If we neglect to reduce the development gap between the Niger Delta and the rest of Nigeria and the oil wells dry up or oil ceases to be a revenue earner for Nigeria, then we will all be bowailing the re-enactment of the Olobiri metaphor, according to Pastor Power Ziakede Aginighan, a former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Aginighan spoke in a paper presented at the third Ijaw Foundation Convention held in Houston, Texas, US. Extracts from the presentation:
Niger Delta is the territory of tributaries and distributaries of the River Niger in the Southern belt of Nigeria made up of marshy swamps, estuaries, meandering creeks, rivers and rivulets occupied chiefly by the Ijaw ethnic nationality and adjoining ethnic minorities, namely the Itsekiri, the Ilaje, the Ogoni and pockets of Isoko, Urhobo, Ukwuani and Ibibio communities. It is the territory of Nigeria where Government gives the excuse of difficult terrain for the neglect of its development.
The Niger Delta known to pre-colonial and immediate post-colonial Nigeria for the purposes of development was a territory occupied largely by the Ijaw and the Ogoni.
After oil and gas
This refers to the period where the oil reserves of the Niger Delta get exhausted or when oil ceases to be a revenue earner for Nigeria due to gradual shift from fossil fuel to alternate sources of energy.
The Oloibiri metaphor
Oloibiri metaphor speaks of the state of being used, abused and abandoned.
In 1961, the Nigeria Federal Parliament enacted the Niger Delta Development Board Act to comply with Section. 14 of Nigeria Constitution Orders in Council 1960. The Act established the Niger Delta Development Board with, amongst other functions, responsibility for “”advising the government of the Federation of Nigeria and the governments of Western and Eastern Nigeria with respect to the physical development of the Niger Delta.
Misleading definition of Niger Delta
Some writers and Government Institutions have defined Niger Delta as coterminous with oil bearing States. By this erroneous definition they go on to classify the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission(OMPADEC) and the current Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) as part of efforts by the Nigerian State in addressing the Niger Delta question.
Jedrzej George Frynas, in his book Oil In Nigeria: Conflict and Litigation between Oil companies and village communities wrote on page 48:
“As a gesture of goodwill towards the oil producing areas, the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) was established in 1961”.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Oil was not a factor in the economy of Nigeria in 1961 when the Niger Delta Development Board was established.
The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, in its official website stated this:
‘The establishment of a separate Ministry to handle the development of the Niger Delta is the latest attempt by the Government to find an answer to the myriad of problems ranging from environmental degradation to poverty and unemployment, facing the people of the area.
Other interventionist agencies which had been in place before the emergence of a full fledged ministry included the Niger Delta Development Board of 1960, the Presidential Task Force on 1.5% which the Shagari Administration set up between 1979 and 1983, the Oil Mineral Areas Producing Development Commission, OMPADEC of 1992 and the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC which came on board in 2000’
This publication wrongly presents 1.5% Presidential Task Force on Oil Producing Areas, OMPADEC and NDDC as successor agencies to the Niger Delta Development Board that was set up in 1961.
In fact, the NDDB has no successor agency. It was created with the noblest of intentions by the first Republic Tafawa Balewa Government in keeping with the understanding reached at Lancaster House in 1958 and the subsequent Niger Delta Special Area Proclamation of 1959
Niger Delta and the national economy
Paradoxically, the territory that was identified as difficult to develop has borne the burden of Nigeria’s oil and gas production for the past 5
decades. With an oil sector that provides over 80% of Nigeria’s Government revenue and 95% of foreign exchange earnings, the difficult Niger Delta swamps and creeks account for over 70% of the
Nation’s oil output
The export terminals through which oil produced in Nigeria is exported are all located in the same neglected territory. These include:
• The Forcados Terminal operated by Shell
• The Bonny Terminal operated by Shell
• The Qua Iboe Terminal operated by MOBIL
• The Escravos Terminal operated by Chevron
• The Penington Terminal operated by Texaco
• Brass Terminal operated by AGIP
The uninterrupted exploration and exploitation of oil and gas for over fifty-five(55) years in the Niger Delta has had devastating impact on the ecosystem of the region.
