TITLE: The Riddle of the Oil Thief
AUTHOR: HRM, King Bubaraye Dakolo
PUBLISHER: Purple Shelves Publishers
REVIEWER: Chijioke Uwasomba
Oil, the greasy fluid has become a curse to Nigeria with all the trappings of underdevelopment in display. The Niger Delta peoples of Nigeria and their environment have suffered irretrievably and irredeemably the shockwaves of the curse of oil in all its ramifying dimensions.
Since 1914, when Lord Lugard, the soldier of fortune, enacted the Colonial Ordinance which made oil precincts in the country a British monopoly with ownership rights vested in the crown and the subsequent 1937 colonial Nigeria Ordinance, which gave Shell D’Arcy exclusive exploration and prospecting rights, the Niger Delta has not known peace. In this power-packed, riveting book, titled The Riddle of the Oil Thief, HRM, King Bubaraye Dakolo, the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom in Bayelsa State, gives the history of oil in Nigeria and the damaging consequences the resource and its management have brought to the Niger Delta communities. The book which gives an appearance of a faction is by every standard of conception and reading a factual reality of the sorrow and death that have become the story and lot of the Niger Delta.
This tour de force of a book is structured in forty-one chapters, each focusing on an important aspect of the life of an average Niger Delta indigene who has been subjected to all kinds of humiliations and biblical misery. The introduction of the book sets the tone for the entire discourse of oil, the Nigerian state, the International Oil Multinational Corporations (IOCs), the military and other security forces, the Niger Delta people, both in the creeks and upland, the oil-bearing and facilities-hosting communities, the oil thieves, the pauperised people and other fringe elements whose pitiable condition is a by-product of the mismanagement of oil by a network of forces unaccountable to the people. The introduction by the author shows that oil generates over 80% of the nation’s revenue and contributes 10% to the GDP. The author from the outset states that the problem of oil and gas industry in Nigeria is that it is shrouded in opacity. This is in spite of efforts to ensure that the right crude oil and gas business atmosphere is put in place, Nigeria still loses up to a fifth of its daily oil production to oil thieves. The ravaging oil theft is sustained by insiders who work in the oil industry sustained by lack of information sharing among security agencies (who of course are involved in the heist) including a ready-made market for the product. According to the author, 220,000 barrels of crude oil are lost daily.
The current reserve estimates stand at about 37 billion barrels for crude oil and 5,761 billion cubic metres of gas. But because of the irresponsible behaviour of the IOCs and the government and its agencies, a once clean, beautiful and serene Niger Delta environment has become polluted arising from the unethical exploitation of crude oil and gas, making the area one of the most polluted regions of the world.
According to the author, the book is “the story of the parasitic, poorly regulated exploitation of oil and the people of the Delta, perpetrating insecurity in the region, which has spread to other parts of Nigeria and the world” (47). It is the pathetic story of the Niger Delta people who have suffered debilitating injustices ranging from environmental pollution, loss of farmlands, fishing grounds, and their sources of livelihood. Their story and condition become compounded as the government in defence of its profit deploys now and then the coercive instruments of the state to deal ruthlessly with the people.
In chapter one of the book, since the author deploys partly the fictional mode to tell the pathetic story of the loss of his people’s land and resources, he created three characters – the President, His Excellency, Senator Olaye Lukeman, GFR, mni; General Dan Buba of the Conjoined Task Force (CTF); and Wokolo, the redoubtable iconic female Ijaw narrator who later in the work acts as a guide to Gen. Buba with a view to showing the latter the gory documentation of the total annihilation of her people. The general atmosphere of the country led by Senator Lukeman is that of total paralysis occasioned by insecurity. There is a reminder of the infamous attack of the UN Headquarters building in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
In fact, thoughts of the grave security crisis of the country crowd the General’s mind. He genuinely looks forward to seeing the president on matters of security so that he could personally deliver a report on the depth of sabotage he uncovered in the upstream sector of the oil and gas business in the Niger Delta. The report is to the effect that “persons of high repute in the society within and out of the country” (63) are involved: “I have solved the real riddle of the oil thief, the untold Niger Delta story” (66). And in chapter two, even while at Aso Rock Villa as a guest to the president, he becomes more aware of the dire condition of the people of the Niger Delta.
Chapters three, four and five capture the General’s visit to the king to apprise him of the activities of the CTF/OPSD – the organisation responsible for the maintenance of peace and security in the Niger Delta states of Nigeria. The visit also gives the General the opportunity of familiarizing himself with the towns in Ekpetiama Kingdom. In chapter six the king raises a rhetorical challenge to Gen. Buba asking him if he is not bothered that he is in his region to secure only oil and gas facilities and personnel of the IOCs without caring about the protection of his (the King’s) people.
Chapter seven is titled The Niger Delta Hall of Fame and therefore, provides Wokolo, the guide, the opportunity of showing the visiting General the display of shame and abandonment of the people thoughtfully recorded for posterity. Wokolo as a dutiful guide takes both the General and the reader through the key oil and gas sites, the ignoble impact of oil on her people, the boom and doom since Sunday, January 15, 1956, when the first oil well was drilled at Otuabagi community by Shell D’Arcy and the subsequent woes and other broken promises from the successive Nigerian governments and the IOCs. These issues are represented in chapters eight, nine, ten, elven, twelve and thirteen.
