BRIGIDI'S PANEL AND NIGER DELTA CONFLICT
THE Presidential panel, the Niger Delta Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee, NDPCRC, chaired by Senator David Brigidi, an Ijaw leader from Bayelsa State in South-South Nigeria, is currently battling behind-the-scenes to bring peace which took a flight back to the troubled oil and gas region.
The 24-man panel which was inaugurated early last July by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, has an herculean task of demobilising the oil region that has for years now become a zone of low intensity war. The Ijaw uprising began in November 1998 as a peaceful protest by youths. But the establishment responded to the peaceful campaign by killing hundreds of the defendless Ijaw youths. And by November the following year when Odi, a rustic Ijaw community in Bayelsa state was sacked by soldiers who acted on the orders of the immediate past President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Ijaw youths came to realise that the Nigerian state was perhaps, not interested in any form of dialogue with the repressed, oppressed, explioted, raped, and dehumanised peoples of the resource-endowed region. What followed is now history.
The approach of President Umar Yar'Adua to the Niger Delta conflict has been encouraging so far, in spite of the circumstances surrounding his emergence asd Nigeria's leader. The Brigidi panel from all indications, is battling to bring about a roadmap that would make the oil and gas region the most attractive investors' haven in Africa. But what seems to be lacking so far is the willingness of some key stakeholders to play ball.
As the Brigidi panel struggles to demobilise the volatile region, the neo-liberal reform policies of the Obasanjo regime which the current ruling circles inherited, are still resulting in more dispossession of the people from their resources and displacement of the communities from their means of livelihood. Deregulated commerce or “free-trade” is causing more social and ecological destruction in the oil region.
And from the faces on the ground, the liberal politics of the conservative circles, does not seem to be led by the people. It is corporate led. The current phase began in the 1980s with the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, imposing trade liberalization and privatization. This phase was also accelerated from 1995, with the establishment of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, at the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, GATT.
In the past eight years plus therefore, the liberal democracy of the Obasanjo conservatives, has locked farmers, the fisherfolks and even some class of workers in the Niger Delta into more debt. With the 2007 electoral disputes yet to be conclusively resolved, the popular masses of the oil region are being caught in a dilemma whether to continue with the greed-driven liberal policies or to opt for social democracy.
Like their mentor, most apostles of the late Professor Claude Ake, founder of the Port Harcourt-based Centre for Adcanced Social Science, CASS, who died in a plane crash in November 1996, tend to favour social democracy for the Niger Delta. For them, liberal democracy is incapable of bringing about a distribution of political power away from the rigime and in favour of civil society, a re-orientation of public policy away from special interests and towards common interests. This in effect means taking the interests of the subordinate classes as the measure of all things. They are also insisting that liberal democracy cannot bring about accountability of power to those over whom it is exercised as well as effective popular participation in decision making at all levels.
With what have obviously manifestated in the past eightyears, the Ake disciples are convinced that liberal democracy does not pay sufficient attention to welfare rights, collective rights and ethnic groups rights. Before he left this world, Ake had always maintained that democratic content of liberal democracy means essentially consent of the governed, multiparty pluralism, electoral competition and guarantee of rights including equality before the law. “The present reality is that the consent of the governed is now taken rather than given”, he said.
The Ake people also tend to be dogmatic about the relationship between democracy and development. As Dr. Andrew Efemini, of the University of Port Harcourt, UNIPORT, explained, “a truly democratic state would have the following features present in its polity – accountability, rule of law, predictability, competitiveness, autonomy of the state, and popular power. These features are necessary for realizing sustainable development”.
But, could this explain why the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in tangible terms, is yet to make any significant contribution to the development of the Niger Delta? The peoples of the oil region are anxious to see the area transformed into a new Abuja.
However, it is somehow very disturbing that with the “achievements” so far recorded by former Governors Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom), Diepreye Alamieyeseigha- Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa), Donald Duke (Cross River), James Ibori (Delta), Lucky Igbihedion (Edo) and Peter Odili (Rivers), and the supposedly enormous resources flowing in, the oil and gas region is still a far cry from Abuja, the metropolitan capital city of Nigeria. Much of the oil revenue from the Niger Delta, went and is still going into the development of Abuja and other parts of the country at the detriment of the oil region. Could this be as a result of the absence of deep-rooted democratic reform? This is one of the numerous questions the Brigidi panel will have to answer.
Perhaps, given the tendencies Obasanjo and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, under him represent in the issue of the onshore/offshore dichotomy in oil revenue, it might not be entirely out of place for us to submit that the current struggle of the peoples of the Niger Delta would lead to failure. In the same vein, access to technology, technical assistance, and the lobby for favourable net financial flow to Nigeria would also fail.
Arising from the foregoing, the inference that could be logically drawn is that the neo-liberal policies of the Obasanjo administration only lead to a more dependent Nigeria, a country whose worsening dependency situation has led to more outcry for paternalistic interventions in her affairs.
