Written by Ovie Karl
The Niger Delta region has proved pivotal to the sustenance of Nigeria and only a fool would argue against the obvious. The country’s economy and by extension its politics, governance and administrative templates are shaped by the resources buried within the grounds of Niger Delta.
At the centre of every national dispute, “political games” and economic schemes of the last fifty years in Nigeria are two things: oil and leadership (who controls the oil wealth).
The heartbeat of Nigeria
Many who regard Nigeria as a rich country do that only after taken cognizance of the extensive oil reserve in the Niger Delta region. Without the 34.5 billion barrels of crude oil in the Niger Delta; Nigeria as a country would be no different the scores of poor, beggarly nations littered across the West Africa sub region.
A long standing demand for justice
So what has Niger Delta gotten in return for its grand generosity to the Nigerian Project? While it would be unfair to say that the region has gotten “nothing,” it would also be dishonest to suggest the region has been faithfully rewarded for keeping Nigeria together. The disinterest in the Ogoni Cleanup by the Nigerian Government and oil multinationals, the mindboggling pollution in the region, sky-high unemployment, poverty, and poor infrastructure/social services available to the residents of the region are clear proofs that something is fundamentally wrong in the relationship between Nigeria and the Niger Delta region.
There have been plenty of talks about the Goodluck Jonathan presidency (2010- 2015), the establishment of the Niger Delta ministry, and similar intervention programmes.
There are cynics who insist that the Niger Delta should “appreciate Nigeria” for what it has done for the region over the years and should therefore make no further demands on the centre.
Agreed that there could be some substance to the views shared by the critics of the Niger Delta struggle; there is an often overlooked issue in the entire conversation: justice as the first condition of humanity as writer and teacher, Pius Adesanmi once reported.
The Niger Delta people have consistently firmed their demand on justice- not on charity, giveaway or sympathy.
Jonathan ruled Nigeria for five years and whether you agree or not, made his own contributions to the progress and development of the country.
However, it must be said that the Niger Delta region had no say in how Jonathan emerged president. He started out as Vice President because the powers that be believed that he was a simple man who would not rock the boat. Actually they were right, GEJ was not a troublemaker and would rather sacrifice personal interests that threaten the aspirations of some power brokers as we saw severally in the five years he was president.
A child of circumstance
The truth which many often shy away from is that the Jonathan presidency was a child of circumstance and events in history have proven that justice, development and restoration require a more meticulous approach, intelligence and a fearless disposition to doing what is right- no matter who or what stands in the way.
Over the past 20 years of democratic governance, the Niger Delta region has seen several political leaders with varying personality traits, leadership dispositions and development philosophies. The region has seen builders, “strong men,” political “bulldozers” and those who left without making any single mark either as governors, ministers, senators or just occupants of sundry offices in the states and Abuja.
In one way or the other, each of these leaders have been connected with the Niger Delta demand for full economic, political and social justice which in truth is what the entire agitations whether at the creeks or in the boardrooms are about- holistic justice.
Justice as a universal demand
May it also be pointed out that the Niger Delta’s demand need not be at conflict with the overriding agitations across much of Nigeria. Forget whatever the different groups and regions tag their concerns; at the centre of the struggles is an age-old demand for justice. Whether you call it Biafra, Oduduwa, Southern Kaduna, Middle Belt or Arewa, the central demand in Nigeria today is justice- economic and political justice.
Universally, no one loves to be a victim of injustice and through history we have learnt that no one or group can be completely immune from the rage of injustice for eventually, today’s beneficiaries would ultimately become tomorrow’s victims and the cycle goes on and on. No nation can run for so long on a battery of injustice nor on the fuel of denial.
This is where we must now start talking about individuals who in the past few years of occupying public offices have demonstrated the sheer courage, commitment and zeal required to start addressing our collective wounds as a country.
As mentioned earlier, Nigeria has seen all manner of leaders at the state and federal levels. So many of them have a few good qualities while for the others, there is hardly anything that stands then out from the crowd. They only had circumstances and godfathers to thank for their stints in public offices- little wonder they left very little marks in the sands of time- whether as governors, ministers or occupants of other public offices.
Pairing political sagacity and unmatched courage
However in Nyesom Wike, the Rivers State governor, Nigerians have seen an individual who although imperfect, embodies the leadership qualities that would certainly turn things around in the country. Wike has in the last five years demonstrated the statesmanly qualities, unmatched courage and sound judgment that distinguish great leaders from mere office holders.
Political watchers saw Wike’s power as a regional power broker in the last Edo election where he stood his ground and insisted that it is either the will of the Edo electorates is allowed to prevail or nothing else will.
For him, Edo was about justice and not the vaunting ego that drove the catastrophic interventions of external power hungry operatives who miscalculated that Edo could be captured as part of an expanding empire. Wike stood by Edo people when it mattered most- as he has also stood by the Nigerian people in moments of grave danger over the past few years.
Wike has never hidden his disdain for injustice. When Justice Walter Onnoghen was illegally removed from office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Wike was amongst the first to condemn it even as other opposition politicians dithered. He insisted that the principle of separation of power must be respected, arguing that it was not in the president’s power to unilaterally remove a sitting chief justice of Nigeria.
The governor has condemned the anti-peoples policy of the current administration and never wasted a second in telling the powers that be what he thinks. For Wike, whenever duty clashes with conscience, it is the latter that prevails.
Why Wike stands out
The truth which we must now admit is that Wike has qualities that are required to serve Nigeria at the highest level. He would be undermining his full potentials if he is not already considering running for the highest office in the land in the next general election. He is within the right age-bracket when leaders perform at their peak. He also has demonstrated that he can be his own man and as we have seen in Rivers in the past five years, he understands development from a holistic point of view.
From initiating and commissioning hundreds of road projects to building world class flyovers to ease human and vehicular traffic in Port Harcourt, recruiting and supporting civil servants, opening the state up for private sector investments beyond oil, the former minister of education has shown that he is at sync with the aspirations of the people.
The ball now is in the court of his political party- the Peoples Democratic Party- PDP. This is not a time to play hide and seek. What the PDP needs now is a fresh face on its ticket in 2023, a young man who will be able to galvanise and build cross regional support. The PDP needs a political player who understands the roots of the Niger Delta agitation and posses the political will to do the right thing and even more importantly, appreciates that Nigeria’s open sores can only be healed by a sincere administration of a traditional medication called “justice.”
In Wike, Nigeria will have a president who would be able to address decades of betrayal and stand firm in defence of the common man.
It’s time to break the cycle of ineffective leadership and take our destiny in our own hands- this should be the next frontier of our political agitation and struggle to realise our collective destiny as a people- whether at the Niger Delta region or in Nigeria as a whole.
Ovie Karl sent in this from Warri. He can be reached via email – firstname.lastname@example.org