Life in the creeks of the Niger Delta is a hell. Oil and gas-producing communities in the regions are, to put it mildly, pauperised and economically dejected and subjugated. The infernal riverine terrain reeks of putrefying squalor and none of the communities befits a modern human habitation. Yet, stupendous wealth ceaselessly flow from these creeks up into the coffers of oil multinationals, federal and state governments and unfortunately, selfish leaders of the region who feather their nests at the expense of their impoverished own – the squalid commoners.
Drawing from discoveries after several expeditions of our correspondent across various parts of the creeks, especially in Delta, Bayelsa and Edo states, it’s safe to describe the murky creeks of the Niger Delta as a Stygian terrain due to lack of enough government’s presence. The communities therein are seasonally submerged by unfailing annual flooding with no respite. It is estimated that about 90 per cent of the communities in the region have no social amenities like road network, public potable water, electricity, good public schools and health centres, among others.
The coastal dwellers are the worst hit. Theirs appears a world of dashed hopes. Sufferings therein have no equal. The common citizens in most of the oil-producing communities have no shelter, have to go on fishing expedition on desecrated and polluted waters before they could feed. Their waterways and lands are polluted by oil exploration and exploitation activities by oil companies and illegal oil bunkerers. Health centres are unavailable. Where available, medical staff and drugs are scarce commodities. The creeks are militarized with several youths killed over the years by security personnel in order to protect and repel attacks on oil and gas installations by perceived agitators calling for equity and fairness in the distribution of proceeds from their God-given black gold. Ordinarily, in developed world, these are territories that should attract prioritised development ahead of uplands for multimillion naira tourism hub.
Explaining the parlous state of these forgotten ones to Sunday Tribune, national president of the Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (CHURAC), Cleric Alaowei, in a tearful tone, bemoaned the situation: “When I see the oil-bearing communities living in the pangs of underdevelopment in the midst of abundant wealth, I cry. You can’t blame the creek dwellers from revolting against the government of Nigeria over the years of neglect and marginalisation.
“Life expectancy in the oil-producing communities is 50 because there are no social amenities to give a secure life to those people living in the creeks, while they inhale the dangerous hydrocarbon gas being flared on a daily basis by the oil companies.
“In the entire coastal region in Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom states, there is no single modern health facility in those communities in spite of the crude oil deposits coming from those areas. The same thing applies to light and other social amenities that help to secure life.
“Most of these communities like Agge, Ogulagha, Ogidigben, Aiyetoro, Ezetu, Bilabiri, Furupagha, Akassa, Brass, Bonny, etc are facing ocean surge, while all the communities in the fresh water terrains, especially in Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers states are seasonally submerged by flood annually. The riverine dwellers in the Niger Delta are continually writhing in pains of underdevelopment since the creation of Nigeria,” the Ijaw-born lawyer disclosed.
The distraught Alaowei took the blame to the doorsteps of insensitive oil multinationals, the Federal Government of Nigeria and a select unthinking leaders from the region who collaborate with enemies without to subjugate the aborigines of the oil and gas-bearing communities.
“The activities of oil explorations and exploitations have further subjected them to a beaming end. However, monies allocated to the interventionist agencies to develop the region are being frittered away by political opportunists from the Niger Delta.
“Our sufferings in the creeks are not chiefly caused by the Federal Government of Nigeria, but by our own people who are in public places of trust to manage the resources meant to develop this economically bastardized region,” he reiterated.
Chief Sunny Onuesoke, while reacting to the plights of people in the creeks of the Niger Delta, said the lot of the people is made up of “poverty, starvation and environmental degradation.
“It is a story of being thirsty in the ocean; it is a very sorry and pitiable state. Although the people of the creek are supposed to be the treasure base of the nation, but unfortunately people whose livelihoods depend on fishing, and many others who survive on farming have watched their futures drained away with the oil. This is as a result of lack of sincerity and political will to drive home the developmental agenda of the people
“It is devastating living in penury in the midst of plenty and this has resulted in unemployment and deprivation. Among young men in the Niger Delta, unemployment is one problem and this has pushed many into criminality and other social vices.”
In 2000, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the NDDC to interface between the Federal Government and the region with the mandate to develop, re-engineer and restore good life and hope to the people. This mindset also led to the creation of the Ministry of the Niger Delta. But recent events at the interventionist agency and the ministry have revealed that only greedy individuals and groups have been benefitting from the agency that has proved to be a cesspool of sustained corruption.
