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ICT and the future of N-Delta

With Chris Uwaje
The current development status of the Niger Delta region is, perhaps, best described as one of the incredible paradoxes of our time!

On the surface, the general impression of the Niger Delta in the mind of the outsider is that of a gigantic economic reservoir of national and international importance, with rich endowment of oil and gas resources, which are methodically being processed into the international economic system.

This is against the backdrop of stupendous natural economic endowment and the implicit potentials and vast opportunities for rapid socio-economic transformation. Yet, in reality, the Niger Delta is a region depicting various manifestations of administrative and development neglect, crumbled social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, as well as endemic conflict and consequential social conflagration.

In general, enormous possibilities abound in terms of the abundance of raw materials for possible industrial development of the region, but which potentials remain presently unrealized. In addition to the vast oil and gas deposits, the region is blessed with good agricultural land, extensive forests, excellent fisheries as well as a well-developed industrial base, large labour force, a strong banking system and a vibrant private sector.

However, amazingly juxtaposed with this region’s fantastic potential for economic growth and sustainable development is also the burden of deteriorating economic and social conditions that have been largely undermined or ignored by contemporary policies and actions.

Indeed, the foregoing accounts represent amazing paradoxes, in which the local inhabitants are being subjected to the scourge of abject poverty and suffering  in the midst of plenty! The paradoxes of poverty in the midst of plenty have generated several perceptions about oil and gas endowments wherein it is viewed as a curse and a double-edged sword.

There are some troubling findings and deep ironies such as falling life expectancy in an age of blockbuster oil prices, poor energy availability in a region that provides one fifth of the energy needs of the United States of America, the need to “import” fuel to a region that produces over 2million barrels of crude oil per day, impassable roads or total lack of access roads in a region that produces the wealth that has funded gigantic infrastructural developments in other areas of the country.

Analysed here are the
various dimensions of the dismal human development situation in the Niger Delta with a view to developing an agenda for a people-centred development that is significantly base on the enormous natural and human capital in the region.

A  Double-Edged Sword
The positive blessing of oil resource derives mainly from the huge financial resources it generates for oil producing countries. It is an internationally traded commodity that attracts foreign exchange.

For most developing countries faced with capital constraint, therefore, oil is a quick source of capital accumulation or foreign direct investment. Countries without oil are thus unable to overcome to overcome capital shortage, a major developmental inhibition. Also, huge revenues are realized from the wide differential between unit production cost and economic rent, royalties, petroleum taxes, oil export, etc.

Between 2000 and 2002, total oil revenues to OPEC member states grossed $606 billion (OPEC Revenues Fact Sheet, June 2003). If management of those oil-related revenues is based on transparency, accountability and fairness, oil revenues will become a source of substantial benefit for the population.

Negative development outcomes are similarly associated with oil and, indeed, mineral production in general. One manifestion of such outcomes is the tendency for an inverse relationship between economic growth and natural resource abundance.

Another outcome is the sustained poor performance on such social indicators as education and health. These oil-related negative outcomes have  come to be refered to as oil resource curse, which operates through a number of channels.
From the onset in 1996, the UNDP has produced four Human Development Reports (notably in 1996, 1998, 2000/2001 and 2004) on Nigeria. However this is the first Human development Report to be produced by UNDP for a sub-national geo-political region, the Niger Delta. Given the board existence of six geo-political zones in Nigeria, apart form the alternative structural classification into 36 states and the FCT, the subject matter attention to the Niger Delta in this volume should be rationalized.

It may be recalled that one of the main conclusions of the Nigerian Human Development Reports 1996 (UNDP, 1996) was that “wide regional disparities is Nigeria’s Achille’s heel- the primary source of its perennial conflict, political instability and social unrest.”

The potentially adverse impacts of the Niger Delta crises on Nigeria and indeed on Africa, make the current focus on the Human Development Situation in the Niger Delta in the Nigerian Human Development Reports 2006 imperative and timely. lAbove is part of an abstract of Uwaje’s presentation at the e-Nigeria 2010 summit in Abuja last week. More next week.


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