News & Features
Niger Delta: Time to embrace technical assistance offered by Israel
Farah Najjar’s “Africa-Israel summit ‘justifies colonialism, apartheid” attempts to dissuade Black Africa, or what the writer calls sub-Saharan Africa, from doing business with the “apartheid” State of Israel. Latent with assumptions, omissions and double-speaks, the article cannot go unchallenged. Three instances will do:
One, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and South Africa were privileged as leading the boycott against Israel. South Africa, however, interests us. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued two warrants against President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan for allegedly killing blacks in Darfur. Why didn’t President Jacob Zuma of South Africa arrest him when he visited Pretoria in 2015? From the same South Africa, Ayesha Kajee and Naeem Jeenah are loudest in their condemnation of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s petit sin while turning a blind eye on Al Bashir’s grand evil.
Two, the article is against Israel building military base in Black Africa while saying nothing about terrorists using wannabe jihadists in al Shabab and Boko Haram to massacre blacks. But Israeli military bases in Black Africa must be seen as the antithesis to the thesis of Islamists’ camps. The synthesis is a balance of terror. The October truck bomb that killed over 300 Somalis makes Israeli military and naval bases irresistible.
And three, Salman Abu Sitta’s derogatory comment is unfortunate, namely, “Is Togo ready to send ships of slaves from Togo to Israel in annotation of their long history?” Clearly, before the Christianity-inspired trans-Atlantic slave trade was the preceding Islam-instigated trans-Saharan slave trade. Why sanitise history? That these godly religions perpetuated such evils is the reason why no self-respecting black trusts either. In Black Consciousness we say, “Black man, you are on your own!”
On Middle East crisis
Israel’s right to exist is a reality none can wish away. We commend progressive Arab states like Jordan and Egypt for making peace with Israel. To the Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority (PA), we urge ceaseless dialogue with Israel while cautioning against that reconciliation with a seemingly reformed Hamas that still refuses to recognise the existence of Israel. Let it not be that Dr. Mordechai Kedar was right; that Hamas’ friendly overture to the PA was a survivalist strategy given the collapse of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS.
But Israel must also do things differently. Its militarist posture is a contributory factor in prolonging the Middle East problem. The Jewish state extracts maximum revenge for the least infraction. If the entire Arab World poses no military threat to Israel, what harm could the unarmed PA possibly do to this power? By allowing itself to get entangled with ceaseless brush wars, Israel inexorably diminishes its role as global power.
To break the stalemate, the burden lies squarely on Israel to shift ground. Resident Israeli Ambassador, Guy Feldman, has enumerated the many concessions his country made to pacify Palestinians to no avail. Our response is that greatness comes with responsibility. We urge more concessions: Curtailment of police brutality, demilitarisation of Gaza and West Bank and return of Palestinian lands seized by Jewish settlers, to start with. Such far-reaching measures could embolden the PA to reconsider the thorny boundary issue.
We totally agree with Amos Oz that attitude, rather than geography, is the real problem. Israel itself, not the West, Arab World, UN, EU, AU or ECOWAS, holds the key to the Middle East problem. “If the Jewish state can conquer itself and apply diplomacy and creativity in its dealings with Arabs,” according to a political science Professor, Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu, “we are going to see a greater Israel capable of turning the entire Middle East into one huge industrial complex.”
In June, Netanyahu arrived Monrovia, the Liberian capital, on the invitation of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. In his own words, the ECOWAS-Israeli Summit’s binary vision was to fight the bad and advance the good.
The bad were terrorists who worship death, “And together, together here in Africa, in the Middle East, in Europe, everywhere – together, we will defeat them faster,” he vowed. The good were the benefits ECOWAS countries stood to gain from his country, “In every field, in every field, our technology is there, it’s ready to work with you to provide solutions to some of the most pressing problems of Africa. We want to help your soil become more fertile, your water reusable, your cities safer, your air cleaner,” Netanyahu told his audience.
