BY DAN AMOR
Of late, concern has mounted from amongst Nigerians across ethnic divides as to why the Niger Delta region remains the same except in a few cases where some of the State governors have demonstrated tremendous commitment to the development of their respective states. Nine years after the creation of a substantive Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs by the Administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua in 2009, it is really disturbing that things don’t appear to be working. With the existence of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and a derivation formula of 13 per cent of oil proceeds from the Federation Account awarded to the oil producing states, many Nigerians have queried the relevance of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. But we at The AUTHORITY advocate for more funding of the ministry for effective result.
Yet without any deference to insensate personality cult mongering, the good intention of the late President Yar ‘Adua cannot be faulted. The problem is the absence of a political will on the part of past and present managers of the nation’s political economy to develop the Niger Delta. It is stupid for those entrusted with the affairs of the region to always reflect on peace in the Niger Delta as the only means of achieving increased oil production. What with their erroneous culture of entitlements in which people who constitute themselves into armed – gangs are sustained through huge unproductive contracts whereas the region remains without real development. There is a very severe infrastructural deficit in the Niger Delta in spite of the NDDC and the ministry. Unfortunately, all those who dictate affairs in the region who incidentally are from there live in Abuja. Is it therefore strange that nothing seems to be working there even after the successful amnesty programme?.
It is curious that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is situated in Abuja, thousands of kilometers away from its area of jurisdiction. What a contradiction! We recall that during the Northern Island crisis that rocked the United Kingdom in the 1970s, the Ministry of Northern Island which resulted from the disturbances was not situated in London but in Belfast which was in the centre of Northern Island. There is nothing more symbolic than the fact that the immediate past President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is from the Niger Delta. If during his administration the region still remained the same, under whose administration will the region be developed? Besides the East – West Road project which is still dogged by needless political quagmire, what were the achievements of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in the region during the last administration?
Again, the establishment of an oil and gas company or even petroleum refineries, is long over due for a region that accounts for Nigeria’s enviable ranking as the sixth largest exporter of crude in the world. The huge gas reserves in the region can be used as the feed-stock to drive power plants, petro-chemical industries and allied investments which will turn a desolate region into Nigeria’s nay West Africa’s industrial powerhouse. Ancillary industries will spring up and cluster around such investments. A further multiplier effect will see emergence of a myriad of service industries to minister to the diverse needs of an economy undergoing rapid social and economic transformation. A clear analogy for these endless possibilities exists, with the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand. The transformative effect of that discovery and the construction of the “city of gold” – Johannesburg – still reverberate throughout the Southern African regional economy till today.
Unknown to many Nigerians, the same Presidency which supervises the ministry oversees the affairs of the NDDC. But both agencies are said to be starved of funds. Even when funds are finally released, the two agencies pay more money to their consultants than money channeled to project execution or implementation. There must be sincerity of purpose on the part of the Presidency for things to work in the Niger Delta. This must be anchored on a proper plan for reconstruction and regeneration. Recent pronouncement of President Muhammadu Buhari regarding his readiness to negotiate with stakeholders especially militants in the region and the reordering of contractors back to sites of the Second Niger Bridge, are capable of calming inflamed passions in the region. It is commendable. But we urge the Federal Government to halt the movement of warships and troops to the region. You cannot call for peace while at the same time beating drums of war. The best way to disarm the restive militants in the Niger Delta is a deliberate demilitarization of the region by the Federal Government.