There has been a deliberate policy by successive Nigerian governments to keep the Niger Delta question permanently in the back burner of national discourse, as far as the issue of the country’s socio-economic development is concerned.
This is what has consequently made the issue a recurring decimal in the effort to find long-lasting solutions to the crises that continuously plague the region, with dire consequences on the nation’s economy. It is a sore thumb that would not go away until treated.
Credit must be given to former presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for taking perhaps the boldest steps in history to address the issue of the Niger Delta by establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA), respectively – a two-pronged approach to addressing issues of injustice, marginalization, neglect and exploitation that have given the people of the region a sense of alienation for decades.
The initiatives by the two past leaders constituted a significant departure from the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) that did not quite address the problems of the region.
It is almost 17 years since the establishment of NDDC and nine years since MNDA was set up. The question must be asked if the objectives for setting up those organs have been achieved. The imperative of this question should be viewed against the background of current efforts by the government to engage the region’s stakeholders in dialogues that are expected to produce results that would end, once and for all, the restiveness that has continually impacted negatively on the nation’s economic fortunes.
While some measure of credit may be given to the two intervention organs for some infrastructural facelift that has taken place in some areas in the region since their establishment, the point must be made that what is available today as physical evidence is not commensurate with the over $40 billion that have reportedly been sunk into the area.
Apart from the endemic problem of corruption that has stalled development of the region as evidenced in the East-West Road that has remained something of a bottomless pit, or the various stories of monies that were paid for projects not executed, there is the issue of coordination of developmental efforts by the different organs operating in the region.
Timi Alaibe, a former managing director of NDDC, had reason recently at a public forum decrid the seeming duplicity of functions by agencies charged with the responsibility of developing the region. He named NDDC, MNDA, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Presidential Amnesty Programme as organs whose functions tend to overlap, in a manner that suggests they may be working at cross purposes. He said in a situation such as this, it is difficult to know the particular agency to hold responsible for issues that may arise in the region.
Alaibe is in a position to know the problems of the region on one side and the intervention agencies on the other. Apart from being the chief executive officer of NDDC at two different times – one in acting capacity and the other in substantive position – he was the presidential adviser on the Amnesty Programme of Yar’Adua. Besides, he authored the Niger Delta Master Plan, the blueprint for achieving sustainable development of the region.
Firstly, he has advocated a proper definition and streamlining of functions to ensure no two agencies end up doing the same thing, as is apparently the case now. This is necessary because we currently have situations in which agencies engage in unnecessary competition over who has the right or responsibility for execution of some projects in the same community. Needless to mention, situations such as this present opportunities for corruption to thrive.
Alaibe also wants deployment of modern and appropriate technology for protection of oil pipelines and installations against vandalism. This is one issue that should not be ignored in the effort to find a lasting solution to the activities of militants and pipeline vandals.
Experience from the last dispensation showed that repentant militants, especially their leaders, saw the amnesty programme from the point of view of lucrative contracts to protect oil pipelines and installations.
As controversial as it was, the government stuck to the option that cost millions of dollars in tax payers’ money to sustain. It wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that the demand by the present breed of militants to be included in the current dialogue to end restiveness in the region is hinged on the hope that the pipeline protection contract would be revived.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has shown in the course of his visits to the Niger Delta in the last one month that dialogue is capable of achieving the desired objective of lasting peace in the troubled region than use of force. While it is necessary to sustain this approach, the government must not succumb to the blackmail of reviving the pipeline protection contract that the militants might be hoping for.
Amnesty programme should be limited to providing repentant militants with legitimate means of livelihood through training in various programmes, like what the previous administration did, while the government invests heavily in technology to protect oil installations. It is highly unlikely that oil producing countries around the world, some with by far more kilometers of oil pipelines, pay citizens to protect the pipelines and other installations.
A more permanent solution to Niger Delta crises would be involvement of the people of the region, at community level, in the choice and design of projects and programmes that are meant to address their needs. For instance, while one community may require good access roads for transportation of agricultural produce to the urban centres, another may be in need of a good and functional health facility, while for another, the priority may be an educational institution. Projects should not be designed from outside. That way, the people would own the projects and assume responsibility for their protection, with very little of government’s involvement in the exercise.
Amos Waribo wrote in from Port Harcourt