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Date Published: 11/03/09

Who Are The Real Niger Deltans By Ben Wuloo Ikari

The real or core Niger Deltans are people from the South East and South South fringe of Nigeria. Before the advent of oil in the late 50s, the Niger Delta was an area which was known as the oil rivers because it's an important palm producer and centered around the same core Niger Delta region and some others. This was in about or between 1885 to 1893. And it's called the "British Protectorate" before changing to "Niger Coast protectorate" at the beginning of 1893. As the 1900 entered the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates took form and by 1914, Nigeria's birth formerly but unofficially effected. Independence, as we all know happened on Oct. 1, 1960, which is known as the official birth date of the contraption. Today's core Niger Deltans were located in the Eastern region that came to being in 1951; and an aspect of same was part of the West. This was during the regional system of government that saw three (Eastern, Northern and Western) regions without a southern arrangement in action.

    And to avoid all doubts, and based on my knowledge and internet sources (Bonny, Opopo are added by me) the core or real Niger Delta (those not listed as ethnic or subgroups but exist should note this isn't intentional) ethnic and subgroups consists of the Western, and Northerns of Delta and Edo States. They include the Urhobo, Ezon, Isoko, Itsekiri, Ukwauani people, and Ogba-Egbema considered an aspect of the Igbo extraction. On the Central or South-South end are Rivers and Bayelsa States, which also consist of the Ogbia, Kalabari, Nembe-Brass, Okrika, Bonny. Ogoni, Opopo, and Andoni people. Others are the Ekpeye, Ndoni, Etche, Ikwerre, and Ndokis. Finally, on the Eastern also known as the Atlantic fringe are Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. And they have the Efik, Ibibio, Annag, Oron, Ogoja, Ekoi, and Berekwana people. Note that Ijaw is the majority ethnic group in the Niger Delta region. The people of the region are mostly into farming and fishing as their source of livelihood, which have been destroyed by oil exploitation.

    Meanwhile, before the birth of Nigeria, oil was first struck in Oloibiri by $hell British Petroleum (BP) in present-day Bayelsa State of Niger Delta (1956). And considering the fears expressed by the minorities who were primarily Niger Deltans, and under the British colonialists. The Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference (RCPC) made moves at the Constitutional Conference in London (1957) to demand a separate state to enable the people's development that were lacked under the Eastern region controlled by Igbos. This demand was summarily rejected by the British Crown or colonial lords, who set up the Sir Henry Willink Commission of inquiry to comprehensively look into the "minority fears" in 1958 for a possible redress. The commission only acknowledged the well founded fears, did nothing concrete to allay them, but recommended the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB). The said board couldn't address the development problems as well. This lack of will especially political to redress the injustices that has become the norm to date spurred Isaac Adaka Jaspa Boro into forming his group and the Niger Delta Republic was declared in 1966, few months before the Nigerian civil war between Biafra and Nigeria.

    This declaration backed with arms culminated into a secession war that lasted only 12 days as the federal government rounded them up. The fighters were jailed, but released as the civil war heightened. Boro, the leader was sent to the war front and was killed in 1968. That chapter of the Niger Delta struggle for a better deal ended, but not lost on the people.

    Ken Saro-Wiwa took over the struggle to emancipate Niger Delta (about 24 years later) using Ogoni as a test case. He however, resorted to the "power of the pen" against the powers of gun. He formed the Movement for The Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1990 and by Jan. 1993, the struggle exponentially kicked off on a nonviolent principle. About 300,000 women, children and men marched peacefully, nonviolently and successfully in the face of unprovoked threats by the federal troops and other security apparatus. This was in the wake of the United Nation's declaration of 1993 as World's International Year of Indigenous Peoples. It's a platform used to seek environmental, economic and political justice from both the federal government/Nigeria and $hell Oil. Saro-Wiwa succeeded in raising the consciousness of the Ogoni people and other Niger Deltans; those of the Ijaw stock especially on their rights to self-determination, resource and environmental control.
He's threatened, arrested many times without charge and later trumped up for allegedly instigating the gruesome killing of his Ogoni brothers on May 21, 1994.

