10 December 2008

The Deceit Called NGOs in the Niger Delta

Written by Pemii Ben

One age-old tenet that has survived decades of adulteration and willful mitigation is this simple-sounding, yet hard-to-practice golden rule: “do unto others what you will like others to do unto you.” This rule that is enshrined in the Christians’ Holy Book-the bible- finds a deduction in the worlds of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism which is the Law of Karma. In its proper interpretation, this Law of Karma states that every cause has its effect, and what one reaps is the direct consequence of what one sows. In other words, it emphasizes the need to be considerate to others and help them in their time of need. In the Christian realm, this is usually called Christian charity. But in the secular society, it is called humanitarian aid.

Lots of people that live in the Niger Delta can shut their eyes and recite the litany of needs that plague them and how deep-biting it is when these needs are not met even as they sit in the midst of plenty, carted away to meet the needs of people elsewhere. Initially, locals of the region never knew how to confront these economic oppressors disguised as friends. When the core of this enmity was laid bare through the resulting economic strangulation, it became necessary to speak out for reprieve. This is how the late Isaac Boro spearheaded the movement for economic change in the Niger Delta. Boro was misunderstood and sent to an untimely grave by the enemies of progress.

After Boro’s death, another bleak period ensued and it looked as if the Niger Delta would perish forever under backbreaking economic deprivations. Suddenly, there was another sunrise that came in the form of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his renaissance that shook the economic oppressors to their roots. Saro-Wiwa was accused of heading a secessionist movement and his enemies plotted the death of his kinsmen in May 1994. He was accused of the murder of four of his own tribe, and he, alongside eight others, was consigned to a heartbreaking grave on November 10, 1995, against world pleas for amnesty.

Saro-Wiwa said often that his was a battle of the brain and the pen and not that of guns and machetes, but since Nigeria refused to honor a peaceful struggle, the country will eventually contend with armed struggle. Today, his prediction has come true.

The initial charge leveled against Niger Deltans was that indigenes of the region were not organized in their demands, and that they never spoke with one voice and that there was no umbrella of representation. Following this, all shades of groups arose out of nowhere, but were nothing but fronts to enrich certain individuals and their followers. Those who formed the groups that were so richly “blessed,” deemed it fit to form even more groups, coining fine names that served personal, rather than collective purposes.

Like militancy and kidnapping, the formation of Non-Governmental Organisations became an innovative and lucrative trade. The language for the struggle, as far as the proliferated NGOs are concerned, began to change to “dialogue”, “youth empowerment and employment”, “re-orientation” and most recently, “sustainable development”. These beautiful concepts were bastardized and used to serve other ends. Those who have long legs, able to traverse the corridors of power, claimed fallacious representations of sections of the entire Niger Delta, formed delegations that spoke the minds of no genuine Niger Deltan, pocketed the huge sums, and smiled all the way home with take away packages. Seeing the prosperous nature of the new strategic way of trading with the Niger Delta question, the NGO-formation trade boomed significantly and a veritable non-profit industrial complex has become entrenched in the region.

Today, top political appointees and other high-ranking civil servants fabricate all manner of names and even claim to represent non-existent NGOs. These supposed groups are conduits constructed directly to personal bank accounts. The reactions to the testimonies some of the founders of these fraudulent NGOs give in churches are baffling. People give thunderous ovations for the lies well coined, and the liars go ahead to pay tithes on this blood money to the ‘holy churches’. We only hear of the inauguration of these NGOs. The next we hear is fundraising to “enable us meet the challenges in the Niger Delta.” Immediately after the funds are collected, they disappear. The ‘generous’ ones waste some of the money collected on their siblings and package them for public presentations as the fruit of “our endeavors”. The moment such dramatic scenes happen, know that its time to collect more funds. Others simply bid farewell to the public glare after the ‘prestigious’ fundraising and make remarks like: “after all, government officials do worse things with our money!” You may not blame these ‘decent’ militants and astute kidnappers of public funds. After all, some of the government officials they talk about have perpetual apartments in 5-star hotels paid for, with public funds too.

Ironically, the aid that comes to the Niger Delta that has any true impact, comes from the Western world through credible NGOs that really know and feel at heart the pains of human agony and who know the implications of the kind of abject penury those in the Niger Delta face. These NGOs hurry to the aid of the Niger Deltans at their own expense. When some of these foreign NGOs seek government partnership to enable them reach a larger number of the suffering people, the reply in most cases, is in the negative. So the question now arises: who is really killing the Niger Deltans?

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