Voodoo, prayer conference and Niger Delta crises

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 10 Aug 2008

Incredible! That is the only way I can describe the latest scandal involving the Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ambassador Sam Edem. The police arrested the man last Friday in Abuja for allegedly contracting the services of a native doctor with N510m. Edem even reportedly put the total amount at N800m. The allegation is that he hired the sorcerer to do a few things for him.

One, to kill the Managing Director of the NDDC, Mr. Timi Alaibe, who he allegedly sees as a stumbling block to achieving his aims at the commission. Two, to ”spiritually influence” Vice President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to always favour him in any decisions concerning the NDDC. The bubble burst when the native doctor, Perekambowei Oga, could not deliver. Edem wanted his money back, but Oga bluntly refused. Quarrel ensued. The scandal blew open and the police stepped in. President Umaru Yar‘Adua has also ordered the suspension of the man from the NDDC.

Nigeria is an interesting country. For a man of this standing to be associated with this dirty, mundane thing is outrageous. It confirms that ours, indeed, is a backward society. Recall that a few years ago, some political gladiators in the eastern part of the country made some allegations and counter allegations about their patronage of Okija shrine in Anambra State.

Every passing week, Nigerians contend with a menu of crisis. If it‘s not building collapse, it will be multiple accidents that will claim many lives. If it‘s not sad exploits of armed robbers, it may be some accidental discharge from a trigger-happy policeman. In all this, the Niger Delta remains the main hot spot.

People hardly sleep with their two eyes closed in many parts of that region, as kidnapping turns into a lucrative business. Last Tuesday, gunmen reportedly abducted some women returning from a political meeting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. The bandits demanded N100m ransom. In the same Port Harcourt, gang wars and cult clashes hold sway. Militants have blown and continue to blow oil pipelines. Soldiers and other security agents have a torrid time trying to contain the crisis in the region. Some of them die in the process. In revenge, they usually visit their anger on hapless, innocent citizens. Recall that last week, soldiers attached to the Joint Task Force on the Niger Delta razed Agge community in Bayelsa State.

That the Niger Delta crisis has persisted up until now is because of our inclination for monumental insincerity. The Henry Willink’s Commission of 1958 recommended that the Federal Government should pay special attention to the area. The government’s response then, perhaps, was to establish the Niger Delta Development Board to tackle issues of development in the region. By 1966 when this board died naturally, it could not achieve much for the region. After the Civil War, oil revenue boomed. But doom was another name for the lot of the people of the region.

To show some façade of concern, the Federal Government set up the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission in 1992. Allegations of corruption marred whatever plans the body had. The people of the area intensified their agitation for better life. Ogoni people became a thorn in the flesh of the government. To silence them, the government set up the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force. The climax of the madness then was the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Sani Abacha military junta. The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo replaced OMPADEC with the Niger Delta Development Commission in 2001. The commission’s task, among others, is to facilitate rapid and sustainable development of the region. The NDDC may have built some infrastructural facilities here and there. But can we really say that it has justified its continued existence?

The current crisis in the region indicates otherwise. It is as if nothing has been done. Authorities of the commission claim the government is not funding it well. Managing Director, Timi Alaibe, said last year that the commission was being owed about N224bn spanning over seven years. Now we know where part of the money has gone to – spiritual consultations. Ironically, the same NDDC, whose chairman is embroiled in the voodoo dance, sponsored a prayer conference, which held in Port Harcourt last Friday. The initiative, according to the organisers, was to restore peace and sanity in the region.

Part of our problems in Nigeria is insincerity. People capitalise on crisis situations to make money. I will be surprised if some of the sponsors and organisers of this prayer conference did not make good money from the event. That was how the Federal Government embarked on a wild goose chase in 2005 with the setting up of the National Political Reform Conference. That conference ended abruptly when the northern delegates opposed demands by the South-South delegates for a 50 per cent increase in the derivation formula. Nothing came out of the conference even when huge amount of money had gone down the drain.

Following the same tradition of deceit, the Federal Government recently proposed a Niger Delta summit, but appointed an unpopular candidate, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to chair it. The overwhelming opposition against Gambari forced the FG to shelve the summit. Now, it rather prefers a ”discussion” (whatever that means).

Many individuals and organisations have made different suggestions on how to solve the Niger Delta problem. In 2006, 65 Nobel laureates visited the area. They suggested, among others, that oil companies should establish what they called a community investment fund. This is to take care of some developmental needs of the region. Some concerned citizens have proposed an amendment of the Petroleum Act of 1969. This Act gives ownership of petroleum products to the FG. The oil-bearing communities are left without any control over oil resources in their land.

In a piece he contributed to some national dailies last week, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah, said militancy and restiveness in the Niger Delta would end if there were massive infrastructural and human development, employment creation and restoration of human dignity. To start with, he proposed the development of four new towns in the Niger Delta: one each in Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Delta states.

He stressed, ”The new towns would not only come with a certain euphoria, but would indeed provide employment during and after construction…I am convinced that the mere start of these projects would provide an alternative, and a much more dignified engagement for the militants, it would win the co-operation of all and bring about the much needed peace.” According to him, new towns bring about employment, roads, power, water, good communications, schools, hospitals and other amenities.

This is a good suggestion. But who will bring the initiative to fruition? It is unfortunate that a region that yearns for rapid development gets nothing, but doses of voodoo and conferences. Until we stop chasing shadows, we will never grow as a nation.


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