The alleged malfeasance now defacing the public view has further brought the impoverished region to the front burner, but this time as being plagued and shamed by its very own that should offer a better life.
Onuesoke condemned in strong terms the ignoble happenings at the interventionist agency. He said he believes the Niger Niger Delta people have been shortchanged in terms of leadership quality.
“We have been very unfortunate with the calibre of leaders who have represented the people in recent years. For instance, the driving goal of the establishment of the NDDC in 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the petroleum-rich Niger-Delta region of southern Nigeria has so far fallen below standard,” he said.
He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to lay off members of the current Interim Management Committee (IMC) and the Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry to allow for an independent investigation into the alleged financial malfeasance hanging on their necks.
Comrade Austin Ozobo of the Ijaw People’s Development Initiative (IPDI) also described the attitude of Niger Delta leaders towards the development of the region as self-serving.
“They don’t think of the common man. They think of themselves alone. They are people of no conscience. Our privileged leaders see NDDC as a cash cow. They have turned it into their cocoa farm and that is the cause of the much looting. Most Niger Delta leaders are greedy and corrupt. They have turned NDDC into personal briefcase. We have lost confidence in them. They should be arrested, tried and jailed no matter highly placed,” he said.
He urged the downtrodden in the Niger Delta to begin to hold their leaders accountable rather than hero-worshipping them for their ill-gotten wealth.
“Let’s start to ask them questions. We should be careful about the characters we put forward to represent us in the government. We should be careful about who to vote in the public offices. The thieves currently representing us should be recalled and jailed for financial crimes. Their investments and properties acquired with our stolen money should be seized. Their children should be banished from their homes. We should continue to stone and boo our corrupt leaders. We should stop worshipping them. Let’s stop praise singing them,” Ozobo said.
It will be recalled that people of the region had severally taken their destinies into their hands by destroying crude oil facilities to register their grievances. These actions drew global attention to their debilitating plights. Successive governments of the federation have also listened to complaints for development. These cries were what birthed the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), the NDDC, the 13 per cent derivation, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) at various times to address the plights of the people.
It’s rather unfortunate to conclude that despite the trillions of naira allocated and spent on these institutions to re-engineer the squalid region, nothing worthwhile can be shown for it, except squalor and abandoned projects littering the region.
It is now obvious to the generality of the people that the stereotypes and accusations against the Federal Government that it has not given enough attention to the Niger Delta people is unfounded and unfair. Like Alaowei, Chief Onuesoke and Comrade Ozobo noted, the real enemies of the region are actually the leaders of the region.
NDDC and the despicable life of Ondo oil-producing communities
The experience in the coastal community of Ondo State, where natural resources are in abundance is still associated with little or no development with majority of the stakeholders beginning the endowments as more of a curse than blessing. The grinding poverty in the area continues to create tension and fear because of official inertia and pretenses through salutary interventions by the economic and political elites in and outside the Niger Delta region. This often lead to public protests over hundreds of possible life-changing projects scattered around the area but that had remained abandoned, a phenomenon that fully exposed at the recent investigative hearing conducted by the House of Representatives on the activities of the NDDC.
Some of the residents of the area who spoke to Sunday Tribune lamented that the NDDC, saddled with initiating and executing developmental projects in the area, had been using the commission as a tunnel to siphon the nation’s resources into their private pockets.
Speaking on the N3 billion Ayetoro shoreline protection failed contract, Mr Emmanuel Monehin, said over a decade after the shoreline protection contract was awarded, it had not seen light of day.
According to him, “it was gathered that more than N3 billion had already been paid as mobilisation fees to contractors and the project is yet to be completed. This has foisted hardship on our people as it has impacted negatively on our economic and social lives.
“Our Ayetoro town might go into extinction in a couple of years if they fail to attend to this project. The contract was to stop the ocean from coming into the community. Since it has not been done, water from the Atlantic Ocean is coming in.
“We have to abandon fishing or farming because of coastal storm. Buildings are collapsing because of the coastal erosion. Water covers the town so we can’t move around. The palace of our king sank as a result of ocean coming into the community.”
He added that many people had been forced to abandon their homes and relocated out of the town. He however said the cries from the people attracted attention of the government and NDDC, leading to the award of the shoreline protection contract to Gallet Nigeria Limited in 2004, with the payment of N650 million as the mobilisation fee, “but the project which was expected to be completed within 18 months was not completed. We don’t know the reason and the ocean kept coming into our community.”
