“Hello Nigeria, Greetings from the Big Heart.”
This little ditty of a tune is heard all day on the Nigerian Television Authority Channel 11, Asaba. The commercial runs with footage of traditional dances and sights that can be seen throughout Delta State, “the Big Heart” of Nigeria.
If we are to consider that the heart is the big pump of the body, keeping us alive and that when it fails, we die, then maybe we can use this analogy when looking at Delta State, Nigeria.
At the forefront of Delta State’s politics is oil. More than 40% of Nigeria’s oil is pumped out of the earth beneath the political boundaries of the state. Stand this beside the fact that Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of crude in the world, and we can see that “the Big Heart” moniker given to Delta State is quite apt in the context of a heart being the organ that sustains…lives, economies, social development, etc.
However, it is unfortunate in the case of the Delta State, and all the other states that comprise Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta: oil does not sustain the lives of the people living above the ground under which the oil is extracted. Some 98% of the people living in the heart of the Delta, the creeks and waterways where roads do not penetrate, do not have access to household energy.
Fingers are pointed in the direction of the corrupt politicians ruling over the sweet “black gold.” It is estimated that around $500 billion has been stolen away from Nigeria and placed in foreign bank accounts since it became one of the founding members of OPEC.
500 Billion Dollars.
I try to wrap my head around this reality, but it seems too big to comprehend. Ask any common Nigerian about this theft, and they become angry, upset, hopeless, sometimes saying, “I am ashamed of being Nigerian.”
In the international community, Nigeria is notorious for being the most corrupt country on the planet. Nigerians are considered to be tough, untrustworthy, thieves all of them.
Let’s step back a moment. Nigeria’s population totals 150 million people, the most populous country in Africa. We can say that a few thousand are government workers and politicians. A few thousand more are involved in global business. Add another several thousand people to the group of internet scammers, and we see that maybe a hundred thousand or so fit into the category of corrupt people. I am going to be generous and allow for an even 1 million Nigerians to be actively involved in corrupt activities on a daily basis.
Can you see where I am going with this? What about the vast majority of Nigerians who suffer at the behest of the corrupt livelihoods of the select few of their country men and women?
Listening to my Nigerian counterparts talk about all this saddens me. They are pained by knowing that the problem is too big for them to take on. The towel has been thrown in.
The Big Heart? How long will a people survive when the heart has been attacked by a cancerous scourge? A greed that can be described as evil.
The answer remains to be seen. I can tell you that the look on the faces of Nigeria’s honest folks is one of pain. They see that the heart has not shut down yet, but that it is bleeding.
A big bleeding heart where the blood runs oil black.
(written 4 December 2005)