The Niger Delta is a zone that makes global news headlines for its notoriety in incessant rates of kidnapping, armed attacks and destruction of infrastructures, especially oil pipelines. It is a region where those in white skin are not safe from professional abductors; likewise the Nigerian soldiers are being hunted and killed like preys in the forest.
So why me… I ask why me…? I am not in the military or paramilitary services where one could have signed documents before recruitment to kill or be killed. Knowing that the easiest official job to one death is the army or police, I refused the temptation to join any of the services. I work in a civilian institution where physical attacks or death in the course of our works could not be contemplated. As a very emotional person who shudders over mere sight of blood… red human blood… I can’t even afford to work in medical outlets like hospital to attend to human casualties: mingled body parts, broken bones, smashed skulls and decomposed corpse without regretting such an encounter in months. But here I am about to go to an area described by some media “a war-zone.”
Today is the deadline for our movement to the Niger Delta, though not on humanitarian assignment which can be scary too, but for a meeting which may also include sight-seeing (I pray it won’t include a courtesy call to the CREEKS). Imagine a meeting in the lion’s den when we have the comfort of abundant peaceful cities in Nigeria from other regions: Abuja, Ebonyi, Kano, Osun, Yobe, and Kwara amongst others. I have consulted my spiritual leaders, Imam and a pastor who is a colleague in the office to pray…pray very hard for my safety. If I were a rich man I could have recruited the service of marabouts popularly used by politicians and extremely wealthy individuals who want to live long and sustain their societal influence.
I am black in complexion by all imagination but my wife wants to apply a local bleaching cosmetic called Lalle to tone my entire skin to look darker and darker so that I won’t just look black but blackest to delude the Niger Delta militants from kidnapping me. She was aware that not only are white expatriates being kidnap in the region for ransoms but even healthy looking ordinary poor citizens like me have fallen victims. The abductors had in the past erroneously captured albinos who were mistook for whites and kwashiorkor victims whose pot-bellies were misconstrued as signs of well-fed before they realized that their hostages are from poverty-stricken families.
As much as I would wish to identify myself as a promoter of the nation’s image, in the case of any eventuality, I remember the kidnapping of relations of Nigerians making exploit in foreign lands. Recently the brother of an international footballer Joseph Yobo was kidnapped with heavy demands for ransom with necessitated other international players like Nwanko Kanu to recruit the service of security personnel, including the police to protect their aged parents and siblings from the clutches of the local investors in kidnapping enterprises. Many of their people abroad are scared stiff to the marrow of visiting homes for holidays. I wonder if my peasant family could pay any ransom on my behalf from their meager resources when I am not the only child.
I only hope they could spare me if I run into them because I am thousandnaires (my salary is a few thousands in Naira) unlike most of them who are millionaires. It is an open secret that some of them are multi-millionaires considering their acquisitions of sophisticated weapons and speed boats for their highly coordinated operations. And those of them that have repented after claiming to fight on behalf their people, cruise around towns in exotic automobiles with body guards to complement that could be the envy of oil sheiks in the Arabian Peninsula.
It was alleged recently, in the media, that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) paid $6 million to Niger Delta militants as “protection fee’ monthly. The disclosure was allegedly made by the Group Managing Director of the corporation, Engr. Abubakar Lawal Yar’Adua at the House of Representatives Committee on Finance investigating the alleged non remittance of revenue collected by government agencies from 1999 to March 2008.
It is not only the NNPC that is being forced to pay huge ransoms. Stories abound about such huge “unreceipted” allocations being paid by multinational firms operating in the region while some of their state governments too do the same from public treasuries to protect top functionaries from abductions, especially parents and children of public figures from the same environment. It is being alleged there is an organized cartel specializing in the negotiation, payments and settlement of commission through in a well-orchestrated connivance with some officials in government with militants during such abductions or after a threat to attack oil installations. While officers are said to be recruited or assigned specifically in dealing with militants, there is a refined and modernized process through a so-called professional consultants on Niger Delta Affairs. Monetary inducement is said to be shared fairly and justly in a special allocation formula between the official insiders and external blackmailers. I won’t be bothered about their sharing. It is their own money if only the ordinary citizens could benefit from developmental efforts in their localities.
While I am about to take the risk of going to the Niger Delta without an escort, workers of oil companies and other contractors are deserting the region in a large number even when some of them have heavily armed security bodyguards. I only pray the area will not turn to ghost town due to the activities of the uncontrolled few.
The seeming peaceful states in that region are those with little oil reserve and least recipients from the monthly national revenue. For instance in the June monthly allocation from the Federation Account the hotbeds: Rivers received N22.9bn, Akwa Ibom N16.5bn, Delta N11.9bn and Bayelsa N10.4bn, while peaceful states devoid militants’ attacks in the region: Edo State received N4.8bn and Cross River State N5.3bn. The question here is: could more oil reserve and more money be a curse? I am just baffled.
As I attempt to apply some method to disguise myself properly, I realize that I have to put my trust in God Almighty, because it doubtful if my trick could work. I had attempted to learn a popular language of the zone to disguise myself properly only to realize that they don’t have a major spoken language unlike other regions. In the North for instance Hausa is spoken widely; in the West, Yoruba is accepted; in the East, almost everybody speaks Igbo but in the South-South, which constitutes the Niger Delta, different languages are spoken in different localities: Urhobo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Ibibio, Kalabari, Benin etc.
I am fascinated by the motherliness of Niger Delta women, who are hardworking and peace loving as demonstrated in their occasional peaceful rallies against acts of criminality in their cities. They could have been recruited to serve as suicide bombers, like in other similar unpredictable environments, they chose to advise their youths from the illicit dangerous trade just as they resist the temptation to join the bandwagon of primitive armed struggle.
What could be my major pre-occupation? Probably the visit would afford me the opportunity to study the developments and other positive strides towards the improvement of people’s condition and feel the feelings of the inhabitants. The major point of debate on that region. Hoping it would be an exciting experience.
As I pick my baggage to begin the journey, my body trembles once again and I look at my baby who is crying, probably sending me a coded signal which I can’t decode. I console myself by observing that we cannot be mouthing patriotism if we can not stake our life and take risk of showing loves to our brothers and sisters no matter the condition towards bringing peace to the land and lasting solution to our problems. I wish I will have the opportunity to tell an exciting story on the situation in the Niger Delta if I return the way I go. So help me God.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Leadership July 30 , New Nigerian July 31, Economic Confidential August 2008, Daily Trust August 1, Vanguard August 4-5, National Life August 9, Sunday Tribune August 10, Daily Independent August 12 and Guardian August 31, 2008.