An Open Letter To President Olusegun Obasanjo

By Linda E. Edwards
Dated: December 26, 2006

Your Excellency
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria


AfricansI e-mailed a Nigerian friend the article from the New York Times this morning, with a brief comment, “O God, Again?”

Again, because I am tired of seeing articles about a ruptured pipeline, with people stealing gasoline, which explodes and kills them. Another few hundred are dead, in Africa’s most populous country. Maybe that is less than the children who will die of AIDS related diseases today, scattered across the continent. Maybe that number, two hundred and sixty and still counting, may have starved to death by the time I am finished typing this letter, and so, maybe, that is a small number. None of the people to whom I sent the article, however, thought that two hundred and sixty city dwellers in Lagos were so dispensable that they behaved as if these people were not to be missed. The sounds of the mothers wailing because their children have died, the sounds of the girl looking for her brother, and getting only the ring tones of his phone, would not go out of my ears.

I am writing to you as a diaspora African, whose country, Trinidad and Tobago, is also an oil producing country. It is a historical fact that we were in the oil business in 1900. There have been a few blowouts in the oil sector, some of which polluted the air and fouled the water. There have been a few disasters over time. There has not been any mass killing of people by ruptured pipelines, ruptured deliberately by some poor soul looking to make a living, in my entire memory. My grandfather worked in the oilfields, and I grew up near them. I am now almost an old woman. People in Trinidad and Tobago do not rupture gas lines to steal gasoline. We like to think we are poor, but there is no one on this island who cannot buy some kerosene or gas.

If there was gasoline leaking somewhere, my people, Trinis, would be running like hell in the opposite direction, not throwing gas on police officers to keep them from chasing people away. What value, then, does human life have in situations like this in Nigeria? Why are my people there behaving like this??

These actions, described in the New York Times, are the actions of desperate people, desperately poor people, who put their safety last; people who are concerned with making a living, and who die as a result. Three sets of mass deaths in a short space of nine years is too much for any country. Too much for the most populous country in Africa, too much for the country Africans everywhere look towards to provide a leadership model out of the morass of poverty, despair, and desolation that has been Africa as portrayed in the western media.

This leadership forward almost died under the Abacha regime. When I communicated the news of his death to a Calabari friend of mine, he did a dance of joy, he really did. So much was his hope for the future. That hope has died. The lot of the poor Nigerian has not changed at all, or maybe the change is so miniscule as to be imperceptible. Yet the rich ones travel around in entourages and live like kings, while the poor get ground into the dirt, and die in massive fireballs as if they were being bombed buy an outside force. They are being bombed by poverty.

The critical issues facing the country have apparently not been dealt with at all. I read of the corruption trials, of the arrest of the Chief Of Police, of the arrest of certain high public officials, but the lot of the poor, despite the oil wealth that is available for so many to loot, has remained pretty abysmal. I cannot understand, why, in this day and age, there is no universal free education in Nigeria. Individuals with the means to do so, can send their children to Oxford, the London School of Economics and MIT, but many poor children do not get to go to school at all. Where would you have been, Sir, if your parents did not send you to school?

Our great leader Eric Eustace Williams, of blessed memory, understood at Independence that education was the key to putting our colonial past behind us. He opened up opportunities for every child, despite stiff resistance from church groups. Every child in Trinidad and Tobago gets a chance to go to school, although some are still exploited by their parents as small vendors of nuts and vegetables. They can go to school. When will Nigeria achieve full free elementary education? When will it achieve universal health care, especially infant and maternal health? When these basics are not in place: a supply of potable water available to the majority of the population, health care for all, universal elementary and secondary education, a country is poor despite its oil or other mineral wealth.

In such poor countries, people risk their lives stealing gasoline from pipelines, and death rains upon them, making their poor bodies unrecognizable in the roasting heat. Now Angola, Ghana and Gabon have oil installations also. My cousin went to Gabon to set up an accounting system for Amoco in the early eighties, so I know they have oil and gas. In how many of these other western African nations do people resort to illegally opening the pipelines to steal some gasoline to sell or for domestic use? If the answer, as I suspect, is none, then one must ask why are they doing it in Nigeria? Are the pipelines easier to tap in your country? Or are the people more desperate there? And what I pray you Sir, is the good of producing more than one million barrels per day for export, if the people are so poor and desperate that they would risk death for one litre of the stuff?

