THE NIGER DELTA QUESTION: THE WAY FORWARD
A house divided against itself cannot stand, therefore, the coming together of different groups in the region is highly commendable as it will serve as a platform through which the Niger Delta yearnings are presented to the government and the world in general.
By Editorial Board
With the renewed spate of militancy in the Niger Delta, several groups and platforms have been concerned with finding lasting solutions to the crisis. For instance, Leaders, Elders and various interest groups from the region have in different occasions met with the sole aim of addressing the restiveness in the region. One common ground reached, and that has been consequently recommended in tackling the challenges of youths restiveness that has plague the region by these different groups is unity among various interest groups in the region, hence a unified body, Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) was birth. A house divided against itself cannot stand, therefore, the coming together of different groups in the region is highly commendable as it will serve as a platform through which the Niger Delta yearnings are presented to the government and the world in general.
The birth of PANDEF, an amalgam of groups perhaps made it easier for the presidency to get in touch with the region with a view to engaging the people in a dialogue that could bring a lasting solution to militancy in the region. The readiness by the President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government in engaging the region in a dialogue is a right step in the right direction. Sustainable peace and security in the Niger Delta will be no doubt achieved through dialogue. Issue-based dialogue, backed with meaningful actions would go a long way in convincing the people of the Region of the Federal Government’s commitment and sincerity of purpose in resolving the region’s problems
Over the years, several efforts have been made by previous government in addressing the Niger Delta question, therefore, Mr President willingness to addressing the Niger Delta challenges is a trajectory of various levels of action on the matter, going back to the days before the attainment of Nigeria’s Independence. Recall, with a view to addressing the minority group challenges, in which the Niger Delta was inclusive, the British Colonial Government between 1957 and 1958 appointed a high-level government commission, which became known as the Willinks Commission to undertake a study of the concerns of the Minorities in the Country. The Commission which presented a report to the British Colonial Government after its findings, underlined the fact that due to its peculiar environment and terrain, the Niger Delta posed to its people and the Nigerian nation a serious developmental challenge. Accordingly, in the 1960 (Independence) Constitution, it was expressly provided that the area (Niger Delta) should be treated as a Special Developmental Zone which led to the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB), as the vehicle for that purpose.
Consequently, due to the NDDB inability to address the Niger Delta question, several bodies such as OMPADEC, NDDC, the Amnesty Programme were set up to address the Niger Delta challenges. Sadly, none of these bodies created have been able to make the desired impact, for a number of reasons. hence the need for the Federal Government to reason together with stakeholders in the region with a view to adopting a paradigm shift on the Niger Delta issue. Stakeholders such as the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), an umbrella body of groups in the region has, after a rigorous assessment of the region challenges, particularly the recent resurgence of militancy, presented a sixteen points agenda to Mr. President as panacea to broker peace in the oil-rich region.
The PANDEF Sixteen Points Demands
First in the agenda presented to the Presidency by PANDEF as core in restoring peace in the region is review of the Presidential Amnesty Programme with a view to reappraising its core mandate to provide a robust exit strategy, in order to transit recipients into gainful employment, effectively integrate them and free them of dependency on stipends, so as to enabling them and the larger community benefit in their new-found skills. Recall, Presidential Amnesty Programme was proclaimed by late President Umaru Musa Yar ‘dua with the sole aim of ending hostilities in the region, and facilitate stabilization of the security conditions, thereby paving way for sustainable development in the Region. It is worth noting that out of the five components, namely, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of former militant agitators, Critical Infrastructural and Economic Development in the Niger Delta, Environmental Remediation, Implementation of Modalities for the Involvement of Host Communities in the Ownership of Petroleum Assets and Establishment of Framework for Oil and Gas Assets Protection, and Pipeline Surveillance, only the Disarmament and Demobilization component of the DDR programme is being implemented to date. This is regrettable and has therefore
created more tensions over the fate of the Amnesty Programme, seven years after inception. There is therefore urgent need for a review of the programme so as to douse tension on the programme.