Oil Spills and Gas Flares have negatively impacted on the vegetation as well as marine and arboreal life in the Niger Delta.
The prevalence of a number of health hazards in the Niger Delta is attributable to Oil and Gas exploitation.
The widening gap
As at 1961, when the Niger Delta Development Board was established with the mission to advise Governments of the Federation as well as the Eastern and Western Regional Govermnents on plans and schemes to develop the Niger Delta Special Area to bring it into parity with the rest of Nigeria, the rest of Nigeria had only two Universities, namely the University College Ibadan and the University of Nsukka and very few airports
53 years after Independence, it took DSP Alamieyeseigha becoming Governor of Bayelsa State for the 1st State owned University to be established in the Ijaw territory, the highest educational institution in Ogoni is a State owned polytechnic. It took Goodluck Jonathan becoming President of Nigeria for the first Federal University to be sited in the Ijaw land.
The rest of Nigeria has so many Federal and State-owned Universities, Teaching Hospitals, many Federal and State Polytechnics, many Federal and State Colleges of Education, Federal Medical Centres, so many international airports and many other indices of development funded largely from the oil and gas revenue derived mainly from the neglected tract.
Though the Ijaw were amongst the earliest to demand for political space before Independence, only Bayelsa State has been created for them while the rest of Nigeria has proliferated into 35 States with a Federal Capital territory sustained by the oil wealth derived mainly from the Ijaw territory.
From 1999 when the Constitution came into effect, 13% of oil mineral and gas revenue accruing to the Federation has been paid to the oil mineral and gas producing States in proportion to the quantum of oil and gas produced. It has been observed that most of the States that have benefited from this constitutional provision have not recognised derivation in the disbursement of the funds they have received.
The oil mineral and gas bearing communities have been at the mercy of powerful State Governors, most of whom utilise the larger portion of derivation funds for areas that do not suffer environmental devastation arising from oil exploration and exploitation activities.
The Governors of these States are hardly concerned about linking up the difficult oil bearing territories by road. Opobo, Bonny, Kula, Soku, Brass, Ogbolomabri, Foropa, Egbema-Angalabiri, Peretorugbene, Ojobo, Forcados, Burutu, Oporoza, Ogidigben, Ugborodo and Polobubo are still completely alienated from the rest of Nigeria, although virtually a
ll the export terminals are located in this neglected territory.
Averting the Oloibiri metaphor
The Nigerian Government should direct all its agencies particularly, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Federal Ministry of Works, and all other Development Service providers to take advantage of the peace of the graveyard afforded by the Presidential Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta.
In so doing, they must take cognisance of the debt of development owed the Niger Delta Special Area arising from the destruction of the ecosystem caused by oil exploration and exploitation of over 5 decades superimposed on the natural difficult terrain recognised before the prominence of oil.
The granting of political space to the two ethnic nationalities covered by the Niger Delta Special Area Proclamarion, namely the Ijaw and the Ogoni, through:-
The creation of Oil Rivers State for the Ijaws of Rivers and Akwa-ibom States
The creation of Ogoni State out of Rivers State
The creation of Toru-Ebe State for the Ijaws of Delta, Edo and Ondo States
The revolutionary pressures we have had in the Niger Delta, namely, the Adaka Boro revolt in the Ijaw territory, the Ken Saro Wiwa uprising in the Ogoni, the Kaiama Declaration and Oil War led by the likes of Asari Dokubo, Tompolo, Boyloaf and Ateke Tom are all traceable to reneging of the undertaking of the Nigerian State at Independence to develop the Niger delta and the paradox of pervasive poverty in the midst of so much wealth.
If we neglect to reduce the development gap between the Niger Delta and the rest of Nigeria and the oil wells dry up or oil ceases to be a revenue earner for Nigeria, then we will all be bewailing the re-enactment of the Olobiri metaphor.
May God forbid.