As quid pro quo all that the guest from Tel Aviv asked was for his country to be given observer status in the African Union (AU). He’d like Black African support “in rejecting anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, and in bodies such as the General Assembly, UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council.”
It is against this envisaged cooperation between Israel and Black Africa that pro-Palestinian Najjar et al wrote. Their activities contrast with the goodwill Abbas received when he addressed the AU where he signed agreements for economic cooperation. The question now arises, do we work with one only to reject the other?
“Black Africa must be independent in all things but neutral in nothing,” cautions Professor Ekpebu whose “Africa and the International Political System” conditioned post-colonial African diplomacy. “It must engage both Abbas and Netanyahu purely on the merits of each leader without recourse to pro-this and anti-that as our fortune cannot be tied to the bilateral relations of others. Permanent interests mean that no country sacrifices its core interests for another.” What the eminent academic is saying is that Black Africa is a free agent.
The Niger Delta
The Niger Delta is an integral part of Nigeria. The ethnic minorities found in this marshland include the Ijaw, Ibibio, Ekpeye, Ikwerre, Urhobo, Ugep, Ogoni, Bini, etc. It is also true that this region produces over 96 percent of Nigerian crude. Our struggle for resource control, as defined in the Kaiama Declaration, is an international one given the exploration activities of International Oil Companies (IOCs), not limited to Chevron, Agip, Shell, Total, Mobil, etc.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Sir Henry Willinks Minority Commission, constituted by the departing colonial British, that concluded the region needed special intervention to attain infrastructural and manpower development. The indigenous government that succeeded the British abysmally failed to intervene. Isaac Jasper Boro responded to institutional neglect by declaring an independent Niger Delta Republic following his violent but ill-fated February 1966 Twelve-Day Revolution.
In the over-three decades of military misrule, well into this Third Republic, certain IOCs actively colluded with soldiers in violating our environmental and human rights while seeing to it that uncooperative host communities were razed. Scavengers, thieves and vandals were some pejorative epithets used in criminalising us.
President Muhammadu Buhari, elected 2015, stated his determination to correct past mistakes and subsequently sent his Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on a fact-finding tour of the region. In that trip the ethnic minorities were unambiguous in their readiness to negotiate with Abuja through the Senator Edwin K. Clark-led Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) that advanced a 16-point agenda. They also demanded that the IOCs relocate their administrative headquarters to the region.
Another demand was the immediate commencement of academic activities, this 2017/2018 academic session, at the crucial Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State. Osinbajo was told that the Federal Government itself was a clog in the wheel of progress withholding from the Nsima Ekere-led Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), some 1.8 trillion naira as statutory allocation.
Altogether, the Osinbajo tour was a resounding success. We commend the patriotism of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), as well as other armed groups, for voluntarily laying down their arms during and after the tour. Now is the time to negotiate. Like the great Harold Dappa-Biriye, we must never get tired dialoguing with Buhari the moment he named his negotiation team. The present truce must be maintained for our governors, PANDEF, community leaders and royal fathers to do their work.
One positive aspect of that tour was the decision by Federal Government to license oil-producing communities to build and operate modular refineries. Crushing poverty created a situation where local youths involve themselves in oil bunkering and illegal crude refining that worsen our devastated environment. Converting these clandestine activities to legitimate measures would save the environment in addition to creating wealth.
Since this decision was taken, serious efforts were made at various levels to make a success of it. The National Chairman of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSCOM), Mike Emuh, told Nigerians that his organisation had satisfied 50percent of the requirements by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), for ten modular refineries.
At the state level, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Henry Dickson, for instance, responded with massive infrastructure. For the first time in human history, vehicles drove into these forgotten oil-producing communities he linked by road with the capital city of Yenagoa: Toru-Orua, Angalabiri, Ofoni, Ayamasa and Aleibiri in Sagbama and Ekeremor LGAs. Dickson’s security measures include a large expanse of land he donated for the building of army barracks and Forward Operations Base. Convinced of the security of its investments, the management of Rehoboth Refinery signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with him to build a 60, 000 barrels per day modular refinery in Bayelsa.