Second on the agenda is the urgent need to resolve, and administer justice as regards some aggrieved groups in the region. Pending issue on individual groups which has security threat in the region needs to be addressed urgently so as to restore peace.
Third, the effect of increased military presence in the Niger Delta which has resulted cases of invasion of communities, displacement of persons and all sorts of human rights abuses and harassment by the military personnel needs urgent redress and a reversal.
Fourth, the recent upsurge in insecurity in the region which has resulted in the displacement of large numbers of people from their communities, consequently subjecting them to untold hardship in various locations of the region needs urgent attention by relevant agents with a view to returning them to their communities.
Fifth, on the list is the Ogoni Clean-up and environmental remediation as recommended by UNEP report without further delay. Though the flagging off of the clean-up by Mr President is commendable, delay on its implementation is arousing doubt on the sincerity of the Presidency on the projects. More so, there is need for the Federal Government to commission a region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the Niger Delta with a view to undertaking an environment protection laws, take decisive steps to enforcing the Zero Gas Flare deadline, and the devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of an effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta, must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
Sixth, is the urgent need for for a quick takeoff of academic activities at the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State. It is disheartening that the only University cited in the oil producing communities has been brought to an hurt due to utterances by some set of persons. It will be an overstatement to state citing a University in the oil producing communities is a well-deserved one going by the outputs from these communities to the nation’s treasury. It is therefore behooves of the Federal Government to deal with all hurdles to the commencement of the University so as to give people from these communities right to higher education just like other region of the country. More so, the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State to a University should be implemented without further delay.
Seventh on the list by PANDEF is infrastructural development. There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative regional infrastructure such as the existing East-West road which needs urgent completion, implementation of the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State, whose Design already completed by the NDDC, implementation of development of inland water ways and riverine infrastructure, removal of all bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of existing and new Ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commencement of dredging at Escravos bar-mouth, which will hopefully open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep draft sea-going vessels, resumption of work at other abandoned projects will go a long way in addressing the the Niger Delta question.
Security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure appeared eighth on the list. It audible to the deaf and visible to the blind that the incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, which has adverse effects and damages on the environment, health and economic activities of inhabitants affected area, has also taken a direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the nation’s economy, hence the urgent need for a review of surveillance of pipeline contract as recommended by the PANDEF. Contracting surveillance of pipeline to community would invariably make such communities see such contract as protecting theirs’
Relocation of administrative and operational headquarters of IOCs which appears ninth on the list of the PANDEF must be commended by all meaning Niger Deltans. It is absurd companies which extract natural resources from a particular area have their operational headquarters outside such areas thereby denying such areas all the economy benefits it could have ordinarily derived from such companies. Relocation of IOCs operational headquarters to their area of operation would not only boost economic activities of such area but would hopefully create a mutually beneficial relationship between the host communities and the IOCs.
Power supply, which is tenth on the list is one of the core challenges that give every reasonable person who either resides or citizen of the region a concern. It is sad to note that despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta still remain unconnected to the national Grid. Therefore, as advocated by the PANDEF, a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the region to gas supplies should be put in place. This would go a long way in giving all sides a stake in improved power stability.
Eleventh is the need for economic development and empowerment by the Federal and State Governments with a view to clearly signaling their interest in a sustained economic development in the region. Implementation of the Brass LNG and fertilizer plant project, similarly concluding the Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny are urgently needed. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests, and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta region, creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources are also needful, as creating such corridors would boost industrialization and a robust economic base in the region which would invariably improve the living condition of the Citizens. Also expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the region in particular the Gas city, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu in Warri South LGA of Delta State, harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied industrial clusters, harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the region in order to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, is an antidote in keeping the youths from restiveness. This is achievable through ICT. Appropriate engagement of the youths in ICT can be the elixir to create the much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the region
Full participation in oil industry and ownership of oil blocs, institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework across the entire enterprise chain of the petroleum and maritime sectors takes the twelfth position on the list. Alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land is uncalled for, therefore, there is need for an affirmative actions that would guarantee the involvement of Niger Delta communities particularly the oil producing areas in ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry.
