|Aluzu Ebikebuna Augustine and Paapa Akpan|
Recent happenings in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, particularly, the South South has raised a cause of concern as to the viability and workability of the political Institutions of those states. The greatest threat to the survivability of the region presently is the emergence of the Niger Delta Avengers, a group many see as coming out straight from Hell.
The Niger Delta Avengers started as a kindergarten local militia which many saw and treated with kid gloves,they made several demands which was anchored on some sense(less)(ible) demand from the Federal Government, and from their body language which was unusually calm, sent a very weak signal to the Federal Government even including the citizens that they are just some hunger-driven fellows who will be effortlessly crushed by the Federal might. However, the reverse has turned out to be the case as the group has surprisingly and increasingly lived up to their threat. The consistent destruction of the oil facilities in the region has taken the Federal Government by surprise. The Avenger's vengeful way of repelling the joint force sent to the zone to quell the crisis is a sure fact that the group will not seize their pipeline bombardment soon.
It is most worrisome and perhaps, curious, that in spite of threat to security of lives and property in the region, the Governors of South South who are also the Chief Security Officer's of their respective States are extraordinarily silent, as if there is a general peace and tranquility in the area. I have always been against the vandalization of oil facilities and unrest in the Niger Delta region by whatever guise, whether as a message against environmental pollution and degradation or against marginalization of it's citizens, but it is always a curious thing to discover that, the Chief Executive Officers of this region are unusually calm and silent over the sad situation. One wonders the problem of the South South leaders when it occurs to him that this is not the first time the South South is experiencing this type of situation.
Some time in mid-1980's, the minorities were left in the equation of governance and control in Nigeria, from whose land much of the resources are exploited. In a country were there is no environmental protection, the oil companies continue to operate insensitively, often times,leaving the people with a complete devastated environment. It is even more pathetic seeing the people in a pristine conditions such as existed hundred years ago yet billions of dollars worth of oil were being carted away from beneath their mud houses that have neither pipe-borne water nor electricity. It is not uncommon to see children in an oil rich community with kwashiorkor as a consequence of severe malnutrition. Tam David-West from a minority state was a Petroleum Minister under Babaginda. According to Tom Mbeke Ekanem in his book "Beyond the Execution", he uncovered a massive fraud with tentacles all the way to the top, and when he questioned this, not only was he relieves of his post, he was sent to jail on frivolous charges. For Tam, as a principled individual, he did not have to toe the line and be a 'yes-man' like a slave.
Again, after years of unanswered demands and protest against exploitation of their land by the oil companies and the Nigerian Government, in 1990, the Ogoni people decided to formally organize themselves into a powerful bargaining group. They issued series of demands in the form of Bill of Rights to the Nigerian government, adopted and signed by the representatives of the six clan, Ken Saro Wiwa though the initiator of the Bill of Rights, had no portfolio, but was just one of the six signatories representing Ken Khana. To carry out the aims and objectives of the Ogoni Bill of Rights an organization known as the "Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People" was formed. It's first President was Garrick Barilee Leton. Ogoni had in 1993 gathered more men and women for a celebration of what is called "The Year of Indigenous People" were Saro-Wiwa, the ever energetic Speaker said "in recovering the money that has been stolen from us, I do not want any blood spilt; not of the Ogoni man and not of any stranger among us." However, Ken was later framed by the Federal Government as causing the attack of some elders, like Alhaji Kobain, Baday and so on. He was charged with murder of four men, alongside other Ogoni activists. One of the things that inspired me about is his doggedness and unwavering belief in the trueness and rightness of his cause. In one of his trials, he adapted one of the famous English writer William Blake: "I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my pen sleep in my hand till we have built a new Ogoni in Niger Delta wealthy land." The defence team for Saro Wiwa and other accused, led by the late Chief Gani Fawehimi made several unsuccessful submissions that their client have no case to answer. He was nevertheless sentenced to death by hanging. But before he departed, he said: "I call upon Ogoni People, the people of Niger Delta and the oppressed ethnic minorities to stand up and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights."
It may perhaps be said that his Excellency, Architect (Obong) Victor Attah heeded this advice, when in 2002, he dragged the Obasanjo led Federal Government to court to review the hitherto derivation principle which was also a continuation of the marginalization of the minority. Attah's vision for Nigeria has placed him as one of the foremost National patriots. Obong Attah's conception of the Resource Control issue, as he has rightly explained to other Nigerians at many fora has been to seek more creativity, Indigenous participation and control of the commanding height of the national economy, better economic opportunities and local resourcefulness. As Chairman of Governors forum, Obong Attah used the forum as a check to the Federal Government, and was successful in forging the unity of the South South through the Governors of their respective states. Little wonder they were able to contend with the all powerful Obasanjo-led Federal Government. Attah won so many international accolades for his role in Governance and Resource Control including international Award for Honour in Leadership role in Governance and Resource Control from the Nigerian family Association is Sweden.
In the same vein, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, in his days as the Governor of Rivers state, took over from where Obong Attah stopped. He challenged the Jonathan-led Federal Government on the use and appropriation of the excess crude money, which ultimately created a very wide abyss of enmity between him and the Federal Government. In his days as the Chairman, Nigeria's Governors Forum, he checked the powers of the Federal Government using the forum, this led to his clampdown on virtually all his political life as the Governor, but he said something, that is what matters.
The activities of these brave men show that every so often, the voice of the dissent could be heard from afar and near among the oppressed minorities.
It is rather unfortunate that there is a dearth of these calibre of men today in the South South. This is even more ostentatious that we now have the likes of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state taking up the responsibility of the South South Governors. Lambasting and lampooning the Federal Government for their insensitivity towards the plight of the Niger Delta Region, a commendable feat that eluded the cowardly governors of the crises-proned region. A reasonable question to ask would be,"What has happened to South South"?
Governor Nyesom Wike started as a vibrant voice for South South, but it was silent immediately after his visit to Aso Rock a fortnight ago. Governor Dickson of Bayelsa state has become a regular visitor to Aso Rock which has further empowered him to plunder his state into a heap of debts and emboldens him to abandon the people he callously claims to govern even on the verge of the Avenger's angst. Governor Ben Ayade is too engrossed with his academic governance to say a thing. Governor Udom Emmanuel is busy granting interviews to media Houses, promising high heavens where there is none, with his pink lips and a white-coloured horn- rimmed glasses, he forms fine boyish all around the place relegating the functions to which he was elected to the background. His chicaneries is a well-known phenomenon. Governor Okowa is but a mere appendage of the PDP. To him,the business of governance ends with the appending of signatures. Governor Adams Oshiomole is already calling for the head of the South Southerners. What is the problem with this set of Governors?
Comparatively, the West will boast of Governor Ayo Fayose, the North has Governor El Rufai. It is then no wonder why the East and South South are the worst regions in Nigeria.
I therefore call on the South South Governors to come home and listen to the groans of its region. They should forge a bond and work together, they should have a policy directive and objective which centers around the problem of the region, they should face the Federal Government as a body, for only then can they win the war against marginalization, pollution, environmental degradation, malnutrition, abuse, poverty, underdevelopment and so on. Let the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa live, let him know he did not die in vain.
Faculty of law
University of Uyo
Aluzu Ebikebuna Augustine,
Faculty of Law,
University of Uyo,
07068639696 (SMS only)