In what seemed like a prophetic haze, Wole Solyinka, black Africaâ€™s first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature once declared – â€œI consider that Nigeria is on the verge, on the brink of a massive implosion that will make whatâ€™s happening in the SudanÂ childâ€™s play. We know there are movements for secession in this country. We know that everybody is preparing for the contingency of breaking up.
International organizations are also studying the situationâ€. Soyinka was speaking to Reuters Alert on July 8, 2004, five clear years ago and perhaps moments before the Niger Delta imploded, descending into a stronghold of cut throat hostage-takers. Of course, Nigeria has not imploded and may never implode in the scale of Soyinkaâ€™s prophecy but its nest of golden eggs has. And the threat it represents to the entire body polity is real.
Happily, the recently released Vision 20:2020 Report offers solutions that might turn out quite effective in checking the spread of this regional cancer that threatens to corrode the entire nation-state.
Thereâ€™s absolutely no surprise about this. Indeed, any serious act of reflection on the Nigerian state that fails to touch on the troubled creeks of the Niger Delta is facile and futile. Only few human struggles in living memory have built up so rapidly into a shattering crescendo in so short a time as the Niger Delta struggle. A half literate taxi driver showed a Nigeian visitor on a recent tour of the city of Johannesburg, South Africa his awareness and interest in the Niger Delta so much that the visitor was amazed at his curiosity.
After requesting that the Nigerian tell him what a barrel of oil looked like and feeling disappointed when the visitor told him he had never seen any, he quipped â€œReally? But you look like someone who has an oil well in his backyard. And why has your government refused to listen to the people of that region? It reminds me of what they did to us during apartheidâ€. At this stage the vistor looked away and tried to divert his attention with a question on the distance between Sandton and Soweto. It is almost hard to imagine the extent to which modern technology has influenced information flow.
News of what would pass for a near private skirmish ten years ago could now spread like brush fire across the globe with images and all. The world is aware of the Niger Delta wrongs. What the world needs to know more is what the Nigerian authorities are doing to right them. And this is not just about the amnesty deals. Amnesty is a great idea no doubt. But its greatness lies in the realization that amnesty can only buy Nigeria temporary peace.
The enduring solution lies in a long term holistic approach that speaks directly to people other than those with the ability to carry arms. Of course, it is easy to surrender guns. But the true surrender is that of the resolve to fight with a commitment to work for peace. This is where the Vision 20: 2020 comes into the picture.
Under the broad heading of strategic initiatives that will foster sustainable social economic development, the Vision 20: 2020 document recommends accelerated socio-economic development of the Niger Delta region as a top priority of the Nigerian government in the next ten years.
In fact, the level of importance it attaches to the need for accelerated development of the region could be gleaned from the fact that it recommends that a drop in poverty in the region becomes a parameter for judging the success of the programme. In clearer terms, it recommends that a reduction in the poverty rate of the region to no more than the national average by 2011 and a drop in gas flaring in the region from 40% in 2007 to operational and technical requirements only by 2010 should form part of the criteria for judging the success of the vision implementation process.
This speaks of the cold resolve of the National Planning Commission, under the able leadership of Shamsuddeen Usman to confront the missing link in the Niger Delta rhetoric which is the absence of a realistic policy plank to tackle the monster. The Vision 2020 solution on the Niger Delta does not set any illusive targets. It comes direct andÂ says â€˜gaugeÂ my performance on this niggling issue next yearâ€™. On close examination, it comes across as bold and almost unbelievable. But for it to have any real meaning, a vision document must have timelines.
What makes the ambition to alter the development landscape of the Niger Delta a realistic ambition could also be gleaned from the Vision Report. Indeed the goal seems more realistic when viewed against the backdrop of the recommendation that as part of the priority steps that will turn the scale of development in the region, a Sovereign Wealth Fund should be set up and linked to oil revenues from where the future generations of the Niger Delta would be provided for.
This is indeed an excellent idea which when implemented and carefully handled, would banish all forms of animosity in the region. However, so much depends on the handling of this fund that it calls for a special care to ensure that it doesnâ€™t go the way of previous interventionist efforts in the region that were no less ambitious.
But this fear should not discourage such a well conceived idea that stretches beyond the mere symbolism of putting the guns down. A gun so quickly dropped could just as quickly be picked up, anyway.
Another fragment out of the Nigerian deluge which the Vision 20:2020 casts a beam on is the education sector. Nigerians have often wondered why their leaders seem so impervious to the obvious need to revamp the education sector.
They watch helplessly as institutions that once held hope for Africaâ€™s renaissance wither into shadows of their illustrious past while the rich and powerful send their kids to good schools overseas. Ghanaian universities which were no match to Nigeriaâ€™s first set of federal universities have become a haven of sorts to middleclass Nigerians who wish to give their wards a chance at good education.