Story Seven: Chideraa in Insecure Nigeria
Chideraa grew taller and more intelligent as he grew older. He was now thirteen years old and was in JSS 3. The presidential election was organized in March 1999 and everybody rejoiced as Olusegun Obasanjo, who was a former military Head of State, emerged winner. Every student had to memorize his full name and title because it was asked in every Current Affairs section of Quiz competitions and the students had to answer “His Excellency, President Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo.” If you did not say it exactly like that, you would not be awarded the full score. Chideraa was preparing for a quiz competition against JSS 3C. He was in JSS 3A. It was the final stage. JSS3 B and D had been knocked out. His team members were very confident they would win because of Chideraa’s good knowledge of history and recent happenings which often came out in the Current Affairs section. Mathematics and English sections were not going to be their problem too, because Temitope was very good at English Language while Hassan was good at Mathematics. Well, Chideraa was best at both Mathematics and English Language and always came first position in class.
It was however a very tough competition between the two of teams and JSS 3C was leading with three points after the Mathematics and English section. They did not fail even one question, but JSS 3A had failed one. JSS 3C happened to be good too in Current Affairs and had not failed any question till the very last one. “Choose a number” the coordinator called out to JSS 3C team members. “Number 17” they chorused. “When did Nigeria become a republic?” he asked, and they answered “1st of October 1960.” They were wrong for the first time. The bonus question came to JSS 3A and Chideraa quickly answered “1st of October 1963.” “Correct!” the coordinator exclaimed. With that JSS 3A had recovered a point and were now two points down. If they answered their next question which was the final question of the quiz they would win the competition. The coordinator just read out the question for it was the only remaining question “List the states that make up Niger Delta?” The hall was silent. That question was a difficult one and the coordinator wondered how the two teams managed to evade it till that moment. Chideraa took a pause to think, arranged his thoughts and then he began to speak “Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo an—–d Rivers.” The coordinator looked in amazement then exclaimed “Correct!” The hall became rowdy as students screamed in amazement. With that JSS 3A were declared winners.
The quiz had been fun, they had won, but the last question kept Chideraa thinking. There was serious crisis in the Niger Delta at that moment and though Nigeria was in civilian rule, soldiers massacred men, women, youths and children carelessly. The worst of them all was Odi massacre that took place in Odi town of Bayelsa on November 20, 1999. It was still very fresh in his memory. His father often told him that the people of Niger Delta often revolted against the government and oil companies in their communities because they were not been well taken care of despite the fact that the nation’s wealth came from their land and also destroyed their lands. Most of them were fishers and farmers and oil spillage from the oil pipelines had spoilt their farmlands and killed their fishes. They needed the government’s attention but seemed not to be getting it so they decided to start disturbing the oil companies and their own government turned to destroy them.
On June 5, the next year, it was announced that President Obasanjo had established a federal government agency called Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in order to look into the affairs of the Niger Delta people. Chideraa was so happy. “Thank God something has finally been done.” But he wondered whether the agency would actually solve the problem. He needed to ask his father.
“Daddy, would the NDDC solve the insecurity problem in Niger Delta?” He asked his father as soon as he came back from work.
“I don’t know o, my son. You see, nothing is straightforward in this country again. Everybody wants a way to enrich his own pocket.” His father sadly replied.
“But Daddy, if they don’t solve the problem, their own children and family members might die too” Chideraa said.
His father laughed and then replied, patting Chideraa at the back “Most of the leaders of all those federal government agencies have their families outside the country. They don’t care about what happens here.”
Chideraa didn’t believe his father then, but in 2003 when the media kept broadcasting news of well-armed and masked Niger Delta militants kidnapping oil company staff and blowing up oil pipelines, he believed. Nigeria had become an insecure nation. It was now a case of war between the Nigeria Armed Forces and the Niger Delta Militants and it lasted for years claiming many lives. Many people feared to come into Nigeria for fear that they may be kidnapped by the Niger Delta militants even though the insecurity was restricted to the Niger Delta areas alone. Once they kidnapped an oil company worker, the Federal government paid very huge amount of money as ransom to get them released.
Chideraa approached his father and asked him if the Niger Delta militants would ever go. His father’s reply was simple. “These men are fighting simply because there is inequality and unfairness in the distribution of our country’s wealth. The government may be doing well in building the economy, but the wealth of the nation is not distributed evenly. That is why there are many very very rich men in the country and we have many very very poor men in the same country. The government is not taking good care of its people and as long as it remains this way, there cannot be peace in the whole country, not only in the Niger Delta. A hungry man is an angry man.” Those words remained in Chideraa’s mind. He would never forget that a hungry man is an angry man and his solution is food and not mere promises or confrontation. Obviously the government was not getting it right by attacking the Niger Deltans.