Tekena Nitonye Tamuno’s Oil Wars in the Niger Delta is a true life story of oppression, unending exploitation and pains of the Niger Delta people. Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy reviews
Tekena Nitonye Tamuno’s Oil Wars in the Niger Delta (1849-2009) provides accurate records of events that have taken place in the Niger Delta region, especially as it relates to oil. And when we say oil, we do not only refer to crude oil but also to palm oil. Yes, long before the discovery of crude oil, the area today known as the Niger Delta region had mostly engaged in the trade of palm oil with European traders who later tried to take over control of this trade from them. With this began the struggle against oppression, exploitation, and the glaring poverty that has configured the Niger Delta till date.
I would not claim that the book provides an unbiased view to issues because it simply does not (we know on whose side the author is). Yet, it did not fail in sampling opinions and ideas of other stakeholders on the other side of the divide. But who dares to request objectivity from a writer whose people are maimed for seeking justice, equity, and development, a writer who has participated actively in the search for lasting peace and development in his region? Hence, while we may say the book lacks the objectivity required of an historian, we might as well be glad that we are reading about these historical events from one who at a stage was compelled to participate in the negotiations towards the establishment of peace and development in the Niger Delta region. What we as good judges must now do is to take other accounts into consideration while passing judgements.
However, truth be said, the people of the Niger Delta have experienced much exploitation and oppression. Their leaders have been kidnapped, jailed, and killed for appealing to the god of justice and equity. But the greatness of this people of the Niger Delta is not in the fact that they have endured all these punishments and have survived this long, certainly not! Their greatness lies in the fact that at all times they have never relented in rising, confronting, and fighting against oppression and exploitation in whatever form it appears on their land. They have fought a grim battle, and with the death of one leader come the rise of many others. They have refused to be cowed and intimated by the superior forces of the government and have fought towards their redemption from oppression and exploitation.
In Oil Wars in the Niger Delta, Tekena N Tamuno takes us through the brackish water of the Niger Delta terrain tracing events from the days of King William Dappa Pepper (Perekule V) of Bonny, Jubo Jubogha (Jaja) of Opobo, Chief Nana Olomu of Itsekiri, Oba Ovonramwem of Benin, and King Koko (all influential people who rose against British control and domination of the local palm oil trade market and were dealt with in various manners by the British) to the era of Isaac Adaka Boro and Kenule Saro Wiwa, and down to the time of the rise of Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo, Chief Ateke Tom, Government Tompolo, Boyloaf, and other militant generals who choose a life in the forest and creeks infested with mosquitoes while confronting the federal government military forces over a life of poverty, penury, disaster, exploitation and oppression.
Tamuno brings us closer to the world of these militants shattering the illusion that they are terrorists, criminals, vandals, kidnappers, and what’s not. Tamuno tells us of their struggles and what could have inspired them and that nothing but genuine love for their land could have urged them towards militancy. There is no way you will read this book and not wonder at how we all have been part of the conspiracy to keep the people of the Niger Delta under perpetual suppression and exploitation. Proceeds from crude oil harvested from their lands have financed Nigeria’s budgets, the proceeds have been used to build and develop Abuja and other parts of the country–except the Niger Delta itself where the oil comes from! We really have not offered them a fair treatment and they deserve apologies from us for years of destruction, death and disaster occasioned on that land since the discovery of crude oil. The Nigerian government should apologize also for the death of the “Ogoni Nine”, for the “Odi Massacre” and for stealing what belongs to the people of the Niger Delta region.
So, Tekena Nitonye Tamuno’s Oil Wars in the Niger Delta is not just history, it is a true life story. It is a story of oppression and suppression, it is a story about unending exploitation, it is a story of pain and grim struggles, it is a story of a people who would rather fight till death than submit to the pollution of their waters and lands (as well as a general degradation of the environment), and it is a story that is bound to leave you sad hearted after reading it. This book is a call for the need to pay attention to the goose that lays the golden eggs and the renegotiations of the conditions binding our existence as an entity (Nigeria). Indeed, the book is much more than just history!
Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.