NIGERIA DISCUSSION SERIES: PORT HARCOURT & NIGERIA UNDER SIEGE

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I initially wanted to discuss what I see as a growing intolerance in Nigerian society. However, a couple posts I read by some bloggers changed my mind and the direction of today's post.

If you have paid attention to Nigerian news, then you know that Port Harcourt is under siege. Rival gangs turned the city into a war zone last week, leaving many innocents dead in their wake. This compelled the government to send in the military. The soldiers were meant to bring peace to a chaotic situation, but it seems that they have simply compounded the situation. They are ordered to seek and kill insurgents and militants and have seemingly gone on a killing spree. And, despite a dusk till dawn curfew, people are still losing their lives.

I find it interesting that the international media is paying little attention to the plight of Delta residents. But, then again, the world price of oil is low and the people in the developed world are paying less to power their automobiles, so there is no reason for them to fret. That is a shame, because people are dropping like flies for no reason other than oil, and the curse that comes with it.

Nigerians, however, need to be very concerned about the increased violence and upfront attack on the people of Port Harcourt and other parts of the Delta. This problem was a small one that has gotten out of control. We can no longer disassociate ourselves from the problems of the Delta because if we do not get these problems under control, the violence there will spill to other parts of an already turbulent country. Don't believe it is possible? Consider the fact that the various gangs in the Delta region have acquired 'kidnapping' skills. Are you aware that they no longer just kidnap foreign oil workers? The mother of the Speaker of Bayelsa State's House of Assembly was kidnapped and held for 2 weeks. She is in her late 60s, an old, defenseless woman. Some might think that because her child is rich, the kidnapping is okay, but realize that it could be you or a family member that gets caught in the cross hairs next. These violent gangsters will soon simply sell their 'skills' to the highest bidder. I once discussed the possibility of Nigeria being a breeding ground for terrorists. I am saddened to think that my 'prediction' may have come true and that Port Harcourt is the illustration of the point made in that post.

Also, these gangsters (not talking about MEND which is seeking improvement for the Delta's people), are making it harder for Nigerians to buy oil. For instance, a contractor supposed to correct a couple problems with some pipelines, has been informed by a gang that he must pay $69 million to do his work. Understandably, the contractor is limited in his ability to fix the problem pipelines. Thus, the nation waits with bated breath for oil to flow but it doesn't.

When Yar'Adua came to office, he waved a white flag at the Delta and sought cooperation to improve the lot of its people. He sent Goodluck to meet with leaders. MEND gave the nation a reprieve and suspended its activities. I understand that the UN is in talks with Yardy's administration to find ways that the organization can lend it mediation skills to finding a solution to the chaos. But, despite all that, things are now worse than they were and Nigerians are losing their lives because they are caught in a game of egotism and greed.

We can talk about solutions to the Delta's problems, but that has been done before. I am curious as to what people think it is like for someone living in that chaos. I want to know what YOU think that we, Nigerians (not the government) can do, if anything, to stop the madness. How can we restore calm and order to Port Harcourt and the Delta in general? Do we need to get international attention? I wonder, if more people read Jaja's description of his life in the 'Garden City' or Porter deHarqourt's lyrical narrative of his existence and recent experiences, would they think twice and take the time to put pressure on the government and interested parties to to improve the situation. Or, would they just ignore the plight of the Delta's residents, as long as the price of oil is stable and the global economy is intact? What are your thoughts on life in Port? As a member of the Nigerian Lighthouse team, I want to know how bloggers can make an impact? I believe it is possible. Anyway, let us all know...

16 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Omodudu said...

How can we all be quiet about this? I will put up a entry about this right away.
I will be back witha proper comment later.

Africanloft said...

What to do?

The people should expose the bandits - the quicker the better for everyone!

Nilla said...

Linked this post on the NDS blog, but I don't know why it's not reflecting yet :-(.

I'm off to read.

Nilla said...

We certainly do have a handful of greedy and power hungry Nigerians.

Really,
I think there will be peace and calm when the financers of all these trouble makers (the cultists and militants{those with selfish interests})are brought to book; and there are job opportunities (too many idle youths in PH), so that the youths are not being used by the power hungry to do their dirty jobs.

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ Omodudu: ....... I am speechless....

