Ever since oil was
discovered in the Niger Delta more than sixty years ago the lives of the
people, there, has been blighted by widespread ecological and environmental
pollution. It has reduced people’s life expectancy, led to the abandonment of
their primary occupations as farmers and fishermen as oil pollution has
destroyed both land and fishing grounds. There is widespread unemployment and
general unrest. This has led to general dissatisfaction amongst the people and
is partially to blame for the renewed calls for the re-establishment of the
defunct Biafra republic.
Disillusioned
and unemployed youths have taken to arms destroying pipelines and installations
and kidnapping oil workers in a bid to get something back. These groups go by
many names and the notable of all, presently, is the Niger Delta Avengers – who
are currently negotiating with the government. Apart from frequently wreaking
havoc on oil installations they also frequently battle each other. In the past
fifteen years the Federal Government has had to frequently send troops down to
the region to try and restore law and order.
Unfortunately
the damage is done. The multi- national oil companies operating in the region
have been allowed to get away with so much for so long considering the fact
there are no laws in Nigeria forcing them to clean-up or invest in the areas.
Also over the course of over fifty years the oil companies have colluded with
both military and civilian governmental officials to have things their own
way.  The 1995 execution of the environmentalist/writer Ken Saro Wiwa
exposed BPs complicity in his death and connivance with the then government of
the late Sanni Abacha.
In
recent years there have been attempts to appease the warring militants of the
region to the extent of bribing them to lay down their arms and sending some
abroad to gain further education. There have also been feeble attempts at a
clean-up operation.
Unfortunately
both attempts have failed. Paying off the militants hasn’t convinced them to
lay down their arms. Not only is it not a lasting solution to the problem it
has encouraged rogue splinter groups to emerge to earn ‘easy money’ from the
government. Leaders of such groups have become tin gods who have splashed out
money received on 4X4 jeeps and a luxurious lifestyle ignoring the masses they
claim to represent. And the clean-up of the polluted areas will take forever –
if an attempt is even made to start.
Nothing will work until the Federal Government forces the
oil companies to take full responsibility for their actions. When the BP-
operated DeepWater  Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010 killing eleven
workers and causing a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the American
government not only forced BP to clean-up but fined the company more than $4
Billion Dollars- and that’s not counting other pending private lawsuits against
the company. This money will be used by the government to compensate and rehabilitate
all those affected by the disaster.
Though it will be virtually impossible to get the oil
companies operating in Nigeria to agree to do a clean-up a forced levy can be
imposed upon them for re-development of the region.
Call it a ‘Niger Delta Re-Development Fund’ where monies
collected from the oil companies will be used to relocate worst-affected
smaller communities(if need be) to new settlements, to provide social
amenities, education and most important of all – employment!
Someone robbed of their health and livelihood by oil
pollution is bound to turn to mischief. The oil industry is a vast industry
that employs thousands of workers every year. Why not make it a priority to
recruit, exclusively, from the local indigenes first? Why not give the job of
clean-up operations to these Niger militants to keep them out of trouble? The
oil industry has a lot of tertiary companies that support their operations. Why
not force these companies to re-locate to these districts or get them to
establish branches in theses improvised areas? If you establish a company, for
instance, that dry cleans/launders workers overalls and employ fifty local
people you are actually taking fifty people off the street who might otherwise
be troublesome.
Also, education is very important here and should not be
forgotten. Most of the militants, currently terrorizing the region, are in
their late teens or early twenties and giving them access to a good education
will give them a better chance in life. Already some schemes are in place that
provides scholarships but it needs to be more widespread.
Establish a tax-free or low-tax zone to encourage both
domestic and foreign investors. Foreign trawlers who come to fish off our
waters would more than likely be interested in owning a processing plant in
such an area instead of having to freeze their catch and cart it off to their
countries.
Since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta all the
indigenous cottage industries have all but disappeared.  With proper
funding, probably from government backed micro-finance banks, this can be
revitalized. This will give the local indigenes an alternative source of income
to what they’ve lost from farming and fishing.
Bribing militants or confronting them, leaving oil
companies un-governed and un-checked and coming up with impossible schemes to
clean-up the pollution will never solve the Niger Delta problem. Getting the
Niger Delta militants educated, employed and out of trouble and dealing with
the oil companies with a more firmer hand will.