It seems Ijaw youths are inadvertently laying landmines for an inter-ethnic conflict in the Niger Delta with the way they are attacking Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio, and raising dust over the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Politics of exclusion is certainly not what the oil region needs to arm-twist the Nigerian state to right the prolonged injustice to the area. The rampaging Ijaw youths do not seem to learn from the tragedy of the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan era. One of the hidden tragedies of the Jonathan administration was the Izonisation of his Presidency by the Ijaw people.
Frequently, the Ijaw people see the Niger Delta as belonging to them. In a seeming twisted viewpoint of some of the Ijaw social formations, every other ethnic nationality within the vastly polluted oil and gas region, are settlers. With that mentality they stoutly oppose any public functionary from the ‘settler’ ethnic nationalities holding offices that deal directly with the oil region.
This is what is currently happening to Akpabio, and the Interim Sole Administrator of NDDC, Okon Akwa Effiong. That also explains why Ijaw youths described as “deceitful” and “diversionary” Akpabio’s comments on the possible constitution of a substantive board of NDDC in April this year after the forensic audit of the commission.
In Abuja on Wednesday while receiving the interim report of the commission from forensic auditors, Akpabio insisted that the appointment of a sole administrator which has triggered protests and uprising in the environmentally despoiled region was ordered by a court and not the Federal Government.
Reacting, Spokesman for Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Ebilade Erekefe, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, described Akpabio’s claim as diversionary and aimed at stopping the agitation against the appointment of a sole administrator and shutting down the headquarters of NDDC.
“The only reason that will stop the protest is for President Muahammadu Buhari to do the right thing by appointing the substantive board in NDDC that will carry out its functions properly. We are calling on every well-meaning Ijaw youths not to be distracted by the statement of Akpabio which does not reflect the decision of IYC. We also want to put on record that since the agitation and anger is being expressed by stakeholders from the region, we have noticed a desperate attempt by the embattled sole administrator and his godfather to desperately spend money to divide the youths of the region and their leadership including IYC’’, Erekefe said.
Continuing, he said, “we are resolute and demand the immediate constitution of the board. If it is the court that ordered such, why are they desperately spending NDDC funds to buy conscience and divide the region? The only reason that will stop the protest is for President Buhari to do the right thing by appointing the substantive board in NDDC that will carry out it functions properly.’’ He then adds, ”the protest is borne out of the genuine desire of Ijaw youths to demand for a substantive board that will facilitate development in the Niger Delta. It is a people’s driven and people’s oriented protest that cannot be cancelled by anybody who has never been a part of the ongoing protests in the region. The protest will go on according to plan as all structures of Council have been fully notified for the show down and they are all ready and waiting for the signal.”
What the Ijaw youths are exhibiting is their familiar politics since the inception of NDDC in 2000. That seeming vicious politics frustrated the pioneer NDDC Managing Director, Godwin Omene, an engineer, out of office and stalled his plans for the region. The now late Omene, spoke with professional exuberance and confidence indicative of a passion for quick and quality delivery on his hopes and plans for the commission, the Niger Delta, the youths, among others.
Before he was appointed the NDDC boss by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Omene was a former Deputy Managing Director of the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, in Nigeria. He was also a Director of ARCO Group Plc, with a First Class Honours B.Sc degree (Mining Engineering) from Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Petroleum Reservoir Engineering) with Distinction from the same College. The ARCO Group of companies operate from four main offices in Lagos, Warri, Port Harcourt and London.
While in Shell, Omene served in the following capacities: Wellsite Petroleum Engineer, Shell BP Port-Harcourt; Wellsite Petroleum Engineering Trainer, Western Division, Delta State; Operations Engineer Western Division, Warri; Senior Operations Engineer, Western Division, Warri; Production Technologist, Eastern Division; Port Harcourt, Senior Production Technologist, Lagos; Head Petroleum Engineering department, Eastern Division, Port Harcourt; Lagos Operations and Third party Affairs Manager and LNG Coordinator, Lagos State; Operations Manager, Western Division, Warri; Divisional Manager, Western Division, Warri; General Manager, Operations, Lagos; Deputy Managing Director and General Manager, Lagos.
When he left NDDC, Omene became the Chairman/CEO of Gladson Petrogas Limited, an energy consulting company he founded after retirement. He was a recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Productivity (NNOP) and a member of various professional bodies with wide training and other appointments too numerous to mention.
