2023 and the Political Strategy of Weaponizing Poverty

Poverty in Ogoni, a south eastern indigenous community in Nigeria is extreme, making it one of the most unattractive destinations for resettlements and tourism in Nigeria. But while the agonizing misery paints a rather gloomy picture for the future, its political leadership have exploited and weaponized it to win elections.
Ogoni is home to approximately 1,000,000 people inhabiting the south eastern parts of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Widely described as a gas field with some oil, Ogoni is the most naturally endowed region of Nigeria with oil production capacity exceeding 1,000,000 barrels per day. Official sources put it at 350,000 barrels per day. But the official figures exemplify the fraud and corruption that has rocked the Nigerian oil industry where the country;s exact oil production capacity is not known, refineries will never work, companies will pollute and destroy people’s environment and livelihoods and turn around to point accusing fingers at community sabotage just to avoid responsibility. Where Shell will drill over 100 oil wells and declare a meagre 28,000 barrels a day as total output.
The result of the gross mismanagement of Ogoni’s natural resources and the vast agricultural resources of indigenous communities throughout the country has resulted in monumental poverty. An unfortunate situation that has played into the hands of the political leadership.
Addressing this challenge has been a political campaign strategy for decades. Every four years, we are told and promised better schools, roads, security, electricity, jobs and much more. With hopes of a better life, the jobless youths have been exploited and armed into a political violent contest called elections. Every civil society group that can be compromised is bribed to provide an endorsement as a tool to cover the wicked acts of funding armed gangs which are deployed during the elections. So while young people search and hope for something better, the sordid situation has somewhat been sustained by the political leadership for electoral gains.
Although the peculiar situation of utter neglect in Ogoni makes it really deplorable, the situation is not far from the experiences nationwide. Youth unemployment in Nigeria had been projected to hit 73 million in 2022. Nearly 150 percent increase from the 2014 average which stood at 14.2 percent suggesting that 33 percent of our population would have been unemployed by the end of 2022.
The situation in Ogoni is far more difficult. The people live on subsistence farming and there are simply no opportunities for our teaming population. There is simply a lack of basic infrastructure to support any reasonable economic growth and the possibility of stimulating such a process is simply nonexistent as the environment lacks basic infrastructure for vivifying the desired economic growth.
The outcome has become self destructive in the hands of a political leadership, crime rate is unprecedented and there are no pragmatic efforts to curb malfeasance . The business of young people today is to join a gang of hoodlums working for a political office holder or aspirant and get paid for exterminating any form of opposition against their principal.
While unemployed youths grapple with how to feed daily, the political leadership finds it an opportunity to arm them, offer meagre patronages and demolish opponents during elections and after their well planned mayhem are executed, they blame the security agents for failures.
I hold strongly and maintain that the insecurity the country faces all over is the design of decision makers and not actually the failure of the ministry of defense, Police or other groups with responsibility for national security. While I admit that the security agents have been culpable in some cases and should take some blame, there are several questions that have been left unanswered.
For example, how did young unemployed people gain access to what they call AKK47 rifles? Has the Nigeria Customs been questioned about how small arms have been smuggled through our borders into the country? Is it the failure of the Nigeria Customs Service or the inability of the Police to deal with crime that has led to the proliferation of small arms in our society? Why has the Police been unable to unravel the source of funding for gangsters despite several arrests?
The answers could be very simple but too big for the Police. to declare publicly. It is because those who take decisions on how society is run actually fund the shipment and arming of our unemployed youths and the Police are too afraid of confrontation.
But the sure way to end the spate of criminality in my Ogoni country and in Nigeria will be for the Police to stop protecting those who fund the gangsters they arrest. If they fail or refuse to take this action, then we may have a more difficult battle dealing with crime as we approach the 2023 elections.
Fegalo Nsuke is President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He wrote from Abuja, Nigeria.

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