Yet he wasn't at the crime scene that the Nigerian Armed Forces were promised by Komo, the then military governor to protect. The Armed forces were dispatched to every corners of Ogoni to intimidate Ogonis, protect the murdered chiefs who were government surrogates, stop Saro-Wiwa from campaigning  for a constitutional conference his money had been accepted to contest as candidate. Abacha and others were scared of him and his truth, through the lies of former Governor Rufus Ada George, a Rivers man, just like they're currently using Ledum Mitee and others of Niger Delta to divide and rule the movements and people. He's murdered by hanging (with 8 others) in 1995 for daring to question the status-quo, exposing $hell and government's degradation of Ogoni/Niger Delta and seeking justice. This action triggered by $hell Oil was to send a devastating signal hence blow to Ogonis and other Niger Deltans that they may be scared to their bones, learn a bitter lesson and wouldn't attempt another opposition to their business as usual mentality. That mentality failed and tension heightened. The problems Ogonis were killed for are still starring at us; none of the demand, which includes environmental assessment, social and health impact studies has been met. The prediction by Saro-Wiwa that whether the peaceful ways he'd favored would prevail depend on what the oppressors decides at the tribunal became manifest.

    Mujahid Dokubo Asari, angered by the injustices and the devastation, poverty, etc., formed the Niger Delta People Volunteer Force (NDPVF) in 2004. This group was similar to Boro's-armed. They fought the government's military in the creeks of the region disrupting oil business and making the oil companies and government lose money. He's, however, lured into surrendering his arms with  a plan to grant him "amnesty" but was subsequently arrested and charged for attempted sedition, etc. At the close of Asari's armed struggle emerged the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in 2006. It became a very coordinated, more serious and powerful armed fighter's unit than any other ever known. The group pressured the release of Asari, blew up pipelines, did some kidnappings of expatriates and fought aggressively and relentlessly with the federal troops to the extent that the international community's attention was captured. Although some of  its fighters were killed by the federal government's Joint Task Force (JTF) and it also killed some of the federal troops, Mend succeeded in cutting about 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.

This figure was reported out of an estimated 2.5 million output the oil companies report to the nation that was balancing energy supply and consumption around the world. Henry Okah, alleged then to be MEND leader was arrested while in South Africa, but by the Angolan security at the Luanda Airport, taken to Nigeria and charged for gun-running and other crimes. He's reported to have gone on a business trip. Others who were with him, arrested as business partners were later released as there was no probable cause to convict them. He should have been released in like manner but for the Nigerian government's interest. In short, sources have it that the arrest was master-minded by the government. This move by the federal government was said to be a brazen fabrication that could help it seize him as a bargaining strike  against MEND. Yet, MEND didn't relent but fought harder; a determination that frightened Nigerians and the international community, fearing the consequences of an anarchical Nigeria on oil supply to the international market-U.S. in particular-and the fate of sub-Sahara Africa. There was indeed global oil crisis. American that consumes most of the oil stolen from Niger Delta was worst hit; gas prices skyrocketed, reaching recorded high of approximately $4.00, and businesses were grounded. The citizens got enraged and bitter.

    MEND threatened the government and oil companies to the point that some oil majors withdrew their workers from the region and shut-in production. America, others of the west sent security alert notice, warning about the danger of their citizens traveling to Nigeria/Niger Delta. The group also vowed to cripple the monolithic oil economy if Okah wasn't released unconditionally. Without doubt global energy supply and needs were threatened causing America under former President George Walker Bush according to reports to plan to help the Nigeria government. This happened under former President of Nigeria Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; and the plan was to assist him crush the so-called militants as to allow unhindered flow of oil to U.S. and other nations of the west. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also pledged military support if not that Niger Delta/Nigerian groups in London, U.S. and friends in other places protested against the plan. All these diabolical strategies were directed at the core Niger Delta.

    In short, the fact that there are military pacts between Nigeria and U.S. needs not be overemphasized. Bush was reported to have donated two gunboats to assist Obasanjo and his corrupt government crush the Deltans and MEND in 2008. China, that is currently competing with America in Africa and Nigeria especially was also reported to have provided the government with military hardware for the protection of oil installations. The small village of Odi, in Niger Delta was raised to rubble in 1999. In 2008, Yar'Adua was selected in a widely reported flaw elections, by Obasanjo and his Peoples 'Democratic' Party (PDP) to protect his loots and continue the Feds exploitation and vendetta against the Deltans. MEND didn't give up but fought fiercely than ever. Between May and June this year, Gbaramutu, another small village in the region was attacked using government gunboats, helicopter gunship and foot soldiers. Several thousands were reported murdered in cold-blood and many displayed.

