SOOT, STEAL AND SOOTHE
It finally took a cloud of black soot rising over Rivers State for an alarmed Mr. Nyesom Wike the State Governor to summon the political will to confront those who mean death for nature and innocent children in the state. The legality of publishing their names and pronouncing them guilty before asking them to turn in themselves to the police to begin the process of their possible prosecution is debatable. But there is no doubt that the illegal oil business poses a real threat not just to Rivers State but Nigeria as a whole.
Some 97% of Nigeria`s exports come from its oil resources. Even in a well-run country, this overdependence on a single resource no matter how bountiful would have posed anxious puzzles. With Nigeria firmly in the vice-grip of dysfunction, it is simply a nightmare.
Rivers State sits in the heart of the Niger Delta, the oil-rich region of Nigeria, that has known oily depredation. Port Harcourt the Rivers State capital is called the Garden City and is home to many multinational oil companies as well as the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission, the behemoth but bumbling government agency tasked with among other things formulating policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger-Delta area.
Rivers State is also home to many of Nigeria`s illegal oil refineries and now their activities are clouding the heart of the Niger Delta in deadly soot that has in the last five years cumulatively caused 23,000 people to come down with respiratory diseases. Of course, there have been deaths.
What is happening in Rivers State with the soot widely captures the Nigerian story of depredation by a few and death for others all linked to the country`s premium natural resource.
Just as petrodollars pouring in from the sale of Nigeria`s crude oil has kindled kleptocracy, a government by theft, in Nigeria, the staggeringly lucrative oil industry has encouraged many illegalities to take root and grow teeth.
So, there is the outright thievery of oil which is done through illegal oil bunkering through the agency of multiple illegal refineries. If it was just the illegal oil refineries, it would have been quite easy to shut them down. But the challenge is that many leprous fingers prop up the industry of illegalities.
So, oil flows through the state and the Niger Delta through illegal refineries to fuel the diseases and death consuming Nigerians in yet another harrowing example of Nigeria`s challenge with accountability.
Sordid allegations thicken the whispers that some government officials, security personnel and even expatriates, are all involved in the unbridled stealing guzzling up Nigeria`s oil. But who will hold them to account when it seems many fingers are dripping with oil?
Many Nigerians have only very little doubt that the country`s oil has been a little more than a cursed resource. The discovery of oil and its subsequent exploration and export saw petrodollars streaming into the country. The unexpected windfall which began in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1956 was supposed to guarantee a high quality of life for every Nigerian. Instead, the reverse has largely been the case as money from oil has lulled the country to sleep, shrinking in the process its once thriving agricultural sector. But that was not all.
The exploration of oil in the Niger Delta has also left the region permanently scarred with a lack of accountability undermining every effort to clean up the Niger Delta. And now the oil thieves far from soothing the country are casting it into a sea of soot. This must not be tolerated.
All those involved in the operation of illegal refineries must be immediately arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated. It does not matter how highly they perch on the podium of power in the country. Or shall black soot rising from the activities of career criminals and serial saboteurs now be allowed to blind the Giant of Africa?
It can only be irony`s tyranny that in a country where refineries lie comatose defying the resuscitative efforts of successive governments, illegal refineries which enrich Nigeria`s army of avarice now threaten to hasten the deaths of innocent children at the hands of killer respiratory diseases.