HOW NIGER DELTA POLITICIANS UNDERDEVELOPED THE REGION
“We have met the enemy and they are our own people.” Oliver Perry, 1785-1819.
As we are about to conclude another phase in our history as a nation with the elections this year, one article written by one of our colleagues, veteran Sonala Olumhense, in the SUNDAY PUNCH, February 17, 2019, caught my attention. It was titled “In-built failure and a complicit press”. In it, the writer accused the press of conniving with politicians who have repeatedly failed to fulfil their campaign promises to the people – especially of the Niger Delta. While Sonala is generally correct, I think he was a bit selective in his indictment. The press is only one aspect of media. Radio, Television and now Social media also have a role to play in this matter. We have all failed. But, I want to plead “not guilty” to the charge of complicity with politicians when they fail to redeem pledges made at any time.
Because politicians’ failed promises to the people cut across the entire nation, permit me to limit this article to the zones that have been deceived the most as the article in reference did. It must also be pointed out that while the media has a vital role to play, the people themselves have a sacred duty to hold political parties and candidates accountable for their promises – which voters don’t discharge on Election Day.
Obasanjo holds the record for unfulfilled pledges as two examples will illustrate. As Military Head of State, he went on tour of the South West and Kwara and promised to dualise the Ibadan-Oyo-Ilorin Road by the time he left office in 1979. At Onitsha, he again vowed to construct the Second Niger Bridge in 1976. He went on his farewell tour of the two areas without a grain of sand being disturbed in the South West and South East. As Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 1999, he was back in the two zones repeating himself like a broken record. Southwest voted against him; South East voted overwhelmingly for him. He started work on the Ibadan-Ilorin road but did nothing about Second Niger Bridge. He went back in 2003 to ask for votes in the zone promising to build the bridge. As Olumhense recalled, Jerry Gana announced that a N58.8bn contract had been awarded in May 2007 for the Bridge. PDP candidates received the votes. Yar’Adua campaigned with the same promise in 2007 and nothing happened until he died.
Jonathan serves as the best example of how political leaders in the Niger Delta have helped to under-develop the region. I thought I was the only media person keeping a close watch on the Second Niger Bridge as a metaphor foe development in the Niger Delta until Sonala brought it up. In 2012, a year after he was elected President, Jonathan went to Onitsha and not only repeated the promise to complete the bridge by 2015, but to go on exile if he failed to do it. We are in 2019 and there is no bridge; and GEJ is either in Otuoke or Abuja, but not on exile. The man actually committed more “sins” against the people of the Niger Delta than can be accommodated in one column.
He inherited the Warri-Patani-PH-Calabar road virtually untouched as Obasanjo and Yar’Adua had left it after another broken promise. The least GEJ should have done as President was to finish that road. It is not only uncompleted today, the Bayelsa section is the worst. Future historians will certainly want to find out why the PDP and the leaders of the party from the region failed to fight for the development of the area instead of delivering the votes faithfully to the party and its Presidential candidate and getting nothing in return.
The idea of PIB started under Yar’Adua, who could not have foreseen his early departure from the world. The original bill was given to me for comments by some Northern friends. Although a Nigerian bill, it was largely drafted by the International Oil Companies, IOCs, who actually attempted to be equitable. The bill sought to take into consideration the interests of the North and the Niger Delta. But, Northern elements were not comfortable with it. It was skewed in favour of the IOCs who drafted it. So, the North was against PIB 1 – as it should be called. The bill was also not in the interest of the Niger Delta. But, no Governor, Minister, Senator or member of the House of Representatives protested against it or insisted on amendments.
In February 2011, President Jonathan was on a state visit to Turkey and while addressing the world press assured the Turkish leader that a PIB bill will be passed and he will sign it before May 29, 2011. I wrote a rejoinder in a SUNDAY VANGUARD article, part of which is reproduced below for posterity.
I also categorically told Jonathan that there would be no bill for him to sign by May 29, 2011. The rest is history. There was no bill to sign.
Shortly after Jonathan was re-elected, his administration sent PIB 2 to the National Assembly. It was a flawed document because it assigned too much power to the President and the Minister of Petroleum – who at the time was Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke. After years of close observation of the attempt to get PIB passed, it was clear to me that for PIB 2 to sail through three vital steps will have to be taken. One, Jonathan must be totally committed to its passage. Two, he must be prepared to make deals with the non-oil producing areas of the three Southern States as well as the North Central. Three, the PIB 2 would need to be amended to reduce the powers granted the President and the Minister.
On the third imperative, GEJ was reminded that he and Alison-Madueke will not remain in their respective positions. What would be the fate of the Niger Delta if the bill fell into the hands of another President and Minister?
Jonathan did none of the above, Instead of total commitment, he totally neglected the bill until he was defeated in 2015. Certainly, PIB will not be passed in 2019; and, if Buhari is eventually declared re-elected, it is doubtful if it will see the light of day in the next four years.
Jonathan was not alone. No elected official from the Niger Delta took up the struggle in all those years. I know because, despite not being from the region, I monitored the progress, or lack of it, of the bill. The Publisher of VANGUARD, Uncle Sam, is my witness. In fact, it is doubtful if any media person from the region had demonstrated as much concern as me on this matter.
In fact, if the Niger Delta is a country, most of its political leaders would be accused of being unpatriotic. To me, the region has had only three authentic leaders and heroes since 1999 – late Alamiesiegha, Obong Victor Attah and Chief James Ibori. They were the “Three Musketeers” of the South South who fought for and got the 13 per cent derivation – providing the funds which others now mostly squander.