CADA and possibility of a sustainably developed Delta state coastal area
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Throughout the early decades, the world paid little attention to what constitutes sustainable development. Such conversation, however, gained global prominence via the United Nations introduction, adoption and pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which lasted between the year 2000 and 2015. And was among other intentions aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger as well as achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health among others.
Likewise/comparatively, in the early years of Delta as state, the coastal region of the state was visibly plagued with similar development challenges such as widespread poverty, insecurity, gross injustice and ethnic politics-and in dire need of attention from interventionist organizations (private and civil society organization).
Such narrative appreciably changed with the advent of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa administration in the state. That was from the year 2015 till date. Indeed, the administration has without doubt brought to the region some economic growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, and improvement in health and education.
However, there are some painful signs that except more reforms are made and more effective policies put in place to sustainably save and serve the people of coastal region of the state, the honesty, efficiency and development Governor Okowa has brought to the Coastal region are likely going to end with him at the expiration of his tenure.
There are many reasons why this present fear cannot be described as unfounded.
Out many, the most ‘profound’ is the continued inability of the state House of Assembly to pass into law the Coastal Area Development Agency (CADA) Bill, scripted by the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), in February 2018, long before other sister development agencies were created by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and forwarded to; the Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, Honourable Speaker, The Delta state House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori as well as other members of the Hose.
A peep into the proposed but now abandoned Bill, shows that if passed, it will not be mistaken for, or categorized as, or runs in conflict with the already ascribed responsibilities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and that of the Delta State Development Commission (DESOPADEC), as it is coastal dwellers-specific
SCHEDULE II, Section 4(5) of the Bill clarifies this argument as it painstakingly outlined the communities referred/described as coastal communities. These communities in question include; IJAW: Ogulagha, Egbema, Gbaramatu Kingdoms, Burutu, Bomadi, Patani and Okpokunou. ISOKO: IyedeAne, Onogboko and Ofagbe. ITSEKIRI: Omadino, Ugborodo, Ogidigben, Gbokoda and Bateren. NDOKWA: Ase, Aboh and Ashaka. URHOBO: Assah, Gbaregolo, Okwagbe, Esaba, Otutuama, Ophorigbala and Otor-Ewu.
Again, separate from the Bill being capped with capacity for strengthening state government’s focus on developing the area and serving the interest of the coastal dwellers, if passed, it will unite the three senatorial zones of the state. The reason for this assertion is not farfetched. A glance at the names of the communities to be included or captured by the Bill shows that they are well spread across the three senatorial zones of the state and includes the five major ethnic nationalities in the state; (1) Ijaw;(ii) Isoko; (iii) Itsekiri;iv) Ndokwa of Anioma nationality and (v) Urhobos. Under this form of arrangement and inclusiveness, the case of envy or inter tribal crisis is without doubt bound not to arise.
Another area of interest provided by the Bill that makes it welcoming is signposted in the Agency function/responsibilities captured in PART II. . (1).
It says: The Agency shall formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Coastal Area; conceive, plan and implement, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Coastal Area; prepare a master plan to tackle ecological and environmental problems of the Coastal Area; cause the Coastal Area to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures to promote its physical and socio-economic development; undertake such research as may be necessary for the performance of its functions;
Others are; develop and operate infrastructure services and facilities within the Coastal Area; liaise and collaborate with relevant Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies; attract and promote investments for the development of the Coastal Area; enter into contracts or partnerships with any person or body (whether corporate or unincorporated) which in the opinion of the Agency will facilitate the discharge of its functions under this Bill; and execute such other works and perform such other functions which in the opinion of the Agency, are required for the sustainable development of the Coastal Area and its people.
Indeed, while this piece notes with pleasure that the Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa’s led administration has achieved alot in the state particularly in the Niger Delta region, it will be necessary for the House to consider this Bill.
Principally, if they fail to provide this needed protection and save the area from infrastructural backwardness pollution and degradation, via enactment of this Bill, how will the state government expect the people to be treated with equal respect by the vast majority of International Oil Companies (OICs), operating in the locality, who currently consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), ‘a dangerous fiction created as an excuse to impose an unfair burden upon the wealthy and powerful.
Next, Governor Okowa and of course the state house of Assembly must accelerate this process because the communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are being violated.
Very instructive, another compelling reason why the state must act in favour of the Bill is that the coastal dweller/Oil bearing host communities, who initially hoped that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), will take care of their needs and offer the needed environmental protection have since realized that such may not be an insight particularly with the paltry 3% allocation the Act allocated to the host communities. So having the CADA propositions come alive, will act as consolation to the people for the inadequacies of the Petroleum Industry Act.
The house needs to keep this fact in mind as the opportunity provided by the Bill can proffer broader solution to the challenges created by the Niger Delta Development Commissions (NDDC), and that of the Presidential Amnesty handlers. To explain this point, while the coastal dwellers have in recent times perceived and referred to NDDC as ‘a city boy’ that has nothing to do with coastal regions, the pronounced threat created by the Presidential Amnesty office inability to create jobs for the large army of professionally trained ex-militants have characterized the entire programme as a horse shaking off flies with its tail oblivious of the fact that as soon as it stops to flail its tail, the flies will come back more determined to snipe.
Most importantly, it is evident that this agitation for a better life and healthy environment in the coastal region of the state did not start today. This particular fact makes it more compelling for the members of the house and the Governor to respond to this bill.
Standing as a telling proof of neglect is an open letter dated May 20th, 2019 by the Riverine communities in Delta state forwarded to Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta state, where the group bemoaned the non-presence of government projects in the coastal areas, lamenting the Niger Delta Development Commissions’ (NDDC), choice of cities and towns for their projects, and advocated for the creation of Coastal Area development agency (CADA), as a way of ensuring a sustained development of the area.
There are equally signs that the people of the area are not relenting in their call on the state government to intensify efforts to sustainably develop the area.
Very recently, Comrade Mulade, environmental activist/coastal dweller in a news conference held in Asaba the state capital. Sheriff appealed to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, lamented that the Bill has not been given any consideration despite being in line with the demands by Deltans in the coastal communities, seeking a legislation to establish an agency saddled with the primary mandate to fast track development of their area. And thereafter called on the state government to kindly consider the Bill as the quest is aimed at giving hope of sustainable development and sense of belonging to the riverine peoples of the State.
In line with the above observation, this piece holds the opinion that if bringing development to the area in ways that will be characterized as sustainable is the objective of the state government, then, the present demand by the people may not be lacking in merit.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via: [email protected]/08032725374