     Presently, the federal government succeeded (though some feared it's temporary) in weakening MEND, as it utilized the services of Niger Delta corrupt politicians, chiefs, (d)leaders and other selfish money-mongers of the region to secure a so-called "amnesty" that was declared in August and ended on Oct. 4. How do you grant amnesty to those who have been historically exploited, marginalized, their environment degraded and people intimidated, arbitrarily arrest, jailed and extrajudicially killed? How do you do this to a people who have the moral responsibility to fight obnoxious laws that enslaves them; fight in self-defense in the face of about 50 years threats and liberate themselves? Some MEND ranking commanders embraced the amnesty with the hope of being paid hugely and an agreement to develop the Niger Delta. About 15, 000 militants, who are mostly those groomed as political thugs were paraded turning in their arms because the government set aside about N10 billion for their rehabilitation. About 10,000 guns of different kinds and thousands of ammunition were said to be surrendered.

    But MEND, blatantly refused the Christmas offer and said most of the guns were those they seized from the Bakassi militants around the Cameroon axis and turned in to the states. It also said some were those bought by the government to have a semblance of success. In some quarters though, there has been protest by some "repentant" militants for government's failure to commit to agreed monthly allowance/payment. MEND had in principle vowed to fight on until the core issues of resource control and development have been addressed. It 's bent on forcing the federal government to talk with what it calls its "Aaron Team" that has the prominent Nobel Peace laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and two others as members, on methods to finally resolve the region's long standing conflict. The government, which wasn't willing to listen to the group flew Henry Okah, the man currently said to be MEND leader from South Africa where he's taking treatment having been released from jail, for alleged gun-running and other offenses, or crimes.

     His freedom was part of the amnesty program though the program is rejected by MEND as said earlier. He's flown to Abuja in a presidential jet according to reports, for talks aimed at intercepting MEND's threats to resume attacks and possible resolution of the core issues including development. Meanwhile, media reports (ThisDay, Oct. 29, 09) especially have it that the government has set aside  the sum of N200 billion (Naira) for the development of Niger Delta. It's also gathered that the government is working on an additional 10% from the NNPC joint venture for direct investment in the oil producing communities. This sum is said will not go through the state governments to avoid possible embezzlement that is synonymous with government officials and contractors, etc.

"Resident would receive this through cash benefits delivered through a trust-style mechanism which they could use individually or pool for social projects," (Daily Champion, Oct. 28, 09). It's said the money may run into about N50 billion (naira) or $338 million for the first year. "First and foremost, any money must be given to a community trust and not any party or politician. This is a commendable step, but we want more," said Patrick Naagbanton, Coordinator for the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development in Rivers State. And, if the national Assembly approves this plan, it will really be a welcome development but not enough as Naagbanton has asserted. Let's be realistic, 10, or 13; or even 50% of what; is it of what the region really owns or what the federal father Christmas or bandit is sparing as crumbs? Niger Deltans must be joking like the federal exploiters and their rogue governors and politicians in the oil region. The time has come to be serious and face the government and people of Nigeria squarely? Real Niger Deltans and not the cheap traitors,  need   to control their resources as of right, period! It means the struggle will continue until the ultimate goal is reached; it means we must fight on even with the last drop our blood.

     As it stands doubts feels the air as to whether the government would deliver on its promises considering that in about 50 years of the struggle for justice in the region successive governments have deceived the people and no concrete resolution achieved to date. The N200 billion earmarked for the region is to be spread to nine oil producing states, which includes Imo, Abia, and Ondo (which has considerable Ijaw population) and the core six. At the same time the sum of $785, 968.00  was also reported to have been budgeted for the purchase of radiological equipment for the Abuja capital territory hospital. N412.4 million was as well planned for the "construction of six units of two-bedroom duplex" for the National College of Petroleum Studies in Kaduna, which primarily train Northern executives to continue the control and manipulation of the oil industry in Niger Delta.

