by Adedayo Ademuwagun
This week, President Goodluck Jonathan declared his intention to contest for a second term, and he explained the things he’s achieved as the president so far.
The president has done some good work in his tenure. For instance, he’s created nine new federal universities to deal with the expanding demand for university education and contribute to the educational development of those states. He’s made remarkable efforts to revive the railway system, which was practically dying before he became the president. He oversaw the successful fight against the Ebola epidemic, and he worked to ensure that the four governorship elections organised during his tenure were free, fair and peaceful. These are some of the impressive things that Jonathan has done as the president.
However, one glaring flaw in Jonathan’s tenure is that it hasn’t brought the needed change to the environment and people of the Niger Delta. Yet, if there’s anyone who should have done more to improve the environment and make life better for the Niger Delta people, it’s Jonathan.
The Niger Delta people have been clamouring for a change in the pitiful environmental and economic conditions in their region for many decades, from Isaac Boro to Ken Saro Wiwa and Annkios Briggs. They’ve condemned the federal government for making policies that have impoverished the people and ruined the environment. But the thing is, the man who has been running the federal government for the last four years and has had the power to change things in favour of the Niger Delta people is from the Niger Delta.
But that’s not the only point of the story. The Niger Delta has produced many good government leaders, but it has also produced very corrupt ones. These corrupt ones corner the resources that should be used to develop the places they govern and improve life for their people, and they take the money for themselves. By this, they’ve contributed to the problems. Two examples are former governors Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and James Ibori, who lived like lords and lavished hundreds of millions of embezzled dollars while their people drank oily water and lived in want.
Some community leaders have also contributed to the problems. Oil companies often pay a lot of money in royalties to communities where they operate, through their leaders. But often the money ends up in the hands of these leaders and doesn’t benefit the ordinary people or the communities.
“That’s how it is in our side,” says Osaro, who comes from Delta state. “The people in the communities are very corrupt. Oil is very abundant in our place. In fact, it is in my mother’s compound. But because most of these people are not educated, the people who are educated and highly placed in the community cheat them and collect their benefits without their even knowing about it. And if you try to ask questions or do anything, they can kill you.”
Every community in the Niger Delta has representatives in the Senate and in the House of Representatives who should be championing legislations that will protect the rights of their people and solve the current problems. However, out of the 18 senators representing the states mainly affected by the problems right now, no one of them has sponsored a single bill in the interest of their people since 2011 except Heineken Lokpobiri.
Even more, the federal government appoints Niger Delta people to run the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the Amnesty programme. Every year, these institutions and programme get hundreds of billions of nairas for the development of the region and better life for the people. However, the masses who live in the region do not feel it in their life and in their community.
Last year, investigations into government projects done in three Niger Delta states between 2005 and 2011 showed massive looting, astronomical contract payments and loads of abandoned works. President Jonathan also fired the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, this year in the wake of serious corruption allegations.
The Amnesty programme, too, was initiated in 2008 in response to the militancies happening in the Niger Delta. But the implementation of the programme has been in a way that benefits only a group of people and does little on the whole for the region.
The head of the Amnesty programme Kingsley Kuku says his team is creating jobs for ex-militants and sending some to train overseas. However, these claims have been found to be mostly superficial. The way the programme essentially works is that thousands of Niger Delta people, whether they were militants or not, get a sum of money every month and practically stick around for the next month’s pay.
Daniel recently worked as a teacher in Andoli LGA in Rivers. He says, “In the town where I used to teach, most of the youths don’t do anything. They rely very much on the amnesty money they collect every month. They don’t do any work. A lot of them aren’t really ex-militants, but they get paid anyway. In fact, some of my students were also getting paid on the Amnesty programme. These were mere teenagers who didn’t even know any militancy.”
The federal government shares money from the federation account to all the states and the FCT on a regular basis, but the Niger Delta states get the lion’s share. Every month, the five main oil-producing states collect around one-third of the total money allocated to all the 36 states plus FCT.
To illustrate, there are about as many people in Ebonyi as in Bayelsa, but Bayelsa gets close to six times more money than Ebonyi in federal allocation. Oyo, Benue, Kwara and Kaduna are each larger and more populous than Bayelsa. But Bayelsa gets more federal allocation than all of the four states put together.
As President Jonathan begins his campaign for re-election, some people are asking what his legacy to the Niger Delta people will be. They’re asking if things have really changed for the Niger Delta now that an Ijaw man has been in Aso Rock for four years. But whatever the answers are, the common people who live in the poor rural communities in this region are the ones who have benefited the least, and borne the worst impact.