I am not asking about regional issues. I am asking why the people of the country as a whole seem so deathly poor that they court death in bizarre ways in order to make ends meet. When Africans gather at my house, from four or five different areas, we lament the sadness of the past due to enslavement and division among our peoples. We also lament the apparent uncaring attitude of the mighty and the powerful in Africa, the elected leaders, who seem unable to grasp that a free country with tremendous resources, needs to keep some of those resources at home to uplift the people. If this is not happening, if the yoke of the metropole is still so heavy on the necks of our people that the wealth of the country is not transferable into jobs, health care, education and housing for the poor, but must be exported to fuel the lifestyles of those “abroad”; and the money so derived being used to line the pockets of “them that already have”, then it is as if we are still living with the twin yokes of colonialism and slavery on our necks while masquerading as free people.

Now they are many in my country of birth, Trinidad and Tobago; my country of adoption, the USA; and your country, as well as people in other places; who will attempt to use this to embarrass you. Believe me, Sir, that is not my intent. I took a vow of poverty fifty-one years ago when my parent decided that I was to be a teacher. I have never left that job. Where ever I have been, I have seen my role as uplifting the poor through education; and I lament the fact that that commitment to making life better for the underdog is apparently not part of the plan of many leaders, including that of the country I have adopted. We Africans, however, are called to be different. You had a job to do as President. Are there more children in school now than when you took over? Are there more jobs created for Nigerians, the ones at the level of stealing leaking gasoline, than before you took over? I know a lot of people have gotten wealthier, but has the lot of the poor improved?

When the elections are over in May, what will be the legacy, and the path left to be followed by the new President? It is the role of a leader to give the people hope. Hopelessness does not make for a secure future for a country where half the population is under sixteen. Without hope, we die. Those who died in this third explosion would not have died in vain if the leaders of Nigeria learn something from their deaths; that would lead to a better distribution of opportunities.

Your sincerely,

Linda E. Edwards

14 thoughts on “An Open Letter To President Olusegun Obasanjo”

  1. I also ask Mr President to try to prevent his citizens from migrating to T&T. We have enough flim-flam men, heroin traffickers and the very last thing we need are Muslim fundamentalists. Here in Trinidad, people risk their lives stealing electrical cables, a Nigerian transplant would find that less hazardous, and far more profitable.

  2. A cold heartless comment above. Not all Nigerians are heroin traffickers or muslim fundamentalists. It is for Trinidad’s immigration to do their job and prevent such persons from entering Trinidad and not that of the Nigerian President.

  3. Could a name be an oxymoron? Reason’s comments are so apparently lacking in reason, that they are becoming a statement of the unreasonable. Just wondering. This comment is not made only in connection with the letter to Pres. Obasanjo.

  4. Here’s a thought. When everyone else appears to disagree with you maybe you are wrong? Either that or everyone else is plain old dumb.

    Given the evidence right here where you basically lump all Nigerians in one bad batch and that Trinidadians steal electrical cables and risk their lives. Trinis steal telephone cable. The only electrical cable they would steal is the cable that is not connected to anything (i.e. no risk to their lives). – I think the former rather than the later is true in the first paragraph.

    Don’t even start with all the stuff you said in other articles that is wrong.

  5. All I know is we have some Nigerians here we can’t get rid of. Last time we tried to deport them they caused such a ruckus in Venezuela, they got sent back here costing us a lot of $$$$$.
    You are really uniformed. A guy a few months ago was found electrocuted, with a pair of wire cutters in his hand at the base of a power line.
    I don’t think the majority of “everyone is plain old dumb” just narrow minded and dated. Thats all.
    I am not clone.

  6. Ha ha ha…who ever accused reason of being clone? “mayhap the lady killer doth protest too much!”

    Forget the Nigerians…there are a lot of Grenedians, Guyanese and other small islanders here illegaly too.

    FYI…1. you cannot cut 1/2 electrical cable with wire cutters and 2. Telephone wire, as the name suggests, is made of wire.

  7. Anyway my point is that Nigerians really have nothing to contribute to our development. Our recent experience with Nigerian immigrants has not been a plus, and when we try to return them to their homeland they use measures that cost us dearly. The PNM is correct in liaising with the Chinese, although I disagree with the outreach to the Sub-Saharan states, such as Uganda which are in a worse quandary than us. South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana and a few others that have industries, stability and functional civil authorities are where we should head.
    An open letter to heads of China and India, in my opinion, we would stand to profit from.
    Small islanders are at least our neighbors, the one’s that are here should be allowed to stay but there should a halt to any new people coming in illegally.Look at the hills.
    The theft of all cable is rampant in T&T. I wonder how that fellow got electrocuted by a cable that was not attached to anything.
    Telephone cable in this day and age I think is fibre-optic. Lets just say any wire or cable with copper is a target. You will never see a patina coated roof or gutter in T&T
    Chain a bandit to a 1/2in cable, give him a pair of wire cutters, come back in 5 min. and see if he is still there. God forbid a pair of bolt cutters.
    Everyone that disagrees consists of about 4 posters, and I was them referring to as clones. You included.
    I suggest you try a chat room if you are looking for small talk or Barbados or San Fransisco if you are looking for romance.

