Emanating from this frame of mind is the firm view, until proven otherwise, that the operators of the Federal Government, Nigeria Ports Authority, and all the other agencies involved in the administration of our country’s seaports stand accused of deliberately engineering the neglect and scandalous decay of the sea ports in their area because they are minority people.
The rise and fall of these Delta sea ports is symptomatic of the lack of justice, equity and fair play in how democracy has been conducted in Nigeria since the attainment of self-rule in 1960 borne out of the crudity of the political leaders from the ethic majority tribes of Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo who have indulged in unbridled tribalism, naked nepotism, regionalism and mindless corruption in the governance of the country for their selfish and narrow-minded goals.
They have greatly used these vices to oppress and abuse the minority ethnic groups, and the story of the neglect of the five Delta ports fits squarely into this syndrome of “mans inhumanity to man” that has been visited upon the Niger-Delta region in the last four decades.
For this, the country is now paying the avoidable costly price of an on-going hugely destructive youth militancy in the region, which has virtually snowballed into a guerilla war. This might sound alarmist, but, the reality on the ground is that the Federal Government has stationed the Joint Task Force, JTF, in the region to suppress the actions of these young men, better described as freedom fighters.
Sadly, the lives of many Niger-Delta youths and soldiers have been lost in this raging military altercation.
In spite of the toll of this war of attrition on the nation's economy, there is little evidence to show that the Federal Government, under the collective and continuous control of the ethnic majorities, truly understands the grievances of the Niger Delta people, and its refusal to accept the severally proffered straight-forward solutions to this crisis has prompted the assertion that the Niger Delta crisis was borne out of a conspiracy of the ethnic majority groups to perpetually oppress and dominate the ethnic minorities: Niger-Delta region being one of them. To them, might is right.
In the beginning, the British merchants came to our Atlantic shores to buy slaves, but when slave trade was abolished, they shifted their attention to trade in agricultural commodities and, for this, they needed to build sea ports for their ships to berth and evacuate agricultural raw materials such as palm oil, rubber, cocoa, timber, hides and skin and groundnuts to their home country for use in their factories.
Therefore, sea ports were built at Lagos, Warri, Port-Harcourt, Burutu, Calabar and Forcados, by the British trading companies. Eventually, these Sea ports became the hub of the economic activities in the country, and unarguably the Delta Ports of Burutu, Warri, Sapele, Forcados and Koko played very significant roles in the export of agricultural raw materials and import of the few building and construction materials that came into the country.
Specifically, Burutu had highly developed port facilities that included a slip way for the repair of ships, an oil mill, and huge warehouses because of her strategic position as the terminal port for evacuation of goods brought from Baro and Garua in Northern Cameroon and Lokoja and Kafanchan in Northern Nigeria, to the United Kingdom.
The Island was home to a good number and variety of expatriate and local engineers in the marine and shipping industry. Warri and Sapele ports attracted considerable maritime activities and were also very busy providing jobs and a good quality life for the people in the area. This was a glorious period in the life of the people of these towns with Burutu show-casing what could be achieved in a prosperous multi-ethnic community devoid of bad leadership.
The entire Warri province benefited hugely from good social infrastructure, functional schools and hospitals as part of the Western Region from revenue earned from port activities. Suddenly, the country was plunged into a civil war precipitated by the ideological differences and ego struggle between the young military chaps from the ethnic majority tribes. The Hausa/Fulani, supported by the Yorubas, fought against the Igbo who had sought to secede from Nigeria to form their own country, Biafra.
This war triggered the exodus of people from the port towns of Warri, Sapele, Forcados and Burutu back to their indigenous ethnic territories.
Thus began the decline of the fortunes of the hitherto prosperous Delta ports and an unstoppable march to ruins orchestrated and sustained by the country’s rulers from the ethnic majority tribes ensued, from which they are still to recover in 2008.
Once the Niger River Transport Company, NRT, deserted Burutu, the decay of the port progressed rapidly. Forcados and Koko ports became haven for rodents and reptiles. Prof. P.Clark has produced a documentary, called “Oil at the bottom” narrating the travails of Burutu over the years and it is a sore on the conscience of the nation.
The thought that Delta ports will regain their glory after the civil war began to wane when successive regimes after Gowon forgot these ports in their plans. Everything that had to do with sea ports took place at Lagos. Apapa and Tin Can ports became the major ports for the export and import of goods. Not even the establishment of the Delta Steel Company, Ovwian -Aladja, nor the Warri Petroleum and Refining Company, Ekpan, could attract attention to the Warri Port.
The new structures put there by Gowon turned into white elephants, while Sapele Port was handed over to the Nigerian Navy.
Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, mindlessly ensured that the Burutu Port, which anchored the lucrative River Niger/Benue waterways trade conducted by the British merchants, died irredeemably. Rather than improve upon the slipway for the repair and building of ocean liners and other types of seacrafts, a dockyard was developed in Lagos.
There is no other reason for the neglect of the Delta ports and lopsided development and patronage of the Lagos ports than a conspiracy by Federal authorities (read Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo rulers) to oppress and abuse the minority ethnic groups of the Niger-Delta despite the enormous oil resources being earned from the region. Painfully, Niger-Deltans have always had very weak political leadership that could not defend her rights.
How come that the NPA has never been headed by a Niger Deltan? All the other senior staff usually come from the ethnic majority tribes. The oil industry is completely in the hands of persons from the ethnic majorities epitomized by the refusal of President Yar’ Adua to appoint a Deltan as NNPC’s Managing Director
. Niger-Deltans have always been spectators in how their land is exploited. I think it smacks of thoughtlessness for any Nigerian who is not from the Niger-Delta region to make odious comments in which the youth of the region are accused of being criminals. The origin of the Niger-Delta crisis is firmly rooted in the unimaginable neglect of the area by successive federal governments after they had appropriated to themselves total control of the oil industry and used the revenue earned to develop their parts of the country.
The occasional escapades of criminality should not detract from the fact that the Niger-Delta crisis is a genuine struggle by an oppressed people to free themselves from institutionalized bondage and exploitation.
It is believed that the country would have since disintegrated if the country’s petroleum resource had been found in the land of the ethnic majorities. Inexplicably, the neglect and subsequent dilapidated state of the five Delta ports have not attracted serious redress from the Federal Government in her economic reform programmes and also, strangely, the people of the area have not found the strong voice with which to protest and resist this carefully hatched conspiracy against them by the Federal Government.
On a recent visit to Apapa Wharf and the Tin Can ports, I observed the sickening economic senselessness in not developing the Delta ports. The Lagos ports are so congested, operating with a legion of corrupt practices in the services they render.
All manner of tank forms, oil depots, containers and heavy duty trucks litter the area and our country is suffering for this economically. Is it not easier to move goods from any of the Delta ports to the Eastern and Northern ports of the country than from Tin Can ports? Why then does the Federal Government not dredge the Escravos bar or the entrance to the Benin River to enable big ships come into the Delta ports?
Deltans are admonished to take up the challenge of ensuring that their ports are made functional again. This is the surest way of creating jobs for the famished youths and reduction of restiveness in the Niger Delta region. It remains a tragedy of immense proportions that the economic experts of our country have not seen the need for the resuscitation of the Delta ports that will remove the pressure from the Lagos ports.
The history of the Warri/Sapele/Burutu axis of Delta State is solidly founded on the fortunes of these five seaports. But, for them, their great sons and daughters of today will not have emerged. However, it is disappointing that these beneficiaries of the ports have abandoned them today. It will be a great disservice to the area, to allow the Delta ports to die unsung, and let the economic downturn in the area continue unabated.