The Niger Delta has been exclusively the undisputed source of Nigeria’s vast but plundered national wealth for five decades. When President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, his first “tough actions” were exacted on the Niger Delta with the bombings of illegal refineries and bunkering assets. It was an utterly senseless strategy that created only more pollution and all promises by the President to “clean up” the Niger Delta have proven to be empty. Now that the price of oil has fallen dramatically and Nigeria is catching economic perplexity, it is as if the Niger Delta and its incidence of ecocide have vanished from the government’s list of priorities and even the collective consciousness of Nigeria, yes, the “One Nigeria“.
Slavery, groundnuts, palm oil, cocoa, rubber, timber, tin, columbite, uranium, Gum Arabic etc. all combined as exports could not earn Nigeria the kind of wealth petroleum and gas has earned in a very short time. When Nigeria was an agro-state, most of the agricultural cash crops Nigeria exported were also from the Niger Delta, particularly palm oil – the product that led to the creation of Nigeria (first as a protectorate) by Great Britain. In return, the Niger Delta (its lands and peoples) has become an ecocidal and genocidal hotspot where death, disease, pollution, poverty and state violence flourish at the expense of people.
The government’s approach and concern about the Niger Delta, up to the present day, has been bifurcated: take the oil for its wealth, ignore the land and the people [God himself will take care of them]. It is now evident that under this current government of Buhari, like all others since General Yakubu Gowon, the Niger Delta has been used as a mere “sacrifice zone” to keep the economy going if not booming. Sacrifice zones are simply areas where unrestricted and unsustainable exploitation of resources occurs while the residents get little or nothing in return and live in heinous misery. The Niger Delta has not seen Buhari’s “Change”, it has witnessed a worsening of the Abacha’s “Brutocracy” in 2015. The suffering in the Niger Delta has increased over the last year stealthily.
Despite the futile circus of Buhari’s administration and its directionlessness, the Niger Delta remains a region very rich in oil and gas. It remains Nigeria’s cash-cow, and many are ‘praying fervently’ for oil prices to sky-rocket yet again in the nearest possible time. That will mean more genocide and ecocide in the Niger Delta, and it will become even more of a sacrifice zone. Alas!
Wealthy countries that have developed robust, diversified economies are the ones that have mastered the art of investment and protection. The only investments in the economy the Nigerian government path-dependently engages in are best classified as “unrestricted exploitation” in the fashion of the “tragedy of commons,” i.e. exploiting resources into extinction without creating viable options. Environmental philistinism is in ascendance in the nation despite significant claims to education.
However, since the government is hopelessly stuck with helpless dependence on oil and gas for its survival, it should start to seriously consider taking good care of Niger Delta by diligently fulfilling its “clean up” promises and ensure the elimination of spillages in the future. Nigeria could not cope well with the Ozighi of the first wave of the Niger Delta Crisis that ended with an amnesty to militants that had nothing to lose. Neither is it coping well with the monumentally insidious Boko Haram insurgency. If the ignorance or inaction of the government necessitates the “testing of bone” all over again in the Niger Delta do we expect the National Security Adviser under Buhari to share the money voted to quell the crisis just like his predecessor did. Waste.
You cannot repress and exploit a given people unrestrictedly forever, and a time will come when the reverse will occur.