The Niger Delta Development Question

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The Niger Delta Development Question: A Planning Paralysis?

 

By

 

Hosiah Emmanuel

hosiah.emmanuel@gmail.com

 

 

      "I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory."    -     Late Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nov 13, 1995

 

 

 

April 7, 2006

 

 

Since those words by the Late poet and Ogoni rights activist, the   Niger Delta of which Ogoni is a member is still entangled in what Jefferey Sachs (in his "The end of Poverty")  calls a "poverty trap"; where poor health, poor education and poor infrastructure reinforce one another. The Late Ken Saro-Wiwa was prophetic in many ways when he said those words to the military tribunal that eventually sentenced him to death by hanging.  He was hanged as recommended by the tribunal but his prophecies have lived!

 

Nigeria's President Obasanjo who in the past had labelled the freedom fighters of the Niger Delta with names like "miscreants", "criminal elements" etc have suddenly realized the futility in calling the dog a bad name to hang it. Listen to his most recent statement in far away America to an audience of the American press corp, with the American president in attendance:

 

      "I briefed the President (that is, President Bush of USA) on what we are doing with the Niger Delta, which is very important. And we are very grateful that the measures we are taking, which are essentially socioeconomic measures, to address some of the grievances, identified grievances, will resolve the issue of the Niger Delta."

 

A couple of months ago, the measures included bombing innocent children, men and women and other infirmed people of 5 Ijaw towns in the Delta. Thanks to the brave response to these bombings by a previously unknown group, The MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), our President now has "identified some grievances" and plan to take "socioeconomic measures." This President in the past 7 years of his rule has used chemical weapons on Niger Delta communities in Rivers, wiped out entire Ijaw communities (like Odi and Odioma) with the military might of the federal government; a might acquired with proceeds from crude oil extracted from these same communities. I am really amused that the armed resistance posed by the brave men of The MEND have forced a rethink!

 

The purpose of this essay is not only to express my amusement at this turn of events but to show that the Obasanjo and his Federal Government are still missing the point by covering up, with flowery rhetoric of "socioeconomic measures" and "identified grievances", the urgent need to make life meaningful to a people whose life have been so adversely impacted by the activities of oil exploration around them.

 

The Federal Government does not need to plan for the development of the Niger Delta. They should just do it and right away!

The news reports quoting presidency bureaucrats have it that:

 

     "the Federal Government is set to unveil radical programmes for the development of the region, in a bid to end the specter of violent attacks on oil production facilities."

 

My response to this is that the people of Niger Delta do not need "radical programmes" that have to be "unveiled". Their needs are not radical, they are basic and can be provided now with the ease with which we breathe air and with the ease with which "Operation Restore Hope" military outfits are deployed in the region to further their misery. Hear are some of the needs:

  1. millions in the Niger Delta don't have enough to eat;
  2. hundreds of thousands of children in the Niger Delta die every year from easily preventable diseases;
  3. over 95% of the people in the Niger Delta lack access to clean water;
  4. more lack access to sanitation;
  5. due to lack of educational facilities, hundreds of thousands of adults lack access to education;
  6. so, over 60% of the children do not finish primary school.
This is in spite of the fact that the region lays the golden egg that accounts for over 95% of the annual budget of Nigeria's Federal Government. This point cannot be re-stated enough!
 
These needs of the people of the Niger Delta don't need elaborate planning to ameliorate. The government should learn from the failure of past planning efforts and just do it! Start from today and provide these things. It is not that the Niger Delta Question has lacked plans and high-powered committees formed ostensibly to solve it. This dates back to the pre-independence days, with the formation of the 1957 Willinks commission to answer the minority question in Nigeria. Though the commission was not able to make revolutionary recommendation despite the grave issues it identified, it still made enough recommendation that if implemented honestly would have reduced the misery we see in the region.
 