@ AfricanLoft: This is my first time seeing you in these parts. Welcome!

I agree. It would be excellent if those who knew could and would expose the criminals responsible for this chaos. Unfortunately, the only way they would do so is if there was no fear of reprisal. I am unaware if Nigeria has a system similar to the Amercian witness protection program. Such a program, coupled witha ahndsome reward would probably copel people to prsonally deliver most of the bandits to the overnments door. If only I was a billionaire sitting on wads of dough...that would be my project.

I wonder if Nigerians can begin the call to encourage the 'deliverance' of the gangsters to justice's door? What do you think?

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ Nilla: Your point is excellet! Focusing on the 'financiers' is the most efficient way of stopping the madness. In a country like Nieria, I am quite sure that even 'Mama Tamuno', who sells smoked fish at the market, could tell you exactly who is benefitting from this wave of crime. She probably would be correct as well.

The problem is that there are too many powerful people in Nigeria. Too much looted money means many personal armies and means to weaponize egos.

As for jobs, I understand that there was a Development plan created to focus on the Delta and that jobs for the youth was a critcal aspect of the plan. I wonder if you have heard of it? I am unsure of the actual name at this moment but if you are familiar with it, wh don't you give us all a clue into it. I will also try to find more information online. Though, I have discovered that sometimes, finding detailed information from Nigerian sources online can be tedious! Anyway, hope you will come back with some goodies.

Take care of yourself in Port.

Nyemoni said...

I wish I could proffer a solution but I'm afriad I'm overwhelmed... I wish it was as easy as Africanloft put it to expose the bandits, but who are the bandits? Where are they? They are our brothers our sisters, the sons and daughters of the Land... desperation has pushed them to turn into animals, to kill anyone, family or not... I think even the President would be at the crossroads on this issue. What is the solution to this decay?

יש (Yosh) said...

Dialog: between "moderate" (if I can use that word) militants and the government in trying to reach a workable agreement. Asari seems to be taking a soft line now after his release, maybe there are attempts to make him rein in his MEND boys. But if he does, some of those in MEND who may think he's sold out might and will form splinter groups. This, I believe is what is happening now in the N.D. cos I could be wrong, it seems there's less word from MEND claiming responsibility or partaking in these acts. Most are faceless groups. I could be wrong, though, it could still be MEND but doing it "anonymously".

What I'm saying is this:

On the national level, there should be concerted effort put in place to try and get to 'talk to' "moderate" groups such as MEND, or any willing to talk. With the help of MEND, maybe some of these boys can be made to lay down their arms for some real deal. But what EXACTLY IS the real deal? You see, most of these guys don't even have a unified front. If they do, there should all be under one banner/umbrella? Maybe this is my Utopian view? but I feel even if a deal is made with a representative for the whole disgruntled groups in the N.D., there'd still be some restless elements who'd feel that the cooperating organization has been bought over, and they'd want to renew the fervor for their cause, and then the cycle continues.

From this point on, let's assume some major groups are conciliatory and agree to the viable terms, then these groups can be armed to crack down on any others trying to raise an ugly head or there'd be rewards to bring to justice anyone who is seen standing in the way to progress.

However, knowing this country as it is, how can one be sure that things won't spiral out of control arming the locals to fight "their own"? See Afghanistan, after the US aided Laden to fight off the Soviets, now it's all turned back to bite them in the buttocks. It's one helluva imbroglio.

As Nyemoni says, it's overwhelming thinking of a solution to the problem. Something can be done, though, and THAT is exactly what we are going to do,not just sitting back and waving heads helplessly at the situation. Again, at what Nyemoni says, most of these people are relatives, somehow in some way, they can be spoken to. Once a viable option is on the table, something that really looks like will put an end to this problem, there should be effort in trying to help in reining them in. When all efforts fail and these people seem to be obstacles to progress and peace, turning them in to the authorities will be the only option. Easier said than done? I can be cold like that, but that is what I'm going to do.

