Of Re-Militarization of The Niger Delta

Of Re-Militarization of The Niger  Delta
April 25 21:58 2016

By Moses Okpogode

[B]y the time you read this piece the government would have probably doubled the number of troops in the already degraded and now militarized lands of the oil-rich Niger Delta. The purpose of this to the generality of the people of the region also known as `South South’ is to protect oil installations, the black gold that drives the engine of Africa’s biggest economy.

The government pushed forward its objectives on increasing the number of troops in the region from far away in China during a state visit to the People’s Republic. This had prepared the cheerleaders of the administration for the propagation of the ‘good sides’ of the macabre dance that is about to recommence in the Delta. According to the government, the move is meant to curb the activities of pipeline vandals and to stop oil thieves in the region. Just as previous administrations, especially those of former kleptomaniac dictator General Sani Abacha and President Olusegun Obasanjo forcefully emasculated the region, denying its people of their rights and privileges on their ancestral lands and at other times killing them as in the case of the Odi massacre, this administration has come to chain them again in the name of curbing pipeline vandals that constitute a very tiny minority of the population.

In making its threats more dreadful and forceful, the President said he will treat vandals the same way the deadly Boko Haram terrorists are being treated in the North East. And this include the alleged extra judicial executions of both innocent and suspected sect members.

When the the government’s rage begins, my mother, grandmother and other relatives might be cut in the crossfires. My mother, a petty trader, has to move from one area to another and my grandmother, a fish farmer, would now be stopped from checking her fish traps every now and then in ponds around the rivers that transverse areas that the military may want to establish new bases or occupy. In the absence of any significant government presence in their lives, they have to fend for themselves. This is the risk I live with daily and many innocent families have suffered the consequence as our thieving ruling elite continue to tighten their stranglehold on the crude oil freebies since 1956 when oil was first discovered in the swamps of Oloibiri.

Recently I traveled home and experienced first-hand the brutality of the militarized Delta. I got my unfair share of the dehumanizing situation in the region. The daily humiliation of the people is becoming unbearable. When I traveled to help with preparation for my younger brother’s marriage, I must have passed over two dozen military checkpoints before arriving our ancestral homeland. There were troops stationed along the East – West road starting from the Sapele stretch of the Benin-Warri-Sapele expressway with sophisticated arms carrying out checks and at other times thorough checks that included stripping of passenger’s clothes. The use of mobile phones unconsciously a few meters to or around the checkpoints is a taboo. Such could earn the defaulters summary detention or a more dehumanizing punishment.

It will surprise you to know that there are many hardworking young Delta natives who have not seen or have an idea of the colour of crude and how it is drilled. Yet, they are in the same region. They have not even caught a glimpse of what a major pipeline system look like. They have also not in any form enjoyed the benefits derived from the crude like their counterparts in Abuja and other cities in Nigeria. Yet they have not complained. The gas pipelines that pass through their land does not supply them electricity. While petroleum products are sold at regulated prices in Abuja, Lagos and other cities in Nigeria. They, without grudges, drive into filling stations to refuel at whatever amount that is in the dispensing meter of the independent marketer where they have stopped to buy fuel, sold at over N200 a litre in most parts of the Delta. They do not see anything unusual in subjecting them to the recurring denial of their rights to free movement in the name of securing the Niger Delta for easy exploitation of their oil wealth by the ruling class and their cronies.

I perceive the move by the government to increase the number of military troops in the Niger Delta as deceptive. A political move that is meant to sustain continued emasculation of the five percent voters from the region while they are milked dry to the last drops of oil from their backyards. This is because pipeline vandalism is not an occurrence recorded only in the Delta region but in all areas that the pipelines transverse within the country. It is even on record that most pipeline vandals in the Delta do not seem to temper with gas pipelines because they are economic criminals and would only go for what will enrich their pockets. We must realize that Lagos and Ogun States have had more incidences of pipeline vandalism than what is recorded in all the Delta put together. Law enforcement agents have also made more arrests in these areas than in the Delta region yet they are not under quasi state of emergency like being experienced presently in the Niger Delta.

The region has remained one of the most impoverished judging from what has been obtained from it in building the other adjoining parts of this federation. It is however left to weather over the devastating effects of oil exploration and exploitations in the past 60 years. The indigenes are amongst the most travelled Nigerians because the country has not offered them social benefits that is different from what is obtained at the other federating units. They are migrants, legal in most cases and are resident in numerous western countries where they have distinguished themselves and now repatriate funds back to the country in billions of dollars annually despite being woefully disappointed by the rulers who governed them all these years. But while the region has not expressed dissatisfaction they are aware of the ill treatments meted against them by successive administrations. These same people who rely solely on its resources and had turned canaries few months ago in the days of dirty campaigns, thinking the capture of power in the centre will make an easy fest on the region’s oil have far been disappointed and well humiliated. Now there is little or nothing to share at Federation Account Allocation Committee meeting in Abuja. The forum has become uninteresting with the ever bustling National Economic Council forum turned a meeting for borrowing, mourning and bemoaning of fates. You could see disappointments written all over the faces of most governors depicting, the real societal clueless who felt until now that everything came with government positions and power.

Now that there is little left to share, though a gradual appreciation in oil prices the administration’s strategy is to ensure that Niger Delta is so militarized to forestall any breaches to the continuous flow of the free funds while the people in the region are left to die. It is the best way to describe the present scenario whereby only pipelines around the Niger Delta become an attraction for monitoring with soldiers when the same pipelines transverse several other states to the location of power generating companies.

Such calculated oppression calls for closer watch from the international human rights bodies. The government must stop any attempt at sustaining the suffocative treatment of Niger Deltans especially with the present disdain. It must not be carried away by the fact that the region is made of up small uncooperative minority units. The administration is not to take that for a license for the continued disrespect, ill and dishonorable treatment of these people while it uses resources from the area in purchasing the arms it uses to oppress them. The government should therefore stick to its promise of diversifying the economy and let my people be free. The government can’t be diversifying an economy on one hand while clinging to oil on the other hand. That’s pretence.