* At independence we did very well until Yakubu Gowon’s Decree 51
* My motivation for writing this book is to fill gaps, redirect the conversation
* The IOCs, Nigerian government have told sustained lies about us
* The real thieves have been calling us thieves
* They take away my resource and weaponise it to demean my people
By Anote Ajeluorou
THE ‘goose that lays the golden egg’ is how the Niger Delta region is often described judging from the quantum of economic benefits it yields the entire country, ”except those from whose backyards the oil wealth is extracted,” His Majesty King of Ekpetiama Kingdom and novelist, Bubaraye Dakolo, is quick to remind his listeners. Countless writers before now, such as Ken Saro-Wiwa, Gordini G. Darah, Ahmed Yerima, Tanure Ojaide, Ogaga Ifowodo, Obari Gomba, Ebi Yeibo, Peter Omoko, Stephen Kekeghe and many others have weaponised their art as potent activism tools to draw attention to the region’s woes requiring immediate remediation by the Nigerian government and the International Oil Companies (IOCs). In over 60 years of oil exploration, not much has come by way of development for the oil-bearing host commnities to which Ekpetiama in Bayelsa State belongs.
Now, HM Dakolo has lent his royal literary voice to the unconscionable injustices and abuses the region continues to suffer in his debut novel, ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’ published by the Amara Chimeka-led Purple Shelves publishing outfit. While some of his colleagues aid and abet the oil companies in defrauding their fellow citizens by selling out and collecting bribes to silence agitations for amenities and better welfare in their various communities, HM Dakolo has taken a diametrically different route to out those who profit and continue to perpetrate the abyssmal neglect of the region.
So, he asks a disturbing question, which is at the root of the region’s travails: ”Who are the owners of the oil wells in the region? Are the oil well owners the chiefs or kings or indigenes of the Niger Delta? Do the oil wells not belong to people who do not come from the region? What justification ensures such evil profiteering at the expense of the real owners of the oil wealth?”
His Majesty Dakolo is perhaps the first royal personage to grace the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2021) in its 23-year history armed with his own book to exhibit. He attended most of the events and spoke candidly about issues plaguing the country and specifically his blighted Niger Delta region. He had a Book Trek session ‘Joy of Reading 2’ on Day 6, Saturday, November 20, 2021 devoted to him and discussions around his novel, ‘The Riddle eof the Oil Thief’, an expose of the politics of unjust exclusion of the real owners of Nigeria’s oil wealth. Achalugo Chioma E. engaged the Ekpetiama king for an hour.
Raised by a teacher for a mother and a father who was equally educated, King Dakolo didn’t have a choice in the matter. He would later become a schoolteacher before joining the army and returning to be king. He said the ”case of Bayelsa State (and other states in the Niger Delta) is the case of a people who are wealthy but live as puapers, because they are prevented from being wealthy”, having been stripped of the oil resource beneath their feet and given to people from elsewhere. He traced the wealth in the region to as far back as when the Europeans began to make inroads into the West African coast, saying people in the region were first to have trading contacts with Europe and so became wealthy, from trade in slaves and later to the oil palm business before crude oil wealth. He submitted that as a result, people in the region have no business being poor, because the region is primed for wealth by its location that always has something to offer the world. But the reality of the Nigerian state has denied the region what is due to it, he lamented.
”When the Europeans visited, they met us first and we’ve always been rich,” he said. ”All through we were always comfortable. Even during colonialism, we did well; at independence we also did very well until 1969 (Yakubu Gowon enacts Decree 51) when things changed and we haven’t been the same. So, my motivation for writing this book is to fill the gaps, to fill the lacuna, to fill the spaces and redirect the conversation to its proper place.
”The story is that of the IOCs and the Nigerian government, then foreign governments, too; they have told sustained lies about us and the oil situation. So when they say a state like Bayelsa is insolvent, I laugh. How can a state so endowed with oil wealth be insolvent? My objective is to fill that space with facts couched in fiction to avoid litigation.”
His Majesty Dakolo said he has enough credentials to write authoritatively about the plight of the Niger Delta, saying he was born in Otuabagi where the first oil well was drilled and not at Oloibiri as erroneously canvassed. He said he witnessed it as a schoolboy who trekked to Okrika every day where he attended primary school. He said 60,000 barrels of oil is being drilled daily in his community worth N2 billion, but that the community is worse in terms of amenities in spite the huge revenue coming from its soil.
”The real thieves have been calling us thieves,” HM Dakolo fumed. ”If you read the book you will understand why Nigeria is the way it is and what needs to be done to fix it. If you give Nigeria to me, I can fix it in three years and make it a world power.
A trained soldier and security expert, HM Dakolo said each time government sent the military to the region, they went there with ”the mindset that they have come to deal with the economic sabotuers, but I educate them on the real situation and then they begin to understand. Circumstances in the Niger Delta have made many people to be sick; people there are so vulnerable, because of denial of basic necessities of life. There is weaponisation of poverty; they take away my resource and weaponise it to demean my people.
HM Dakolo said he was an activist before becoming a soldier and now educates visitors about the issues, taking them to oil spill sites and degraded environments as a result of oil exploration activities. He noted that his advocacy prompted him to write the novel as a ready reference material to further educate visitors to the region about the region’s plight, as a counter-narrative to the Nigerian government and the IOCs want the world to believe.
He described the story in his novel as ”a sensitive, touchy one on an explosive subject” that will jolt the oil industry and Nigerian government from their complacency and possibly move them to act responsibly towards the marginalised people and region. He said the aim of ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’ is for the immediate remediation of the abuses and injustices so far visited on the region in over 60 years of oil exploration and mindless profiteering.
HM Dakolo also spoke about his belief and faith, saying how much betrayed they were with the current reality of charlatanism in Christianity that is different from the one he grew up in. ”As a child, I was introduced to Christianity, then I became an atheist. Then as a scientist, you have to prove your belief to me. A lot of people have been scammed and are still being scammed. So I want to always say, ‘what’s your evidence of it?’ The more religious houses we have the more cheating, scamming and poverty we have. So, I’m wondering: where is God in all of these?”
The young monarch and former soldier also spoke about the abuses the Nigerian Army has been subjected since the Nigerian Civil War ended and how government has reduced the army to the ordinary status of policemen and women. He said when the army is made to deal with the civil populace for too long, they begin to see the people as the enemy of the state instead of foreign aggressors that Nigeria does not have now, except terrorist groups like Boko Haram.
”The police have been emasculated,” he said. ”The military has been doing police job since the civil war. This should not be so. When the army stays too long dealing with citizens, they begin to see civilians as the enemy of the state and deal with them accordingly. This is the curent situation.”
HM Dakolo is upbeat about his writing and artistic activism generally, saying his little corner of Bayelsa State ”is a prison I’m trying to make into a paradise that it used to be” before the oil vultures swooped in to despoil it and leave the real owners poorer and dehumanised. He disclosed that a documentary film based on his novel, ‘The Riddle of the Oil Thief’ is underway to further lend visual credence to the plight of his people.
”Right now, I’ve found this voice to write and I have two books to write, including an autobiography, to ensure Bayelsa is projected in the right light.”