Chapter fourteen, titled Wake Up Calls dwells on the increasing awareness among the Ijaw Youth which gave rise to the formation of the IYC, culminating in the famous Kiama Declaration on December 11, 1998. And this awareness as can be seen in the Hall of Fame regarding the way oil and gas business is conducted, has pushed the people to raise more questions on the curse of oil. Crimes against humanity signposted by crude oil spillages and noxious gas emissions from flared volatile petroleum which have polluted the Niger Delta air, rivers, creeks, ponds and rain water for decades and lack of good and quality education to the people are the dominant concerns in chapters fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and twenty. A whopping one billion standard cubic feet of gas are flared every day.
In chapter twenty-one, which can be considered as climactic, the riddle of the oil thief is cracked as names of merchants, soldiers of fortune, security agents, politicians, oil subsidy billionaires, top petroleum sector players and military officers who have corruptly enriched themselves from petrodollars are reeled out. It is noted in this chapter that General Yakubu Gowon reneged on the Aburi Accord reached on the 4th of January 1967 and quickly promulgated his ever Petroleum Legislation (Decree Number 15 of 1969) annulling the 1937 and 1959 Ordinances and the subsisting 50 – 50 sharing formula between the regions and the centre and transferred ownership of oil mineral rights wholly to the Federal Government. In the words of the author: “There is no big oil thief in jail in this country…” (223). A tiny minority of persons, far less than one percent of the country’s population, from outside the region, have been stealing, for over six decades. Chapters twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four and up to thirty-nine raise various issues ranging from militarisation to the prolonged oppression of the people and communities of the Niger Delta.
The oil fields of the Niger Delta have remained the killing fields since 6th July 1967 when General Gowon declared a war on the former Eastern Region of Nigeria. The military and other security forces have remained the most potent agency of neo-colonialism, subjugating the peoples. When the equipment of the oil companies fail and there are industrial accidents leading to pipeline bursts or tank leakages they are labelled as pipeline vandalisation. Again, impoverished and desperately hungry persons are used to vandalise high pressure oil pipelines and to abduct oil workers on behalf of the masterminds for peanuts. The greedy oil-thieving elite pollute not only the environment while stealing the oil, they also often steal the innocence of the vulnerable minors and create more problems to the society as these kids who are the products of their illicit dalliances are abandoned to their fate. These exploitations and choking experiences are felt everywhere in Bonny, Eleme, Okrika, Port-Harcourt, Odi, Toruama, Egiama, Koko, Ekpetiama, Umuechem, and many other Niger Delta oil-bearing and facilities-hosting communities.
The author blames the Land Use Act as another imposition that the government has used to expropriate the lands of the people leading to the award of oil blocs and oil mining licences to private individuals and private portfolio corporations connected to the powers – that be. The activities of all these groups have had devastating effects on the environment. It is so discomforting that even with these licences which turn into billions of dollars, there is no reasonable evidence of their presence in the affairs of the people. And in an attempt to address these genuine grievances of the people, statutory interventionist bodies have been created but there is nothing to show for it as these bodies have become a cesspool of corruption.
Having resolved the riddle of the oil thief and the impact on the ecosystem of the Niger Delta, the story returns to General Buba who is still in Aso Rock Villa as the guest of the President and Commander-in-Chief. In the end, apparently arising from the security report on the Niger Delta written and presented to the President by the General, the latter is appointed Commander, Guards Brigade. It is hoped that with this appointment, a new lease of life would be ushered in the Niger Delta with a view to truly developing the area. It is also expected that the lessons taught the General by the vibrant and activist Wokolo would not be in vain. This is because the voice of Wokolo pricks the conscience of the General and by extension other looters and violators of the Niger Delta environment.
What crystalises from the foregoing is a deliberate attempt by HRM, King Dakolo to expose the environmental terrorism and allied extreme socio-economic and health concerns affecting his people. It is noteworthy that a traditional ruler is so much concerned about the death knell placed on the entire Niger Delta by profit-making multinational corporations and the Nigerian state. Many traditional rulers work in cahoots with these forces to enrich themselves to the detriment of their people and communities but in the case of King Dakolo, he is using his education, military exposure, political and legal awareness, contacts and every good value at his disposal to fight environmental and social injustices that the politics of oil and gas has brought to bear in the Niger Delta.
What comes away from the reading of this book is the irrefutable fact that Nigeria exists because of the continuous flow of oil and gas and that the moment these resources cease to flow, those who talk glibly of Nigeria’s indivisibility and indissolubility will change their mantra to that of “the task that must be done is to allow for the unbundling of the country”. This is indeed, a soul-searching and soul-stirring exposé of what Ike Okonta in his book, When Citizens Revolt (2008) describes as the Big Oil. But can those who exploit the people and destroy their environment listen to the cries of the people and their foul mood?
The Riddle of the Oil Thief is no doubt a postmodernist work which brings on board a potpourri of photographic, cinematographic, and other diverse academic and historical materials including published documents to demonstrate that the concerns of the author are by no means a fluke. The work is a clarion call on the entire humanity to come to the aid of the victims of an industry working in cahoots with the Nigerian state and their internal collaborators to cause pain and death on the Niger Delta people to take action.
Given the robustness and profundity of The Riddle of the Oil Thief, it is recommended for those in the Social Sciences, Law, Literary Studies, Military Science, Security Studies, Strategic national institutions and Think-Tanks and even those in the core Sciences. This is because, the author, even though a trained Chemist, is aware of his world arising from his rounded intellectual exposure. The King has become a campaigner who is dealing and hitting at the heart of the Niger Delta crisis. For the King, it is morning yet on creation day!