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"Crabs in a Basket Mentality" in Niger Delta
Written by Ochereome Nnanna

Recently Governor Ikedi Ohakim was in Lagos to deliver a lecture at the invitation of a Lagos-based Igbo professional group known as Aka Ikenga.

The lecture was aimed at re-branding an Igbo nation that survived the Nigerian civil war over about forty years ago to enable it thrive in a new Nigerian and global environment.

The essence of Ohakim's message was simply that after years of blaming external forces and factors for the perceived marginalization of the Igbo nation since the war ended, it was now time for the people to look inwards and recognize their own internal weaknesses have not done them any good.

He made reference to what he called "the nsiko mentality". According to him, the nsiko (crabs) once they find themselves in a basket, act foolishly. Every one of them wants to escape from the basket to freedom.

But rather than each of them concentrating on their individual escape bids they engage in pulling each other down. In the end no one escapes and each crab ends in the soup pot of the enemy. This is unlike snails, which are slower but wiser in that they concentrate in escaping rather than fighting each other.

Today, the people of the Niger Delta are engaged in what most Nigerians agree is a right cause: an agitation for a just and fair recompense to a region and its peoples who have been neglected for decades despite the fact that their environment has provided the Nigerian nation with the petroleum resources to maintain its economic and political livelihood.

Some have chosen to engage the struggle intellectually. Some have picked up peaceful but bold open agitation through the media and other means of public awareness creation. And yet others have gone to the extreme of waging an armed struggle in their belief that the campaign for a peaceful resolution of the problem has not (and would probably never) yield positive results.

As it so often happens in situations like these, some have also turned the agitation to a means of personal profiteering. During the height of the civil war, some people inside Biafra turned the war into huge merchandise through which they made fortunes.

The same thing is happening in the Niger Delta struggle. Some have become gun runners and oil bunkerers. Some have formed cartels of community-based organization (CBO's) and non-governmental organizations (NGO's).

Some of these organizations perform the useful function of raising awareness and promoting dialogue, while others are simply faceless blackmailers who often target organisations and efforts that are actually working for the good of the people of the zone.

The other day, I listened to Asu Beks, a journalist and one of the promoters of genuine dialogue towards the peaceful resolution the Niger Delta crisis.

He came on Channels Television to recount the horrible nightmare he and his colleagues running a legitimate business for a telecommunications outfit are going through in the hands of extortionists masquerading as "Niger Delta youths".

These "youths" would not allow even Beks, one of their own, to set up telecom towers to provide access to communication to the people living in the wilderness of this embattled region. Beks complained that his outfit lost over ten million naira to the extortionists.

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has also suffered untold victimization from all sides. The Federal Government would not release funds lawfully due to it. Oil companies would not pay their lawfully obligated fees to the Commission.

Whoever gets appointed to run the affairs of the Commission becomes the target of vicious media campaign of calumny.

The current Managing Director, Mr. Timi Alaibe, has been personally targeted, and the people associated with this problem are mostly his Ijaw kinsmen and women. The nsiko mentality is in full play.

I don't agree with some NDDC insiders who have described calls for a probe of the financial affairs of the Commission as "annoying".

Anyone whose hands are clean will be happy to be probed because it will be the avenue to confirm to the world that he has no case to answer. It will also provide an opportunity to advertise the good work you have done if any.

That was exactly what happened last April when the House of Representatives Committee on the Niger Delta summoned the management of the Commission to present the report of its activities in the past seven years. The hearing was well attended by stakeholders.

The Commission came out if it with a vote of confidence. The House Committee was so impressed that it made a public undertaking to help in pursuing the moneys owed the Commission by the federal government.

The various groups in the Niger Delta need to come together and do some soul searching.

They will find out that in addition to the Federal Government and the oil companies, a great chunk of their problem comes from among them, especially the penchant of some of their elements to put their selfish interests ahead of the noble objectives of developing the zone.

The confusion being generated by self-seekers targeting their own brothers and sisters is only adding to the problem.