As it is, I don't see why anyone would want to turn Ibiere in just 'cos he feels he's doing "wrong". There should be some positive gesture from the other party (in this case, the government) that this won't be a betrayal, but rather a step towards peace. There should be a surety that the government will keep to its side of the deal, in trying to end the impasse. It'd be a snowball effect, the major dealt with, then the minor.

snazzy said...

this is one of those head scratchers, cos if we knew what to do about the niger delta problem we would have done it already. Everybody can point to the problems, the governors, the local politicians, the oil companies, the militnats, the federal government, are the major actors. All interdependent in this dance. Can you fix one with out the rest? Is it possible to fix all at the same time? Are there different solutions to each, or does each need it's own solution? I honestly think that flexibility is the key. We need to try something, if it doesn't work try something else, and keep doing that ad infinitum. However I think we are all doomed to "know" the solution to the problem as the problem continues to swallow all of us whole.

Misan said...

Great insights so far, and i definitely share in the confusion and feeling of helplessness expressed by some. The ND crisis and the more urgent PH state of emergency have been ignored by the West, by other African nations (which, quite frankly, have their own homefront crises to deal with) and most importantly by other Nigerians since the elections, and i'm glad the lighthouse has decided to give it some attention.

I think a due diligence of the situation is in order, as has been suggested by a couple of pp. A meeting of stakeholders needs to be called, and televised/broadcast on radio...local citizens of each state (or appointed spokespersons), LG chairmen, governors, oil companies; where pp can air their grievances, state their demands, name and shame as necessary, and discuss what changes they would like to see. We need to find out what would make MEND happy, what incentives governors/LG chairmen/ need in order to do their jobs (greater compensation, perks, etc), why oil companies aren't developing the communities where they are based; what alternative jobs/training can be created for the local people (their livelihood comes from fishing, which they are unable to rely on because of the pollution), etc.

It's hard to figure out solutions without first talking to the pp on ground so I think that's the very first course of action the government needs to take.

Africanloft said...

Nigerians have to deal with Nigeria's problem. External agencies and foreign nations do not understand the the issue and they will never.

The violence in PH has nothing to do with MEND or resource control. These are criminals.

Wole, an author on AfricanLoft and PH-based lawyer sheds some light to what might have contributed to the problem, excerpt:

"The genesis of this crisis was in 1999 when the former Governor of Rivers State Dr. Peter Odili created a militant campaign forum to combat the strong opposition mainly from the riverine Kalabari and Okrika political class. Odili is from a minority clan from Ndoni (omoku) and in order to command some level of relevance as a minority person he needed a strong front to combat the traditional power brokers in Rivers State, especially the Kalabari’s then ably coordinated by the Late Marshall Harry and Graham Douglas family and A.K Dikibo...

By 2003 militancy had become fashionable in Rivers State; to the teeming, restless, jobless and unemployable youths, militancy became a welcome vocation that gave them the much sought after wealth and respect. The boys did their jobs very well and Odili was returned to office without any stress, Odilli kept them well, paid them well and even imported state- of the art weapons for them and they became the unofficial security service provider to the Governor and Government of Rivers State to the chagrin of the police..."

So what happened when the cash flow ceased?

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ everyone: In light of the excellent commentary, I thought I would add the following - gang members are killing supposed informants in the Delta at http://www.punchng.com/Articl.aspx?theartic=Art200708291472110

This will oly stall attempts at bringing calm to the region.

BeautyinBaltimore said...

A British Nigerian won the 100 meter hurdles.

Porter deHarqourt said...

it's almost impossible to seperate the militants from the political class.

some politicians actually set up and run militant camps. they invest in kidnappings and reap the financial benefits.

it's hard to solve the Niger Delta problem without first dealing with these two-faced financiers of mayhem.

we all talk of this recent surge in violence, but the real Niger Delta problem is poverty, deprivation, and the betrayal of the people by their political and traditional leadership.

there is need for a proper stakeholders meeting that is truly representative. not the usual mix of ex-ministers, traditional rulers, and political big-wigs from the region, but people who can speak of the pain in the most deprived fishing ports in the creeks.

more immidiately though, the multinationals would do well to employ qualified graduates from the host communities. they are always so reluctant to do this, and today, a lot of graduates have dumped their certificates and picked up weapons.

the problem is complex and great, but every little helps.

Jaja said...

I am in my most optimistic these days.

Inspite of all the trouble, fustratingly complex as it might be, we are taking baby steps. People are discontent, and discontent breeds questions and change..

On days when I stay listening, i hear a new world breathing..

fashion.chic said...

Oh! When will all these fights and war stops? :(

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