By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
LOOKING at the prevailing implicit quietude in the Niger Delta, compared with the frenzied situation of bombing of oil installations and kidnapping of oil workers that used to be the order of the day, as well as the taking into custody of the “master”, Henry Okah, who is undergoing the trial of his life for terrorism in South Africa, one could be lured to give President Goodluck Jonathan a pass mark for the manner he has tackled the affairs of the region so far. The only thing, however, is that is it is not the way a cat walks that it catches a rat.
As opposed to the rat and cockroach association between former rulers of the country and erstwhile agitators from the Niger Delta, you may want to describe Jonathan’s relationship with ex-militant leaders, including Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo; former warlord, Ateke Tom; Farah Dagogo; and Victor Ebikabowei Ben, alias Boyloaf as warm enough to ensure that further threat from the creeks to the unity of the country is checked.
In fact, it was to Tompolo that he ran, as vice-president in 2007 when his former boss, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, assigned the unenviable task of “whipping” his agitator-brothers into line. The meeting, held at Camp Five, Oporoza, in Delta State, and was attended by the ‘who’s who’ in the militant community in the Niger Delta then, except Henry Okah, who refused to attend.
As vice-president then, Jonathan travelled to South Africa to persuade Okah to be part of the peace process. The actuality is that while his erstwhile boss, Yar’Adua, was the principal without whose imprimatur the amnesty programme would not have been a reality, Jonathan is the storm-trooper that worked behind-the-scenes for the visible successes.
Besides the aforementioned, Jonathan has also kept the post-amnesty programme afloat despite the odds. And, even militants who refused to accept amnesty within the stipulated period it was proclaimed by the Federal Government are regretting they did not read the handwriting on the wall clearly. They are now falling over themselves to be part of the programme with additional 6,166 approved for integration into the training programme of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty aside the 20,192 that abided by the deadline.
Also, taking into account the way militant leader, “General” John Togo, from Ayakoromor in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, who opted to go back to the arms business in 2010 after accepting amnesty from the Federal Government in October 2009, finally ended up after endangering the peace process for about five months, you may want to give the President kudos for the operations of the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger Delta.
As if to showcase his plan for the region, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, at its meeting of last Wednesday, approved N23 billion for 10 infrastructural projects in the nine states of the Niger Delta. Minister of Information and Communications, Mr Labaran Maku, and the Minister of National Planning, Samshudeen Usman, while briefing State House correspondents, said the FEC, presided over by Jonathan, ratified the president’s anticipatory approval for the award of the 10 contracts.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, according to Maku, brought a memo to seek council’s ratification of the president’s anticipatory approval for the award of contracts in respect of three land reclamation and erosion control/shoreline projects in the Niger Delta.
Among the projects is a land reclamation and erosion control project at Essien Town, Ekorinin Community, Calabar, Cross River State, in the contract for N1.9 billion for completion within 12 months; land reclamation and erosion protection at Amadi Ama, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for N1.4 billion for completion within 12 months; land reclamation and erosion protection at Ogbobagbene, Burutu Local Government Area, Delta State, in favour of Messrs Snecou Group of Companies Ltd in the total contract of N2.4 billion for completion within 12 months.
“The Minister of Niger Delta presented another memo to seek Council’s approval for the augmentation of the contract sum in respect of the Dualisation of the 99km East-West Road, Section III (Port Harcourt Eleme Junction-Eket) in Rivers/Akwa Ibom states”, he said, adding that the Council also approved an augmentation of the contract sum for the dualisation of 99kmEast-West Road, Section III (Port Harcourt (Eleme Junction?) – Eket) in Rivers/Akwa Ibom states, in favour of Messrs Reynolds Construction Company (Nig.) Ltd., in the sum of N30 billion to a revised contract sum of N66.8 billion with a new completion date of 31st December 2012.
“The dualization of 99km East-West Road, Section III, (Port Harcourt (Eleme Junction) – Eket) is a major federal government intervention infrastructural development programme in the Niger Delta Region awarded at the original contract sum of N35 billion. The need to revise the contract sum by the contractor arose from the passage of time, high rate of inflation, compensation costs, re-design to accommodate topography in marshy terrain, community relation challenges and advance payment delay”, Maku stated.
