Urhobo Historical Society

Beyond Resource Control

By Blessing Eghagha

Eghagha is a Lagos-based lawyer

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Friday, September 14, 2001

BEFORE the 1998 Kaiama Declaration by Ijaw youths, there was the Ogoni Bill of rights in 1990. The contents of the Bill of rights include compensation to the Ogoni people to the tune of $30 billion dollars by the government and people of Nigeria as a result of mindless exploitation and exploration of their God-given oil by various multi-national companies. Before then the president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the late Ken Saro-Wiwa had fought a long-standing battle against the Federal Government over years of environmental degradation and pollution. Encouraged by successive military regimes, these companies against all known norms and conventions of international order completely devastated their land leaving the inhabitants high and dry.

 The people of Ogoni land are traditionally farmers. Due to the introduction of toxic chemicals into the sea in their quest for oil, these companies caused the massive emigration of species from these areas. The constant menace of gas-flaring created health problems. Added to these, were numerous incidents of oil spillages, which scorched their soil and rendered farming unprofitable. Access to education was as far and unattainable as the sky. There were virtually no roads in Ogoni. Faced with these problems, disease and poverty flourished.

 Ken Saro-Wiwa had a dream. He dreamt with his eyes open. In that dream he saw a free people of the Niger Delta with access to their God-given wealth, a land of equal opportunities, a land where the people had the right to self-determination, a land where their socio-political idiosyncrasies and aspirations are well articulated and reflected by their leader. A land where the indigenes could participate unencumbered in oil exploration activities. What happened? He was judicially murdered by an insane military cabal whose power lay mainly in their ability to distort facts, intimidate the citizens and plunder the national till. Saro-Wiwa was killed all right, but that dream has now become an infectious one. A call that was made in Ogoni land has now resonated deep into the creeks of the Ijaw heartland, ricocheting in the whole of the Niger Delta. It is now an ideology, a philosophy which nourishes and sustains the predilection of the people. This has now been subsumed under the phrase: resource control.

 Resource control in today's political lexicon infers the appropriation of the mineral deposits found in some states by such states. By implication where such minerals are located they become the property of that state by alienation. This is to enable the government of these states to pursue development programmes that will ameliorate the burdens and sufferings of the people. The demand, strange as it seems, is the collective desire of the people. The government responded by whittling down this demand, to accommodate its interest by virtue of sec. 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution which gives back 13 percentage of the monies generated from all resources to the various state governments. The reason for this capitulation arose not out of sympathy or love but because of the ferociousness with which the youths in the oil states were advancing their cause.

 It is a long-held view in this region that various governments in Nigeria treat these issues with levity. They view each government with suspicion.

 The Obasanjo administration's policy on the Niger Delta reflects, regrettably the opinion of the President. From his antecedents one could deduce his veiled contempt for the people of this area. Firstly, he deliberately refused to sign the NDDC bill into law until it was passed by two-thirds of both Houses. Secondly, his present attempt to draw a dichotomy between off-shore and on-shore production is now a subject of litigation in the Supreme Court. When the inhabitants of Odi attempted to assert their right over their property he sent in his killer troops to maim and destroy them. To compound matters, the president defies even the constitution by not complying with the provisions of section (162 (2) which states that mineral producing states should be paid thirteen per cent as derivation. He pays only seven per cent. As at today, the NDDC is being starved of funds to function properly. These are the characteristics of an archetypal Nigerian leader. The Niger Delta matters only when oil is to be exploited and protected when their interest is threatened. This only lends credence to the general consensus that the people that constitute what is known as the Niger Delta are irrelevant in modern Nigeria.

 What we demand is an urgent and practical solution to the myriads of problems in the Niger Delta. The scam called the National Youth Service Corps has been exposed for what it is. Simply put, it is a veritable tool in the hands of the government to dispossess graduates of the oil-rich Niger Delta of jobs in their home states. While graduates from these regions are sent to the north to instruct their reluctant wards, their counterparts from the North and South-West are sent to serve in multi-national companies in the Niger Delta. While those in northern and other states are sent back after the mandatory service, those from other states serving in the Niger Delta are retained. Thus the indigenes become job-seekers in their own land.

 The former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari said recently that the oil in the Niger-Delta belongs to everybody. We are not in the least amused. This is a man whose achievement as president of Nigeria could be written at the back of a postage stamp with space left over to draw the map of Nigeria. The rice field at the back of his house belongs to everybody. His type are not relevant in our struggle. By this statement, Shagari identifies himself as one of the beneficiaries of the vicious, dubious, extant law called the Land Use Act.

 The people of the Niger Delta demand a re-negotiation of our continued existence as a state. This cannot be achieved until and unless the legal parameters erected by successive governments have been permanently demolished. It is not too late to talk. As for the Niger Delta people, they are determined not to wash their faces with spittle as long a they live on the river bank. This has been embedded in the soul of every true Niger Deltan.