Listening To UNDP
culled from THISDAY, August 2,
Although hostage-taking seems to
have become a routine for Niger Delta militants, the outside world appears
not to have reconciled itself with this unfortunate method of action. As
overwhelming as the problem may appear, it is at least cheery that there is
no giving up in what has evidently become a debacle of immense proportions.
Only at the weekend, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai
warned that militants should not misconstrue the disposition of the armed
forces to dialogue in resolving the problem of the region for weakness.
General Agwai spoke in Yenegoa at a reception for the Chief of Army Staff,
Lt. Gen Andrew Owoye Azazi, an illustrious son of the Niger Delta. According
to the defence chief, the military has to talk to the militants not out of
fear but ‘for the good of the entire people of the country”.
Two days after Agwai’s declaration, the advance party of a Commission of
Nobel Laureates arrived Part-Harcourt on a mission to find solutions to the
problem. It was reported that Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, drew
the attention of the body to the situation in the Niger Delta, a region that
has been adjudged as one of the areas of grave concerns in the world. Its
deemed to warrant their intervention. The integrity of the commission has
been bolstered by its professed non-affiliation to any of the parties
involved in the debacle, be it government, oil companies or the host
communities. A lot of hope is to be pinned on this intervention because of
this manifest independence of the body. Without being unduly enthusiastic at
this intervention, there is enough basis to predict that it would make a
difference. It does seem, however, in that the matters concerning the Niger
Delta it is better to err on the side of optimism.
To be sure, there is no shortage of efforts to define the Niger Delta
condition. Those who are perceptive enough about the issues would readily
remind us that such attempts at definition of the reality of the region
began in the colonial days with Wilkins Commission. Two weeks ago, President
Olusegun Obasanjo reviewed the progress report of the Presidential Council
on Socio-Economic Development of the Coastal States. The inauguration of the
council itself earlier in the year was spurred by the frequency and
international reverberation of hostage-taking. At the quarterly review,
reports were taken from governors, service chiefs, oil companies and others.
The President awarded a pass mark as he expressed optimism: “We are on the
right track and we will surely get there.” However, going by reports of
hostage-taking following the review, it would appear that the government’s
best of efforts are enough in the eyes of the militants. It is, therefore,
instructive that the President has urged governors in the region to forward
the reports to Abuja. He also wants the other governments and oil companies
to be specific on projects being executed as they look forward to
reconvening on October 13. All this point to a realisation that
co-ordination is essential in tackling the problem.
Again, the question arises: is the problem being properly defined? The huge
deficit in the various responses to issues of Niger Delta is simply that
hardly is the correct perspective of the problem got. This where the Niger
Delta Human Development Report prepared by the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) comes in as important document is searching for a solution.
For some illumination on the issues it is useful to listen to the voices
condensed in this report.
Significantly the President launched the report of the last meeting of the
council looking into the socio-economic development of the region in Abuja.
The verdict is damning. Essentially, it is what other bodies have been
saying. But this time round, it is put poignantly by development experts who
did a diligent survey of the problem. The arguments are supported by a rich
supply of data and this would make further debate on the issues better
What the report has done so brilliantly is to draw attention to the
scandalous contradiction of mass poverty persisting in the face of
stupendous oil wealth in this terribly cheated region. For instance, the
region may fail to meet the targets in the Millennium Development Goals
except in the area of school enrolment by the target date of 2015. The
authors of the report say it “recommends a new paradigm of development to
address concerns “such as ‘disillusionment, frustration among the people
about their increasing deprivation and deep-rooted mistrust”
The elements of this new paradigm are listed in the report as a seven-point
development agenda namely promotion of peace as condition for development;
making local governance responsive to people’s needs; economic development;
promotion of social inclusion, ensuring a sustainable environment for
socio-economic reproduction; adoption of an integrated approach to the
scourge of HIV-AIDS and building an enduring partnership for the advancement
of human development.
Why is the situation so appalling?
The report puts it like this:
“Behind the delta’s poor performance on human development is a complex brew
of economic, social, political and environmental factors. Social
instability, poor local governance, competition for economic resou-rces and
environmental degradation have taken a toll. The general neglect of
infrastructure, often rationalized by the difficulty of the delta’s terrain,
has worsened people’s access to fundamental services such as electricity,
safe drinking water, roads and health facilities that are taken for granted
in many other parts of Nigeria. Other elements include the negative impacts
of the oil industry, a constricted land area, a delicately balanced
environment and extreme economic deprivation.
The delta today is a place of frustrated expectations and deep-rooted
mistrust. Unprecedented restiveness at times erupts in violence. Long years
of neglect and conflict have fostered a siege mentality, especially among
youths who feel they are condemned to a future without hope, and see
conflict as a strategy to escape deprivation. Persistent conflict, while in
part a response 0to poor human development, has also entrenched it, serving
as a consistent drag on the region’s economic performance and expectations
The sabotage of oil production hurts the economy through the loss of sorely
needed foreign exchange to finance national development. Blown pipelines
interrupt the supply of crude to refineries and produce shortages that cause
sudden spikes in oil prices. Hostage-taking is not only a stress on foreign
captives, their families and the companies they work for, but also presents
a challenge to international diplomacy and foreign direct investment.
But the disruption also has adverse effects on the local people, as ensuing
violence threatens individuals and communities. Lives are lost, and
investments drop along with the availability of jobs. The response to
violence has at times meant further violence is unleashed randomly on
unsuspecting communities or oil workers. Whole villages have been destroyed
and their populace displaced because of disputes that could have been
amicably resolved. The human development implications extend to the harm
done to the life chances of children unable to go to school and the further
constraints on human and social capital.
There is a general concern that some people, particularly unscrupulous
politicians and political organizations, benefit from violence, and that
they sponsor some of the youth gangs in the region. Arms merchants along
with police and military personnel have supplied weapons to various gangs,
and the increased incidence of oil theft has been linked to the need for
foreign exchange to purchase arms.
While turmoil in the delta has many sources and motivations, the preeminent
underlying cause is the historical failure of governance at all levels.
Declining economic performance leading to rising unemployment or
underemployment; the lack of access to basic necessities of life like water,
shelter, food and clothing; discriminatory policies that deny access to
positions of authority and prevent people from participating in shaping the
rules that govern their lives—these all indicate that governance over time
has fallen short. Corruption aggravates feelings of being cheated,
especially when the rulers live like kings amid extreme want. In spite of
the substantial flow of oil money to state and local governments, many
communities see no sign of government presence in terms of development
projects. This intensifies a sense of hopelessness and mistrust that for the
most aggrieved people leads to a call to arms.”
The point at issue in the foregoing is that governments at all levels, oil
companies and all those neo-liberal experts prefer to call ‘stakeholders’
should focus on the human development of this troubled region. That message
rings very loud in the report. After all, as many well-informed observers
keep reminding the nation, when oil wells dry up in the whole region as it
has happened in Oloibiri, the only asset Niger Delta will be left with will
be human resources.
The traces of the first oil well are to be found in Oloibiri. Today the
place is a wasteland, sucked of its wealth and cynically abandoned. To avoid
the same fate confronting the whole region, the timely message of human
development should sink.
If the suggested seven-point agenda of UNDP is pursued with sincerity of
purpose, the region may not miss out in the Millennium Development Goals.
Infrastr-ucture should be developed. Environment should be rehabilitated and
protected. And jobs should be created in millions through expansion of
productive activities and not by merely recruiting a few scores of police