By Philips Akpoviri
Has anyone ever imagined how much of an Eldorado the South-Western region of Nigeria would have become if the vast reserves of hydrocarbons situate in the Niger Delta were largely domiciled in that region? Probably that part would have been at par with today’s eye-catching South Korea with breath-taking infrastructures, while the other parts of Nigeria wallow in abject poverty!
How about if we had these special fluids entirely lying beneath the lands and waters in the South East? We surely would have created another bullish and industrialised Israel in that part of Nigeria while other Nigerians lay tearfully at their mercy!
But perhaps, the biggest ‘if’ would be contemplated if Nigeria’s petroleum reserves were buried in the Northern half of Nigeria. Surely the entity called Nigeria would have been reversed by 180 degrees to the pre- 1914 amalgamation status engineered by the colonial masters. Non-Northerners would have been hurriedly ferried back down South – dead or alive.
But, having our petroleum blessings in the South-South region is by far the most evident manifestation of God-the-Creator’s unparalleled sense of awareness. By enriching the lands and waters of the most people-centred, seemingly weakest, least wise and most disunited sets of people in the country, the omniscience God has avoided several civil wars, unquantifiable losses and capacious blood spills.
They too are no saints though; they have their loads of problems too; chief among which is the psycho- disease of sycophancy. But they are the generous ones; the patient ones, and by far the most tolerant Nigerians there ever can be. These are the oppressed Niger Delta people. The South - South people of Nigeria.
For many years they whimpered, they yowled and they fearfully challenged their compatriots from the North, the West and of course, the East. They complained bitterly of deliberate conscienceless marginalization occasioned by their disadvantaged demographic minority. Their case has never being helped by the seemingly innumerable fractionated ethnic groups scattered all across their tattered marshy fields and contaminated water pockets.
Their waters bear the geese that lay the golden eggs and their land serve as the well-fertilized farmland that feed Nigeria. The nation - unless anything absolutely extraordinary happens – cannot survive without the produce of these people.
Yet still and ironically and inexplicably so, these fertile lands are the least developed, these productive waters are the most impure, and these generous people by far the least catered for. The country has been unfair on these people. Their plight is about the most eye-catching ignoble advertisement of injustice on a people.
They sought for answers to many questions; they demanded actions in lieu of the usual rhetoric. They asked for rights in the sea of unjust denials. They politely demanded justice from a system that had nothing but injustice for them. On the altar of redress the brave Ken Saro-Wiwa, his kinsmen from Ogoni land and others had to painfully give up their own today that others might get a better tomorrow.
These few brave men dared to say no when a ‘no’ had to be said and for this they paid the ultimate price. No thanks to the dark-goggled maximum ruler General Sani Abacha – a man Nigeria had the rather irreparable misfortune of having to mislead us.
On the blood of these martyrs and a few others, one patient man, Dr Goodluck Jonathan proudly sits atop the nation’s most expensive seat as President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. He has walked his way into the history books as the first man from the super-rich Niger Delta region to hold that office.
Today, the Niger Delta people need not send emissaries to Abuja to explain their plights to one man who scarcely appreciates their insupportable privations. They already have a Niger Delta - thorough bred; an illustrious knowledgeable son of the soil who at least going by his title, has attained the peak of academic distinction up there at the most powerful office in Nigeria.
But, Dr Jonathan’s presidency would not last eternally. Barring any drama, he would vacate office on May 29, 2015 – just about 1,152 days only to go! And at that time, every good work he failed to do for his beloved Niger Delta people might never be done in his lifetime and perhaps much longer afterwards.
The South-South zone is a distant minority in Nigeria’s political calculations; hence, it is rather crystal clear that the Niger Delta would not produce another president any time soon after 2015, unless perhaps Dr Jonathan decides to test the oneness of Nigeria by creating a risky Balkanization-threatening upset.
It is for this reason and more that the president has to as a matter of utmost urgency see to the pitiable plight of his dying people. He must make concerted efforts to genuinely protect them and positively change their lives forever.
Their predominant occupations are fishing and farming. These arts must be positively encouraged. Water and land pollution by petroleum-based pollutants and such other impediments to profitable fishing and farming must be apolitically discouraged and vehemently scuffed.
