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The Niger Delta Problem: Can It Be Resolved this Decade?

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OIL DRILLING
AP

I was born in the Niger Delta, and lived in the Niger Delta in Nigeria until I came to the U.S. In some ways, I can be considered a child of big oil -- Mobil Oil -- to be specific. But I own no oil fields and none of my family works in the oil sector. My ancestors (grandfather and father) are from a village in oil country, in a place called Eket.

When I was growing up, Mobil Oil along with the Nigerian government, took one of my aunt's farm land in exchange for money. I use the word "took" because the cost of paying for a piece of land does not measure up to the reality of what the activity of farming that land for generations would equal. My aunt understood that and she showed up to Mobil Oil, for several years, to be paid for her non-existent harvest, even after she was paid for the land. My aunt is one of my ancestors. She understood the importance of land in Africa. It is a big issue. Africans really do not like to sell or give away land, unless they have no choice. We do not negotiate away our heritage and in Africa, land is heritage.

One of the chiefs of my village worked for Mobil Oil. He was an educated man who decided rather than fight with big oil, he would negotiate with them. The negotiation or exchange for oil resulted in running water, electricity and paved roads for the village. By no means, am I saying that my village is lucky for the deal it got because there are no jobs and there is no industry in the village, just traditional farming. So, the trade off is not sufficient. And off-shore, Mobil continues to get oil and resources. I say it again: The bargain is not sufficient.

Yet, my village is unusual in the Niger Delta. It is an oddity as most of the Niger Delta villages and people have not been given anything. The Niger Delta is located in the southern portion of Nigeria and it is an oil-rich region that consists of nine states. This area has become Africa's biggest producer of petroleum; about 2 million barrels a day are extracted in the Niger Delta.

The battle for the Niger Delta is the legacy of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist who was murdered from Ogoniland, an area with a great deal of crude oil extraction that suffered extreme and unremediated environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation by the operations of the multinational petroleum industry, especially Shell.

The other legacy of the Niger Delta problem is kidnapping and extortion. In a 2009 Global Post article, Yakubu Lame, Nigeria's minister of police, said that 512 kidnappings had been reported in the first half of this year, compared with 353 for the whole of 2008. Kidnappers are dealing with the result of little or no development in the Niger Delta and have decided to "earn a living" by kidnapping foreign oil workers and prominent Nigeria they can extort money from.

Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, is a child of the Niger Delta. As a fellow child of the Niger Delta, I expect a solution to the Niger Delta from him. Why? He has no choice, between this and the current issue of bombings by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, Nigeria will be safe to progress into its productive future. Simply, it's time for Jonathan to use his security budget and deal with this issue.

For me, the Niger Delta problem is personal. Each year, I travel to Nigeria and so many times, I actually debate with my family about going to my village. It's not that I am afraid, it's more like they prefer I spend my time productively without being kidnapped. And to be honest, I rather not burden them with the worry. Nigeria is a wonderful place, and it will be much better if it's critical issues were resolved this decade.