Residents of Otuoke in Bayelsa State have been singing like the ancient mariner in Samuel Coleridge’s poem: “Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.” We heard, last week, that they buy sachets of water for drinking and cooking, because the rivers surrounding them have become useless.  Crude oil has polluted both well water and river water.

Certain commentators have criticised former President Goodluck Jonathan for being unable to provide clean water for his people. Perhaps, Jonathan is not to blame. Agitation for better conditions of living in the Niger Delta dates to the 1970s on account of the activities of oil explorers in the area. Fishermen no longer see fish to catch and the people who live inside water no longer have clean water to drink, thanks to oil exploration and exploitation. Does it mean the water cannot be purified and piped to homes in towns like Otuoke? This is something local governments could have done easily.

For long, too, Abuja residents have mimicked the ancient mariner: “Houses, houses everywhere/ And yet not a room to live in.”  Several sprawling estates now dot the city’s landscape.  Most of the houses are occupied by rodents or lizards or wall geckos. In fact, Asokoro, designed for the rich alone, is half-empty. Blocks of flats and magnificent buildings are up for sale in Maitama, Wuse and Garki. There are few buyers, however. And eligible tenants are too few — not many can pay N12million per year for a duplex in Maitama and Asokoro or N5million for a flat in Utako and Garki.

As many of us have discovered, thieves in government own most of the empty houses. They were built with stolen funds – funds stolen by “civil” servants and their collaborators.  Only recently, the ICPC started directing its searchlight on civil servants who own properties worth more than what they can earn legitimately in a lifetime. I know the anti-graft agency cannot go far. If it’s serious, it should simply seize all unoccupied buildings in Abuja.

In a way, the contradictions witnessed in Otuoke and Abuja highlight the uncommon greed of Nigerians and its collateral damage. While cash is dispensed to “ex-militants” under the amnesty programme, the welfare of non-militants is ignored. Government, it seems, has only been interested in placating restive youths. Oil companies have been more interested in milking the soil of millions of barrels per day than in thinking about the people who live on the very soil. The discovery that things as basic as clean water are lacking in Otuoke puts a lie to the claims of the oil companies over the years. They have not been discharging their corporate social responsibilities in the proper way.  Perhaps, like the Nigerian government, they have been offering bribes to local chiefs and violent young men. Scholarships, amnesty programme and menial jobs do not solve people’s problems for long.

For the 16 years that Jonathan was in government as deputy governor, governor, vice president and president, he certainly empowered many of his relations from Otuoke. That explains the presence of many beautiful houses in the town. He also attracted a university to Otuoke. But, as the nouveaux rich must have found out now, money has not solved their basic problems like water. Electric power supply is still erratic. And the threat of flooding is real: In 2012, floods drove many from their homes. Even the country-home of then President Jonathan was not spared.

In Abuja in 2015, we are still faced with accommodation crises because of the greed of a few. Consider the Centenary Village that has been planned to occupy over 1, 600 hectares of land. The identities of the “private investors” to whom such expanse of land was allocated are being unveiled. I won’t comment further until the litigants return from court. We know, however, that a large part of the Federal Capital Territory has been allocated to retired generals, permanent secretaries, ministers, governors, ambassadors and their cronies. Currently, many districts are in court with the FCDA over illegal revocations or superimpositions of land. So far, the FCDA has not won any case that I know of.

The lesson that Otuoke and Abuja should teach us is that greed, selfishness and wickedness do not pay. In every community, in every town and city, the poor and the rich must co-exist. Neither class can live happily without the other living happily also.

Since the return of “democracy” in 1999 and the oil boom accompanying it until recently, we have seen big houses built by politicians. Car owners have multiplied. Local government councillors drive brand new cars. LG chairmen have built houses rivalling those built by governors and lawmakers. Yet, there is no electricity. There is no clean water. Roads are death-traps. New crimes (terrorism, kidnapping) have emerged.

Moral? Throwing money at a few will not reduce poverty in the land. Only projects that benefit communities will. Therefore, let government at every level pay greater attention to provision of water, rural roads and electricity. When these basic necessities are in place, the people can easily climb out of the poverty hole by themselves.

— By ANIEBO NWAMU

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