Opinion

Failure of leadership in Niger Delta responsible for Nigeria’s problem

By Nubari Saatah

Chinua Achebe once said the problem with Nigeria is simply and solely a problem of leadership.

Those words, as written in his book The Trouble with Nigeria can be understood and interpreted differently.

After all, perspectives are an integral part of human existence; as it is these perspectives that develop over time to shape human ideas and consequently, society as we know it. 

So perspectively speaking or writing as in this case, Nigeria’s failure as I have come to understand it, is an extension of the failure of leadership within the Niger Delta.

I mean Nigeria is by and large a macrocosm of the Niger Delta. As a result, I’d respectfully rephrase Achebe by saying, the problem of Nigeria is simply and solely a problem of failure of leadership in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Stay with me, I have my reasons.

Nigeria’s watered-down history as taught aside, those familiar with its real history know that what we have today as a “country” metamorphosed out of foreign economic interests within the Niger Delta region.

From the Portuguese to the French to the British, and even the Germans to a lesser extent beginning from as early as the 1400s.

An unorthodox way of emphasising this is pointing to the title of what can be referred to as Nigeria’s first indigenous documented history text as recorded by Kenneth Dike, himself being referred to in academic circles as “The father of modern African historiography”; Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830-1835: The Economic and Political History of Nigeria.

Over time, these economic interests evolved from the trade-in humans to palm oil, to its current phase of crude oil.

Despite this evolution, its core of extracting economic benefits from the region has remained the same, making the region not just the economic backbone of the Nigerian federation or misfederation if you want, but the sole determining factor for its continued existence, and the resting place of the solution(s) to the many issues that plague and drives it towards what we can call a certain cataclysm.

Unfortunately, you see, the political leadership of the Niger Delta which has by hook and crook, and by the design of foreign and local beneficiaries of their naïveté “led” the people over time, have been those without the necessary self-awareness.

As a direct consequence of this very fact, this particular group, comprising of individuals with the lowest of esteem and resolve have gone on to be the backbone of the flailing Nigerian federation and by extension aided the continued subjugation of the very people they claim to represent. 

As stated earlier, this has been by design—British design only now being implemented and safeguarded by an army of benefiting neocolonised elite class.

The idea behind this design is of course as a result of the PTSD of the British from the self-awareness, resolve, and accompanying economic advancement brought about by the industrial revolution, that reduced drastically the power of its elites and led to the changes that characterises the British society to this very day.

For re-emphasis, these socio-political changes were all a result of the socio-economic changes brought about by the industrial revolution. 

Pre-industrial revolution Britain due to the limited economic advancement of the masses had political systems mostly dictatorial and authoritarian in nature, with this only changing with the successes of the industrial revolution and its attendant socio-economic effect on the larger society and not only the elites. The consequence of this on the political system obtainable in Britain cannot be overstated, and allowing for a repeat of something similar in effect on their most prized “asset”, Nigeria, would have made George Santayana turn in his grave.

Hence the grouping of the ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta which was its main prized asset in the scheme of things, to be under the hegemonic control of the larger groups in what it called regions and the “handing over” in general to the larger groups which it hoped would keep the system—which by design also benefited these larger nationalities—in place, in perpetuity.

The only reason why the Niger Delta were yanked off that initial pre-colonial geopolitical design, was because the Igbo under which the region was placed as at independence in 1960, appeared to have reneged after the pogroms of 1966 and attempted to break away with this most prized asset.

The roles played by France and Britain in the civil war that followed shows this quite clearly; what was to be a loss to one, was to be a gain to another. In this battle for control, only one side lost and that was the nationalities of the Niger Delta.

To sustain this system, there is always a need for the propping up of an amenable type of leadership from the Niger Delta, who lack the self-awareness to understand the strategic weight and power of their existence and as such are willing to be acquiescent within the system, serving as backbones for the regression of the nation, and by and large aiding the underdevelopment and subjugation of their own people.

One can see this from not only the traditional, intellectual, and elected representatives but also the calibre of people who man the so-called interventionist agencies created for the region, whose sole aim has been to accumulate the crumbs of their own resource for themselves and their collaborators.

The NDDC audit as shabbily done bears testament to this fact. But the most disgusting yet, is the PIB and the resignation with which the political leadership of the region has treated it; from the Petroleum Minister for State patting himself on the back for further enslaving his own people, elected representatives of the region taking bribes as meagre as a few thousand dollars each to oversee the process, to the Niger Delta Minister commenting on same bill saying the Niger Delta people should take whatever it is we are “given” and not complain.

As unjust as this system Nigeria is run on is, in dismantling it, it is first and most important that the political leadership of the headquarters of said injustice—which is, in all honesty, the Niger Delta—become not just self-aware of the situation, but the fact that the Niger Delta remains the only region with the economic leverage to forcefully change Nigeria’s socio-political and socio-economic trajectory and structures. It is simply a case of divine foresight that this leverage did not need to come from the ability or inability of the Niger Delta leadership to think, create, or innovate—which would’ve been most unfortunate bearing in mind the sheer emptiness that has characterised this class of people over the years—like happened with industrialisation in Britain, but rather by the geographic position of the region, and the natural resources available to it. 

The recent move by Governor Wike of Rivers State — the region’s political headquarters — with Value Added Tax (VAT) might be a spark of that self-awareness, or maybe just a fluke.

Either way, the Niger Delta needs new leaders; those with the necessary self-awareness to understand that the power to change not just the region but this country lies squarely in the creeks, and the resolve to act on that leverage knowing fully well that if the region sneezes the entire nation will catch cold.

The current crop of thralls fronting as leaders of the region and its people are a lost cause in this regard and long overdue to be relegated to the dustbins of a forgettable history, and the window of opportunity nonetheless is closing for that new leadership to emerge.

***Nubari Saatah is the President of the Niger Delta Congress (NDC) and writes from Port Harcourt.

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