History has it that oil was first drilled in Nigeria in 1956 in an obscure Niger Delta Community of Oloibiri, in present-day Bayelsa State. The commencement of oil
exploitation in Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region was only four years before Nigeria attained her political independence on October 1, 1960. Prior to and even as at the time Oloibiri attracted global attention, little did Nigerians imagine that oil would play determining roles in the economy and politics of Nigeria.
One may recollect that immediately after the counter coup of 28 July 1966, in which Nigerian soldiers of Northern Origin toppled and killed Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi, in revenge for the killing of top politicians of the North and consequently embarked on mass killing of the Igbo; both military and civilians in Lagos and Northern Nigeria, northerners began shouting ‘Araba’. By Araba, what the northerners meant was that the different peoples that made up Nigeria should stay on their own as independent nations. It was also widely reported that col. Yakubu Gowon; then head of State of Nigeria, had on August 3, 1966 publicly said that there was no basis for Nigeria’s unity. But two things happened that would militate against the urge by the Northerners to break away from Nigeria.
A delegation of the Eastern Minorities led by Justice Graham Nabo Douglas had officially called on Yakubu Gowon, demanding that if the North should secede, the Nigerian government led by Gowon should, first of all, tell them what would be the fate of millions of the minorities in Eastern Nigeria. Secondly and of more importance, the British government strongly advised the Gowon’s administration that it would be suicidal for the North to break away from the rest of Nigeria, especially realizing that oil had been discovered in the Niger Delta Region which was part of Eastern Region and that the North was like a desert on which life could not be meaningfully sustained. These two influences made the North to reconsider their earlier stand and the Northern slogan of “Araba” changed to, “To keep Nigeria One Is A Task That Must Be Done”. Oil and nothing but oil was and has remained responsible for Nigeria’s Unity.
Despite the enormous role oil had played in the sustenance of Nigeria’s social and economic development, a role that facilitated the construction of uncountable fly-overs in Lagos and the transformation of Abuja from a desert to one of the most beautiful metropolitan cities in the world, not to talk of the sustenance of the thirty-six states’ structure of the Nigerian Federation, the plight of oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta was nothing to write home about. Neither the government nor oil companies that operated in the region created any opportunity for the growth of indigenes of the region.
Apart from failure to develop the natives of the oil-producing areas by the operating companies, the operational activities of the Oil Companies devastated the environment of the host communities. There was nothing to show in the communities that they had, indeed, been contributing immensely to the economic wealth of Nigeria. This exploitation and neglect drew the wrath of elites of these communities. Some prominent sons of the region rose in defence of their people against what they considered to be perpetual exploitation by the Nigerian State.
Ken Saro Wiwa, an internationally acknowledged environmentalist, stood against the exploitation and marginalization of his people of Ogoni Nation but was unjustly tried, condemned and hung for his struggles against Northern exploitation. Up till date, Ogoni land remains the worst environmentally polluted and degraded community in South Saharan Africa.
This unpleasant scenario prevailed until 5th June, 2000 when the federal government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo created the Niger Delta Development Commission. Right from the beginning, the Commission’s mandate was the overall development of the oil-reach Niger Delta Region of Southern Nigeria. On 10 September 2008, still in pursuit of a more developed Niger Delta Region, President Umaru Yar’Adua created the Ministry of Niger Delta and made the Niger Delta Development Commission a parastatal under it. For purposes of clarity, the Niger Delta Region is made up of nine states. The states, in alphabetical order, are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
In order to make sure that the interest of the oil-producing areas is protected at all times, the Act establishing the Commission provides that the chairman of the Commission shall be an indigene of any of the nine states that constitute the said region and that the position shall rotate amongst the nine states in an alphabetical order. The Act further provides that each state, as mentioned above, shall have a representative on the Board of the Commission. The intendment of this second provision is to guarantee ample opportunity for effective participation of each of the states in the affairs of the Commission.
