Freedom Charter’s in the Niger Delta
One more community is beating the gong calling its “ Warriors” to war over perceived neglects , mistreatment and injustice , by the federal Government of Nigeria, The Delta state government and a Multinational Oil and gas company, and what do you know!, its my very own homeland. I thought it might get to this, It was only a matter of time.
To the people that will listen, violence is not the way to go, it wont and can not solve the Niger delta problem. Crude oil can not define a people, our existance transcends crude oil and the wealth it can generate.
I pray the day comes when we as a people, will attain freedom, of our souls, our minds and not just freedom for our belly.
A Charter To Free The Ndokwas
By Armsfree Ajanaku (culled from the Guardian newspaper 22 February 2009)
IN December,1998 some five thousand youths gathered in the Ijaw town of Kaiama to articulate the way forward in the Niger. They gave one hundred reasons why all oil mineral resources domiciled in Ijaw land should be explored and exploited for the benefit of the Ijaw people. They issued a statement that became known as the Kaiama Declaration.
It was a revolt of sorts and government's tactless attempt to put down the rebellion created the framework for current imbroglio in the Niger-Delta region. At the time of the Declaration, not even the brains behind it had envisaged that what they started would degenerate into the anarchic situation in the region.
As if things are not bad enough as they are, the youths of oil producing ethnic nationality in the region, the Ndokwa, are spoiling for a show down with the Nigerian State. The hitherto quiet or what some would call docile group in Delta State is threatening to join the fray. And in a manner reminiscent of the Kaiama Declaration of the Ijaws, the youths have issued their own well-scripted Magna Carter.
Under the aegis of the Ndokwa Youth Movement (NYM), the Ndokwa Charter of Emancipation chronicles a litany of woes occasioned by exploratory activities. This was followed by a long list of demands that underscored the same questions of fiscal federalism and resource control. With a historical background at the start of the declaration, the youths make no pretense about the fact that the predicament being faced by their nationality has its foundation in the rob Peter to pay Paul syndrome that the Nigerian state runs on.
"Since the forced amalgamation, the Ndokwa nation has suffered deliberate and calculated socio-economic and political emasculation by the Nigerian State," the charter read in parts.
At Obiaruku, one of the towns of the Ndokwa nation, the shanties of mirrored the absence of planning, or any concern by the authorities. For a town just a few kilometers from the Okpai based Independent Power Project (IPP) being run by the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), electricity comes and goes in fits, not available long enough for any meaningful business to be done with it. Despite churning 480 megawatts of electricity into the national grid, the very little needed by the Ndokwa nation and its environs to meet their energy needs is yet to be stepped down since 2006, when the project was commissioned by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
"...The Okpai IPP currently generates 480 megawatts of electricity into the national grid, yet Ndokwa nation remains in perpetual darkness without the requisite manpower to stimulate and energise her local economy," noted the emancipation charter.
In Kwale, the story of neglect is visible from a game reserve established by the colonial masters in 1916. There was an outsized signboard of government's grand intention to rehabilitate the park. One youth said all the animals in the reserve would not have relocated elsewhere by the time government finished with the rehabilitation plan. The road leading to the reserve itself is a telltale of abandonment. Many of the visibly angry youths who spoke to The Guardian pointed at this as one of the many symbols of marginalization of the Ndokwa ethnic nationality.
As darkness descended, what seemed like flames from a huge furnace lit up the horizon. 'Gas flaring,' one of the youths said shaking his head. Steve Okecha, Professor of Chemistry and President-General of the Ndokwa National Union (NNU), in an interview with The Guardian said, "there are a lot of air borne diseases in Ndokwa now. We have more cases of asthma in this place than it was when I was born, there is hardly Ndokwa family without someone that has an asthma problem and this is as a result of gas flaring." He added that research has shown that young men in the entire Niger-Delta region run the risk of having lower sperm-count, a condition that would make it impossible for them to have children in future.
At Okpai, the community that plays host to the 480 megawatts IPP, the picture was more sordid and disheartening. To get there, one had to get across the brackish waters of Ase Creek, which is less than a kilometer but has no bridge across it. And no one, including Agip the main actor in the theatre of oil exploration, has deemed it necessary to build a bridge across this short distance. Crossing from one side to the other is by boat. Children bathed in the creeks, indication that the community does not have portable water for domestic use. An assortment of locals, bearing firewood and other items sat in the boat. Everything needed on the other side had to be ferried across.
