A lot have been said about the need to address the issues of poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment, militancy, youth restiveness, marginalization, the criminality of the genuine struggle of the Niger Delta people and the economic banditry perpetrated by successive governments in the Niger Delta region. Several peace resolution committees, probe panels and commissions, have been set up in the past with all the reports cooling off in the dustbins of the administrations that set them up. We do not need soothsayers to tell us what the problems are or whether the problems are real.
Earlier in the year, the Senators visited the creeks and they did not believe that the Niger Delta where the source of our economic survival comes from can be in such a state of neglect. The House of Representatives also held a retreat in one of the States and were unhappy with the state of things in the Niger Delta. The basic things for the survival of man as propounded by Maslow are lacking in the region.
When I visited my late grandmother at Sakpoba Road in the 60s and early 70s there was a public tap at Asoro junction for the masses. Today, if one cannot sink a borehole the person treks kilometers to source for drinking water. It is worse in the riverine areas because the water is heavily polluted by spills from oil related activities and human wastes. So, the people do not have clean water to drink. They have no farm land for farming. There are no industries to absorb the unemployed youths. Gas flaring is destroying the eco system with unprecedented acid rains. They live in ghettoes in mosquito infested environment. To protest the wrong done to them, they started peaceful agitations. What did government do? It confronted them with tear gas canisters and guns. This led to violent struggle, which has been hijacked by a few people and now we are having kidnappings, hostage taking and all sorts of activities that negates the genuine struggle of the Niger Delta people. This however, does not mean that the genuine agitators have been diminished.
The genuine agitators have randomly condemned these acts of criminality and are seeking solutions to the issues through the dialogue option. For instance, Ledum Mittee led the Ogoni struggles for so long without guns. All we need is a sincere dialogue process, which in all intent and purposes has been lacking.
Brief Historical Excursion
Several peace resolution committees, probe panels and commissions, have been set up in the past with all the reports cooling off in the dustbins of the administrations that set them up. The Wilkins Commission of 1958, the 1992 Rio-De Janeiro 1st earth Summit, series of dialogue between 1991 and 1998 when the Ijaw National Congress (INC) lack of trust in the government’s engagement process and perceived insincerity on the part of other actors. All these finally ended with the Kaiama declaration in 1998. There have been heaps of committees’ recommendations both to the government and the multinational companies. These include Chief Gamaliel Onosode’s Committee report done for Shell petroleum development Corporation (SPDC), the Popoola and Ogomudia’s reports for the Federal Government and recently the town hall meetings of former President Obasanjo. All these were done to seeking long lasting solutions to Niger Delta problems. Yet nothing could be said to have concretely come out of these engagements. What other evidence or recommendations does government need to act decisevely? Rather than solve the problems, the various processes created some billionaires at the expense of the real people for whose sake the committees were set. This is the major reason the Niger Delta people are against any more summit that won’t add value to their lives.
From the above, it is vivid that the Niger Delta region is not in want of panaceas to the socio-economic problems besetting the region. What is lacking is the political will of each successive government to implement the recommendations of the various committees. I say this because several agencies have emerged in the past to act as platforms for bringing development to the region. The precursor of the Niger Delta development Commission (NDDC) was OMPADEC. The end of Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) did not justify the means.
The past agencies failed because of some of the following reasons:
Deliberate under funding of the agencies. We saw billions of Naira returned to the coffers of the Federal government in 2007 as unspent allocations; yet NDDC was denied its full allocation that year.
The platforms acted as conduits for siphoning money by the political actors at the States/Federal government levels.
Gave out contracts as patronage for the supporters of those in power
Weak infrastructures to monitor performance.
Complacency on the part of the civil populace. We would have jointly risen to demand accountability from our leaders.
Running the agencies as personal Estates.
Weak infrastructures for appraising the heads of such institutions after each administration. Thanks to the rejuvenated ICPC and the establishment of the EFCC.
The current face off
The Niger Delta Summit proposed by President Yar’Adua has generated a lot of hues, cries and resentment. It shows that the Niger Delta people have lost total confidence in the ability of government to address their problems because they have been deceived in the past. An old woman used to say “if you are deceived once, you are a fool, if you allow that same person to deceive you twice, then you are a bloody fool”.
This is the situation in the Niger Delta region. Irrespective of the need to move the process forward, this government needs to be very cautious in handling the Niger Delta issue and it stands to reason to listen to the voice of the people. The choice of Gambari who was accused of calling the likes of Ledum Mittee and late Ken Saro Wiwa common criminals at a United Nations forum compounded the issue for Yar’Adua. Gambari should been seen here as a Mediator in-Chief in this matter. In this regards, all the parties must accept to work with him without which the process is doomed to fail. Government must listen and should begin to consider other options. The competence of Gambari, a very high and respected international conflict resolver is not in doubt but he cannot perform where he is not welcomed.
From the antecedents of President Yar’Adua, I want to believe that he is very sincere about addressing the the Niger Delta problems. For him to propose the Niger Summit also underscores his non-belief in previous efforts. The past leaders have used previous summits and committees as smoke screens. It is in this light I urge all the stakeholders in this business to give him a chance to use an approach he believes in. Dialogue is a tortuous process and can never be too much even when the process hurts us, we must never give up. This is necessary because the dividends of an open, transparent and sincere dialogue process would usually stand the test of time.
Pending when an agreement is reached on how best to go about the dialogue process, let there be discernable and tangible development of the Niger Delta region. It is a matter of dusting previous reports and implementing the recommendations in a faithful manner.
Development cannot take place where anarchy reigns supreme. It is in this light I call on the genuine freedom fighters to lay down their arms and embrace the dialogue process. The heightened level of insecurity in the Niger Delta will make the people poorer. Industrialists who will normally invest in the oil rich region to give employment to the people cannot be guaranteed return on their investments and so will shy away from the region.
Those perpetrating criminality as in kidnapping of children, men and women for ransom, hostage taking, pipelines vandalism and illegal oil bunkering which is undermining the genuine struggle of the Niger Delta people must be fished out and made to face the music. The genuine fighters must also see this as their own war.
Upward review of the derivation formula.
The Governors of the Niger Delta region must shift their paradigm from that of their successors who aggrandized what belonged to the people for their own selfish ends. Let us begin to see the dividends of democracy in terms of the provision of the basic things of life like drinking water, shelter for the poor etc.
Release of Federal government allocations to the Federal agencies saddled with policy implementation on Niger development plans as at when due. The funds must be fully disbursed as appropriated.
Deliberate attempts to urbanize the creeks.
Deliberate attempt by the Federal government to kick start employment generation in the region.
Extensive consultations of all the relevant stakeholders in the Niger Delta.
What we are toying with in the Niger Delta is an accident waiting to happen. We have so many threats to the corporate existence of Nigeria that we all need to urgently seek solutions through the dialogue option. Except all stakeholders beat a retreat from their entrenched positions, we might jolly well be heading for a full scale war, which would not benefit the majority of Nigerians. The armed group must essentially disarm for dialogue to take place.
On the other hand, the government must make firm commitment on how to engage the militants meaningfully so that they can have a means of livelihood once they are out of the bush. Let us begin to see reclamation of land in the creeks for housing and industrialization. One thing is clear, whether the summit holds now or in the future, it is doomed to fail unless all the actors embrace a sincere process of reconciliation. This is time to walk the talk.