Environment has always been the whipping boy of the Niger Delta dilemma. Everyone knows that there is oil spillage here and there; that there is degradation of the soil structure thereby making Agriculture and indeed fishing less attractive as an occupation for the people. Each year the ecological fund is given to States and budgeted into embankment, jetties, erosion control and the like. The international community represented by the World Bank, the DFID, etc and oil companies conduct research upon research and conference upon conference recommend what should be done and many a scholar scorch themselves quoting profusely all to no avail. The environment remains the same and getting messier by the day especially outside the urban areas. The neglect is palpable to any visitor, there is always the consensus that much more can be done to uplift the environment by all stakeholders acting in unity rather than in antagonism of each other.
This article will attempt to review this situation with a view to recommending a more sustainable approach to managing the environment in the Niger Delta especially in Bayelsa and Rivers State. First the root causes must be explored in a holistic light.
Is the Niger Delta abandoned to her fate? What is her fate? What do we want of her? What manner of development? Who are the Stakeholders? Who are the people? What are they looking for?
In finding answers to this question we would look at the History, geography, social and political dimensions of this place and all this in the context of environmental degradation.
That we witness today. Let us begin with some definitions. What really is environment? Dictionary meaning put it as surrounding influences: especially seen as external factors affecting the life of people, animals and plants. In other words we are looking at the things affecting the natural world especially when it is at risk from human activities.
So my friend, the environment is not just about degradation from what the oil majors are doing. It is also about what we are doing to ourselves, our trees and our animals. We do damage to the environment when we go against natural laws. Here nature refers to the physical world including all natural phenomena and living things. But then, how do you achieve that? Simply by conducting your life in such a way that you stand against the will of the creator of nature itself. Whether it is government, or oil companies or communities, or individuals it does give the same harmful effect. Everyone is granted faculties to weigh and judge what is wrong and no matter how you deny it your conscience will show you that is if you have not buried it by continuous transgression of the laws.
We shall try to examine here in the context of the Niger Delta how the Natural law has been trampled over the years by the international communities, Government, oil companies, the communities, and individuals and we shall apportion blames in gradation to the offence and attempt to suggest remedies to these stakeholders. Like we said earlier, you don’t need to bother yourself with the meaning of natural law or trying to cram it. It is commonsense to everyone to immediately understand what is detrimental to human life, animal life and plant life. It is clear that you would question why plant and animal life as well. If you recall the definition of nature the home our creator in His wisdom made available for our living and enjoying, then you would at least have faith that He would not give it to us except it is necessary for our life and therefore any danger to them translates to an equivalent danger to our existence even if we are not easily aware of it.
I would not be writing this article were it not that this topic is so important to the sustainable development of Rivers State and Bayelsa States as well as Nigeria and the World at large. If not because of so much talk following so much ignorance and politics and error about sustainable development in global knowledge at present which tends to exacerbate rather than ameliorate the environmental situation in the Niger Delta area. The region is so important to the world not just as supplier of oil but also because it has the largest mangrove forest in Africa, and the third largest in the world, herby making it an important player to the reduction of global warming or the escalation of it depending on the choices we make.
Let us start with the role of the Nigerian government acting as an extension of the British colonial powers without fully understanding the checks and balances employed by the British to safeguard the environment while exploiting the resources. You will agree with us that the environment never had it so good except during the pre-colonial period when it was as it came from the creators hands. The colonial masters maintained the forest reserves, discouraged excessive lugging of trees, killing of animals and fishing, just like the communities did earlier by instituting laws on fishing days and even farming patterns. These were meant to help preserve the law even while we go forth to dominate these creatures as the Bible instructed us to do. But the colonialists used force to acquire and maintain trading posts and used divide and rule plus the confusion arising from imposition of their own religion to the detriment of the local religion. It was the local religion that thought environmental sanity through ownership of land. There was never an absentee owner of land and since worship, food, market, jobs, life was intertwined with the land, there was nothing like neglect or over-exploitation of resources because every generation was concerned with what the coming generation would eat. Our ancestors incorporated planning in the land and seas, where or the other will lie fallow so that their children can have virgin land or fishing zone in the coming season. So you see their values, their hospitals, their social life, recreation, and even dying lay in those forests and seas which was rudely thorn away and exposed to the eye lashed of strangers. This was enough traumas for any person, yet instead of correcting these anomalies on independence, our founding fathers simply moved into the strangers quarters vacated by the colonialist and clinging glasses that they won independence failed to realize that they were continuing the wrongs that brought about calls for independence in the first place.
The new colonialists in native cloths out of ignorance or greed, extended the misery index of the Niger Delta people when instead of blessing the people with the advent of oil rather extended more misery by enacting petroleum laws under the guise of marshal law during the military rule after reneging on their promise to liberate the people from bondage which at that time was narrowly and erroneously attributed to their nearest neighbors. In the same divide and rule fashion the government always found a escape- goat to hide behind to plunder the land all the more. They would always awaken hatred between Niger Delta tribes and also with their neighbors when they want to maintain tighter their rule. It was the tutorials of continuous conflict while your land your people your animals your trees die. It is amazing we don’t see this pattern down to this moment.
Why on earth would the stakeholders be fighting themselves inside the same cell? It defies explanation. The reason is ignorance foisted on the people by the same strategy of
Divide and rule. Now what is the expectation of the Niger delta about the nature of sustainable development in their place and you would see discordant tunes by the state governments. Bayelsa state has a good volition which needs activation into concrete realities. But the State is limited by what the National laws say should happen and she cannot enforce her own laws because she is secured from outside by someone who is oblivious of their problems. Remember that all resources belong to an absentee landlord resident in Abuja and remotely controlled from somewhere else. So who will keep the environment safe, who knows the environment? Who can protect oil and gas even where as today militancy is over? Who will think of building decent water transportation to ameliorate the suffering of the people? Who will map the seas and rivers so that not just locals but other drivers can navigate the m with more modern boats outside today’s Kpakos. Honestly I shed tears for the Region the day I traveled by boat from Port Harcourt to Brass and Okpoma. I saw how hard for the boat of the lowest luxury standard and safety fittings to refuel and find its way through uncharted causeways, sometimes almost colliding with each other. I couldn’t imagine how every status is leveled in the seas as if all the money from oil could not provide a safe, subsidized, and standard sea going vessels for transport here.
We would stop here because this exercise is getting too emotional. Our recommendation is that only a holistic solution is capable of restoring the Glory of Niger Delta and its States. We urge unity of purpose in the political, social, economic, artistic, and scientific endeavors of the people. Forget about State creation, the States should pull their resources, expertise together for the task ahead. They should establish joint commissions and think tanks to push forward the frontiers of knowledge instead of limiting it. We note with joy the kind of Governors meeting in Yenagoa and encourage such for Niger Delta Governors where the agenda is not allowed to degenerate to exclusion of any group. The same should be for all the tribes in these states, not just traditional rulers. There is need for broad based unity among the people in democratic settings that allows them to let out steam and offer remedies. There should be unity amongst the peoples with enhanced knowledge that we don’t have to fight ourselves if we must be effective in this battle because the environment is for all and affects all.
Mr Nworisara writes from Port Harcourt