The road leading to Okpai seems tailor-made exclusively for Agip's trucks and special utility vehicles. On coming vehicles had to give way for Agip's mobility. The path is rough and narrow. Men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) rested within the huge heaps of their sand bags, but the discomfiting aim of their mounted machine gunners gave off the picture of a war zone. The security at the IPP was water-tight. The soldiers advised that the car be parked away from the line of fire. There stood the 480-megawatt generating behemoth that had nothing for its host community.
A violent confrontation had occurred a few days earlier in Okpai and the women had taken it upon themselves to broker peace between the warring factions. One of the actors, a certain Augustine is said to have led a popular protest, which forced the community's traditional ruler to flee to Asaba. He too lamented the neglect being suffered by the community, and reiterated his readiness to lead the people to demand their rights.
Those who drafted the Ndokwa Charter noted that, "Pockets of violence in Ndokwa land sometimes manifesting in intra and inter community warfare are induced and sponsored by the oil companies with the active connivance of the Nigerian State and they are meant to keep us divided, weak, and distracted from the root cause of our problems." As such, small communities decimate one another over petty squabbles and inconsequential disagreements.
In Kwale for instance, a man gleefully regaled listeners with how the boys from his community wasted almost 30 members of another community in a recent communal clash. "We wasted them," he kept repeating. Clearly, there is no illusion as to the number of small arms already in circulation in Ndokwa and its environs. If the youths decide to take up arms against the Nigerian State, the grounds appear already fertile. The terrain as in most part of the oil-rich Niger Delta is naturally made for such acts of subversion. And there is every reason to believe that the bubble may burst soon.
The emancipation charter provides a hint of the readiness of the youths to resort to self help. "That Ndokwa youths wherever found will henceforth employ all and any necessary means open to them to seek redress from the continued oppression of our people, and we will not relent until our objectives of self determination, human dignity and peaceful co-existence are achieved."
There is also a general feeling among the youths that their nonviolence posture over the years has made the government take their nationality for granted.
For example, they complained bitterly that in spite of the contribution to the Nigerian commonwealth, through oil and gas, there is not a single government owned tertiary institution in their area, the only higher institution, being the privately owned Novena University. They also lamented that no Ndokwa indigene has ever been appointed as minister, ambassador, university vice chancellor or security chief.
Within the context of Delta State politics, they also decried the fact that non of their sons has ever been "allowed" to become governor, both in the old Bendel State, and in the present Delta State. Malabuchukwu Okolo, President of the NYM however reiterated the resolve of Ndokwa youths to engage in constructive dialogue with other stakeholders to ensure that their grievances are addressed. "People only talk about oil, but we were contributing to the Nigerian economy even before oil came. We had one of the largest rubber plantation in Utagbuno in Ukuwani, which was second only to the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia, but right now, the plantation is in coma."
He continued: "Our land used to produce good tubers of yams, but the degradation of the environment through oil activities has affected the yield. Right now, there are no industries to create jobs, the only industries we have are the Police, JTF, the courts and of course the prisons. As for the JTF, they are here, mainly to suppress and oppress our people, sometimes, they just drive round the town in a show of strength to intimidate our people."
While commending Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan for the great plans he has for Delta State, the NYM President noted that the people of Ndokwa have not felt those plans. "These things should not be in the pipeline and the drawing board all the time, let us see it. I have not seen anything. He has been doing beautification, yet none of the towns in Ndokwa has been beautified," he said.
The deputy co-ordinator of the NYM in Ndokwa West Local Government, Odanike Azuka was more combative. He said: "We must get our own State, and the additional six local governments we asked for. The oil company in our land, Agip has taken us for fools, but we are not fools. They are taking our oil, but what they are giving back to us is violence by sponsoring clashes between communities. So what we see now is more of crisis than development."
Beyond all of these, there have been questions as to how well elected representatives of Ndokwa have projected the interests of their ethnic group. Across board, the consensus is that they have performed poorly.
Culturally too, the Ndokwa people say they are interested in establishing and reaffirming their identity, which they say is different from that of the Anioma people with whom they feel they are usually unjustifiably lumped. In all, the youths say they are interested in change and progress in their communities. They have thus demanded for the creation of an Ndokwa State, additional three local councils; an end to gas flaring and better treatment of their nationality by the rest of Nigeria. Whether the Nigerian State would listen and act on these agitations is another kettle of fish. But from the experience of the Ijaws, it is clear that the price of inaction on the part of government could be devastating.