…. AN ADDRESS ON THE STATE OF THE NATION BY IJAW NATIONAL CONGRESS (INC) (PUBLIC IN THISDAY THURSDAY 12 JAN. 2012)
We must first sympathize with Nigerians on the spillover effect of fuel subsidy removal and the hardship that is hitherto being experienced.
While we hope that this phase would soon pass, we would like to say that intent and subsequent decision of Government to tackle corruption in the Oil and Gas sector is a credible and a welcome development. The notorious cabal which hijacked operations in the sector has annually robbed us of billions of naira in the name of oil subsidy. The fight as we see it today is between the Nigerian Government and his cabal …. not the people. Unfortunately, the masses bear a large chunk of the brunt as the cost of living has skyrocketed. Our expectation is that Government will swiftly embrace the palliative measures it had earmarked prior to the removal of the subsidy.
Our attention has also been drawn to the reactions of different people and groups as regards this issue. The truth is that it would be totally unfair to judge the current administration led by President Goodluck Jonathan as being insensitive to the feelings and plights of the masses. We all want a better Nigeria and it demands change. Change in turn demands sacrifice and sacrifice would yield the transformation we have hitherto longed for.
We must all understand that the motive and discussions that preceded the decision to remove oil subsidy was unanimously backed by all tiers of government. The fight against this cabal did not start today. It began during President Goodluck Jonathan’s last tenure. And this cabal has relentlessly warred against government and everyone who has and is still lending Government a hand of support in its move to dissolve their activities. The Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Dezani Allison-Madueke and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala have unfortunately suffered constant hits from this group through malicious publications aimed at inciting the public against them and subsequently, the government. We are also aware that and presently some sections amongst these groups of drowning oil racketeers are sponsoring opposing viewpoints.
No doubt, government has a duty to sanitize the sector. The banking sector has been sanitized. We demand that the same be done to the Oil sector. This group whose fraudulent activities prompted the removal of fuel subsidy and by extension the affliction of the pain of change on Nigerians must be brought to book. The system should be cleansed and culprits made to face the law. Funds should be re-channeled in such a way that they are beneficial to the masses-especially the Niger Delta region that has suffered environmental degradation and severe health challenges in silence for well over 50 years thus, tempering anger and frustration with patience.
As the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Nigeria of August 2011 sites, “…petroleum hydrocarbons can enter people’s bodies when they breathe air, bathe, eat, fish, drink water or accidentally touch soil or sediment that is contaminated with oil. Certain grounds of hydrocarbons have been identified as causing cancer and affecting embryos and foetus…”
The time has come to put the need of the Niger Delta people and the Ijaw race-uppermost, as they have heavily borne the brunt of Nigeria’s oil exploration. We demand at the very least 50% of all oil derivatives in our areas, so as to enable us carry out the much needed developments and recommendations of the UNEP report which includes that;
1) “People who have been consuming water with high levels of benzene (900 times the world health organization guidelines) are recorded on a medical registry and their health regularly monitored.
2) Ensure that all drinking water wells where hydrocarbons have been detected are marked and the people are informed of dangers.
3) We provide adequate alternatives sources of drinking water to areas affected.
4) We provide post signs around all the sites identified as having contamination exceeding levels, warning community not to walk through or engage in any activities in these areas.
5) We provide post signs in areas where hydrocarbons have been observed on surface water, warning people of the dangers of eating fish, crops, swimming or bathing.
6) We inform all families whose rainwater samples test positive for hydrocarbons of the dangers of consuming the water, and
7) We mount a public awareness campaign to warn individuals who are carrying out artisanal refining that such activities are damaging to their health”.
As a nation, Nigeria faces challenging times but sadly, while government and the Nigerian people are trying to contain the crisis emanating from the change in our petroleum policy, some Nigerians seem to be fuelling crises in other quarters by propagating their own selfish ambitions to make the nation ungovernable. Book Haram has also asked non-Northerners to leave the North. This provocative move is not only irrational but also unacceptable. As such, no sect has any right to ask any Nigerian to leave any part of the country as being spearheaded by the Boko Haram. We also understand that Boko Haram has infiltrated certain arms of government. It is time to make hay while the sun shines. We must rid ourselves of this cancerous growth before it destroys this nation.
We urge government to prioritize the issues of security for Nigerians irrespective of their location within this country and the immediate provision of support systems that will cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal.
It is important that government, under any condition does not relent in its effort at sanitizing the Oil and Gas sector as this is for the good of this country.
We would however like to point out that so far, the decision of government to provide palliative measures for the Nigerian masses after its deliberations with Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) although necessary has not factored in Ijaw nation. While the earmarked cushioning measures amongst others entail the provision of buses to aid transportation for the masses, nothing has been said about the provision of boats for regions where 75% of movement is done via water and the Ijaw region is one of such. Government’s agenda should clearly articulate and embrace the provision of the welfare of the people.
We implore Nigerians to exercise a little more patience with Government. People should also beware of mischief perpetrators who are ceaselessly trying to hijack this opportunity of change in policy to cause problems for the country instead of proffering solutions. Let’s give government more time and see where it is headed.
Finally, we call on the Federal Government to set up machineries for a National Conference that would make way for the total restructuring of the Nigerian polity.
We trust that they would not fail us.
Long Live INC!
Long Live Nigeria!
Chief Joshua Ebiakpo Benamaisia
Acting President, Ijaw National Congress (INC)