Since the Willinks report, there have been:   

bullet  1960 Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB)
bullet 1970 River Basin Development Authority (this was to develop the entire country's River Basins)
bullet 1993 Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC)following report of Belgore Commission.
bullet 1 998 Maj. Gen. Popoola Commiitte   formed by Head of State, Gen Abdusalam to look into the problems of the Niger Delta.  Report was not implemented
bullet 2000 Act of the National Assembly forming the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)
bullet 2002  Lt. General Alexander Ogomudia Special Security Committee Report on Oil Producing Area - Not Implemented
bullet 2003 Presidential Committee on Peace and Reconciliation  headed by Maj. Gen. A Mohammed (rtd), Chief of Staff to the president
bullet April 2004 STANDING COMMITTEE ON GOOD GOVERNANCE AND CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY headed by Dr. Edmond Daukoru, Minister of State for Petroleum
bullet July 2004 PRESIDENTIAL STANDING COMMITTEE on the Niger Delta headed by Gov. James Ibori of Delta State
bullet LATEST . April 5 Presidential Committee on the Niger Delta, headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

  There are many other committees and reports on the Niger Delta set up in a fire-brigade manner to respond to restiveness in the region.  The Governments have always had the rhetorical advantage of promising to "massively" develop the region.  Restiveness of the youths occasioned by unbearable hardship and deadly living conditions is due to decades of exploitation, environmental abuse and neglect.  Nothing meaningful is achieved by these committees and reports to solve the root cause of the restiveness.  The reports and committees satisfy the egos of those who set them up with a promise that something is being done while the root cause of the restiveness is not addressed.

 

Today, youth restiveness has graduated to daredevil militancy! I repeat t he Niger Delta needs more than announcement of good intentions, we want to see actions!

 

The Nigerian Government should learn from the failure of endless planning by global agencies like the UN.   What happened to the goal (in a 1977 summit) to realize a universal access to water and sanitation by 1990?  Who took responsibility for the failure to meet that goal?   A new goal is now set for 2015 as part of what the UN called MDG (Millennium Development Goals).  We are 9 years away from

2015 but nobody is taking measurements.  I can report that nothing is being done in the Niger Delta where a good percentage don't have access to clean water and sanitation.  

 

Endless planning will not cut it.  Let us for once see the results of massive intervention as testified to, by the people at the bottom of the social ladder in the Niger Delta.   Let's start to measure the number of people leading improved life, with confidence in the next meal; with faith in the healthcare system, with confidence that their wards will find a school nearby to attend and hope of security of life and importantly with means to easily take their produce to larger markets.

 

The FG should go to the bottom and affect the lives of the people at the bottom.

 

For instance, the people in the Niger Delta could harvest oil palm, produce cassava, fish and varieties of handicraft.   But non-existent roads out of the villages make it impossible to transport their produce to larger markets where they are needed.  This increases poverty big time!   This is an area of opportunity for massive and immediate intervention.

 

Fishing is seasonal; the rainy season is noted for good catches.   But between seasons, there is local famine.  The Government could help with the infrastructure to help people preserve during the good season and so provide for the bad seasons.   This brings us to the need for electricity in the region.  Just provide this as a matter of national urgency.   Follow up with trainings on preservation technologies.  Fishing activities are also hampered by the oil exploration activities, genuine efforts to compensate for this setback should also follow immediately.

 

Let there be a federal proclamation and commitment that encourages and specially reward professionals who elect to relocate to the Niger Delta communities to serve as teachers and health-care professionals.   Let's see the schools and programs to put the children in schools instead of prevalent child labor we see today.
I have shown that urgent and immediate intervention is needed but the list is not in anyway exhaustive.  The Niger Delta is part of Nigeria, its development is a gain to Nigeria.  We should be wise enough to take the right steps now and prevent further escalation and desperation in the region. 
 
The word I hope is enough for the wise.

 

 

 PS:

Please refer to my other warnings on the Niger Delta Question:

 

1.  THE NIGER DELTA QUESTION: INCUBATING THE FUTURE SUICIDE BOMBERS OF NIGERIA

2.  THE NIGER DELTA QUESTION: IS MILITANCY THE ANSWER?

 

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