IT took the WALL STREET JOURNAL, WSJ, last week, to lift the lid on the murky world of payments which the Nigerian government makes to Niger Delta warlords.
The report, appropriately titled, “NIGERIA’S FORMER OIL BANDITS NOW COLLECT GOVERNMENT CASH”, tell the tale of how lumpen criminals took up arms against the Nigerian state and successfully went for the economy’s jugular and came close to bleeding it to death.
A weak and near-prostate state, rolled over by corruption sued for peace, using an amnesty programme that worked so remarkably well, since oil production went back to ‘normal’.
The price paid for normalcy, was the huge transfer of funds to the former warlords; these include Asari Dokubo who “once stalked the mangrove-choked creeks of the Niger Delta, a leaf stuck to his forehead for good luck, as a crew that he ran bled oil from pipelines and sold it to smugglers”.
By 2011, NNPC “began paying him $9 million a year”. It was, therefore, no surprise, with hindsight, that Dokubo became a rabid defender of the Jonathan administration, hurling abuses and threats of war at imaginary ‘Northern’ enemies of the regime that pays him so much from the nation’s coffers.
These payments for the crime of treason do not stop with Dokubo. Two others, ‘Generals’ Boyloaf and Ateke Tom collect $3.8 million annually, while the most important amongst the Niger Delta warlords, Government ‘Tompolo’ Ekpemupolo, in the words of WSJ “maintains a $22.9 million a year contract…” with the Jonathan administration.
As the WSJ report noted, “the gilded pacification campaign…has sent young men in Nigeria’s turbulent delta a different message; that militancy promises more rewards than risks”.
And if anyone doubted that, the fact that oil theft has reached over 150 thousand barrels per day now, only confirms the worst case. Those who indulge WSJ’s bandits probably have ‘good intentions’ but as we all know, the road to hell has often been paved with such good intentions!
Nigeria has deteriorated so badly, especially since the mid-1980s, as a combination of the corruption of military dictatorship and the economic doctrines they imposed unleashed the worst excesses of criminality in our society.
Many individuals and groups correctly saw that the state itself has morphed into an instrument aiding the perpetration of crime in the hands of criminal elite groups.
These individuals and groups also began anti-state acts of criminality, which grew in increasing sophistication.
In the Niger Delta, with a history of neglect and the combustible but lucrative mix of oil, criminals and bandits could exploit genuine grievances about the state of neglect to organise very successful activities that nearly paralysed the Nigerian state.
Two groups of criminals: those that control the levers of state power and needing to oil those levers with oil money and their criminal allies and adversaries (the relationship continuously evolves depending on circumstance) who burst pipelines to steal oil, with ‘leaf stuck on…forehead for good luck’, actually represent all that is wrong with our country today.
Both groups live on unearned money taken at the expense of the genuine needs of the Nigerian people. The two groups of bandits also do a serious damage to the ethical basis of our society; they subvert hard work, as the basis of advancement in society.
It is not surprising that those who consciously chose to commit treasonable crimes against Nigeria’s economic wellbeing get paid millions of dollars annually as a pension for their lives of crime. These funds are taken directly from the NNPC.
But if we feel angry about that fact, in which way is the absurdity of the situation any different or less annoying, than the fact that since 1999 especially, we have had high positions in government occupied by fraudsters, certificate forgers and barefaced thieves?
Haven’t our legislative houses become redoubts for armed robbers, drug barons, thieves and certificate forgers? What is the quality of a lot of the people we have recruited as local government councilors and chairmen; or state governors?
In a sense, we could extend the absurdity of the situation, by saying that the Niger Delta bandit ‘Generals’ receiving millions of dollars as payment for their treasonable acts even ‘worked harder’, endangering their lives in the creeks, than those who sit comfortably inside air-conditioned government houses, legislative chambers or offices just to fleece all of us!
But beyond such absurdity, is the fact that between the two groups of bandits is a country left prostrate and citizens in dire straits, while they steal resources that should be taking the country away from chronic underdevelopment. The ethos of hardwork has suffered almost irreparably in our country, with young and old alike, looking for miracles to short circuit genuine effort.
I recall two similar tales of search for wealth without hardwork; that about the rainbow that appears after rainfall as a huge serpent; the dung would turn to gold if one somehow, could collectit. And the other was the migrant goblin with a mat and his eternal cry; snatch the mat and you would become rich!
In secondary school, I once saw the futility of such an effort to snatch the goblin’s mat by a fellow student. But the ease with which the Niger Delta bandit ‘Generals’ are collecting millions of dollars from state coffers as reward for treason and the related manner our thieving elite loots the country, one would be right to conclude that there is reward afterall, in spending time looking for the gold pot at the rainbow’s end or looking for mats to snatch from goblins.
But in truth, no nation can prosper by appeasement of its bandits; neither bandits in the creeks nor those in airconditioned offices. If we do not re-instate the ethos of hardwork and honest labour as well as recruit responsible leadership to lead the process of development, we will literally kill our country!