From Chukwudi Ejimofor.
The African Global Development for Positive Change Initiative (ADI), a non-governmental organization (NGO), has called on the Federal Government to engage the youths of the Niger Delta region in agriculture, and agro-business to enhance their living standards as well as help grow the country’s economy.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, at the weekend, President of the organization, Prince Dan Mbachi, said the relative peace now being enjoyed in the region would be sustained if the agencies created by the government to develop the region include agriculture in the schedule of their activities.
He said that the agencies such as the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), should not confine themselves to training youths to acquire skills and providing infrastructural facilities in the region, but should also meaningfully engage the people in agriculture.
Prince Mbachi described oil as a fleeting resource, adding that agriculture would in future become the mainstay of the country’s economy.
The AUTHORITY recalls that multi-national oil companies had caused environmental degradation in the Niger Delta following long period of oil exploration and exploitation without providing commensurate social amenities such as potable water, good roads, schools, health facilities for the people.
The apparent insensitivity of these oil companies to the plight of their host communities had compelled armed youths in the region to resort to destruction of oil pipelines, and kidnappings, a development which caused the downward production and export of petroleum products.
And appalled by the level of destruction of oil facilities in the region by the gun-toting youths, the erstwhile government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in year 2000, with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region, and ultimately force the armed youths to sheathe their sword.
But in September 2008, his successor late President Umaru Yar’Adua, announced the formation of a Niger Delta Ministry, with the NNDC to become a parastal under the ministry.
One of the core mandates of the Commission is to train and educate the youths of the oil rich Niger Delta regions to curb hostilities and also to reduce poverty.
The Yar’Adua administration later instituted an amnesty deal for militants in the Niger Delta aimed at reducing unrest in the oil-rich region. The package included an unconditional pardon and cash payments to the about 10,000 militants who agreed to lay down their arms, and whose attacks in the Niger Delta states cost the country a third of its oil production.
“The amnesty idea is a step in the right direction, but there does not appear to be a substantial amount of planning and political engagement behind it,” said Richard Moncrieff, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.
Mbachi argued that the palliative measures introduced by the Federal Government were inadequate to ameliorate the environmental degradation and hardships caused residents in that region occasioned by oil exploration and exploitation by the multi-national oil companies, especially, Shell.
He said that the oil companies have continued to witness equipment failures resulting to oil spillages.
According to him, the indiscriminate establishment of artisanal refineries known in local parlance, as “Kpoo Fire” business in the region, has to a large extent, polluted the rivers, resulting to the destruction of aquatic life in the region.
Amid the unresolved problem of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region, Mbachi urges the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the NDDC and all other interventionist agencies in the region to embark on agricultural revolution in the area, saying that the region is blessed with arable land.
He said: “There should be concerted and deliberate efforts to sustain and maintain the relative peace in the Niger Delta region now.
“These interventionist agencies – Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Presidential Amnesty Programme and the Niger Delta Development Commission should synergize towards curbing militancy in Niger Delta region, for their citizens to sing a different song from oil exploration and exploitation.
“The federal government should be proactive in dealing with the symptoms that provoke restiveness in the region, by tackling it from its roots.
“The federal government should stop recognizing those that are carrying guns in region, rather the government should create an enabling environment for the people of the region to be actively engaged in agriculture and agro= businesses, especially those in the hinterland, the creeks and in slums in the region, as this would create an alternative to oil and gas exploration and exploitation.
According to him, giving amnesty to armed militants is capable of sending a wrong message to those who are not violent to become violent. so they could be recognized by the government and consequently offered amnesty,
He maintained that the energy of youths in the Niger Delta region should be channeled towards agriculture and agro-allied businesses, adding that if the arable lands in Ondo right down to Cross River States are properly utilized for agriculture, the country would be in a position to export food to neighbouring African countries and also to Europe and America.
However, the ADI President said the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Uguru, the NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, have recognized the need for job creation in the region through agriculture and manufacturing in the region.
“African Global for Positive Change is not unaware that these interventionist agencies are not resting on their oars to make sure that they deliver on their assignments, including introducing agriculture in their activities,” he said.