Bridges must be built, roads must be constructed and genuine employment opportunities created for the suffering people. Their brilliant kids must be encouraged by scholarships. Their schools must be renovated and qualified teachers mobilised to give these generous but poor kids qualitative education; their hospitals must be equipped and medical personnel attracted down to renew the health of the dying altruistic people.
Utilities as basic as potable pipe-borne water, electricity, toilets, and yes toilets must be provided for some of these people. It is perplexing to know that as deep into civilisation as 2012, some people in the hydrocarbon-rich Niger Delta still drink from the same petroleum-polluted water into which they still defecate and urinate. And many others still respond to the call of nature by means of pit toilets!
I have great friends from just about every part of Nigeria, some of whom are from the South-West so I have no reasons whatsoever to generate any controversy against them. But it is only true that one cannot compare the quality of the patchy schools in the primitive Niger Delta settlements to the ‘Ivy League’ schools in some civilised states in the lower left region of Nigeria. Thanks to that great visionary I have always adored.
While the latter are manned by loads of sophisticated foreign-trained teachers, the former are either left to manage some humble local College of Education graduates as teachers, or rely completely on the few serious-minded National Youth Service Corps members to learn anything useful.
Without going into history to establish the reasons for the imbalance, I feel it’s quite an easy sell to argue that the average rural Niger Delta graduate would be somewhat disadvantaged at general merit-driven knowledge-based exercises and exposure - centred challenges. The most glaring instances of these are the outcomes of just about every examination or recruitment exercise across Nigeria: the South-Westerners seem to always dominate in performance.
Going forward, methinks the principal reasons for this lag (of the average rural Niger Deltan scholar relative their counterparts elsewhere) is the dearth of quality in most schools in terms of infrastructures and personnel. There is no debating the fact that one cannot give what s/he doesn’t have. So even if the teachers and students give their best, chances are, their ‘best’ might not be good enough compared to the ‘best’ of others who are in competition with them.
This is where the President of the Nigerian nation and ‘incumbent father of the Niger Delta region’ comes in. This is where his people need his urgent attention. He must maximise his influence on his ministers and on the state governors some of whom to me are still sleeping freely snoring away in office while their people look, cry and die.
The President must push the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC, the Ministry of the Niger Delta and every other Niger-Delta-focussed organ, agency, instrument or machinery to work swiftly and assiduously for the dying people they have been gainfully hired to serve.
It is worth repeating that these people need just about every basic amenity that has become pedestrian in some other big cities. They do urgently need good schools, good teachers, equipped libraries, modern laboratories, clean potable water, solid bridges, tarred roads, and recreational facilities. The air they inhale and the water they drink are as impure as the fish and crops they now eat. Expectedly, they would always be susceptible to illnesses. Therefore, they need modern hospitals and qualified personnel to man them.
Furthermore, beyond banal political rhetoric, feigned passion and beyond the frivolities of some futile post-Amnesty indulgences, it’s high time the Commander-in-Chief and every descendant of the Niger Delta in positions of authority genuinely empowered their browbeaten people. How else? The landing ports!
Revamp the sea ports and the airports. The Lagos airport did not grow to become the most important air-based personnel and freight conduit in Nigeria today by mere serendipity. People engineered it! Powerful people made it that way. Ditto the Lagos sea port.
Broadly speaking, it is a strategically beneficial idea having Lagos sea port and airport, but beyond Lagos, there exist other time-tested established sea ports in Port Harcourt and in Warri. These poorly functional Niger-Delta based ports could be empowered to adequately complement Lagos. Similarly, the dysfunctional Port Harcourt International airport could be upgraded beyond its present misfit name to a truly international status.
I have never been a president and I might never be in my lifetime but I do know that a president is a leader, and every good leader must be influential. And I also know that with this singular component of influence all too many could be achieved.
These just and modest demands may be tough to effect but are truly possible to achieve by Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a well – learned PhD holder; ex-Deputy Governor; ex-State Governor; ex-Vice President; ex-Acting President; and incumbent President and Commander-in-Chief of Africa’s largest petroleum producing nation.
Ultimately, I posit with all due respect that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has in his hands the golden opportunity to become to the South-South that which the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo is today to the South-West. His office also stands him in a stead to become the most outstanding object of ridicule as the most notable failure figure in the Niger Delta should he exit the exalted seat of power without changing the lives of his dying people for the better – for good. That too is another option. I pray my president opts for the former.