The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission [RMAFC] disburse financial entitlements to the affected state in accordance with the quota of oil production each state has. When the allocation gets to the Commission, the Board of the Commission sits and determines what goes to each state based on its oil production status. This is where the member representing a state; the Commissioner as he is called, has a lot of role to play. Typical of a fiscal interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission operates on budgetary provisions. It is the responsibility of the Commissioner representing his or her state to use his or her discretion to prioritize projects to be embarked upon by the Commission in his state, based on available resources. This position of trust demands sound judgment, selflessness, patriotism, transparency and accountability.
In Abia State, it is only in Ukwa-West that oil is drilled and it is only Ukwa-West that qualified Abia to be ranked as oil-producing state. Oil-producing communities in Ukwa-West include Owaza, Uzuaku, Umuorie, Imo-River, Umuahala, Umuokwo and Umukalu. At this point, it may be necessary to say that there is a wide gap of difference between an oil-producing area or community and an oil-bearing area or community. While many communities may be oil-bearing, by virtue of the fact that there is verifiable evidence of oil deposit in them but there is no drilling exercise going on there, they can not be referred to as oil-producing. Examples of oil-bearing areas in Abia State include Ukwa-East and Ugwunagbo local government areas. On the other hand, an oil-producing community is one in which physical drilling of oil manifestly takes place. Examples of such communities had earlier been given.
It has to be pointed out, in black and white, without minding whose ox might be gored, that the vision that propelled Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to create the Niger Delta Development Commission has failed to manifest in Ukwa-West. In fifteen years of the existence of the Commission, there is hardly any substantial thing to be pointed at as a legacy the Niger Delta Development Commission has left in the length and breadth of Ukwa-West. The roads the Commission claims to have constructed in Ukwa-West are roads that scarcely exceed half an inch thickness. The result is that no sooner a road is said to have been constructed by the Commission than the road is washed away. There is no road in the area done by N.D.D.C that lasts up to five years.
In terms of economic empowerment, the individuals that have, so far, represented the state on the Board of the Commission are like people who swore never to help any fellow Asa man. Hence, all the contracts they award are awarded to none indigenes of Asa land and to themselves with various registered companies. The representatives have never equipped the youths of the area whom they had sent on one training or another, with money with which to open their trade. Many projects abandoned in the area are said to have been reasonably paid for and no explanations are offered for their abandonment. Many roads are rather built and commissioned in many other parts of the state.
The most heart-breaking is that the commission de-roofed Asa civic-hall built by Asa people at Obehie in the name of re-modeling the hall and without any iota of remorse, abandoned the project. This is despite the hundreds of millions of naira that the Commission is said to have released for the execution of the contract. The social cum political implication of this unconscionable act is that Asa people no longer have a place where they can meet to take a collective look at the affairs of their land. The Commission had given many transformers and tractors to boost the economic well-being of the people of Ukwa-West but many of these items ended up being sold to people outside Asa land.
So far, what the people of Ukwa-West have noticed is that any of their sons appointed a Commissioner on the Board of NDDC starts from the day the Board was inaugurated to think of how to go for a second tenure. This greedy urge blind-folds him against his kinsmen and, in order to achieve his inordinate ambition, which in most cases does not materialize, he gives everything meant for his people to those he considers to be the powers that be who, in his calculation, would guarantee his second tenure, not minding if he would do well or not.
The outcome of this deliberate isolationist policy of N.D.D.C commissioners of Ukwa-West extraction is that poverty continues to permeate the nooks and crannies of the area, with the area having the most dilapidated roads in the whole of Nigeria. As long as political appointees of Ukwa-West extraction on the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission continue to be ruled by greed, selfishness and vaulting ambition, the vision of the founding fathers of the Commission would not cease to elude the downtrodden people of Ukwa-West.
A change of heart and attitude on the part of future Commissioners of NDDC from Ukwa-West would certainly save their people from their present abject poverty.
Chief (Sir) Don Ubani