Social Media, NGOs and the Niger Delta Struggle

 Social Media, NGOs and the Niger Delta Struggle

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

When Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta after half a century of exploration by Shell-BP, and the nation joined the ranks of oil producers in 1958 when its first oil field came on stream producing 5,100 bpd., it was, however, not the first victory in the discovery of natural resources in Nigeria.

Prior to this development, there were documented evidence of discoveries of; coal in Enugu, South Eastern Nigeria, and Tin in Jos, the present day Plateau state. Yet, the discovery of crude oil actually paved the way for the manifestation of sterling wealth that has defined the nation’s economic strength.

In view of the above, and true to predictions, the Federal Government in its quest to consolidate its ownership of oil in Niger Delta and to control the same, enacted the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Act, thereby establishing and authorizing the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to engage in all commercial activities relating to the petroleum industry and to enforce all regulatory measures relating to the general control of the petroleum inspectorate department. This marked the beginning of trouble in the region.

It did not end here.

Going by reports, to ensure total resources control in the region, the FG went ahead to enact laws that will ensure that compensation accrues to oil-mineral producing regions or states based upon derivation principles.

For example, in 1964, the Phillipson commision recommended a 50% derivation fund for the regions. The Ralmans Commision later increased the federal government’s share to 20%. In 1969, General Yakubu Gowon’s administration promulgated the petroleum Decree No. 51, placing petroleum resources under the federal government and then subsequently approved a 30% derivation fund for oil producing regions. In a stark policy reversal in 1974, Gowon abolished the derivation fund, marking the end of a common distributive pool and ushering in the era of central collection and allocation of revenue to the states.

In the same style, it was also documented that when derivation was re-introduced, it was reduced to 25% in 1977, and in 1981 under Alhaji Shehu Shagari, it became 1.5%. General Ibrahim Babangida increased it to 3%. During its 1994 – 1995 sessions, the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) adopted a 13% derivation that General Abdusalam Abubakar subsequently included in the 1999 constitution.

While this argument about the correctness or otherwise of the 13% derivation rages, it is important to underline that two major factors have not only cast ‘a long dark shadow on the efforts to improve the well being and economic development of the region, but plagued the peace initiatives by major stakeholders.

First, is the negation by the government that when men are not allowed to offer their sentiment on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences on them, the freedom of speech may be considered taken away, and dumb and silent they are led, like sheep to be slaughtered’. The FG’s reluctance to approach the challenges in the region from the human rights perspective forms the crux of the problem.

As we know, a programme is said to be development based when it factors in, and allows the people affected by the ‘development’ activity to participate in ways capable of transforming their social and economic conditions rather than using them as instruments to legitimize predetermined goals and priorities.

Secondly, as AL Gore, a Former Vice President of the United State of America once noted; our policies and over dependence on fossil fuel-especially crude oil-illustrate what can happen to a great nation when reason is replaced by the influence of wealth and power.

Infact, most Nigerians have tended naturally to believe that the fierce war between ethnic and social forces over the ownership and control of oil resources in the Niger Delta are direct result of vivid display of explored-deceptions, secrecy, and the politics of fear in government’s energy and environmental policies.

We face a choice about nation building. But without overlooking the contributions made by stakeholders in widening the scope of the struggle, for us to truly achieve and emancipate the region, it is important to take hope from the role of two important instruments-the social media and the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

Regardless of what others may say, these key instruments have made Nigerians and of course the global community consistently mindful of the misery and poverty that the generality of the Niger Deltans have endured for almost sixty years after Independence-as well as their huge expectations from the government and the masses.

The above role did not come to me as a total surprise as NGOs have not only remained in the struggle but, proved to understand the true meaning and objective of sustainable partnership, as contained in the 2030 sustainable development agenda- a United Nation initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)- with a collection of 17 global goals formulated  among other aims to promote and cater for people, peace, planet, and poverty.  And has at its centre; partnership and collaboration, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.

Take as an example, it is worth remembering that the African Commission decision that found the then military administration culpable of glaring environmental injustice meted to the people of Ogoni land and other   Niger Delta communities was initiated by a Non Governmental Organization.

It was the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC)  in close collaboration with the New York-based Centre for  Economic and Social Rights(CESR)  that filed a communication (Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) Vs Nigeria) with suit Number 155/96  before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights  against the Federal Military Government of Nigeria asserting that the wild spread contamination of soil, water and  air, the destruction of homes and the climate of terror visited upon the  Ogoni communities constituted a violation of their rights to health, a healthy environment, housing, and food.

As a response to the communication, the Commission in October 2001, gave a well-considered rule finding the Federal Republic of Nigeria in violations of 2, 4, 14, 16, 18(1), 21 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and therefore recommended a total clean up of the polluted Ogoni and other adjourning communities in addition to taking preventive remedial and compensatory measures to improve economic and social outcomes for the Ogoni community.

Till this day, while the non compliance to that particlar directive by the Federal Government has remained a serious puzzle to students of political history, the Commission’s decision have emerged a reference point/case study for all students of law across the globe.

Also, in communicating the Niger Delta challenge, social media has proved to be not just another platform for disseminating information that can be controlled at will. Rather, it has remained a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas.

Certainly, what Niger Delta activists are achieving via social media has consolidated the position conversed by Weiai (Wayne) Xu and Gregory D Saxton, that globally, social media has become a positive force that can enhance, among other things, communication, stakeholder engagement, knowledge acquisition, awareness building, volunteer management, accountability, advocacy, relationship building activities and promotes community foundations, whose main goal is to address community problems.

Indeed, they have utilized social media’s networking features to match make community members, build “listening post”,  gain critical knowledge of their community-and, increasingly fostered a “community” that is built less on geographic boundaries than on a sense of belonging, social media provide a diverse and transcendent public dialogue.

Despite these milestones, the challenges in the region will continue until the FG recognizes the fact that it has a  responsibility  to lighten the burden of the people, alleviate their poverty by providing jobs for the youths, houses, secure homes, water, good roads and creating efficient infrastructures.

Jerome-Mario Utomi([email protected]), is a Lagos-based Media Consultant

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