During the early years of the interventionist agency, spirited attempts by other ethnic groups in the region to seek accommodation was frustrated by mobilising Ijaw youths to attack them. People like David Dafinone, a prominent figure Guinness World Records honoured with his sons for being the first family in history to produce the largest number of chartered accountants. It is an extraordinary feat. Accountancy is a profession that is not native to Nigeria. Chartered accountants are peculiarly a British club of talented men and women. But, an Urhobo man beat the odds and was honoured with his entire family.
Guinness World Records confers rare honours on those who have achieved world records in recognized fields of human endeavours. These records are deemed to chronicle the first time in our human race that someone or a group of people has done something so extraordinary that they deserve mankind’s recognition. Based in England, Guinness World Records rarely looks to Africa and Africans for its selection of record-making achievements. Yet, Ijaw youths were used to chase him and his group away from Port Harcourt when they came, calling to demand for NDDC to be an all-inclusive agency.
By the Act No.6 establishing the NDDC in 2000, the Commission has powers to formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger- Delta; conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of tie Niger-Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications; cause the Niger-Delta area to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures which are necessary to promote its physical and socio- economic development, prepare master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger-Delta area and the estimates of the costs of implementing such master plans and schemes; and implement all the measures approved for the development of the Niger- Delta area by the Federal Government and the member States of the Commission;
Others include, identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger-Delta area and assist the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger-Delta area, assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the Niger-Delta area by oil and gas producing companies and any other company including non-governmental organisations and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised; tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger-Delta area and advise the Federal Government and the member States on the prevention and control of oil spillages gas flaring and environmental pollution; liaise with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution prevention and control; execute such other works and perform such other functions which in the opinion of the Commission, are required for the sustainable development of the Niger- Delta area and its peoples; and in excising its functions and powers under this section, the Commission shall have regard to the varied and specific contributions of each member state of the Commission.
NDDC is however, subject to the direction, control or supervision in the performance of its functions under its Act by the Nigerian President. Its Board has power to: Manage and supervise affairs of the Commission; make rules and regulations for carrying out the functions of the Commission; enter and inspect premises, projects and such places as may be necessary for the purposes of carrying out its functions under this Act; pay the staff of the Commission such remuneration and allowances as appropriate; enter into such contracts as may be necessary or expedient for the discharge of its functions and ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the Commission; and do such other things as are necessary and expedient for the efficient performance of the functions of the Commission,
The undying attempt to Izonise the NDDC has not allowed that development agency to perform in the real sense of the word. The Jonathan Presidency was Izonised, and in the process a greater majority of the oil region was excluded in guiding the ex-president. The Izonisation of the Jonathan Presidency, to a large extent, fueled the rebellion politics of the incumbent Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, who at the time dominated the affairs of Rivers State, a strategic state in Nigeria’s oil politics. If an astute political fighter, Nyesom Wike, did not intervene swiftly, Jonathan would have been dealt a lethal political blow in 2015 in Rivers.
Jonathan did not seem to have learnt anything with the parochial politics that played out against him in Bayelsa as an Ogbia man. Before his emergence as president those parading as core Ijaw people never reckoned with the Ogbia people. The nasty politics against the Ogbia bloc prompted the likes of the late Nelson Azibalonari, to float the Movement for the Restoration of Ogbia Nation (MORETO). Without the radical MORETO and the Ogbia Brotherhood, Jonathan would have left politics back to the classroom after completing the tenure of the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was stampeded out of office by enemies of the Niger Delta struggle for justice with the active connivance of some eminent Ijaw leaders.
For Jonathan at the time, politics meant dirty business that no honest man should venture into. Without the intense pressure from his Ogbia kinsmen, Jonathan will not be what he is today. It took the effort of the likes of Dr. Tarila Tebepah, Chief Agadaga, Justice Igoniwari, Nelson Azibalonari, Chief Asara A. Asara and the late Oronto Douglas, to convince Jonathan to enter the 2007 governorship race before President Obasanjo drafted him as the presidential running mate of Umaru Yar’Adua.
It was on the basis of the Obasanjo draft politics that the then Green Movement served as a rallying point for supporters of the Jonathan politics was formed and many commissioners that served under Alamieyeseigha keyed into the power agenda. Seriake Dickson had to dump Alliance for Democracy (AD) and joined the Green Movement while he was serving as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the Jonathan administration.
Before the entrance of Jonathan into the governorship race, Timi Alaibe, the pioneer NDDC Executive Director, Finance and Administration, and subsequently the agency’s MD, had taken over the structures of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the ward level to local government area. When the time therefore, came to constitute a new state PDP executive, Jonathan was completely shot out as Alaibe had total control. Jonathan had to lead a state delegation to protest to the party hierarchy in Abuja to consider that as a sitting governor, he should also be given the privilege to nominate some persons to fill sensitive positions in the state executive.
