"Although the crude oil which nature has endowed the Nigerian nation with is found and drilled mainly in the South-south," a friend wrote to me recently, "almost all the Nigerian oil barons and moguls are from the other regions of the country. What are you guys doing to push the figures into the public domain?"
This got me thinking. How are the nation's oil blocks given out? Are there ethnic or geographical considerations? Are they given out to the highest bidders? Is it possible to allocate oil blocks to the oil-bearing states as compensation for environmental degradation and despoliation? Is it fair to have ALL oil moguls coming from other regions whereas there is none from the Delta?
Most of the barons have never been to the locations where crude oil is found. They never get to see the intense poverty and environmental disaster which the region faces at this time, how fishing is affected and how aquatic life has been decimated by exploration. These barons make their billions of naira while sitting in the comfort of their homes and offices in Lagos and Abuja or Kaduna, Minna, Kano and spend their wealth on structures in cities and towns outside the region. It is an insult, a slap in the face of Niger Deltans. It is annoying to the bones and requires urgent remediation. Somehow some of the well-connected elite from the region feed from the crumbs which fall from their masters' tables. Sadly, when a Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger Deltan became president he could not summon the will to redress the imbalance. And someone asked when I made a post on the subject on Facebook: if the president from your region did not do it, who will do it for you? I had no answer.
In the oil multinationals in the country all the important job positions are occupied by persons from outside the region. In some cases even the menial positions are dominated by citizens from outside the immediate geographical locations of the companies. For example, messenger and clerical jobs in a multinational firm in Warri are held by people from outside the Delta. This has led to restiveness among the youth. It is against this background that militancy grew in the region. The implication of all this is that our oil exploration and distribution business is based on injustice and unfairness. We are yet to delve into the very serious issue of resource control which ought to be one of the defining requirements of a true federal state. The paltry percentage which has been grudgingly acceded to the oil-bearing states is a sore point in inter-regional cooperation. Is there any wonder why the discovery of oil has been a curse on the Nigerian state? If the oil had been found in one of the big three would the revenue allocation be so unfair?
It is all a game of power. The levers of political power at the national level are controlled by the big three ethnic groups. Power is therefore used to perpetrate and perpetuate official oppression by awarding oil blocks to powerful and influential people. The businessmen with the capacity to own and control oil blocks are not favoured in the largesse distribution. In a country where state resources are judiciously deployed patriots would not be canvassing for allocation of oil blocks to indigenes of the region. We do not live in an ideal world; so we cannot strive for the ideal in this matter of resource control or allocation. The truth is that the powers-that-be are not likely to wake up and out of the charity of their hearts begin to dispense justice to the beleaguered region. The region has to fight for it.
Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Niger Delta can readily attest to the fact that the vocal ones in the region have always been persecuted. First the exploiter was colonial Britain as they punished King Jaja of Opobo in 1887 over the palm oil trade, Nana Olomu of Itsekiri over trade between the British and the Urhobo people, Oba Ovonranwen Nogbaisi of Benin in 1897 over trade, Isaac Adaka Boro in the 1960s over the plight of the Niger Delta, and Ken Saro Wiwa in 1995. The last two figures were victims of the highhandedness of the federal government. There is a sense in which we can argue that the activities of MEND are a continuation of resistance to external domination.
The people of the region have to come together in unity. There is a common fate awaiting everyone from that region. They must be ready to fight for their future. The spurious argument which enemies of the region make that the monies that have been given to the region have not been judiciously utilized should be thrown into the dustbin. There is no reason to believe that leaders of the region are more frivolous than leaders in other zones. The first thing they must conquer is fear. They are not obliged to be subservient to the whims and caprices of the powers-that-be, whether in Lagos or in Abuja. They must go into strategic alliances with other stakeholders in order to achieve their dreams. They should be able to make demands on the federal government and subtly work with the youth movements in the region. Ironically, Abuja takes the restive youth more seriously than it does the hat-wearing wrapper-tying elders.
Oil will soon lose its value as a goldmine in the international market. What would be left for the region if its natural resources are not deployed to preparing for the rainy day? Already America has made it clear that it will not be held down or back by any tyranny of any oil-bearing country. Shale oil has helped this American strategic approach and interest. Cars in another fifty years may not need petrol and diesel to power their engines. Electric cars are fast developing and may dominate the market in the next fifty years. This is therefore the time to invest in gas. Except the leaders of the region push an agenda of deploying the wealth or natural resources of the region to securing the future generations unborn will live on the goodwill of the other regions. As for those (including some misguided patriots from the region) who argue that leaders of the region should account for the monies so far allocated to them, let me give them a proverb which has been made universal by the inimitable Chinua Achebe: let us first chase away the fox before we ask the chicken not to roam around the compound!