Activist and Acting President of the Niger Delta Congress (NDC), Nubari Saatah, has warned that the people of Niger Delta, would not endure the plundering of their environment for much longer if the government does not come up with genuine effort to address the challenges of the region.
Saatah who spoke at the 13th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture held in Lagos on Tuesday to mark the 87th birthday anniversary of Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, regretted that the people of Niger Delta, have borne the brunt of sustaining Nigeria’s economy for over six decades, with only poverty and environmental devastation to show.
He admitted that though a number of initiatives, such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), have been put in place, the government has always always ensured that the people have no control over such initiatives, and thus appoints people that serve its interests rather than than those of the region.
Saatah who spoke on the topic, “Nigeria: Oil, the environment and the economy,” said over 13 million barrels of crude oil has been spilled into the region’s environment and continues to be spilled daily.
“Whether we like it or not, in the room called Nigeria, crude oil is the elephant, and has been the economic lifeline of this country for over 50 years. Crude oil is what has made us, and crude oil is what has marred us. But in talking about oil what comes to mind is the Niger Delta region, that is where I am from,” he said.
“There is no other place on this planet that you have more negative consequences of crude oil exploration than in the Niger Delta region. Our environment has been nearly completely devastated. As I speak to you, over 13 million barrels of crude oil has been spilled into our environment and it continues to be spilled daily. Billions of cubic feet of gas is flared yearly into the Niger Delta environment.
“Now what has been the impact of this on the communities? You have communities whose livelihoods revolve around fishing and farming, but these livelihoods have been completely destroyed; the land is contaminated and the sea is contaminated. And how have we responded to these issues that have come about because we decided to an build economy that revolves around monthly meetings where commissioners of finance go to Abuja and get allocation from crude oil?
“For over six decades that we have been refining oil in the Niger Delta, we have not thought it wise to clean the Niger Delta environment. It shows from the action of the government, that nobody cares about what we go through in the Niger Delta. There was a report done on pipeline right-of-way in Ogoniland, that is only on Ogoni. What did the report say? The report found that the groundwater in Ogoniland is polluted by benzene, 900 times above the regulatory level. Benzene is a Carcinogen, so we are basically drinking cancer.
“The report went on to add that it is going to take at least three decades for the Ogoni environment to return to its natural state. You can extrapolate from that to have an idea or what we are going to see if we are to study the entire Niger Delta environment.”
Saatah argued that crude oil has been a curse to Nigeria, especially to the people of the Niger Delta, noting that decades after independence, only one state of the federation, Lagos, can sustain itself without rent from crude oil.
He said the free money from oil, has killed the capacity of states to build economies.
“We have built an economic system where, apart from one state, Lagos, no other state can economically sustain self without crude oil; not even the Nigerian government. By focusing on a system based on just extracting natural resources, not only have we devastated our environment, we have stifled private enterprise; we created disincentive for production and innovation,” he said.
“Recently Katsina State governor, Bello Masari, proposed to turn viewing centres into Islamic schools. Why do you think that the governor will come up with such an idea? It’s because our state governors have not been put in a system that encourages them to think. So he cannot see any economic implication for that, because at the end of the month he is going to go to Abuja and he is going to get allocation from crude oil rent. So, he can even decide to marry off and pay dowry for every body in the state, if that is what he wants to do.”
The NDC president, said the many years of oil exploration in the region, has created poverty and devastation, regretting that Niger Delta states, have the highest unemployment rates in the country, despite being the mainstay of the economy.
He said the petroleum industry bill, recently passed by the National Assembly, is another evidence that the Nigerian political elite, have yet to learn anything, while maintaining that the Niger Delta people want resource control.
“In 2020 Maisie Pigeon, Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood and their team did a report for Global Maritime Crime Programme of UNODC. The report established a link between piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the increasing poverty in the Niger Delta region. The gulf of Guinea is the least secure waterways in the world,” he noted.
“Now, does it surprise us that if you look at the states with the highest unemployment rate, Niger Delta states are at the top? It doesn’t make economic sense the people on whose back the economy of this country has been sustained, are having so much challenges environmentally and economically. We we are supposed to have learnt our lessons, but we haven’t learnt anything.
“Look at the petroleum industry bill that the national assembly just passed for example. The first line of that document says that all natural resources belong to the federal government. I’m not okay with that; the Niger Delta people are not okay with that. We want resource control. And if you look at that bill from the point of view of the Niger Delta, the injustice is glaring; there’s no argument there. If you look at it from the environmental point of view, you can see the disregard for the environment. Economically, the lack of foresight is astounding.
“Take for example the provision for 30 percent NNPC profit to be used for frontier oil exploration. I was reading on Premium Times where Senator Mohammed Sabo Nakudu, who was one of the people that engineered that bill, was justifying the voting of 30 percent NNPC profit for frontier oil exploration. He basically said that the reason is that the world is moving beyond oil, and that they are not longer interested in funding crude oil, so it is now better for us to use the resources we are getting from crude oil to search for more crude oil.
“We have created a system that promotes economic mediocrity, such that the only thing the political elite can think of is crude oil and more crude oil. They don’t know how to produce; they don’t know how to encourage production. We have simply built and codified laws around all these. That is one thing that political economist, Fred Bastie said. He said that when plundering has become a way of life for a group of men living together in a society, over time, they create for themselves the legal code that justifies it and the moral code that authorises it.
“Today every law in this country was put there with crude oil in mind. Almost every legislation since 1970 when the war ended, has been passed because of crude oil. But one thing we must understand is that if you are focusing on this, and you don’t address the problems, in the not-so-distant future, the people of Niger Delta will react. How much longer do we feel that the Niger Delta people are going to continue to bend their backs to carry the economic burden of this country, considering that we have benefited absolutely nothing, while our environment is devastated? I can tell you for sure that it is very short,” he concluded.