By Osita Ebiem
In this piece we are going to make references to Nnamdi Onyeuma’s article which was published on the 17th of May, 2014 titled In the Niger Delta. Our interest here is merely to appraise a few events in the past few years in the Niger Delta. We will try to place them in some kind of perspective. Here we surely will not go into much detail of the various happenings taking place in that environmentally traumatized region. It is interesting to note that because the oil and gas produced in this part of the world is distributed worldwide mostly because of their excellent quality then it is not unlikely that some foreign readers of this piece may have recently taken a ride in a vehicle, operated a machine or something that used a fuel from this delta region of Nigeria. So it is a subject that actually connects many people around the globe. And it is for this reason that it becomes important that all commentators should be careful and not deliberately misrepresent any person or issue as they relate to the region. A lot of people have perished; caught in the crossfire of the politics of the Niger Delta oil and gas. The most notable of these deaths are those of Biafra of the 1960s where 3.1 million Biafrans died and the 1995 murder of Ogoni’s 9 most important citizens by Abacha’s Federal government of Nigeria. It is in reverence for these so-called sacrificial lambs that we must encourage every effort by groups or persons who are trying to build lasting peace, security and institutions that will help improve lives and human relationships in the Niger Delta. At the same time we also frown at any attempt by anyone either ignorantly or otherwise that tends to distort issues and stories in the Niger Delta.
Niger Delta is important to the world community as we earlier pointed out but it is even more so to the Nigerian union because it provides more than 95% of the country’s economic sustenance. So any news coming out from the region therefore tends to elicit a wide interest. This is why at the beginning of this month when the news broke about the kidnapping of 5 Dutch nationals in the creeks of Niger Delta made huge headlines around the world. As usual when such incidents happen most people will hold their breath and hope for the best. For those who have been the direct victims, or it is their friends or relatives who have been so unfortunate to go through such harrowing experience, it is something no one will wish for even an enemy. Whichever way it ends, both the captives and their well-wishers go through periods of suspense and apprehension that leave them usually thoroughly traumatized. In this case however, we are glad that it ended well because all the people taken captive have been released and they are back to their families now. The ordeal lasted for about a week and we are happy it is over. The people will need a period of healing and we hope that time will help them heal fast.
Now, it is important to contrast this incident in the Niger Delta with the horrifying and inexcusable Islamic terrorism taking place in the Northern part of Nigeria. The jihadist group Boko Haram in the North is currently holding captive since the last one and half months, almost 300 young teenage school girls and has threatened to sell them into child sex slavery and there is no hope in sight that the girls will be released anytime soon. This is despite the presence of an international contingent rescue team with sophisticated equipment and personnel to help find and rescue the girls. Just a month before the abduction of the school girls, Boko Haram had gone into another school in the North and slaughtered scores of the kids there in the night. In as much as we condemn and demand that the senseless kidnapping of all shapes and for any reason in the entire Eastern region must stop forthwith but we must not be naïve by failing to note a very big difference between events in the North and those of the South or East. Without going into any details, yet we cannot help but ask the reader to take time and consider what informs this difference that is between the Southeast or South-South and the Northern part of the Nigerian union. Several analysts have continued to emphasis that it is nothing more than the obvious differences in the culture or religion of the two regions. The North is Islamic while the South-South and Southeast are Christian and Animist and this is very important since it is responsible for this huge difference of life and death.
For many who followed events and activities in the Niger Delta, while the kidnapping ordeal of the 5 people lasted the much they could do was to pray. The way the news of the kidnapping was received by some is that again the fragile peace finally breaks. The patched up peace had been held together by the glue of credible interveners and go-between organizations like Hope for the Niger Delta (HND), the Non-Profit/Non-Governmental organization being run by Sunny Ofehe. But by the sheer twist of fate, Ofehe and his HND are the ones caught in the middle of the web of circumstance of this early May tragedy. So for Sunny Ofehe, the kidnapping must have been like the breaking in one’s face in the twinkle of the eye everything that one ever dreamed and worked for.
Ofehe had spent the last decade or so working hard and dedicatedly for peace, development, the overall well-being and above all the security of the Niger Delta his birthplace. Ofehe and his HND have tried within this period to broker a triangular peace and understanding among the important Niger Delta stakeholders, i.e. the people of the oil communities in the Niger Delta, the government of Nigeria and the oil companies. Given the complexities of the politics of oil and big money an unprejudiced analyst should be able to score the organization high in what can be considered their modest achievements.
This is true when one juxtaposes the activities and accomplishments of HND and those of others working within the same area, it is not difficult to see that Ofehe’s HND remains one of the most trustworthy NGO key players in the Niger Delta today. It is also not hard to note that the group has achieved this through hard work and strategic planning. It is through transparency and sincerity of the group that they succeeded in winning and sustaining the confidence of the major stakeholders in the Niger Delta. For those who are familiar with the kind of work being done by HND and others like them, it will be easy to agree that it is a field that is full of so many variables and even uncertainties. A player in this field can always hope for the best but practical experience will always make them to prepare for anything, even for the worst.
While at the same time those of us who are genuinely hopeful that the security situation in the Niger Delta will eventually improve to a level that anyone with genuine business or humanitarian intentions can travel freely without fear of molestation not to talk of being kidnapped, we recognize that this will remain only a mere wishful thinking if people and organizations like Ofehe and his Hope for the Niger Delta should become scared away by the activities of some unscrupulous elements. All stakeholders there must see to it that the noble and good work of building bridges of peace and reconciliation in the Niger Delta does not stop. The kinds of bridges that the NGOs in the category of HND are building in this traumatized region are such that should not be played politics with.
The monumental environmental issue of Nigeria’s Niger Delta has since attained a very staggering proportion. Nigeria’s Niger Delta is not the only place on Earth where oil and gas are extracted but the disastrous devastation of the environmental situation there cannot be compared with another place anywhere else. The scandalous degradation of the ecosystem of the Niger Delta has inspired many environmental and humanitarian activists ever since. The most celebrated among such people is Ken Saro Wiwa, one of the Ogoni 9 as noted above.
It is for the sake of finding means to alleviate the pain and suffering of the people who live and endure the worst kind of deprivation in this region that we are urging that somehow we must end politics; we must end partisanship when discussing and commenting on the events of the Niger Delta. The destructions taking place today in the Niger Delta must stop because it is not just the lives of those alive today that are being affected; those of the yet unborn generations are also being destroyed.
Of all the NGOs operating in the various countries of the world today, none can be said to be more reputable than the ones mentioned by Nnamdi in his article. Transparency International, Oxfam and others are world renowned for their strict adherence to stipulated standards in international humanitarian business and in their dealing and association with countries and organizations. It is therefore interesting to acknowledge the fact that and if these organizations are the major donors to Sunny Ofehe’s Hope for the Niger Delta then they must have found the organization and its accounting system to be trustworthy enough since these organizations do not put their money just anywhere.
As we conclude we will borrow Nnamdi’s phrase. It is no secret that the Federal Government of Nigeria and the oil companies are not doing as much as they should right now in the Niger Delta. That the people will depend mostly on the conscientious work of NGOs like HND to keep reminding these powers of their negligent responsibility, cannot be overemphasized. So, it is hoped that if these charitable and humanitarian organizations are encouraged they may perhaps eventually be able to rest the ghost of crime against humanity that has always been committed against the people of this oil-bearing region. The ghost of Biafra and the Ogoni 9 may finally be pacified once the commentators can stop joining politics with and trivializing the lives and destiny of the people of the Niger Delta.