The people of the area said the project was rewarded to another company, Dredging Atlantic, at the cost of N6.5 billion, paying a mobilisation fee of N2.5 billion, about 40 per cent of the total sum, but that Dredging Atlantic had not completed the work five years later.
Another resident of the coastal community of Igbokoda in Ilaje Local Government Area of the state and a youth leader, Taiwo Bamitale, said the youth in the area had protested times without number over the state of the area and the number of abandoned projects.
According to him, no fewer than 100 developmental projects across the area alone had either been abandoned or not executed after collection of mobilisation fees between 2002 and 2019. He said this was part of a private assessment of the youth group in Igbokoda. He, however, put the blame over the non-completion of these projects on the doorsteps of some traditional rulers, community leaders, prominent politicians and members of the National Assembly.
Bamitale alleged that all some of the contractors who handled the failed projects for which funds have been released is to wet ground and keep these leaders’ mouths and eyes shut, while our people suffer in silence. He said most of these developmental projects were meant to alleviate poverty in the oil-rich communities and they are in the areas of education, health and infrastructural provisions such as water and electricity. He claimed that more than 1000 of such projects litter the coastal areas of Ilaje and Ese Odo local government areas, saying over 90 per cent of the projects awarded by NDDC are either abandoned or shrouded in one form of irregularity or the other. He noted that it is common practice for the Commission’s contractors to collect mobilisation and refuse to move to site, when they knew the people would only protest and go back to their homes.
A student of Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology (OAUSTECH), Okitipupa, Funke Ebisemiju, while speaking to our reporter, recalled that the vice chancellor of the school, Professor Sunday Ogunduyile, recently appealed to the bNDDC to return to the school to complete all projects embarked upon by the agency.
She commended the NDDC initiative towards developing education in the area but said the agency had failed to contribute positively towards development of education in the area, saying the NDDC hostel building contract it embarked on in 2010 had been abandoned for over a decade.
Another youth leader, Juliet Ehinmowo, explained that the youths from the area had protested severally and visited the NDDC office to table their dislike over the myriads of abandoned projects in the riverine communities. She said the NDDC had abandoned many multi-billion naira projects in the various communities in the local government area. She alleged that there had been diversion of money meant for the development of the NDDC community into private pockets, leading to the abandonment of the projects, stressing the need for President Muhammadu Buhari to look into the activities of the NDDC, alleging that the commission had not performed well in Ondo State.
Ehinmowo stated that “we have earlier written to the NDDC on the reckless and fraudulent conversion of billions of naira meant for laudable projects in the Niger Delta region of Ondo State but nothing has been done. There are many abandoned projects in Ilaje land. It should be clear and loud enough to the NDDC that the era of criminal abandonment of projects in Ilaje land is over as we will no longer watch from the sidelines as spectators despite the fact that this was the same local government that gave the impetus to Nigeria as a crude oil-bearing nation over 100 years ago in Araromi town. We reject in totality the erection of ordinary signboards for multi-billion naira projects for over a decade, while the contractors get away with the entire mobilisation money as this has been the lot of Ilaje land since the inception of the NDDC except for few cosmetic projects like boat landing jetties and a handful of cheap termite-infested wooden hospitals. We will no longer tolerate this.”
She said despite living on water, there was no potable water in the area and all the water projects initiated by NDDC had been abandoned.
“Our hospitals are nothing to write home about. Pregnant women travel hundreds of miles to Ondo and Akure for delivery and we have health centers which have been providing shelter to rodents and reptiles,” she said.
A community leader, Chief Michael Afogbon who also lamented over the projects being abandoned in the area, advised the NDDC not to embark on new projects in the area, urging the agency to complete all the abandoned projects in the state and forget about starting new ones.
“We don’t need new projects. The abandoned ones on ground should be completed. There are so many abandoned projects here and things cannot continue like this,” he said.
The octogenarian, however, urged the Federal Government not to allow the ongoing investigation into the activities of the agency to be swept under the carpet, saying all those involved should be brought to book.
“Apart from this, all these hundreds of abandoned projects should be revisited. The contractors should be forced back to site. All we have to show for being a member of the oil producing state is hunger. No good road. Our schools are bad. Hospitals with no drugs or personnel to attend to us are what we have. Yet, we are regarded as oil-producing state and area. All we have are abandoned projects across the land,” he added.