With our experience of the Ibrahim Babangida years during SAP, the paternalistic prescriptions of international development agencies like the World Bank and the IMF, do not meet the standards and requirements for promoting sustainable development. Surprisingly, the United States, US, has repeatedly told Nigeria and the other developing countries of the world that their economies “must” be open, transparent, dedicated to privatization, with floating currencies, deficits under control and open to foreign investment. And often, the US used its effective veto in the World Bank and the IMF, to insist that conditions be attached to a deal with the IMF and even to a small loan from the bank.
While President George W. Bush has been very vociferous that democracy and good governance are vital in running an efficient economy, he has not been telling countries like Nigeria that his country runs huge budget and trade deficits as well as spawns such exemplary companies like Enron and WorldCom. Good enough, the active social formations in the Niger Delta have since realized that the US is leading a broad alliance of states in the task of pacifying and stabilizing a global capitalist economy.
Under the elder George Bush’s vision, the US would be the primary protector of the international market economy and would reap strategic and economic advantages from performing that essential role. The high point of the new world order was the first Persian Gulf war in which a broad coalition led by the US repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The neo-liberal world order dominated by Washing ton, has produced and is still producing opposing tendencies. There are Islamic revolutionaries, reactionary nationalism, the AIDS pandemic, failed states, impoverishment and resource crises like in the Niger Delta.
As the forces of globalisation (free-trade) continue to devastate the mangrove forests of the Niger Delta and pollute their water sources with oil spills, the question that is begging for an answer as the Brigidi panel fights for peace is, will there be a confrontation between the political foot soldiers of liberal and social democracy in the oil and gas region?
As a refresher, it should not be forgotten in a hurry that globalisation received its first blow in 1999 at the WTO meetings in Seattle. The Seattle conference was not only disrupted on the streets by protests mounted by a wide spectrum of pro-people groups that had coalesced into an anti-globalisation movement, but inside the meeting halls, participants could not agree on a way forward to further reductions in trade barriers. Since then, international efforts to advance a global capitalist economy seem to have stalled.
Washington appears to be envisioning a world in which the US would spread market democracy and police world capitalism overtly, using its military supremacy to enforce an order that other powers would have to accept because they would have no alternative.
What are the progressives offering the rural communities of the Niger Delta under the the instrumentality of the NDPCRC? Will they for instance, say their health care is non-existent and as such they are going to fix it by completely socializing all health care? Will they be in the creeks, educating the people, connecting the dots for them?
Some thoughtful liberals at the moment, appear to be generating social consciousness to keep the oil region from devolving back into the pack of murderous hyenas that was the region’s inclination. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that poorly educated people who have been screwed hard for decodes since Oloibiri, are prone to cognitive dissonance. This implies that the authorities should be blamed for all their socio-economic and environmental problems.
Since the exit of the military from governance, the repressive ruling circles have been so busy dismantling public educational systems. They seem to be getting away with it because they have no real opposition. even the liberal elements within the conservative fold of the materially blessed Niger Delta have not insisted on equal free and universal education for every citizen and yet liberalism is supposed to be about leveling the playing field.
The past eight years have shown that we live in a very lopsided country, where some five to 10 per cent of its more than 130 million people enjoy around 90 per cent of its income and resources. Many of them seems to be enjoying a standard of living their grandparents could not have dreamt 60 years ago. Millions of Nigerians live on less than a dollar or about N120 a day. In the Niger Delta, millions do not have access to safe water, hundreds of thousands of their children, especially girls, do not receive basic education. It is a moral issue, perhaps, one of the biggest facing Nigeria today.
But it also seems to be an issue of economics. When power seekers and the political elite see the bright eyed children in the rural communities of the rich oil and gas region or the neglected parts of Akwa Ibom state like those of Nkwot villages in Ikono Local Government Area, leaping about and curious about strange faces to their communities, do they stop to ask themselves how much intellectual potential that is being lost to the country because of their failure to bring whole regions into touch with basic living standards?
Often, when a major oil spill occurs, the petroleum industry tends to rally round to mitigate the damage while the oil company concerned, rushes in relief materials to comfort the victims. Yet, on a daily basis, people across the Niger Delta are dying of the diseases of poverty, such as malnutrition, unsafe childbirth, material, tuberculosis, cholera and AIDS.
It seems there are critical issues that the region should examine, before they can come to terms with their future in the context of the presidential peace politics. They will have to deal with the on-going pressures to further liberalise the country’s economy, pursue market as against a state dominated economy and the international community’s commitment to genuine democratization process.
For now, in the weeks ahead, the peoples of the Niger Delta, will have to decide on which democratic route they will take to achieve faster development from the opportunity offered by the NDPCRC. The Brigidi panel should present the oil region with broad-based choices. For instance, the continuitists will have to convince us why we should continue to support their resource-dispossessing and means of livelihood-displacing neo-liberal policies which are already widening the gulf between the rich and the poor. The popular peoples of the Niger Delta are expecting those making presentations to the Brigidi panel, to be more articulate, be much more better organized with the social democracy content of the oil region's liberation mantra. ENDS.
Note: Akanimo Sampson is the Co-ordinator of Journalists for Niger Delta, JODEL, a media group concerned with the affairs of the oil and gas region. He wrote in from Port Harcourt.
Humanity is one, and you are one with all. And so, may all beings be free, find peace, end suffering, and be happy.