My excitement grew when I realized I was going to Delta state to support ActionAid’s Participatory Review and Reflection Process (PRRP), thoughts of relishing the beautiful life in one of the oil hubs of the country struck me as I mentally prepared for this trip.
However, it didn’t take long before reality began to sink in, am still in Nigeria after all, I smiled to myself as I passed the notorious warri boys who wasted no time in reminding me who they were with their guttural voices. One of the great things about this country which I have come to accept and respect is people’s ability to find happiness even when drowning in hunger and abject poverty- perhaps a quality which has been perfectly exploited by the powers that be. The night life is awesome and the partying never ends in this city, wish I could say the same of development initiatives in the state.
In the wee hours of the next morning I set off with the rest of my team to what now stands the most telling experience I have had in development work. I have written about poverty and exclusion but what I thought I knew paled in comparison to what I saw.
I smelled danger when our partners in the community urged me to put on shoes I wouldn’t mind disposing before we left our rendezvous, an advice I now hold dear. As we approached Esaba, a community in Ugheli south LGA Delta state, we got to a point where we had no choice but to park our vehicle and complete the journey by foot. And yes, it was a raining season (I chuckle as I write this).
As we folded our trousers and removed our shoes determined to enter the muddy route to the community, we were stopped by a sympathetic man who happened to be a member of that community, he quickly reminded us of how brave we were. “You totally need to remove those shoes, because the mud will get to your knee and you might fall over a couple of times.”
A little boy showed up to save the day, offering to ferry us across the great river. And so we canoed our way to the community, my first experience in water. The full picture started to emerge as we made our way through the river, a pulsating adventure we had to take just to gain access to the community. And there we were, in Esaba surrounded by passionate people, men women and children in their numbers.
And in the middle of our discussion with them I drifted into the mental world and began to picture myself as a child growing in this community, cut off from the rest of the world.
What I would have had to go through just to get an education; how would my mom have carried me while swimming through the mud to buy food for the family from the market because God knows I never let go of her hands; how would she had taken me to the health facility when I was sick?; and would I have had the same future I have today facing these challenges and how many children are being robbed of their futures just by being born here, what wrong have they done?
And just by being cut off from civilization, this people have been denied access to education, electricity, market, skill learning, portable drinking water, safe and quality shelter, development opportunities, health care services, information, and most importantly association and relationship with the outside world which is what keeps us human.
The irony in all this is that a few kilometers from this community is a gas plant which happens to be one of the largest in West Africa, exploiting the rich resources from these communities and benefitting from poor people’s tax whose communities they conveniently ignore. And this is just one of the many big businesses thriving in the state and in West Africa, a recurring theme indeed.
Developing countries who boast most of the rich resources in the world and houses majority of the big multinational businesses continue to struggle with pervasive poverty and underdevelopment as trillions of money which could have funded development are lost on corporate tax incentives.
That West African governments insists on granting incentives even when their benefits cannot be justified against the mounting development needs in the region is a shocking disservice to poor people who continue to bear the brunt of such tax deals. How many more children should be robbed of their futures before we stop this charitable extravagance?
A recent report from ActionAid shows that the 15 ECOWAS countries lose an estimate of about $9.6 billion a year on corporate tax incentives. Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal alone are losing up to $5.8 billion a year, and guess what; only a tiny fraction of this is needed to fund development in forgotten communities like Esaba.
The reality is that we have the resources to drive all round development, we just need more responsibility in governance, making the right decisions at the highest levels and an active body of citizens demanding and driving development.
Written by Kenny Oleru, an ActionAid staff