In the wider region, appreciable milestones were achieved by the NDDC. Ekere went to Texas, USA, sourcing for technical partners for the refineries. His efforts paid off as resident American Ambassador William Symington came calling at the commission headquarters where he expressed his satisfaction with steps taken by the management board so far. Symington said that his country would like a rapidly developed Niger Delta; being what Ekere and his team promised him.
But all is not well. Oil-producing Uwaorie Autonomous Community of Oguta LGA, Imo State, for instance, comes across as the Fanonian native town brought to its knees by poverty. Its traditional ruler, His Royal Highness Eze Albanus Ozuruoha, has stated his willingness to donate land for Governor Rochas Okorocha to build a modular refinery. Unless Okorocha intervenes, Eze Ozuruoha fears that Uwaorie could miss out in the economic bazaar unleashed by Buhari’s government.
Three glaring lessons are deducible from the poverty-stricken Uwaorie: One, paucity of funds makes it expedient for the monarchs and Community Development Unions, CDUs, of host communities to accept the technical assistance freely advanced by Israel. Two, the DPR erred making “counterpart funding” a condition given that the British-inspired Land Use Act of 1978 completely impoverished host communities. And three, the DPR is not carrying the grassroots along.
Two questions must be addressed if only to reassure the CDUs. The first is on the legality of host communities doing business directly with Israel, considering that Nigeria was conspicuously absent at the summit. The second has to do with modular refinery ownership as the scramble for licence tends to sideline the intended beneficiaries.
In attempting the first we advance four crucial factors. Firstly, Nigeria has a healthy relationship with Israel that maintains an embassy in Abuja and this renders any technical dealing legitimate.
Secondly, legitimacy is further confirmed by the technical exchange programme between Yobe State and North Korea, for instance.
Thirdly, northern states are rapidly industrialising with Islamic loans from the Arab World even though the same cannot be said of the nine Niger Delta states that depend on diminishing oil revenue. The interventionist NDDC expected to play a leading role in the building of the refineries is overburdened and underfunded.
And fourthly, technology is cyclic. Israeli technology, an improvement of Western technology, borrowed from ancient Egypt, engendered by Nubian civilisation, started with us here in Black Africa. Netanyahu’s “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel” declaration must also be understood within the context of progressive exchange.
For Steve Biko, the white man might have invented modern medicine, aeroplane and weapon; but it was in the place of the black man to give these inventions a human face. Netanyahu brings back to Africa our improved technology that served him so well in exchange for a friendship no technology can guarantee him. His quest reminds all that no race holds all the aces. The Niger Delta CDUs are in order partnering with Israel.
On the second question, host communities could lose out if the licensing is hijacked by the regional elite. The Presidency should make public the identities and communities of the 35 applicants, 13 of whose applications have reached the “Licence to Construct stage,” for the modular refineries. We caution that licensing entities other than the monarchs, CDUs, women and youth groups of host communities could be counter-productive. Host communities must be helped by the DPR to form industrial clusters as necessary step for licensing.
The Black Curse
Modular refinery is fifty years late, considering that petroleum was discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri in 1956. In the 71 years of Nigerian petro-dollar economy our lack of representation at the highest level of decision making translated in wholesale exclusion. Oil blocs were awarded to citizens other than the regional minorities who are the rightful owners of the resources. We suffer the hazards associated with oil exploration but not its benefits.
South Africa emerged from apartheid and built RDP Houses for its floating black population. But simple accommodation remains elusive for our people who lost swathes of land to federal, state and international institutions. Confined to four LGAs, for instance, Ikwerres gave up over 30 percent of their territories to accommodate two airports, two army barracks, New GRA, golf/polo fields, Risonpalm, naval base, two stadia, three universities, five tertiary institutions, the NTA, Greater Port Harcourt City, 52 oil wells, 5 flow stations, IOCs’ bases, etc.