Restructuring and funding of the NDDC , a body commissioned with the development of the region appears thirteenth on the list. The NDDC seems to have lost its founding purpose and focus hence a refocus and restructuring of the commission is needed for it to truly serve as an intervention agency that would respond swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta.
Fourteenth is the strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry. Niger Delta Ministry created to function as a development ministry of the region has been underfunded, PANDEF therefore called for adequate funding for it to fulfill its purpose in the region. Underfunding the ministry is invariably underfunding the region which would definitely hamper development in the region.
Fifteenth on the list is the Bakassi question. The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon, unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement have continue to create tension and threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta region. It also appears there is lack of a well-coordinated transparent Blueprint for the development, resettlement of the displaced populations in the Bakassi, and the host communities face huge abuses which made them find it difficult in reestablishing their respective means of livelihood. It is therefore recommended a comprehensive resettlement plan, including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People be put in place in harness.
Fiscal federalism as being clamour by different sections of the country takes the sixth position on the list. People from the Niger Delta support the call for true federalism therefore urge the Federal Government to regards the call as expeditious.
The Host Community Demands
Meanwhile in a similar meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari under the aegis of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas, HOSCOM leaders from the core-oil producing communities have also reeled out an additional and separate five-point demand to the Federal Government which the HOSCOM regarded as an antidote for a meaningful dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta.
Demands reeled out by the HOSCOM include the immediate release by the Federal Government, of part of the gas flare penalty funds to HOSCOM; immediate passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, by the National Assembly; re-routing of the 13 per cent derivation fund in the Exclusive List, directly to HOSCOM account as enshrined in Section 162.2 of the constitution, outright award of pipeline surveillance contracts to HOSCOM, and creation of a new Directorate of Hostland Security with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources catering directly for security needs of host communities.
Not just demands but the need for implementation
With the above listed points, no doubt the Pan Niger Delta Forum presented to the Presidency issues, if not all, that need to be resolved quickly in order to bring peace and progress, not only to the region, but indeed to the whole Country. Though there are documents and publications that tend to suggest that the Federal Government has already taken precipitate, unilateral decisions on a number of above listed issues, there is need for caution by the Federal Government against repeating mistakes of the past, where policies and plans were announced without rigorous public scrutiny and input. A plan to have a chance of success must be first subjected to critical assessment by involving the affected persons in such assessment. On the other hand exclusion of affected persons from the process of designing solutions to a particular problem would not change the tide. Mr President’s decision to engage the Niger Delta region with the aim of finding a last solutions to the youths restiveness and other vices in the region is a welcome idea however, the apparent exclusion of the youths, who are major agitators in the region in the recent meeting must not repeat itself in proposed dialogue if the Federal Government really wants to achieve the desired result.
More so, the People of the Niger Delta, by sending forth their leaders to initiate a dialogue process that will bring a lasting peace as exhibited patriotism, translating that they remain committed to the unity, peace and progress of the country but it worth re-emphasing that a meaningful dialogue cum a result-oriented one must include the youths in the whole dialogue processes. The both the Federal Government and the region readiness to engage themselves in a meaningful dialogue is at least an exhibition of commitment to creating the right environment for business activities in the region. It is therefore hoped that business friendly environment the Federal Government and leaders from the region are trying to create will translate into the development of resources such as Agriculture, Solid Minerals and indeed Oil in other parts of the Country.
It is now pertinent the Federal Government constitute its Dialogue Team with the appropriate Mandate to commence the needed Dialogue, which should include all the key Actors, especially the Oil Companies and the State Governors without delay.
Caution must be also taken in politicising this path of dialogue initiated as such politics may contaminate jeopardize the whole processes.
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