By Jerome-Mario Utomi
The mission of any government should be to promote creativity and to understand that the continuous humiliation, degradation and criticism stifle creativity- Mohammaed bin Rashid AL Maktoum.
There are clear thinkers, muddled thinkers and people that fall in between. Clear thinks -are the ones that can cull everything down into the right points-are very hard to find. But if you get yourself a team of clear thinkers, the possibilities are endless. These are men who see tomorrow, trailblazers and high level executives, but most often misunderstood by some fellow countrymen still stuck in the old normal of yesterday. Without any shadow of the doubt, Comrade Mulade Sherrif, a Niger Delta Peace and Environmental advocate, and National Coordinator, Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice CEPEJ, falls into the bracket of a clear thinker as outlined by Justin Merkins above. This assertion is gleaned in the products of his ingenuity and vividly signposted in a recent admonition to the Federal Government. Specifically, while addressing the pressmen in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), he suggested that instead of the planned deployment of the recovered $308M Abacha’s loots to construction of Lagos – Ibadan expressway, Abuja – Kano expressway and Second Niger bridge, such fund can actually be channeled to the development of the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta In ways that will enhance seamless development of critical infrastructure in the area, grow the economy; improve the living condition of the people and guarantee sustainable peace in the area. As what currently exist in the region is but a negative peace.
To go against this suggestion will be considered an injustice to the people of the region since the recovered funds were proceeds from oil exploration activities from the oil and gas areas like Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers during the General Abacha era. Strictly speaking, abandoning the people of the Niger Delta region in this critical moment, in preference for white elephant projects could be likened to a horse shaking off flies with its tails oblivious of the fact that as soon as it stops to flail its tail, the flies will come back more determined to snipe, he concluded. Indeed, as someone that has followed these reports, commentaries, opinion articles and street reactions for and against the way to spend the recovered Abacha’s loot, a careful analysis of the subject matters reveals that while some comments appeared as balanced argument, several others were pure sentiments and emotional outburst, mostly lacking in logical reasoning. But most specifically, there was a consensus among the vast majority that there exists a long standing neglect of the Niger Delta; This may sound rather shocking but it is an unhappy truth the perception of both the government and the International Oil Companies (IOCs), concerning the region could be likened to that of an endangered species strategically marked for extinction, using neglect and abandonment as a formidable tool.
In their estimation, so far the eggs (crude oil) are secured; the condition of the goose that lay the eggs becomes secondary. Bemoaning the fate that has befallen the people of the region, Mulade, like other critical stakeholders believe that the FG and the oil companies are responsible for the woes of the Niger Delta as they listen without being attentive to the excruciating situation in the region. Submitting that non implementation of agreements like the 16points development agenda as drafted by the Pan Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF), tagged the Akure-accord and non possession of political will and sincerity to rework in a way that will serve the serve the interest of the oil host communities, and sign into law the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) are but some pragmatic examples. Of course, using the minimum components of the right to a healthy environment as a baseline, the environmental condition of the coastal communities in the Niger Delta region can best be described as not only deplorable but graced with non-development, poverty and extreme lack of government presence. In my views, the situation in the region has further served as a proof that ‘poverty of our leaders certainly does not mean material poverty, but lack of commitment to duty, lack of vision and greediness characterized by corruption’.
In reality, there is no single answer to the multi-faceted plights of the people of Niger Delta, but be that as it may, it is my opinion that the place to start is that of addressing government insensitivity and failures. The federal government needs to take responsibility and come up with steps for a strong, aggressive leadership, write down at all times each point of uncertainty, estimate the probability of a positive or a negative outcome in each case, and access the probable impact on the overall result Address the issues of weak regulation on the parts of its ministries and agencies, tackle the oil companies lackadaisical handling of the environment. Formulate questions in a way that will facilitate the discovery of solutions to; why Mr. President who continuously mouths his determination to solve the crisis in the region, declined assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), a document that has the template as well as solution to the nagging challenge in the region, passed by the out gone 8th Assembly. And ensure compliance by the oil firms with the implementation of the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) so entered with host communities.
This should be followed with a propagation of collaborative arrangement with-Environment, Petroleum and Justice Ministries, and operators of the up, mid and downstream sector of the oil and gas industries operating in the region as well as respect these stakeholders as co-soldiers in the development army with the same ranks and tasks. Find solution and fast to the challenges created by the Niger Delta Development Commissions (NDDC), and that of the Presidential Amnesty handlers. Finally, this time in my views is not a period for the government to conclude that public opinion do not always provide clear-cut policy guidance, or that even when public opinion is clearly in favour of a certain course of government action, the authorities may decide otherwise-particularly when they realize how uninformed, superficial, and changeable most opinions really are. Though faced with interminable socioeconomic and environmental challenges, one thing is sure. Niger Delta is troubled but not despondent. A situation that makes it easy for them to be managed and contained if only the federal government could come up with a plan and will to tackle the challenges as currently faced by the people of the region.
Utomi wrote from Lagos Nigeria.