The recent appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari of Professor Charles Quaker-Dokubo as the new Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Co-ordinator of the Presidential Niger Delta Amnesty Programme (NDAP) qualifies as a dispensation with significant promise to change the Niger Delta story for the better. Coming to drive the programme from where Brigadier General Paul Boroh the immediate past Coordinator left it, Professor Quaker-Dokubo is bringing to the job a rich pedigree of an astute academic of international repute and a tested solution provider. Needless to state that his high ranking peerage at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) was earned from long years of research and teaching on conflict resolution in Nigeria, Africa and beyond.
That is why President Buhari could not have picked a better endowed person for the job at this time. The appointment of the new Coordinator has also put paid to any insinuations that the present administration is set to scrap the project. In the same vein his advent at the NDAP is coming at a most auspicious time when the programme is needy of a game change for several reasons. This change he has rightly identified as a realignment of the entire programme and intensifying its focus on the challenge of promoting the development of human capital which will facilitate permanence of peace in the region.
His disposition to address as a priority the enhancement of the human capacity of the youth in the region remains unassailable given the primacy of the human factor in promoting development. For at the core of the agitation by the same youth in the region, is the factor of their serial neglect by succeeding administrations. Thankfully the focus of the new Coordinator is fixated on the creation of jobs for the youth.
Launched by late President Umaru Yar Adua in 2009 as a three-stage Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) scheme, the NDAP was intended to provide cessation of hostilities between the country’s security forces and the warring militants who were agitating over the serial neglect of the region by succeeding Nigerian governments. In the words of the rather prescient proclamation, Yar Adua stated that we “do recognize that the provision of the necessary infrastructure for the sorely needed socio-economic development of the area is dependent on an enduring atmosphere of peace and security”. Just as well, to accentuate his justification of the amnesty he argued that “Constructive and frank engagements with all the stakeholders have defined our approach in the past two years. In line with the requisite priority which our Seven-point Agenda accords to the issue, and in furtherance of our determination to decisively deal with all the ramifications of the crisis, a Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta was set up…”.
The seven point agenda he alluded to featured the enhancement of life for the citizenry in the country in the critical areas of education, security, power and energy, food security, wealth creation and transportation. In his judgement therefore the Niger Delta would be denied access to the dividends of the seven point agenda unless hostilities ceased in the region.
The NDAP however was not intended to be the ultimate solution to the Niger Delta problem but only a prompter to the wide field of stakeholders to do the needful in their individual and collective capacities to change the story of the region. The field of stakeholders include the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), relevant state governments, local governments, and sundry private interests especially the resource extraction companies such as the multi-national oil companies and their indigenous operators. These were expected to capitalize on the window of peace provided by the NDAP.
So far such has not been the case. Infact official records indicate that most of these stakeholders rather abandoned their briefs with respect to developing the zone. Perhaps the most vicious detractors of the region could even remain some of its indigenous contractors who won contracts for projects and failed to execute such. A typical instance was in 2015 when an audit report revealed that out of about N700 billion value of contracts awarded to indigenous contractors in the region, only 12% impact was recorded. The implication of such diversion of huge stocks of public funds by stakeholders remains the denial of job opportunities for the indigenous youth of the region.
The advent of the new Coordinator as the purveyor of peace in the region, now provides the opportunity for a renewal of commitment by the various stakeholders in the task of exploiting the bountiful dividends of the zone. In his capacity as the Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, his office provides the ample window for stake holders in the region to relate with him with respect to moving the region forward. While petroleum resources may have been the primary money spinner in the region, such consideration should not preclude the exploitation of other avenues for economic exploitation, and the provision of job opportunities in the zone for the youth.
For instance expert opinion has designated the Niger Delta region as one of the world’s most promising maritime hubs, that is if it is developed along such line. The axis comprising Port Harcourt, Onne, Bonny and Abonema offers itself as one of the most promising maritime hubs in the world if developed optimally. This is not to talk of the Calabar and Nembe axes, which are presently allowed to remain fallow, technically.
Beyond the foregoing however remains the need for stakeholders to give the new Coordinator time to turn things around in the Amnesty Programme in line with his new agenda of changing the game for good especially in the light of his focus on human capacity enhancement.
What he needs now are ideas and valuable insights on how to make the Niger Delta better, in his mission to change the region.