Monday, August 24, 2009

Crooks of the creeks

SHELL, Chevron, Agip, ExxonMobil, Totalfinaelf, Schlumberger, Halliburton, etc (hereinafter called Big Oil) have won again. Has anyone noticed how the Niger Delta uprising is now about government vs militants, south vs north, Yoruba vs Ijaw and no longer about Big Oil? Did anyone ask why the government's amnesty without armistice was 60 days long? Before the end of that period, the government would create another mouth-watering distraction just like in the mid-80s: it was education, health, housing, food for all by the year 2000. As year 2000 approached, they changed it to Vision 2012. Now it is 2020.

As 2020 approaches, they will change it to 2050. Yet they never postpone treasury looting. During that 60-day distraction, Big Oil would have squirreled away another N2 trillion worth of oil from the Niger Delta. What is at work is a sinister combination of delay tactics and divide and rule. When the Sierra Leonean civil war was raging on, there was no day the multinationals stopped mining the diamonds. In Angola during their civil war, there was no day Big Oil stopped exploration. Ditto for the current Congo war. Not a single day passed that the multinationals did not meet their quota. Yet all these resources were the reasons for the wars. If Nigeria, heavens forbid, explodes into a civil war situation, Big Oil will continue to siphon oil while nearby, we go on killing ourselves. It is already happening. Big Oil has experienced crooks and experts on its payroll. They are pulling the strings and as unthinking puppets, we are dancing.

Hence, before it becomes about increase in derivation percentage, or actualisation of the Willinks Commission or Kaiama Declaration or the Minority Report, any Niger Delta insurrection that does not begin as an immediate stoppage of all oil exploration is both unserious and a complete waste of time. Of what use is an uprising when business continues as usual? Of what use is much heat and no light? With all the heat generated by the Niger Delta since Saro Wiwa, what steps have been taken to make Big Oil responsible to the environment? It is not about giving handouts to the people or token posts or NDDC or Ministry of Environment, it is primarily about making oil exploration compatible with environmental health and safety laws. The issue of fiscal federalism or revenue sharing only comes later, and that has nothing to do with Big Oil. It is our family affair. The debate over that should be for later not now lest Big Oil uses it to divide us and distract from its own responsibilities to the environment.

That in serious nations, Big Oil cannot get away with its shoddy practices only shows that Abuja is our problem. The privatisation of national interests and nationalisation of private interests that have been our doctrine of corruption since independence gave Big Oil licence to impose its unedited vileness on the Niger Delta. For instance what is the meaning of these terms Abuja uses to entice foreign oil investors: '...enjoy a substantial rebate - in the form of reduced government take - based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU), Operators obtain a "minimum guaranteed notional margin" once they kept "technical cost" within a certain range. The cost of clearing of oil spillage or stopping gas flaring stretch this technical cost so no substantial rebate. Therefore? The fate of men and women of the Delta has been auctioned off with impunity in these NNPC business terms.

And yet this logic of Thatcherism and Reaganomics is what led to the credit crunch: The idea that there is too much regulation that gets in the way of profit margins. If government wants to get more revenue, it must give big businesses and rich people more concessions, more tax credits, more rebates so they will get more money to expand their business and ordinary people would have more employment opportunities and the wealth of the rich would trickle down to the common man. Sounds logical but it was greed speaking.

With a weak government influence, the logic led to anything goes culture. It caused the global recession that had ruined families from Berlin to Benin, Moscow to Mokola, Kaiama to Cayman Islands. As Obama is cleaning up the house, stretching the government influence and imposing more regulations on the so-called untouchable business titans and big corporations, so should Abuja. Get Big Oil together to commit to another Memorandum of Understanding that includes respect for the people, the lands, air and water of the Niger Delta.

Warren Buffet said as the world richest man last year he was paying a tax of 17 per cent while his secretary whom he shares his office with was paying 30 per cent tax to the same government. What that means is that over the years of Reaganomics, the poor and the middle class every week have been sending a large portion of their earnings legitimately through the government to make the rich get richer. Likewise, it is against morality, civilisation and all rules of decency that the place that provides 80 per cent of our GDP, 90 per cent of national budget and 95 per cent of foreign exchange earnings is entitled to 13 per cent in return from the nation's treasury. When we have shown Niger Delta such a blatant disrespect, why would Big Oil not follow suit with a mania for ecological destruction? Yes in a federation we should help the states weak in resources to develop, but this does not mean we should reward laziness.

Big Oil in its own eyes could be kind. But to us its kindness is always a sinister machine that grinds down a thousand destinies for every lucky individual it rewards. They advertise scholarships, maternity wards, tap water as fulfilment of corporate social responsibility. But CSR like charity is not an obligation; you do it on your own terms since it is voluntary. Yet what is needed is a mandatory requirement of justice and fairness to the host communities and to the environment not token infrastructures, scholarships, or employment quotas they parade on the media as 'helping' the community. It is not only offensive but also very dubious to convert responsibilities and obligations to acts of charity.

Not faith but hope is the opium of the people. In spite of the comprehensive pain in every corner of the nation, Nigerians have a hope that is unparalleled in history. It is either a miracle of oppression or an abuse of pain. Certainly, Abuja's trick of postponement is effectively at work. Whereas pains suppose to make the people develop sufficient rage against an oppressive system. The government does not fear us and we do not present ourselves as "fearable". So they turned us into foot mat to step in and out of the corridors of power and corruption. At last, the lords of the creeks have decided to show us the way to self-determination. We should raise our voices with them in solidarity. There is no challenge too great if we all stand together as one. Only that violence is very abhorrent. And there is already a misplaced confidence in its wanton use. At this stage, we need more brains not more violence as the sole motivation