    It's the manner in which the money proposed for the first time to aggressively develop the Niger Delta, was spread to oil producing areas that have just emerged and don't fall into the known circumstances and peculiarities of the core Niger Delta, that necessitated this title. This is ironical, though common-place with the government manipulated by a small percentage of elite mainly from the three major groups (Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo), to the detriment of the oil-rich region that is responsible for about 85% of the national earning and 95% of gross export. It's as if anytime the Federal  Executive Council (FEC) sits to decide on what to do for the Niger Delta the interest of these manipulators beclouds good judgment aimed at focusing on Niger Delta, therefore the splitting of funds meant to specifically develop the region into other areas such as shown above at the same time. The name Niger Delta has become what others at the head or corridor of government uses in developing their states of origin. Meanwhile, was Abuja and Kaduna also granted the so-called amnesty? What else does Niger Deltans need to see the anacondic handwriting on the wall?

    In my view, all other states that are currently said to be oil producers outside the core six states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo, and Cross River (though it lost its oil-bearing status when its oil wells were ceded to Bakassi during the handing over of the latter to Cameroon) could be righteously called oil producing states or areas. It's wrong and a negation of common sense to call all these new oil states Niger Delta considering the analysis above and the fact that all those who have agitated and died for self-determination and true federalism, which guarantees resource control, social and ecological justice due to the discovery of oil are core Niger Deltans as represented hereto. Obasanjo, who is considered the most corrupt person or leader in the nation had for his selfish reasons expanded Niger Delta to include Imo, Abia and Ondo States as enunciated aforesaid. But does this inclusion make any sense; does it make his action right? Are we saying that if Abuja, Kuduna, Kano, Oyo, Oshun, Taraba and other states of the country should be endowed with crude oil tomorrow they would all be called Niger Delta; what sense would this make? And why choke a region that has been so giving with new groups as a means of dragging the little development plan that has been proposed (though not sure of implementation)?

     And by the way, why should the Niger Delta development get world's attention whereas other regions of the nation-that contributes nothing but only wait to take from the oil-rich but made impoverished people-are developed without fanfare or even arms bearing? Is it not the federal government's responsibility to collaborate with the states and local governments to development the country and give special attention to the oil-rich groups it depends on? What is now the fate of resource control, which is the core issue that brought the Ogoni struggle that sprouts into the general Niger Delta agitation? Well, I hope the government knows that the problems it's struggling to avoid by dodging the facts and truth that should pave way for true justice and peace, hence stability will stay on until this demand is satisfactorily met. It must note that the lack of will exhibited by the Henry Willink Commission and the NDDB it recommended has kept this injustice and agitation lingering.

     Who knows who would be next to take up arms; a kind that may hear no pleads from chiefs, politicians, (d)leaders and others; that which wouldn't yield to divide and conquer tactics as the case with MEND. The trend dating back to Boro is obvious:the next phase has proven to be stronger than the previous as such it's  dangerous to postpone the evil day. The government should henceforth be fair and do right by the people of Niger Delta, stop adding new/more people to the region as additions makes development complex and even costly-fights might also arise as to who should benefit what when a particular ethnic groups have fought, suffered and died.

     If the truth must be told, not all the ethnic groups in core Niger Delta have or produce crude oil in their land. If so, why add more outside the region to this accommodation already made? Government must halt this mess if it's serious and not only creating more problems and conflict. It should Implement all the people-backed and acceptable recommendations and the promises it's made. Governance is about the people and trust. Unfulfilled promises kills trust and lack of trust breaks government, hence anarchy.

    The people (civil societies and MEND, etc) of core Niger Delta should stand up, stay strong in asserting their fundamental rights; stand up against its continuous exploitation and extension so as to benefit from its God-given wealth before it dries and the region no longer known as oil bearing or even Niger Delta. That day is surely coming when core Niger Delta will be dried of oil. Oloibiri is still fresh in Nigerians memory. Oil may also lose its value considering how the world except Nigeria and other African nations, are seeking alternative sources of energy. Therefore the oil-rich Delta needs an undivided attention; and a contingency plan before the curtain falls!
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