“It’s kind of nice in here.” said Tony, watching the work men stalk in and out of what he called a bar for want of a better word.
“Yes, it is meant to be, most of the workers spend their spare time here and the woman prepares the best bushmeat pepper soup in base camp.” said Obi, who was polishing off the last piece of grasscuter.
Tony looked around at the other customers who apart from the first curious glance towards their table were not paying them any special interest. Apparently they were used to white men coming into the shed. His attention was caught by an elderly man whose grey crown bestowed him a sort of dignified poise. The old man was looking at him with unabashed interest.
As Tony returned his stare inquiringly, he stood up from his seat and walked with a purposeful gait towards their table.
“May I,” He said and pulled a seat and sank into it “I am pa Inigite.” He held out his right hand toward Tony.
“Good day sir.” Tony said, taking the proffered hand
“nno sir,” Obi said. Tony noted that he clasped chief Inigite’s hand with both of his; he wondered if that was a mark of respect.
“Thank you my son. How is your work?”
“Are you still in 3rd base?”
“I hope they post you out of that swamp soon enough.”
“We can only hope sir.”
“Yes that is correct, hope is good my boy, at least for someone your age.”
Chief Inigite turned to Tony who was listening to the exchange with detached interest. “I see you are new here?”
“Not really sir,” Tony said wondering how the chief would know all the expatriates in base camp. “This is my 6th month here.”
“That’s new by our standard,’ said chief Inigite ‘have you yet toured the swamps?”
“A little sir, I and a friend tried a hike but it wasn’t a pleasant experience any way, maybe in the dry season I will try again.” Tony said
Chief Inigite looked at him incredulously “you attempted to cross the swamp on foot in the rainy season?”
“Yes sir, we thought it would give us a feel of the tropics and maybe add up to an adventure.”
“It’s rather dangerous to enter the swamp without a guide especially at the height of the rainy season.” Obi said, a look of concern on his face “you could have encountered dangerous animals.”
“Or the militants.” chief Inigite added
“The militants, I thought that had been taken care off?”
“That’s what the government will have you believe.” Obi said
“Not unless you take care of the Niger Delta,” said chief Inigite ‘every Niger Delta youth is a potential militant and believe me, the number is growing.”
“Obi said something of that sort to me earlier. Back home we didn’t know the damage is as much as this.” He waved his hands for emphasis, everywhere.
“Believe your eyes more than your ears my son, for the truth is more visibly to the naked eyes and the ears are susceptible to the lie of men. This policy of degradation has being on going for years.”
“Isn’t there a conceivable way possible’ Tony shopped for words, ‘through which government can be made to be more responsible to the needs of the Niger delta?”
“What haven’t we tried?” Asked chief Inigite. “We’ve sent reps to Abuja, even tried this militancy in the early days with the Isaac Boro example, all to no avail. I believe it will take a concerted effort from the government and your oil companies to make a difference. You see this Youngman with you; he is an example of our future. With all his education he is condemned to a life of mediocrity as a paid labourer, while our God given wealth is shipped to the west and paid into trust funds of silver spooned brats” He paused to take a sip of palm wine, turning to Tony he pointed a bony upwards “God alone is our witness and he is judge over us and our oppressors”
Tony was nodding his head in agreement with the old chief who was then shouting for Madam Shine to replenish his wine.
“Or do you think that it is every day that Inigite sits with a sympathetic white man?” He asked the smiling Madam Shine who bustled up to do his bidding.
“You see, it didn’t start today” He continued, “I recall vividly the day, about 50 years ago when the Shell people came first to Oloibiri, I was there, a young man, in my late twenties. They came at about the time the sun was setting and women heading home from the market. Unlike now, their coming was like a carnival, though some of us had already come into contact with the white man, their presence was still rare enough to cause a stir. Children and grown men were jostling to see the visitors better. We escorted them to the elders. Once there, they informed us that they came to look for oil. It did not sound strange to us since we had for years sold palm oil to the UAC Company at Nembe, Akassa and Abonema. It was when they said no, that it was the one underneath, that we became confused. We welcomed them all the same gave them land freely and the settled to look for their oil. We did not know that we were digging our own grave. The very first oil well was found in Oloibiri and as is the way of the white man, they collected the oil and left, but not after draining the last drop and despoiling our land. Let me make it clear to you, they did not leave anything in Oloibiri, not even a school. What they left is the environmental damage caused by the dangerous chemicals they pumped into the land and rivers and the affluent from their cursed oil. No compensation was paid because we did not sign any memorandum of understanding, how were we to know that they were supposed to pay for any damage caused.” He stopped to drain his palm wine, adjusted himself and bridged his fingers, before continuing, “We saw a lot of discrimination back them. Instead of building houses in the community they chose to bring house boats with them. Yes, they lived in house boats. You can imagine how the house boats looked at night when viewed from the dark village a few meters away, we believed them to be in heaven and almost worshiped them as gods. You may ask why we did not complain, but remember that the white man believed himself superior to the black man and taught same in schools, this was the mentality then so we accepted it and sealed our fate.”
Excerpt from “Rivers of Blood”