Rootlessness aside, the 5th September 2017 report of “CESifo Working Paper No. 6653, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland,” confirms what we know. That Niger Delta women living within 10 kilometres of oil spill are likely to have still births while their surviving babies risk being wasted and stunted: “Further, our causal estimates show that an oil spill less than 10 km away prior to conception increases neonatal mortality by about 38 deaths per 1,000 live births. Taken together, these numbers suggest that oil spills prior to conception killed around 16,000 infants within the first month of their life in 2012. Our estimates further suggest that 70 percent of them, i.e., about 11,000 infants, would have survived their first year in the absence of oil spills.”
As we write, the South West wind blowing hinterland from the Atlantic Ocean deposits soot over Rivers and Bayelsa States; no thanks to gas-flaring that also causes acid rain. Our children wake up each morning with black smudge lodged deep in their throats and nostrils. Yet the perpetrators are the first to cast stone at us as violent people. Thank goodness, an impartial study group from Switzerland has vindicated us.
Knowing what they’re doing to our people, the IOCs took the precaution of moving their headquarters and families to Lagos, citing insecurity as pretext. It logically follows that the most effective weapon against environmental crimes is for Buhari to force oil multinationals to fully relocate to the Niger Delta. Relocation will end oil spill and gas flaring as no foreign oilman would risk lungs and skin cancers. Secondly, we demand that Buhari declares the decimated regional minorities an endangered group; granted that none can hold him personally accountable.
As humanity draws the curtain on fossil fuel, we have only succeeded in producing the energy that made others rich without anything to show for it. In this anomy, we see a pattern of history. Before fossil fuel, the source of energy was slave labour. The slave who toiled under the sun to grow sugar cane could not benefit from the fruit of his own labour with his lips padlocked; in the same manner oil multinationals use soldiers to gag host communities.
It is for this reason that Caribbean writers like Samuel Selvon see sugar cane as a curse, just as Niger Delta writers also see petroleum. But soon, as fossil fuel is abolished, the liberated Niger Delta minorities shall, like emancipated Negroes, lift their voices in spontaneous jubilation, “Free! Free!! Thank God Almighty, we are free!”
Solar: Next energy revolution
The sun can neither be monopolised nor regulated. Abundant in supply, it is to this infinite power that the world turns to for its energy needs as it abandons fossil fuel. But we are still sufficiently alarmed that another long night of exploitation might yet be staring at us in the face.
We worry that the Niger Delta is not able to produce solar components for powering a simple bulb except when such were imported. Importation might place us at the mercy of the producers of such components. Again, the possibility of the region being turned into a dumping ground for discarded and hazardous solar batteries is another consideration. Our attitude is that we must never enter the age of renewable energy as consumers. The beaches and dredging sites of Niger Delta are blessed with silicon-rich sand used in making solar panels. We can only be self-sufficient when we produce our own panels, batteries and inverters.
We congratulate the nineteen northern states for contracting General Electric (GE) of America to develop their renewable energy. By 2019 Borno, Niger, Kebbi, Nassarawa and Taraba States will be solar-powered by 500 megawatts of electricity for their agro, manufacturing and medical sectors. Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, who serves as chairman of Northern States Governors’ Forum, is piloting this initiative. But Shettima is getting it all wrong. How many northerners are making solar panels with GE’s technology? We shall avoid the Shettima mistake.
Our starting point is partnering the Israeli international development agency, Mashav, contact details on Israeli embassy website; while rejecting made-in-Israel solar power components. Mashav’s corps of experts in renewable energy should honestly and truthfully train our engineers and students in Niger Delta University, Rivers State University, Delta State University, etc, in the making of such components locally.
CHIGACHI EKE and FELIX TUODOLO
Eke is a Port-Harcourt-based political analyst.
Tuodolo, First President of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, is Special Assistant on Niger Delta Matters to Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Henry Dickson.
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