Writing a book on the Niger Delta as tempting as it is, is an uphill task but Mr. M. O. Ajah Jnr. simplified this task by taking a holistic look at the scenario that has come to be known as the Niger Delta, the background, the problem, the solutions proffered by various people and the way forward.
As big as the book is - 1,240 pages - one is at a dilemma as to what should not have been there or what should have been there that is not there.
M. O. Ajah Jnr. has written from a point of knowledge showing absolute understanding of the Niger Delta, its people, culture problems and militancy. His style is captivating and he discusses the issues with a flat narrative that lures you into the book the more.
The book drives its major strength from a wide use of various styles to convey the message and the solidity of the research carried out by the writer makes the book more compelling to read.
The book starts with the history of the Niger Delta, its peoples, the states and all the areas that make up the states. It then goes ahead to discuss what the issues are and how the conflict gradually developed to become a major factor of national and international concern.
The greatest asset the book has is that it lays out facts bare without forming any opinion. It is left for the reader to discern and apportion blames where necessary according to the dictates of the reader's mind.
In discussing the causes of the crisis, the author mentions issues of environmental degradation and devastation, neglect of the oil producing communities by government and the oil companies who are solely driven by the profit motive; poverty and underdevelopment and the usual inter ethnic wars for supremacy which have shaped the Nigerian society even before the advent of the country as an entity.
Who would have thought about writing a book like this before 1956? Who would have known how the history of this country were to be rewritten from a single discovery in 1956 at Olobiri in the present day Bayelsa State? But that singular discovery has led to many problems and blessings, curses and fortunes, death and births, motion and inertia and of course, the writing of this wonderful book: Nigeria Question: The Price of Niger Delta Oil Money.
Again, the author maintained such style that is engaging and compelling. The book starts with a rich background of the story of oil in the country and the origin and development of various concomitant issues and events that have shaped the oil industry in Nigeria. The histories behind the events are evolved in rather a dramatic manner that the reader wades more into the concaves of the heavily loaded book. For researchers and students of history, the book would be a ready companion, a one-stop shop for a compendium of facts and figures, an indispensable collection of Nigeria's oil movement and the cause of the Black Gold.
With this book, you probably need no other in any form for the purpose of understanding and appreciating the story of the Niger Delta.
Is it about what people have said about the crisis or about oil in Nigeria or about the conflicts and intrigues? You have over one hundred pages of a dose of them. Is it about the rather phenomenal increases of pump prices of oil which have made the Black Gold producer one of the countries with the highest pump prices in the world? You would find the history of those increases, the presidents or the Heads of State that did it, up to the anti climax of full deregulations. And talking of past leaders, the book treats you to a chronological leadership journey of the country from the Azikiwes to the Jonathans and takes out time to expose Yar'Adua/Jonathan rather overlooked 7-point agenda which has seemed to become a mantra. The significance of discussing the agenda lies in its Niger Delta content, part of which has led to the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry.
From there the author carries the journey to a crescendo with a typical glance at the Niger Delta and the nationalities that make up the entity, thereby giving the story a twist that flaunts the blood and flesh of the delta. The discussion in a subtle way presents an inference that is rather poignant vis-à-vis the destruction that has led to the erosion of not only the cultural heritage of a people but their very vine of existence in a manner that evokes pity. The hidden suasion in that particular chapter is the fact that what would have naturally been a blessing of God has led to the curse of the people.
Elevating the journey to a fever peach, Mr. Ajah descends on the struggles yanking out the strugglers in a most benign manner devoid of the usual judgemental approach.
At this point, the journey has become rather a roller coaster one as it anchors at the Bakassi bay discussing the Nigeria Cameroon jinx – a breaking event, if you like, and how a people and the totality of what they represent were sacrifices on the altar of international diplomacy and statesmanship in a subtly bizarre way. The consequences of the event and the oil or local content of it, if you don't mind, are unearthed.
This is closely followed with an x-ray of the fall out of oil prospecting in the delta – gangstarism, joblessness, youth restiveness, the all enticing kidnapping business, extended poverty and prostitution, hawking and child abuse and of course the high cost of living even in very rural communities .
The trip round the delta does not end there as it takes you to the efforts of the Federal Government at solving the issues of development in the region through the creation of many commissions and setting up of various programmes. It touches down on the efforts of governors in the recent past and the pet projects of their beautiful wives towards that end.
In a form that makes it complete as a book on the Niger Delta, the author discusses the stands at various positions of the many pan Niger Delta organisations and their detractors, if you don't mind.
To acquaint you with the terminologies that have come to define the Niger Delta struggles a section of the book was dedicated to unravel many of them. The book moves ahead with a compendium of quotes and statements by Nigerians from various works of life on the Niger Delta question.
The Niger Delta question is a live issue which would continue to agitate the mind of Nigerians evoking various passions and pity, fever and fantasy, seizures and succour and of course pride and prejudices.
What Ajah's book does is to present them with cutting edge research.
However, one observed defect of the book is that of a collection of facts and figures presented in a manner that is not too coercive. It may well be that the book was a contribution in a contest for the biggest books on the earth, but if not, how does one explain the existence of chapters that do not contribute in any way to the development of the story of the book . Such content like the past leaders, some inaugural speeches, the listing of some former governors as strugglers in the battle for the delta, the heavy dose of quotations from various people, the pictures of past Heads of State and current leaders of the Federal Legislature have no additional impact on the book.
Others include the verbatim reproduction of communiqués of various meetings of groups on the Niger Delta which bear similarity to one another and of course the inclusion of the budgets of States of the federation.
In the overall assessment, the book is a quality one recommended for all researchers and students, politicians and all Nigerians as well as the international community. Mr. Ajah has succeeded in adding to the literature of the delta in this major book. It would be difficult to find any book that is more comprehensive like this by Mr. Ajah on the Niger Delta. I stand to be corrected.
Ikenna Emeka Okpani is the Head of Media and Publication, Nigerian Society of Engineers