Saturday, September 15, 2007

My Life in the Niger Delta

I heard on the news today that there has been yet another kidnap of a child in the Niger Delta. By Militants. That is the euphemism for criminals. My colleague who was listening to the news same time as I was shouted “Chei, this thing is getting out of hand, government should settle these people, abeg”.

I assured her that it was not that easy and that even when money had changed hands in the past, it had gone to the elite in the community.

How do I know? I worked in one of our multinational oil companies. Not in the Lagos office, but in the operations terminal. That’s right- the heart of business. Not for me the poshness of a Lagos office with nary a community scuffle blowing up right in your face. Granted, it was not as turbulent as it is now, but still there were cases of kidnap and violence.

The manager of my department got kidnapped for a few days for giving a contract staff job to someone who was an indigene of the state but not from one of the core communities. (Very petty as contract staff do not even earn a lot). Other managers got kidnapped from time to time as well. One particularly corpulent one was waylaid on his way to work and stuffed in his boot (trunk). Generally, they left the little folk alone, but once or twice they went on a rampage and went a-pulling (Yoruba) people from their homes, claiming that they were outsiders bent on taking over their oil.

I cannot remeber how many times we would go out to join the staff bus to work and then get word that there was some community wahala and that we should go home until we were contacted. We once stayed home for over a week.

A drive around the state would show that nothing else worked. A massive bottling company and other large industries had been shut down for varying reason. The buildings of several large scale industries were in a state of disrepair and had an unmistakable air of desolation about them. There were absolutely no big companies anymore leading me to believe (even then) that the very indigenes that keep shouting about how they wanted the oil company to leave so that they could take over the management of “their oil” would certainly knock that job as well.

They complain that expatriates are constantly flown in to do the work that Nigerians can do. I accept that the scales are not tipped in our favour. However, I personally know several Nigerians (yes, even those from the Niger Delta) that have been expatriated to work in America, the UK and other foreign countries. Their children’s school fees are paid. They are given nice houses and earn more than their local based counterparts. They drive cars that their American, British, Dutch counterparts (working in the same company without an ex-pat status) cannot afford. I have witnessed first hand the joy of a family that had been informed that their father was to be expatriated abroad. The thanksgiving was not a small one. The little children told everyone they could about how they were going to start a new life in Houston.

So, am I claiming that the oil companies are always right? That they always do their best? My answer is NO. However, the one I worked for was pretty alright and the environment that we worked out of was cared for. However this could not be compared with the daily damage. The death of aquatic life after an oil spill is a gruelling sight. There was a gas flare 24/7/52/365 and my trips offshore showed that the bluish-green sea was spotted with pockets of oil slicks. The oil booms and chemicals could not get those off. However, the environment that we worked out of was cared for (to some extent). They provided electricity for two of the communities around the terminal, provided teachers for the public schools, scholarships for deserving (and sometimes undeserving) students. Trivia: My manager told me that the Nigerian government taxes the oil companies for every cubic meter of gas that is flared. Makes you wonder what the incentive would be for the government to put down it's foot as regards flaring. Why would they want to lose the money they gain?

I once saw (with my own 2 eyes, no be say them say) a letter to the leaders of a few communities that had been affected by an oil spill. This letter itemized the amount of money that was being paid as compensation to the communities. Each community got hundreds of million of naira. I lie not, I had to cross check to make sure that the figures were not a figment of my imagination. There were enough zeroes to make my poor head spin.

Reading that letter, I knew that the poor fishermen and farmers that had been directly affected would not see more than a few thousand naira. Maybe about 100,000 if the leaders were really generous. The rest would be pocketed by these leaders who would use the funds for self enrichment. They would build houses abroad, send their children to foreign universities or at the very least keep them far away from the state. My quarrel with this whole thing was not that they advanced themselves with the money but the fact that they would use the non-elite to rouse trouble whenever they ran low or wanted their pockets lined again. Then the cycle would repeat itself: Elite would rouse discontent amongst the non-elite leading to trouble by the indigenes, Oil Company forced to “donate” some money which would be shared by this elite few. A few thousand Naira to the non-elite (enough to leave them temporarily satisfied until their “thuggery” was needed again). I met some of these non-elite people and I can tell you that the hatred was palpable and all directed to the Oil companies. As far as they were concerned, their leaders were on their side and were championing the fight against THE MAN.

A clear example will be Bayelsa State where their former governor was as corrupt as they come and yet got a hero’s welcome when he flew back into the country. Trivia: There is no potable water in Bayelsa and basic infrastructure is almost non-existent. Alamieyeseigha should know. When he was ill, he did not go to any of the hospitals in the state. Rather, he flew out of the country to get medical aid. He should have utilized what the state he had pillaged had to offer.The average family in Bayelsa may not be able to come as far as Lagos for medical aid. They have to make do with what their Hero has left them. Another example is Odili. His state budget for a year was about $130billion. He gained at least 2 new jets, spent about NGN65 million on entertainment, yet the life of the Niger Delta youths in Rivers State did not witness any change. Rather, they remain desperately poor.

In the end, the Niger Delta youths will have to realize who the enemies really are and face them squarely. The enemy certainly is not Margaret Hill or any of the other many toddlers/children that are being kidnapped.

Photo from here

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I got flowers today

Someone sent this to me today. Usually, I delete all my forwards, but I feel very strongly about domestic violence, so of course, I had to put it up.

We had our first argument last night, and he said a lot of cruel things that really hurt me. I know he is sorry and didn't mean the things he said, because he sent me flowers today. I got flowers today. It wasn't our anniversary or any other special day.

Last night he threw me into a wall and started to choke me. It seemed like a nightmare, I couldn't believe it was real. I woke up this morning sore and bruised all over. I know he must be sorry because he sent me flowers today. I got flowers today, and it wasn't mother's day or any other special day.

Last night, he beat me up again, it was much worse than all the other times. If I leave him, what will I do? How will I take care of my kids? What about money? I'm afraid of him and scared to leave. But I know he must be sorry because he sent me flowers today. I got flowers today.

Today was a very special day. It was the day of my funeral! Last night, he finally killed me. He beat me to death. If only I had gathered enough courage to leave him, I would not have gotten flowers today......