In a seeming desperate bid to create a leveled playground for all aspirants of the party, Jonathan was given the opportunity to bring in Tarila Tebepah as secretary, Alaibe brought Fred Agbedi as chairman, while the godfather of Timipre Sylva, King Edmund Dakoru gave Darius Obiene the opportunity to serve as deputy chairman of the party in the state to conduct the primaries of the party.
Before the high wire Bayelsa politics, Alaibe, who actually laid the foundation for the Izonisation of NDDC, was very sure of clinching the PDP gubernatorial ticke because he had the chairman and some executive members of the party on his side. It was learnt that in that excitement, Agbedi led some party faithful to Opokuma, where they gave Alaibe a PDP flag, signifying their support for him. But, that act was not in line with the PDP constitution. Piqued, the Jonathan group petitioned the party chairman, Agbedi, and Alaibe was pressured to step aside and allow Jonathan to fly the ticket.
Now, the Izonisation politics in the oil region is threatening to spark an inter-ethnic conflict like that of Darfur. Like the Niger Delta, Darfur is home to plural ethnic groups divided between nomads and sedentary communities. The rebels are drawn mainly from three communities of the Fur, Massalit and the Zaghawa tribes. The indigenous peoples of Darfur (the Fur, and several other ethnic groups) and the Arabs have always had relatively distinct identities, they generally got along well until resources became scarce, as a result, ethnicity and race became a factor in the conflict. That is true of the Niger Delta where decades of crude oil pollution has dislocated the population from fishing and farming, and turned a sizeable segment of the population into militants.
Violence has been the bane of the oil region where conflicts easily flare up for over four decades. Beginning from the pre-colonial period, the region has witnessed a series of conflicts, which had their roots, initially in the protest against injustice, and in recent years in the quest for resource ownership and control. All efforts to resolve conflict in the region have been failing until 2009 when amnesty was declared by the Yar’Adua administration and some form of relative peace prevailed.
Around 50 million people live in the oil region renowned as one of the World’s ten most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems. The region is rich with a diverse mosaic of ecological zones, five of which are the mangrove forest and coastal vegetation zone, the fresh water swamp forest zone, the lowland rain forest zone, the derived savannah zone and the montane zone. It is also the location of massive oil deposits, which have been extracted for over five decades by the central government.
Many sources are unanimous that since 1970, Nigeria has earned at least $300 billion from energy development and in 2005 it made $450 billion. With about 40 million barrels of proven oil reserves, it had previously produced 2.4 million barrels of oil per day, which constituted 90% of the government’s revenue and 95% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. In West Africa, while the country is the biggest producer of petroleum, it is the sixth largest supplier of oil in the world. Unarguably, oil wealth has been instrumental to the country’s emergence as a leading player in world and regional politics. Sadly, the region that bears this economically important resource has been enmeshed in conflicts for more than four decades, largely due to the negative impact of oil exploration.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Niger Delta is a tale of poverty, squalor and gross underdevelopment in the midst of plenty, due to environmental degradation which has affected the people’s agricultural means of livelihood. The effect of oil spills and gas flares has been death to aquatic lives and waste to farm lands. Records have it that more gas is flared in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. It is also on record that the oil industry in the region is one of the worst cases in the world of gas flaring. Nigeria is the second largest offending country, after Russia, in terms of the total volume of gas flared and the resulting emission of around 70 million tons of Co2 a year, higher than the emissions in Norway. In the case of oil spills, Nigeria has the highest number of oil spills in the world; between nine million and 13 million barrels of oil have been spilled in the region though the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) puts the amount of petroleum spilled in the area between 1976 and 1996 at 1.8 million out of a total of 2.4 million.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that more than 6 800 spills were recorded in the area between 1976 and 2001 while the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) places the quantity of petroleum spilled into the environment yearly at 2 300 cubic metres, with an average 300 industrial spills annually. However, the World Bank believes that the amount of oil spills could be ten times higher than the officially released figures. Erosion, canalisation, intra- and inter-communal conflicts between host-communities are also some effects of oil explorations in the region. This has led to protests by the indigenous people, leading in turn to full blown conflicts.
