated the entire off-shore oil revenue and began the process of reducing the slice of on-shore oil revenue for oil-producing states while steadily increasing the share that goes to the central government. The trend in reduction of oil revenue to producing states continued until it hit the rock bottom of 1.5 percent in 1984 during the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari.
Under the arrangement now enshrined in the constitution of 1999, the central government keeps most of the oil revenue, leaving some 13 percent to the oil-producing areas. This arrangement still violates the spirit of federalism in which the funds accruing to the center in a federal system of government are usually derived from contributions in forms of taxes or levies from the constituent states or the federating units. With so much money available at the center, the powerful groups that control the government, essentially the military and their accomplices had used the opportunity to waste, steal and divert billions of dollars meant for the people into personal foreign bank accounts. The excess fund at the center also enabled the successive military governments including Obasanjo’s current civilianized regime to engage in punitive and repressive actions not only against oil-producing communities but also against pro-democracy and human rights groups of activists who are opposed to government policy on resource control.
The Nigerian state has become morally bankrupt and lacks the sensitivity to deal with the problems of the oil-producing communities. The various actions of the government suggest that it is only interested in the oil revenue and not in the welfare of the people whose lives and communities have been wrecked by oil exploration. The oil companies have been left free to operate cheaply and often with out-dated equipment. Oil companies that are known for winning prizes in environmental protection for their operations in other countries have chosen to apply different standards in Nigeria. They have, for example. refused for long time to cap the release of gas until such a time when it can be tapped for commercial use. They preferred, instead and without concern for the impact on the environment, to go the easy and cheap route of allowing the gas to flare, thus allowing billions of dollars worth of gas to waste. This waste of valuable gas did not bother the oil companies as they were until recently, only interested in tapping the more profitable oil reserves. Aging oil-pipelines that have been left to corrode for lack of maintenance, are allowed to run through communities, again without regards to the possibility of ruptures or explosions that had caused many instances of oil spillage and outbreak of fire.
A reasonable measure of resource control offers the best hope of weaning the Nigerian state from dependence on oil revenue and of starting a genuine process of rehabilitation for the people of Niger Delta. By resource control, one means the return of ownership, control, use and management of land and its mineral resources to the rightful owners. It also means more training and employment opportunities for Niger Deltans in the oil and gas industry, who will be allowed to move into management positions where they can help to make decisions on production and marketing of oil resources. The people themselves, and not any big brother in Abuja, will have the opportunity to use oil revenue to repair the ecological damage done to land, water and air in their area.
Resource Control as envisaged by the people of oil-producing communities of course does not preclude interactions with others in Nigeria. Neither will such a control prevent the flow of benefits of mineral resources from mineral-producing areas to stimulate developments in other parts of the country through the exchange of goods and services. For Nigeria to prosper, it needs wide and open markets for its goods, and all parts of the country will benefit more from interaction of market forces than in isolation of any part from the other. The form of control can be achieved within the context of true federalism; the kind of federal structure that allows each federating unit to control and manage its own resources, and pay fair taxes to run the central government. This system will provide the central government with just enough money it needs to run its services and the wisdom to stay out of the business of the states. The states themselves will be under pressure to develop their own resources or create goods and services in order to generate funds for internal developments and to pay taxes for the upkeep of federal structures. The system will encourage accountability of public officials, which will restrict misappropriation of public funds. In this way, more funds will be available for actual development that will improve the quality of life for all Nigerians. This state of affairs will undoubtedly and with time, usher in, an era of peace and stability in place of the simmering rancor generated by greed for oil money, which if care is not taken, could tear Nigeria apart.
July 16, 2001