When Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni launched their campaign against the oil companies in the Niger Delta in the early nineties, one of their key demands was that they should receive a greater share of the oil wealth from the oil drilled from under their land.
Its seems a no-brainer really that the locals should benefit is some way from oil production rather that just suffer constant pollution and degradation of their land.
The issue of how much oil money went to the communities was a central part of the speech Saro-Wiwa made in 1990 when he launched his book On a Darkling Plain at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos.
“The notion that the oil-bearing areas can provide the revenue of the country, and yet be denied a proper share of that revenue because it is perceived that the inhabitants of the area are few in number is unjust, immoral, unnatural and ungodly.” he argued. “Why are they entitled to but 1.5 per cent of their resources? Why has this money not been paid as and when due?”
The issue of “resource control” was a central pillar of the Ogoni Bills of Rights, signed by the Ogoni leaders in 1990, as well as the Kaiama Declaration, signed by the Ijaw community in December 1998. It has been discussed repeatedly over the last decade. Slowly but surely the amount of money that goes to the Delta has risen from 1.5 per cent to 13 per cent. But it is not enough to stop the violence and abject poverty.
Well now a Panel set up by the Nigerian government has recommended that Nigeria should divert a quarter of its oil revenues to people of the Niger Delta. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the region, inaugurated a 40-man panel in September of former ministers, activists and academics to consider ways forward.
The panel’s chairman was Ledum Mitee, the leader of MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, who was put on trial with Saro-Wiwa, but was freed. It became known as the Mittee Committee.
Mitee’s Committee main recommendation in its three-volume report was that oil rich states in the region be paid 25 per cent of oil revenues. The Committee also called on the authorities to release Henry Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the leading militant group, or at least give him a free and fair trial.
Finally it recommended a disarming process for youths involved in militancy through creating a credible Decommissioning, Disarmament and Rehabilitation (DDR) process and the establishment of a Youth Employment Scheme that would employ at least 2,000 youths in each local government of the Niger Delta States.
“The lack of political will on the part of federal and state governments has been responsible for the escalation of the Niger Delta crisis,” Mitee said before presenting the conclusions to President Umaru Yar’Adua.
In response, President Yar’Adua said: “I want to therefore assure you that this report will be examined by government and we will examine our recommendations and I have no doubt in my mind that your work will form one of those great efforts that will ultimately help this country to find a permanent solution to the problems in the Niger Delta.”
Only time will tell if there really is a political will to find a solution to the curse of the black gold of the Niger Delta.