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The Niger Delta conundrum

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“As it is now, if all the oil wells in the Niger Delta region were to dry up permanently, would the nation or the rest of the states that benefit from its bowels really miss the black gold?”

By Matthew Agboma Ozah

It is now clear that our policymakers will never be short of curious excuses to justify the neglect and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region.

The Niger Deltans, government apologists often think are too agitative and over-demanding because the crude oil the nation depends on to keep the government running and the economy afloat, is beneath their soil. But such quick and hasty judgment only amplifies the exaggerated vindictiveness and radicalism of the Niger Delta people.

Just as it continues to mask the contradictions and failure of the oil companies to protect the environment. However, it is disheartening to note that the Niger Delta region in the last four decades or more has had to agitate with largely the same issues of neglect, underdevelopment, pollution and blatant disregard for the welfare and wellbeing of the people in that region.

The Niger Deltans watch helplessly as the wealth from the region is used to develop other parts of the country, while it remains on the same spot as time moves ahead and the people are famished by poverty and the absence of the most elementary social infrastructure. As it is now, if all the oil wells in the Niger Delta region were to dry up permanently, would the nation or the rest of the states that benefit from its bowels really miss the black gold?

No doubt, the Niger Delta narrative is an endless advocate for some economic analysts, who blame youth restiveness, militancy and kidnapping as reasons for the nation’s economic setback. Let’s glance through at all the nation’s leaders since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta region, from General Yakubu Gowon, to General Ibrahim Babaginda, whose regimes witnessed the greatest oil boom in the history of the nation’s economic prosperity.

Of course, Olusegun Obasanjo’s military and civilian administrations were greeted with great fanfare of economic solidarity and former President Goodluck Jonathan, a son of the soil, whose tenure enjoyed absolute peace and calmness from the region down to the present, President Muhammadu Buhari all of them seem to have been firmly persuaded to shut their eyes to the degradation and pollution of the region’s environment.

From every indication, political leaders have chosen to pay only lip service to issues concerning the region and are not in the least remorseful about the ruin oil exploration and exploitation had caused the people of the Niger Delta. Indeed, it is shameful that instead of the Niger Delta region serving as an encouraging model of executive and implementation effectiveness, the region has become a victim of poor political power games and the consequence is what we see frequently playing out in the region and is christened as militancy, kidnapping and youth restiveness.

The other day, a screaming warning news headline report credited to the oil and gas rich South-South region reveals a new chapter in the region’s oil story. Foreign investors are shunning the region for reasons economic analysts attribute to insecurity, lack of good corporate governance and non-existence of knowledge-driven economy. To cap the report, oil is running dry in the South-South just as the petroleum hub of the country continues to miss investment benefit, while international oil companies moved their headquarters to Lagos largely because of insecurity.

In addition, the report reveals that state governments in the South-South zone hardly interface aggressively with the private sector. If the above reasons are worth their onion, it is as a result of the lack of political will by the governments past and present to take concrete steps to put an end to the environmental pollution in the region. Without mincing words, the issue of the Niger Delta region is a product of the anti-intellectualism of the leadership elite, which is one of the biggest threats to the kind of dispassionate feelings from the people of the Niger Delta. Therefore, the prospects of peace may remain dim until the issue of neglect in the Niger Delta region is permanently resolved.

Sadly, the ruling government seems to be sending out discordant tunes with regards to the Niger Delta region. There have been rumours that the four-man investigation panel headed by Amb A. Lawal to look into the activities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) had recommended the scrapping of the Programme by December 2020. This has generated sharp reactions from well meaning Nigerians particularly Niger Deltans.

Notable among them is elder statesman Edwin Clark, who likened the committee’s recommendation as an epic example of what we say in local parlance that, “trouble dey sleep, yanga go wake am” while deputy Senate president, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege believes that, “…the timing is not right for the Amnesty programme to be scrapped. We have challenges right now in the North East, the ravages of Boko Haram, banditry in the North West and North Central. Those are enough challenges already in the country. I don’t think this is the right time to reawaken the agitations of militancy in the Niger Delta region”.

By the way, did the committee actually find out if all the objectives for setting up the amnesty programme have been met? Aside the stipend payments and skill acquisition, has the programme addressed other pertinent issues like infrastructural development, sand filling of polluted land areas, building roads and low-cost houses among others in the region? The Niger Delta is too precious a region to be treated with such a disdain, knowing what it contributes to the economic growth of the country.

Over the years, what the people of the Niger Delta have experienced can be termed as the worst form of oppression. Governments past and present have refused to take any meaningful action as oil pollution and gas flaring continues unabated in the region.

The writing on the wall seems to indicate that, the aim of every government in power is to create innovative approach to exploit and explore oil from the region without regards to either the environment or the people. It is a pity that, the Niger Delta region has remained a sore point in Nigeria’s history. The ugly condition of the Niger Delta region has made Nigeria the only oil producing country in the world that has so cruelly plundered its oil producing areas without any policy to keep the environment safe from pollution talk-less of compensation. It is hard to determine the exact point in the nation’s history at which it became imperative for poor governance to reign supreme. Had the nation’s leaders believed in the development of the Niger Delta region, the degradation of the region would not be significantly worse at the end of each government’s tenure in office. It is important for the Buhari administration to use the remaining part of its tenure to write itself into the pages of noble history by treating the issues of the Niger Delta region with utmost attention.

Rather than adding salt to injury by scrapping the Amnesty programme with the continued environmental pollution of the region, there should be a way of bringing out one of the many master plans of the Niger Delta for implementation beyond the looting with all the strength that can cause fainting in Abuja.