Historically, Darfur has been one of the most remote regions of Sudan. Even in normal circumstances, the region is hard to reach because it is so far from the capital, Khartoum. Tribal and ethnic conflicts are neither new nor uncommon. Incidents of both small and large scale conflicts are recorded as far back as 1939 and they generally arise from disputes over access to natural resources like range lands and water points as well as livestock trespassing (grazing on farm lands), closure of herd routes and cattle raiding. Larger conflicts normally emerge from tribal disputes, banditry and disputes with transnational migrating communities. Without the doubt, North Darfur and parts of West and South Darfur have suffered recurrent droughts. Crop yields have remained low and unpredictable due to erratic rainfall, pest infestation and the lack of agricultural inputs. Livestock has also dwindled due to pasture and water scarcity. The local labour force has continued to migrate in search of employment leaving behind children, women and the elderly. A combination of these factors over several years has systematically eroded the coping capacities of communities.
Since coming to power in 1989, the Sudanese government has sought to introduce a federal model of government which has enabled Darfuris to be well represented within Sudan’s political structures. There are seven federal government ministers from Darfur and Darfuris also hold, amongst other positions, a cabinet-rank presidential adviser position. There are also four Darfuri state governors and Darfuris are also members of the supreme and constitutional court. Darfuri representation in the National Assembly is second only to the southern states. But, in the Niger Delta, the Ijaw youths are fighting public functionaries and agencies not driven by their own.
Irked, the Niger Delta Conscience Coalition (NDCC) is currently declaring that no ethnic group in the region can intimidate or harass Akpabio, and Effiong Akwa. President of the Coalition, Aniefiok Obot said in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, ‘’there is no state or place that is more Niger Deltan than the other whether by its population segments, vegetation or topography. This group is therefore taking exception at the attitude of entitlement displayed by certain groups, sections, communities against and towards our appointed representatives in the running of Niger Delta affairs whether it is at the centre or at the regional level.’’
According to the group, ‘’there has lately been an inundation of the political space from Abuja to Port Harcourt with spates of protest from youth of Ijaw extraction against the NDDC interim sole administrator and Niger Delta minister’’, explaining that the amalgamated groups of Niger Deltans representing the values of fair-play, justice, equity, transparency, accountability, good governance all enshrined in the forensic audit and the infrastructural transformation of the Niger Delta through the vision of Akpabio have come together to renounce their attitude of entitlement and every regional ownership claims.
‘’The recently aborted mother of all protest planned by the Ijaw youth and even the notice of planned shutdown of the Headquarters of NDDC through their publication in Vanguard newspapers of January 5, are uncalled for unacceptable, divisive, irrational and totally aimed at stultifying the wholesome agenda of development, and uncommon transformation currently being engineered into place by President Buhari as being driven by Akpabio.
‘’In a pluralistic society the minimum irreducible decimal that may throw up any protest whatsoever would comprise issues of: Neglect, exclusion, instances of favouritism, are there any denials of rights or privileges, and at worst do you have any references you can make of fundamental departures from the statutes and spirit of the office he is occupying presently? It is certain that the answers to all these concerns are negative.
“So you simply aim to cow him into resigning from his office because you are more Niger Delta than the other constituting nationalities? Other questions that follow are, what are the basis for incessant protest against NDDC and Akpabio? Are you protesting against the ministry? Are you protesting against the minster and the interim administrator because they are not eminently qualified to occupy these offices? Are you protesting against any policy if so, which and why?
‘’People have come to pride themselves in senseless orgies of threats, violence and intimidations all against their very own, and also some of Niger Delta’s best foot forward in the Nigerian political turf; and these have had a multiple ripple whose manifestation has arisen in the trivializing of the struggles of the Niger Delta, be it in its vehicles, driver, concept or ideals.
‘’Who are these lions or tigers that feel they can intimidate a first rank Minister of the Federal Republic to a standstill or at worse run him out of office? It is apt to understand that a threat at the messenger is equally a threat at the sender. The voiceless and faceless orchestrators of anarchy towards the minister and the interim management of NDDC should either desist or think twice because sometimes the lion that would consume the deer may not even be the one that roars’’, the Coalition said.
They are condemning in its entirety any such protest whether in content, character, context or spirit, pointing out that the caregiver which the protesting groups represent will not, and cannot overturn or usurp the role of the gatekeeper which the minister and the NDDC administrator hold. The group has accordingly affirmed its total unalloyed support for Akpabio and Akwa in all their actions, purposes and directions,” the coalition stated.
While appealing to the peoples of the oil region to join hands in giving Akpabio and NDDC management all necessary cooperation to deliver on their mandates, and provision of adequate security, the Coalition warned, ‘’we are watching events keenly. Let no harm come to Akpabio and Akwa through orchestrated protests oiled by faceless sponsors.”