  8. Yeah that last line was real mature reason. You sound like you belong in high school. TSTT uses copper wire in their lines. Very few of TSTT’s major lines are fiber optic. Telephone lines are run on the same poles as electric lines. Thr thief accidentally touched an electic line or the current arced and that’s how the guy got electrocuted. He went to steal phone wire. You cannot touch a live electric wire without being isolated and copper thieves (who apparantly are smarter than you) know this. You are truly the epitomy of stupidity!

    There are many Nigerian doctors in Trinidad…most of them much more dedicated than the Trinidadian ones! So don’t say Nigerians don’t contribute to anything positive in Trinidad.

  9. Interesting forensic analysis. What was reported was he had pliers in his hands, was electrocuted and was in the act of stealing cable.
    “Electrical wire is usually copper because of its excellent conductivity, but aluminium is sometimes used because it costs less.”
    BTW I saw some guys burning the insulation off off a pile of ELECTRICAL cables in one of the more depressed areas in T&T, just the other day.
    At least I’ve curbed your romantic overtures to me, and have you at least insulting me.
    Ok I admit M.D.s from Nigeria can assist in our woeful health-care system, as would a qualified Dr from any part of the globe.

  10. Greetings All, let us first learn to communicate without the underlying insults. I was born in Ireland, and lived in many parts of the world, Port of Spain included as a youngster. Do Nigerians catch a bad rap for 1 or 2% that is giving us a bad name? Yes! Personally, it takes two for a “Flim-Flam” to work. People have been pimping Africa for so long and if they are as stupid as to fall for a letter telling them to help get money out of a bank also known as laundering, they deserve to be swindled!!! The fact is that a lot of these sorts of deals, oil blocks, building contracts, etc go through underhandedly.

    I had a lot of Trini/Jamaican/white/Libyan/American friends in Nigeria…why? were they there because they loved the climate? No, because Nigeria had something they wanted that they couldn’t get in their country. Before bashing us and sending us packing, see how some of YOUR countrymen are in Nigeria forcing college graduates to turn criminals. I LOVE my country and will represent it until the day I die, it will get better one day, God has not abandoned us. Instead of concentrating on the 1% that is rotten, let us pay homage to those that are doing well for your country as I’m sure there are numerous doctors and professors in TnT. Or better yet, doing well for the world at large, a good person to start with would be Philip Emeagwali, the reason you are able to read this right now. Mr. Emeagwali, the FATHER OF THE INTERNET. Yes, Mr. Emeagwali, THE NIGERIAN!!!

  11. In re-reading ‘Reasons’ statement where Trinidad should instead focus on China and India, I could only ascertain that he was of one or a combination of those lines of heritage. If my presumption is correct, I can only infer that these rantings are one of “supremist” ideology and his next steps would be ridding TnT of the blacks there! What is going on in TnT right now? Indians tracing their East Indian heritage to foster ties etc, etc? Where does that leave others?

    For my blacks in the diaspora, DON’T be fooled, as long as Africa is in peril, you will also remain enslaved. It saddens me as most of my Trini friends here in the US denounce their African heritage while their counterparts are quick to claim theirs.

  12. I am not Chinese or Indian.I sir am a Trinidadian, and I won’t tell you my racial heritage, because it is of no bearing, but lets say your presumption is way off.
    Your first post was rational, but then in your next post you were screaming victim hood.China and India are emerging giants, with thriving economies. The Chinese work ethic, if it could rub off on us be a benefit.
    India has the technology and expertise we can also learn from. Also both countries are becoming a barrier to the domination of the USA on the world stage.
    I did mention other African countries we should foster ties with, but in my opinion, the muslim fundamentalists in Nigeria, pose too much of a threat. Nigeria is an unstable country.The Miss World Pageant had to be moved to London due to the unrest in 2002 and the bloodshed
    continues. I have friends from Ghana who agree with everything I have said thus far.
    What you claim to be racism is patriotism. Afro’s have run this country mostly since independence and look at the state of the black people of this country.
    I am for ALL Trinidadians first not Africans, Indians or anyone else. Charity begins at home.
    I have no supremacy ideology,and I really don’t see where any statement I posted was racist. .Even though I posted that I considered ties with Ethiopia and Ghana worthwhile, you cried racism.I think you need to consider whether your feelings are of inferiority
    The Nigerians we are getting here are not of the caliber of Mr. Emeagwali by far. Does Nigeria have a surplus of M.D.s of professors?
    Nigerians would be better served if they remained in Nigeria, just as we would be if ours stayed here?So I ask you of what benefit is Nigeria to T&T?

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