By Dapo Akinrefon
LAST Tuesday, immediate past Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, was guest lecturer at the inaugural Independence Anniversary Lecture organised by Business Hallmark Newspapers.
The event which was scheduled to commence by 9:30 am did not kick off till about 11:15am as guests were already seated and waiting tirelessly.
Besides, the event was not without a drama as an anti-Ibori group converged in front of the institute to protest against the guest lecturer whom they accused of not being worthy to talk on such a topic onÂ Niger Delta.
Some protesters from the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) converged at the venues of the event, shouting anti-Ibori slogans and carrying banners which was intended to spite the former Delta governor.
The protesters, who were not allowed into the venue, were, however, driven away by the security aides who were in plain clothes.
The protesters, led by Debo Adeniran, alleged that Ibori is not competent to speak at such a forumÂ since he, according to them, added to the problems witnessed in the Niger Delta.
Dignitaries who thronged the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Kofo Abayomi, Victoria Island, Lagos, which played host to the event include: Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former governors of Akwa Ibom, Ekiti and Bayelsa States, Obong Victor Attah, Otunba Niyi Adebayo and DSP Alamiesiegha.
Also at the ocassion were former deputy governor of Delta State, Mr Benjamin Elue;Â former Minister of Finance, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Senator Jubril Aminu;Â wife of the deputy governor of Delta State, Mrs Otuama, Speaker Delta State House of Assembly, Mr Martins Okonta; Senator Fred Brume, Messrs Halims Agoda, Ndudi Elumelu, Chief Willy Bozimo and traditional rulers amongst others.
At the lecture titled, Niger Delta and the future of Nigeria, Chief Ibori,Â related the crisis in the region as it affects the nationâ€™s economy, and said that the Niger Delta is a casualty of the oil economy .
He further argued that with the huge deposit of oil in the region, the nationâ€™s economy is still nose diving.
His words: â€œSurely, the financial fortunes of oil in the past 50 years have been a stimulant of rapid economic growth which is not exactly the same as economic development. The Niger Delta has not been a prime beneficiary of these national assets.
Although the region is about one-fourth of the countryâ€™s territory, the distribution of road infrastructure in the region is not commensurate with its size or quantum of contribution to the nationâ€™s revenue. It is a fact that the Niger Delta has the least proportion of federal highways in all the six geo-political zones of the country.â€
In his argument, the former governor said the recent acceptance of amnesty by militants in the region, was an â€œenthusiastic response by various groups of militants who embraced the deal and surrendered their arms. ThisÂ is indicative of the popularity of the programme. The sheer spectacle of the process of surrendering arms and some of the leaders being received by the President in Abuja demonstrates that our country has taken a decisive step in favour of peaceful resolution of conflictsâ€.
Furthermore , he explained that the cost of developing the Niger Delta would be higher compared to other parts of the country because of environmental degradation of the region.
But just as the Federal Government continues to intensify efforts to ensure success of its post amnesty programme for ex-militants, Ibori, on his part, expressed fears that the post amnesty programme may be threatened unless the causes of the armed protests are dealt with.
While expressing worries over the challenges posed by post-amnesty, he pointed out that one immediate concern is what to do with the thousands of youth that have embraced the amnesty.
â€œMedia reportsâ€, he pointed out, â€œ indicate that about 10,000 persons are to benefit from the rehabilitation process. It is yet to be ascertained what will be the fate of others who are not included in this projection. The arsenal of arms and ammunition exhibited by the various groups is an indication of how determined the revolting youths were. Offering short-time training in technical skills and reorientation for them will not guarantee sustainable incomes and livelihoods.â€
OnÂ ways by which post-amnesty could be better managed, he said â€œI have already drawn attention to some of the political and constitutional matters that should be tackled to create the atmosphere for sustainable peaceâ€.
In addition, he saidÂ â€œmore innovative strategies are called for by way of large-scale investment in industry and education to absorb the surging energies of those who have come forward and millions of others who are equally aggrieved but have not taken up arms.â€
Aside, he expressed worries that the â€œnumber and sophistication of arms and ammunition displayed at various centres appear quite formidable and frightening. There is palpable fear that all there is to be surrendered has not been recovered. This is because some of the local conflicts and inter-community feuds in the Niger Delta are not directly related to the global crisis of agitation over oil and political alienation.â€
He further said that to ensureÂ arms and ammunition are not deployed in future for nefarious use, â€œall groups and communities that still harbour them must surrender them completely. This will rid the region of the menace of lethal arms that could instigate violent conflicts during the post-amnesty period.â€
The former governor recounted the crisis which had lingered in the Niger Delta region just as he called for all hands to be on deck if a solution is to be found.
He also said that resolving the crisis in the region will bring about economic development in the country just as he pointed out that there was need for all stakeholders from the region to join hands with President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to ensure that the post-amnesty programme remains a success.
According to him, â€œI assume that resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta is the key to Nigeriaâ€™s development and the future of the country. This point is underlined by the fact that the Niger Delta is perhaps the poorest oil-producing area in the world. The paradox of poverty in the midst of resource abundance is the major challenge that confronts the elite and political leadership of the country
While describing the slow growth of the countryâ€™s economy over the years, he said â€œparadoxically, the Niger Delta has not been a prime beneficiary of these nationâ€™s assets. Although the region is about one-fourth of the countryâ€™s territory, the distribution of road infrastructure in the region is not commensurate with its size or quantum of contribution to the nationâ€™s revenue.â€
Ibori, who also identified political and legal issues which have contributed over the years to the underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region, called for a review of certain laws.
â€œThere are also political and policy issues that inhibit the enjoyment of opportunities of oil economy. Legal authorities and equity advocates regard these laws as inimical to the practice of fair and just federal system.â€
Highlighting ways by which development could come to the region, he said among others that â€œthere should be established a Niger Delta Marshall Plan which should incorporate the mandates of the NDDC, Regional Development Master Plan and the Ministry of the Niger Delta. As presently conceived and financed, these two intervention agencies do not have requisite funding to accomplish the urgent task at handâ€.
â€œIn order to restore confidence in the federal system and the Nigerian union, the National Assembly should consider these laws and acts for inclusion in the proposed constitutional review or amendment. This will help to create a more equitable and fair federal system. The review or abrogation of the inequitable laws will also improve the practice of democracy because justice and equity are essential pillars of good governanceâ€, he stated.
He also proposed that the report submitted by the Niger Delta Technical Committee should be taken into consideration.
Accordingly, he propounded that â€œ transport and communication infrastructure should be the first priority of the plan. The report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee has identified some of the capital-intensive projects.â€
On how best the marshal plan could be well implemented, he opined that â€œthe bulk of the funding should borne by the Federal Government. Annual budgeting allocations of the Federal Government cannot carry the financial burden of the plan. It is therefore proposed that the option of crude oil for infrastructure barter system should be applied as was done in the development of Abuja Federal Capital Territory.â€
The former governor who advocated for true federalism as well as constitutional amendment said, there is the necessity for a democratic and constitutional restructuring of the federal system and modernization and industrialization of the economy.
His words: â€œLet me reiterate the fundamental principle of fiscal federalism and resource control to which I am committed.