Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dateline Nigeria: ARE NIGER DELTA STREETS PAVED WITH GOLD?

  
 Article Posted by New Generation Africa contributor: Emeka Obiandu @ London 2013


As the standoff between Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and his numerous ‘detractors’ drags on, public opinion is divided as to how to resolve the impasse. Some very prominent Nigerians whose views are generally respected have spoken out fairly vociferously against what appears like a witch-hunt directed against Governor Amaechi, allegedly orchestrated by the Presidency. These so-called Amaechi supporters, in defence of the enbattled governor have expressed profound concerns about the diversionary effect of the witch-hunt on the visionary governor of Rivers State. They are saying in effect, ‘Leave Governor Amaechi alone to continue the excellent work he is doing in Rivers State’. Other commentators have lamented Governor Amaechi’s apparent lack of tact in handling the matter by appearing openly confrontational in a pitched battle with the Presidency.  From all indications Governor Amaechi and his ‘handlers’ appear to be increasingly reliant on appeals to the court of public opinion – whatever the merits or otherwise of that approach. Yet others have seized the opportunity of the standoff to launch blistering attacks on both belligerents, equally scathing on both. There is no shortage of passion in any of these camps.  However, while all this is going on, the people of Rivers State have become the hapless proverbial grass that suffers as two elephants are fighting. In all honesty, I think Nigerians are beginning to get tired of this Amaechi – Jonathan saga.
I don’t intend to enlist in the vast army of commentators and advisers on either side of the divide. Neither is it my intention to apportion blame for the impasse or to proffer advise on how best to unravel the imbroglio. There is a plethora of voices doing that on both sides.  What I would like to do is to try and draw our attention to what should matter, going back to first principles and asking relevant questions about how we are being governed. I should attempt to prick the consciences of the governors as well as awaken the consciousness of the governed in the Niger Delta.  It is easy to be drawn into the pros and cons of the impasse, very easy to lose sight of the crux of the matter – i.e. the overall general wellbeing of the ordinary people of the Niger Delta.
To begin with, I recall that Gov Amaechi's travails came to light when his aircraft was grounded, ostensibly due to incorrect documentation, suggesting that it was operating illegally in the Nigerian airspace. Further revelations emerged that the aircraft did not even belong to Rivers State – allegedly. Then there were even more troubling allegations about a $10m disparity between real cost of the aircraft and what was allegedly paid. In course of these allegations and counter allegations, it came to light that Amaechis’ predecessor in office, Ex- Governor Peter Odili had acquired, not one but two aircraft while in office. These two have now been resold to another Niger Delta governor. Then came the revelation that Governor Amaechi’s chief detractor Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom himself had a jet – The camp of Amaechi supporters began questioning why Amaechi was being harangued over the purchase of an aircraft. In the midst of all this, Governor Adam Oshiomhole recently had travel difficulties when his aircraft (allegedly chattered) was grounded by aviation authorities.  Governor Peter Odili  is on record as having purchased an air ambulance. I am struggling to figure out the rationale in rushing an accident victim to a hospital where medical facilities were as non-existent as they were at the scene of the accident. Probably to save the victim the indignity of dying by the road side or better still to afford them the opportunity of dying in style, aboard a helicopter.
One cannot but notice that the penchant for acquiring these expensive toys is only prevalent among Niger Delta governors. Why? Because their states are so rich that their governors have money to burn. Some people refer to them as 'rich governors' and they seem to relish it. I consider this a misnomer. They are and should be referred to as governors of ‘oil rich states'. The money they control is not their pocket money but the people’s money.  
This brings me to the main thrust of this piece.  The questions remain: against the backdrop of increased percentage of our national wealth at our disposal since 1999, do the people of the Niger Delta feel rich? Has their enhanced financial buoyancy translated to a better quality of life for the average Ikwerre or Ogoni man? Is there any positive correlation between the jet set lifestyles of their governors and the standard of living of the ordinary man in Bomadi or Ikot Abasi?  
Since 1999 the 13% derivation formula has meant that very few states in the Niger delta have become relatively richer than all their counterparts.  Somehow, this period of affluence happens to coincide with a time phenomenal rise in acquired tastes by our governors. The level of profligacy among those in government in the Niger Delta States is obscene, their kleptomania ungodly.  Our governors have forgotten two inescapable facts about their current comfortable financial position. Firstly, they seem to have lost sight of the fact that the wealth they now control was won through people's sweat and blood. Those who lost their lives in the struggle for a better deal for the Niger Delta would turn in their graves if they saw what is happening today. Secondly, the money that is flowing into the Niger Delta states is meant to be used to ameliorate the desperate socio-economic conditions of the ordinary people who have suffered and continue to suffer untold detriment as a result of relentless oil exploration /exploitation activities in the region. The money is not nearly enough to right the wrongs of over 50 years in just over 10 years but it is meant to be used to make a start, not to acquire jets.
Although my Niger Delta credentials are never in doubt, there is however regrettably a sense  in which I am almost tempted to join forces with those who advocate a return to the pre 1999  formula of revenue allocation. This is sad but true. My reason is simple: if the 13% money is making our governors mad instead of benefitting the poor masses, let’s get rid of it, if only to restore sobriety / sanity to our governors.  Why should the rest grow leaner in order to underwrite the jet set lifestyle of five or six individuals? For the avoidance of doubt, I must make it clear that I am not anti 13%.  in fact, like most people from the Niger Delta I would like to see it increased to 20 or even 25%, but only if the money would benefit the people. I believe that we are not nearly adequately compensated for our sacrifice.  Nothing in the people’s circumstances suggests to me that it is alright to spend $47m ($57m) on one person’s preferred mode of transport.. Why saddle their states with not only the costs of the aircraft but also the huge daily running costs? One could be forgiven to think that our streets are all paved with gold, judging by the lifestyle of our governors.
Those who superintend over our wealth have responsibilities to the hoi polloi of the region – past, present and future. They must also remind themselves to reverence the memories of the founding fathers of the derivation formula. I have used this analogy elsewhere in the past but I will use it again even at the risk of sounding hackneyed. A Niger Delta governor can be likened to the eldest son of a man who died in an industrial accident and whose late father's employers have paid huge compensation for the death of their father. If he be wise, if he be fair, if he has any respect the memory of his late father, he would endeavour to spend that money judiciously. He would do his best to avoid anything that remotely resemble wasteful spending – gambling, drinking or womanising. He would not neglect his siblings to continue to suffer in abject poverty. If he did that, the spirit of their late father would haunt him forever.
God spoke to King David on his death bed saying: ‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be like the light in the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, like the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after the rain’. 2 Samuel 23:3-4.  An unambiguous admonition straight from the Throne of Grace, it holds good today just as it did in the days of David. I make bold to add that it is a poignant reminder to our leaders in the Niger Delta of the standards God expects of them. 
Our governors must exercise self-restraint. They must daily feel the pulse of the populace and remind themselves of their duty to God and man. Should they continue to make ostentation an art form, they may unwittingly be sowing the seeds of a new brand of militancy in the region – Accountability militancy. This may galvanise mass support and pitch the governed against their governors. It could prove rather difficult to crush.  A word is enough for the wise.

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