Austin Tam- George
The people of Kula community in Rivers State are quietly rewriting their terms of citizenship with the Nigerian state. And they need our support.
Kula is an oil-rich community that has been the source of billions of dollars for the Nigerian government and for Shell, the multinational company, over the past 40 years.
But despite its stupendous natural wealth, Kula has no pipe-borne water and children die from all kinds of intestinal diseases.
There is no standard hospital in Kula, and studies show that like in most Niger Delta communities, life expectancy in Kula is twice below the national average.
Children sit on bare earth to learn in roofless and dilapidated schools.
As a fishing community, Kula’s once vibrant marine ecosystem is now a paradise lost; a victim of Shell’s remorseless environmental pollution.
The Oil Mining Lease (OML) 25 operated by Shell in Kula is the cruelest metaphor for corporate greed. But Shell is not alone. It is in collusion with a rent-seeking State that seems bent on grinding it’s own citizens to dust, in exchange for oil rents.
But all that is about to change.
Two years ago, the women of Kula began to occupy the oil platforms, in protest against Shell’s apocalyptic presence in their community, and to challenge the company’s decades-long environmental impunity.
Three decades after the Ogoni uprisings, the showdown in Kula dramatizes once again the crisis of Nigeria’s petro-dollar modernity, and our inability to invent a grammar of citizenship based on egalitarianism and respect for community property rights.
But as indigenous people, Belema and other oil-bearing communities have rights which are recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.This momentous Declaration was made on the floor of the UN on September 13, 2007.
Governor Nyesom Wike’s so-called mediation effort on behalf of Shell was dubious and politically tainted from the start, and the Kula community is right to reject it. How could a Governor goad a long-suffering community to barter it’s rights in exchange for a fraudulent and exploitative “peace” with Shell?
Governor Wike is negotiating a peace process that allows a rapist to return gleefully to a battered and beleaguered victim.
Why did the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Tammy Danagogo, a sensible man by all accounts, permit himself to be part of such a macabre and cynical plot against the people of Kula?
Since 1999, the Federal Government has allocated over 12 trillion Naira as 13 per cent oil derivation funds to Rivers State.
As Governor, Mr Wike has received nearly two trillion Naira in revenue on behalf of Rivers State, since May, 2015.
What has the Wike administration got to show to the people of Kula, the people of Abua, the Ogoni, the forgotten people of Ogbakiri, Okrika, and other communities in the State, for these oil money receipts?
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Rivers State has the highest rate of unemployment in Nigeria, and Kula is one of the hardest hit communities.
In Rivers State, Demonstration school teachers have not been paid for four years by the Wike administration. All scholarships and bursaries are cancelled, and the State’s per capita school drop out is the highest in the region, under Mr Wike’s watch.
It takes a particular kind of moral blindness for a Governor to trade off the future of the children of Kula, the way Mr Wike seeks to do through his dangerous collusion with Shell.
Last week, the elder statesman, Chief E.K. Clark was alarmed enough to publicly condemn Mr Wike’s outrageous gamble in Kula.
The people of Kula are right to take their destiny in their own hands. They have history and natural justice on their side.
As they try to reclaim their ancestral dignity, the Kula community needs our support. And they need the moral comradeship of the United Nations.
–––Dr. Austin Tam- George is a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State