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Darkness at dawn in Niger Delta

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For discerning minds, democratic rule has remained the sine quo non for development in virtually all spheres of human endeavor. Hence, when the 4th Republic was eventually enthroned after a prolonged military misrule, Nigerians were bursting with excitement. The popular axiom held by self styled apostles of democracy was that the worst brand of democratic rule is far better than the best military administration. But this aphorism has proved to be a mere paradox in the Nigeria’s clime. As almost two decades after the enthronement of the 4th Republic, Nigeria and her people still grope in abject poverty in the midst of plenty, decaying social amenities, near extinct institutions, barefaced corruption and worst still, a justice system that is not sufficiently punitive for people who perpetrate crime.

As Martins Luther King Jr. puts it, “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people”. The advent of democracy in 1999 was indeed the dawn of darkness in the states that make up the Niger Delta as successive governors in some of these states had left the states worse than they met them. Although available corruption data are fragmentary, and sometimes contradictory, and passions are still too intense and perspective too distorted to allow for broader generalization and firm conclusion.

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Though attempts by the federal government to intervene in the development of the region with the inauguration of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had hit the brick wall. The commission is currently fraught with gross incompetence, unending conflicts, poor governance, nepotism, lack of transparency and dysfunctional management dynamics. The history of the Commission is littered with spectacular implosion of corruption and its attendant collateral damages to the oil rich region.

Today, the NDDC which would have been a soothing balm to the people has become a cathedral of corruption. The current Minister of the Niger Delta and the immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, is overwhelmed by the large scale corruption he discovered in the NDDC upon assumption of office. Against this backdrop, the Minister threatened forensic investigation into the activities of Commission. Hell was let loose as politicians, contractors and traditional rulers went wild, but Senator Akpabio remained adamant in his resolve. However, while the Minister’s threat is being washed away with time, the current NDDC chairman, Mr. Aladasoadura recently opened another shocking vista of corruption in the commission. He dis closed that over twelve thousand paid contract running into trillions of naira were unexecuted. This staggering revelation has further compounded naysayers in the region. Despite the huge federal allocation and colossal amount of money accruing to the states as oil derivation funds, the states are still nothing but a shadow of their proud past.

This ugly trend has forced the people of the Niger Delta to conclude that the region is jinxed. Though most political pundits stated that the continuing under development of the Niger Delta is gravitating between the state Governors who are in firm control of the total sum of monies accruing the states and the traditional rulers who now claim ownership of oil laden lands domiciled in their various communities. Under this unholy arrangement, the Governors collect tax from the oil firms operating in the area of jurisdiction while the traditional rulers on the other hand, scamper to collect what they tag royalties on behalf of the people and the community.

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The scramble for royalties from the oil firms operating in the region had pitched the traditional rulers with their subjects on the one hand, and the governors and the traditional rulers on the other hand. Undoubtedly, the continuing civil unrest in the region had been traced to who gets what in the oil rich communities. Recent investigation has shown that most traditional rulers in the communities are richer than the communities they represent. It was alleged in certain quarters that some of the traditional rulers have become big time contractors to the oil firms while their subjects grope in abject poverty. Also some of the community leaders had become proud owners of estates rented and occupied by expatriates working in the oil firms.

In the same guise, the indigenes of these communities have now resolved to take their destiny into their own hands as the leaders had engaged their collective patrimony for self aggrandisement. Today, most youths in such communities had dumped conventional jobs for what they term as “community runs”, a system that allows them to harass, intimidate and picket oil firms for royalties. Conversely, since the enthronement of the 4th Republic, successive Governors in the region had no visible projects on ground to justify the huge federal allocation, the huge amount of money accruing to the states as internally generated revenue (IGR) and the Almighty derivation fund. In Edo and Delta States, most communities are currently submerged due to ravaging gully erosion. Similarly in Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, coastal erosion had washed away most communities and renders hundreds of people homeless.

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The four dark horses of the region, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Ondo states seem to be worst hit by the corruption bug since the advent of the fourth republic. A panoramic view of the activities of successive administration of these states shows that each civilian Governor left the state worse than they met them. The Governors in their wisdom deployed resources meant for the development of their states in particular and the region at large, to settle political cronies and traditional rulers to keep sealed lips in the continuing under development of the region. The Niger Delta which pumps the wealth that sustains the economies of Lagos and Abuja, has become a euphemism for unbridled corruption and under development. The region which is the birthplace of the immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and other prominent Nigerians as the first Finance Minister, the late Chief Festus Okotie Eboh, former information minister, Chief Edwin Clark, frontline nationalists as Margret Ekpo and late Chief Anthony Enaharo to mention but a few.

The people of the Niger Delta must fight assiduously to extricate their region from this vicious circle of corruption which breeds poverty and under development. They must not dare to mortgage the future of their children on the altar of mediocrity. The people must insist on the construction of four lane constructed roads and flyovers in virtually every nooks and crannies in the region. The Delta beyond oil mantra earlier proposed by one of the Governors in the region should not be a mere political gimmick, but must be actualized if tomorrow would make any meaning to the people and the region.

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