By Iyobosa Uwugiaren
The like of Dokubo Asari, Tom Ateke, Tompollo, General Boyloaf and other Niger Delta militants came to political limelight through violence activism in the name of fighting against degradation and environmental pollution of the Niger Delta by the multinational oil companies. Like the judicially murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa had predicted, when he was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1995 for his fight against environmental degradation in Niger Delta by the multinationals, the struggle in the region was hijacked by opportunists like Dokubo Asari and others until the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration rescued the situation.
But, today, Tompollo, Asari, Ateke and others have been made billionaires for their so-called activism at the detriment of the region they claimed to be fighting for. Recently, when the huge patronage from the federal government appeared to be drying up, Asari, Ateke and Boyloaf gave indications to renew their "activism". Particularly, Asari openly declared recently that Jonathan had failed the people of the region. He had told some journalists that the president was fast losing his support base and might not be re-elected for failing to deliver on his promises. The militant, who admitted to have greatly benefitted from the Jonathan administration in the past, said he could no longer keep quiet in the fate of what he described as "unprecedented failure" of the government.
Hear him: "What has the Goodluck Jonathan government achieved to show that it is a departure from other governments that have existed since 1956? For us, nothing has changed. It is still business as usual. We have continued as Ijaw people and the entire Niger Delta and south-south to support the presidency of President Goodluck Jonathan, but a time has come when silence cannot be golden."
Mr. Dokubo Asari had claimed that President Jonathan had lost the support of all those that were instrumental in his becoming president. However, just a few days ago, he made a u-turn and said that his fight against the president was a temporary one. The reason for his sudden u-turn, I was told, was the promise by some forces within the federal government and multinationals to keep the cash flowing again. This is the way we are in Nigeria today: material or cash rewards for oil spillage compensation are lavishly spent by a few well-positioned leaders or militants for private purposes. Legitimate demand by the abandoned communities in the Niger Delta for indisputable remediation against squalor of people and environment is replaced with demand for contracts and other forms of integration in the oil business by a few privileged people – like what Asari and others are doing today.
Youths, who feel short-changed by the state or the oil companies regularly turn agitated, they unleash violence on oil pipes with attendant crisis; patchwork of solution is created to scaffold the main issue of neglect. By the way, the payoff has progressively graduated from aggression against business rather than quell the crisis because, according to experts on the Niger Delta crisis, violence has created a new "mode of production". Today competitive violence is used to achieve reimburse. While the sorry state of the Niger Delta has always been the reference point of demand by militants and activists like Asari and others, the longsuffering people of the region are denied the smallest trickle-down effect of whatever is achieved by their activism. Let’s face it: except the naive or slow-thinking people, many reasonable people are not surprised about the happenings in the troubled region. Many scholars including Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu have stubbornly canvassed in their different academic works that the distressed Niger Delta region presented an absolute framework for interrogating the neoliberal ideology and the crisis of development generally enveloping the region.
To be sure, like most nations or communities before the colonial rule, the Niger Delta had a socio-economic system that corresponded to the level of development of the productive forces; the level of politics and economy was largely communal or common, so that when the forces of imperial expansion came they met community-strength-of-mind in which the values and ethics of faultless community were well consolidated. What later happened was the discordant dialectics of the clash between these two contradicting value system, which created distortions that are not only very pronounced in the overthrow of informal traditional politics but also in the emergence of a hung value system in which the "unblemished" and the "modern" have found uneasy unity. The huge implication of this is that the communal or community spirit has since dissolved into the individual, creating a social distance among agents who are only reconnected coolly through commodities and the market ethics. For many experts, this has resulted in a situation in which the functioning norm are individualism, competition proprietorship and formal equality incarnates at the political level – an independent public force standing over society, the state becoming the new depersonalised community.
How does one explain these unfortunate happenings in our nation today? How do you rationalise the politics and economic interests of Asari and others? Don’t go too far. Many right thinking people believe that the Niger Delta poses a "paradox of wealth creating poverty or comfortable circumstances engendering hardship". It is therefore not surprising that local leadership or some spoiled self-styled Niger Delta activists like Asari would compromise the interest of their community to serve individual passion.
This nonsense must stop. The federal government must stop equating the personal interest of some criminals with that of the genuine longsuffering people of the Niger Delta. What is required in the region is a massive economic empowerment of the real people, massive infrastructure development in the communities, massive job creation for the jobless youths and encouragement of institutions that will rebuild that common spirit that used to exist among Niger Delta communities. Once all these are done, the like of Asari, Tompollo, Ateke and others would no longer be relevant.
President Jonathan must also stop reacting to national issues; he must be proactive. The impression being created that competitive violence pays must be urgently discouraged. The activism of Asari that encourages "settlement" for some criminal-minded people must be dealt with urgently. We should stop pampering criminals all in the name of maintaining uneasy peace in the Niger Delta. The people of the Niger Delta can no longer take this humiliation from Asari and others. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Jonathan should know that he only gets humiliated if he wants to be humiliated by some criminals parading themselves as activists.