Undoubtedly, the president has taken some bold steps in addressing the Niger Delta problem, but the concern is that the pace of development in the region is still leisurely converse to the huge expectations when he assumed office. Also, the parameters for selection of projects to be executed do not seem to have passed through a methodical stakeholder- to- government scrutiny, as it looks like projects, except for some few, were chosen based on the whims and caprices of some influential public officials who are positioned to influence them.
The thinking by many is that Niger Delta should have been a massive construction site by now but that is not the reality on ground. Things are moving at an unhurried pace. If it were not Jonathan in the saddle, some Niger Delta leaders would have been shouting that nothing was happening in the region in terms of development, but there are muffled tones. The East-West Road is a project that practically cuts across the entire region and has been on implementation stage for a very long time. It is hoped that with the latest approvals, the project will be completed.
Another disturbing matter is what the Federal Government has ostensibly chosen to do with the report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee, headed by Mr. Ledum Mittee, which was submitted to Yar’Adua more than two years ago. It is, indeed, annoying that the government has not deemed it fit to release a White Paper on a report that prominent sons of the region were assembled to produce. The moan before the brainstorming session in Abuja was that the Federal Government usually left the reports of committees on the way forward for Niger Delta to gather dust in file cabinets in Aso Villa and, as if to prove the doubting Thomas right, no White Paper has released on what many agree is the most comprehensive document yet on the development of the Niger Delta.
Government seems to believe that since the amnesty programme is on course, there is no cause for alarm. That shouldn’t be because it is not the solution to the Niger Delta crisis, it is only a means to an end. It is not even all militants who took part in the Niger Delta struggle that agreed to accept amnesty. The amnesty programme, as it is today, is focused on the reformation of violent youths in the region- that is the youths that took to arms to protest the oppression and economic quagmire they found themselves in.
But there are more than a million youths that did not pick up AK 47 to show their hunger and anger. Government has not demonstrated any real capacity to address the quandary of this category. There are, everywhere in the region, graduates of chemical engineering, petroleum engineering for upwards of 10 years from different Nigerian universities, who are jobless.
Really, except for a few, most of the projects on the chart by government as transformational projects for the region are anything but life-changing. Beyond serving the needs of some communities or states where they are likely to be located, they are not projects cooperatively designed to transform the landscape of the region.
If one may ask, where are the industries initiated or being contemplated by the Federal Government to provide jobs for the thousands of jobless graduates roaming the streets of the region, for it is a known fact that even the oil companies said they don’t have vacancies? What are the plans for the bridges and roads to link up the coastal communities in the NigerDelta states?
What of electricity and water projects for riverine dwellers? They live inside water but don’t have potable water to drink because their river is polluted by exploration activities by oil companies.
As the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who refused to accept the amnesty proclaimed by the Federal Government, warned during a march he led in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, to commemorate the life of Niger-Delta activist, Isaac Boro, who died in 1968, that his group might be forced back into the trenches if Jonathan failed to take action to address the issue of impoverishment of the people of the Niger Delta within one year.
That is actually the bottom line. People are waiting for Jonathan to wipe out poverty in the region. He seems to be putting something in place for militants who carried guns to draw government attention to the problem, but has not started anything at all for the majority, who did not carry weapons to display their disenchantment.
In the opinion of Dokubo-Asari, who has become a vocal defender of the president in recent times, his group was merely on “sabbatical”, watching to see whether or not Jonathan would develop the region. His words, “We are giving Goodluck (Jonathan) a chance to make a difference to bring about change … Goodluck does not have four years. He has one year.” And, seriously speaking, the Federal Government cannot be dreaming of integrating and pushing the economy of the Niger Delta states with most of the projects it is parading at the moment.
The focal point should be a comprehensive development package for the region. Dokubo-Asari’s statement actually sums up the positions of a good number Niger-Deltans: They want development; they want transformation; they want change, all that is yet to come.
They hope that Jonathan would do the magic and not give the people the opportunity to return to armed struggle again. And, the time to do it is now. Nobody in Niger Delta will forgive him and his advisers if they miss the track.