As I left Ondo State on Monday February 21, I reflected on Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s historic visits to oil producing states and wondered whether we from those states fully grasp the import. Do we realize what opportunities the visits offer, what alternatives they portend and the development miles we can make from them? Given the enthusiasm expressed by the populace during those visits, the hope they rekindled and the vibrancy in the voices that welcomed him, I think we do.
My first take on the visits are that they are a deepening and consolidation of the bond between the people and the Buhari administration; a partnership that opens wide, the road to sustainable peace and development of the Niger Delta. Secondly, they revealed the Government’s vision of transforming the oil communities into hubs for refining petrochemicals and related activities which will not only create mass employment and make the country self- sufficient in petroleum products, but will also save the country the huge foreign exchange expended in importation of such products. The Government’s agenda to build modular refineries would be a big leap forward as it will in addition, check the rash of illegal refineries that are further destroying the environment and damaging the health of the people in the Region. The black soot that has enveloped a major city like Port Harcourt as a result of industrial pollution, the rash of illegal refineries and the serious health hazards which have put six million residents at risk, tell us all, that we are running against time.
Government’s plan to make a state like Bayelsa, a hub for power generation given its natural gas deposits, would greatly tilt the economics of scale in favour of the country. This will vastly reduce incidents of pipeline vandalism which has had serious effects on the functioning of gas power plants in parts of the country.
The visits also revealed the initiative of a 40-point Agenda for the Niger Delta by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and oil companies. In my view, leaders, youths and traditional rulers in the Region should key into to this effort in the overall interest of the people.
Apart from the funds it is committing to the Niger Delta, the Federal Government’s initiative in securing over $1 billion dollars from the Shell Petroleum Development Company to provide drinking water and provide health services in the Niger Delta, is salutary. Generally, the trans-national oil companies should follow in the Federal Government’s footsteps by partnering with the Region and contributing towards its development.
They should take advantage of the window of opportunity opened by the Federal Government’s commendable move in bridging the communication gap between the oil companies and the Bayelsa State.
It is advisable in my view, that oil companies expand such cooperation to other oil producing states in order to guarantee peace, oil their business interests and ensure the needed development in the Region.
The Government’s policy - as demonstrated by the visits - of reaching out to the Niger Delta people, listening to their complaints and taking steps to address their concerns, is primarily responsible for the peace being witnessed today in the area and the stop in vandalism of oil facilities. We have to build on this win-win foundation to build the human and infrastructural development of the Niger Delta.
We have no time to waste because the odds are not in our favour. We must be aware that oil is a wasting asset; it will eventually dry up and that more oil is being discovered in other parts of the world. These, along with fracking, will lead to oil glut. All these with the polluted environment of the Region, have serious consequences for the future of the Niger Delta.
The Federal Government has also demonstrated good will to our Region by extending the life span of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and funding it to realize its objectives. I appeal to the youths in the area to key into the Government’s agriculture project in order to ensure food security and mass employment. The Presidential Amnesty Office is already training beneficiaries of the Programme in technologically advanced agriculture methods and is willing to expand this to accommodate other youths in the Niger Delta.
Another positive fall out of the Acting President’s visits is the closer collaboration with state governments. While the states have demonstrated commitment to the development of all oil producing areas, they need to do more. In fact, I look forward to the states continuing where the Presidential Amnesty Programme will stop; the reality is that the Programme cannot be an open ended one.
Following from the visits, the people in the Region will need to build trust, we need to build confidence, we need to build human and infrastructure capacity, above all, we need to build a new Niger Delta with a new narrative. The time to start is now!
*Brigadier General Paul Boroh (Rtd) is the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta & Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty programme.