CULLED FROM THISDAY PAPERS,9-23-2008
To demonstrate its resolve to tackle the problems of the Niger Delta region, the Federal Government recently set up a 40-member technical committee and also created a separate Ministry for Niger Delta. Ademola Adeyemo looks at the palliatives which have been greeted with criticism and hostility especially by the militants
The vexed issue of the Niger Delta crisis has continued to generate tension in the country giving its potential danger to the security and continued existence of the nation. It has however continued to receive government attention at least in the last six months. First, the Federal Government constituted a 40-Member Niger Delta Technical Committee to collate past reports on the Niger Delta issue and advice the Federal Government on the way forward.According to the guidelines, the task ahead of the committee would not attract new research, field trips or lengthy debates but that the bulk of the information would be found in existing commission reports, suggestions, recommendations and position papers. Speaking while inaugurating the committee, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan said the Federal Government was determined to achieve a fair and holistic resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. According to him, government would support the people of the Niger Delta and all people of goodwill in the effort to bring smiles on the faces of all citizens. “The resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta cannot be undertaken outside the region and its people. The initiative of a technical committee on the resolution of the crisis in the Niger Delta was a culmination of consultations with the people of the region, the committee was expected to collate, review and distill the various reports, suggestions and recommendations on the region from all sources. Wherever a report on Niger Delta exists and you can reach it, I urge you to ferret it out, examine it as thoroughly as you can and make suggestions for government's necessary and urgent action,” he had said.At its inaugural meeting the committee elected former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr. Ledum Mitee, as its chairman, while Nkoyo Toyo was elected as secretary.Other members of the 40-man committee are Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, E. C. Adiele, Tony Esu, Nduese Essien, Grace Ekong, Peter King, Anderson Eseimokumo, Lawrence Ekpebu and Austin Ikein as members. Youpele Banigo, Anthony Ani, Ukandi Gabriel Ogar, Edor Obi retired colonel, Omofume Onoge, B. I. C. Ijeoma, Isaac Jemide, Abel Dafioghor, Benard Jamaho, Sam Amuka Pemu, Stella Omu, Ben Bouegha, Julius Ihonvbere, Peter Ebhalemen, Charles Edosomhan a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), E. M. Umezurike, Godswill Ihetu, and Cyril Anyanwu, were also named members of the committee. Others are Sam Amadi and D. I. Kekemeke, Olusola Oke, Wole Ohunayo a retired colonel, Tonye Princewill, Magnus Njei Abe, Chibuzor Ugowoha, Tony Uranta, Anyakwe Nsirimovu, Timi Alaibe and Atei Beredugo. Prior to the establishment of the committee, government had set up a steering committee of the Niger Delta Summit and appointed Professor Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations Undersecretary as Chairman .Gambari’s appointment was ,however, met with stiff opposition from the Niger Delta leaders who accused him of expressing anti-Niger Delta views during the late General Sani Abacha’s regime. Gambari eventually offered to step aside from the summit, saying that he had become the issue as opposed to the issues the summit was to address. Government had no choice but to even change the nomenclature of the proposed summit to dialogue as some people in the Niger Delta were opposed to the idea, expressing reservations that it was going to be a jamboree. Soon after, government went another mile by announcing the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta.However, the two steps taken by the Federal Government were received with mixed feelings by the militant groups in the area. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) rejected the government’s 40-man peace committee saying it "is orchestrated and lacks integrity." MEND while dismissing the composition of the 40-man committee described it as "the appetizer on the menu of another banquet of deceit orchestrated by an insincere government to give it a semblance of integrity." The group believed that peace in the Niger Delta would be determined from the mangrove creeks and not from air-conditioned rooms in Abuja. It described the exercise as putting the cart before the horse. MEND also gave conditions for it to embrace dialogue saying that it will only listen to anyone if its detained leader, Henry Okah, is released. "Without the release of Henry Okah, no right thinking militant that has evaded capture can trust that the government wants genuine peace. Treating those in its custody differently from those that are in the creek is sheer hypocrisy. Henry Okah must be a part of the process and not an agenda for debate." MEND said. The rejection of the committee by MEND was further corroborated by the leader of the Niger Delta Youth Peace Movement, Mr. Moses Siloko Siasia who claimed that the exclusion of youths from the committee makes nonsense of the whole effort and proves that the nation has not learnt anything yet. . Lending his voice to the composition of the committee, Siasia added that it was wrong for the committee to meet and decide the fate of youths who were excluded, saying it violated the agreement that was reached with the Vice President and may not augur well for the committee. "It was agreed that ethnic nationalities should be represented in the committee and that nominations of youths should be made and elders of the region consulted but none of those things were done. "How can they decide the fate of the youths without their input? It is the youths that are carrying arms and they are excluded so how do you think the problem will end", he asked. Outside the Niger Delta region,the federal government’s gesture has also attracted criticism, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, expressed reservations about government‘s intention. According to him, government‘s move was more of a diversionary tactic, aimed at getting the people to believe that something positive was in the offing.Keyamo said, ”Nigerians should come out and condemn the Federal Government for creating the Ministry of the Niger Delta. It is nothing but a diversionary tactic employed by government to deceive the people that they were doing something. The ministry cannot achieve anything.The Transition Monitoring Group also expressed its misgivings over the creation of a Ministry of Niger Delta, recalling government‘s legendary record of stalling its own efforts.To the TMG, the creation of the ministry is a jamboree. The organization said the problem of the Niger Delta goes beyond the creation of a ministry, as it believed that the existence of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)had done little to douse the tension in the region.TMG President, Mr. Moshood Erubami, described the creation of the ministry as “ a preventive step” which according to him, was taken in another direction. Erubami said the issue of the Niger Delta was economic, political and justice, and not just a matter of creating jobs for the boys, such as the replication of the NDDC. ”The problem is just to provide political will, and if the 40-member technical committee had been empanelled, why do they have to create a ministry and not wait for the recommendation of the committee.”On his part, ActionAids‘ Country Director, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, who observed that previous efforts had made good policy prescriptions for the development of the Niger Delta, without achieving much, called for the immediate drawing up of a marshal plan for the transformation of the area.Such a plan, according to Igbuzor, should have concrete things to be done; who is to do them; when, how and at what cost.He also listed the need for a specific development agency for the Niger Delta people with development experts and technocrats as its leadership. He noted that the drawbacks of previous interventions by governments was the setting up of agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Board, the Oil and Minerals Producing Area Development Commission and the NDDC which were all political intervention agencies, but were not devoid of politics, especially in the appointment and conduct of principal officers, and in the operation of the agencies.Of course, Igbuzor‘s observations come in handy in explaining recent rumpus in the NDDC with what many have described as the ridiculous level to which struggle for power attained.Surprisingly, to demonstrate its opposition to the government gestures in setting up the peace committee and the creation of a separate Ministry for the Niger Delta affairs, the militants resumed hostility last week declaring a full-scale war in the area. Spokesman of the MEND, Jomo Gbomo, said last week that creating a ministry was not akin to the coming of the much-awaited messiah but that the group would only believe that the government was sincere when it eventually restructures the country with true federalism.Many also believe that despite the criticisms that have trailed the creation of the ministry, the Yar‘Adua administration, by bringing into reality a ministry to cater for the long-neglected region, has taken what could amount to a giant leap for his administration and the country, if properly executed.The fact that many have started making recommendations on who should be made minister is also considered a clear pointer that the exercise would not be allowed to run free of the politics that many said was the undoing of past efforts.The President of the Ijaw Media Forum, Mr. Asu Beks, said that the creation of the ministry and the setting up of the technical committee was laudable and an indication of President Yar’Adua’s goodwill, but he such good intention must be matched with actions that are palliatives to the people of the region. “Nigeria has never lacked ideas, but it is that of implementation. But I feel personally that the President has a lot of goodwill.“All we are saying is that the ministry should be located in the region itself, and should only have a liaison office in Abuja. It should be an interventionist ministry and what Mr. President should further show is sincerity, by not making it a Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo affair.“To take off effectively, the President should dissolve the board of the NDDC, so that they would not come and pollute the Ministry of Niger Delta while our own people should be appointed to man all the strategic positions.”However despite the opposition, one thing that cannot be taken away from the present administration is its genuine intention to bring development to the Niger Delta, many people are convinced that indeed the President means well.But the question remains,palliatives for who?