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Niger Delta People’s Empowerment And The Future Of Nigeria

Being The Title Of A Paper Delivered By Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo - Senior Special Assistant To Edo State Governor On Politics And Strategy. Tuesday 11th February 2014 At The National Youth Council Hall, Benin City
By Edo Unity League

I bring good tidings from Edo State Government to the organizers of this unique conference as well as distinguished guests here present. Those who are familiar with my antecedent will attest to the gospel truth that I do not shy away from productive youth engagements of this nature; and in fact, it's a great honor and privilege to mount the rostrum for this germane task. Mr. Chairman Sir, I beg to stand on the existing protocol.

Characteristically, any worthy intellectual presentation must attempt a dialectical conceptualization and elucidation of the issues or theme that it sets out to address. I will therefore begin by making encyclopedic references to the components of this topic. I humbly crave an attentive-attention from all of us.

"Niger- Delta" is a geographical expression of the quasi-federating units of Nigeria that are situate around the bank of River Niger reputed for its large oil and gas deposits. It is an indefatigable entity in the socio-economic and political developments of Nigeria because it is the main source of Nigeria's monolithic economy, i.e. oil and gas. Oil was first discovered in Oloibiri community, situate in today's Bayelsa State in 1957 and exploration and exploitation started around 1959.

The people of Niger Delta have been in the news for decades now on one issue or the other. But, it has been majorly dominant in the news on account of its anti-marginalization struggles for over two decades. The region seeks an equitable distribution of the national resources by the Federal Government vide true fiscal federalism or a confederation. This gave rise to the "resource control agitation" which led to all manners of wholesome and unwholesome tendencies by the youths of this unique region.

Empowerment - according to the Wikipedia "the term covers a vast landscape of meanings, interpretations, definitions and disciplines ranging from psychology and philosophy to the highly commercialized self-help industry and motivation science". Sociological-empowerment often addresses members of groups that discrimination processes have excluded from decision-making process through, for example, discrimination based on disabilities, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Furthermore, empowerment is the process of obtaining basic opportunities (equitable distribution of wealth; infrastructure; social amenities; education; Medicare facilities and services, intervention funds etc) for a marginalized people, either directly by those people, or through the help of non-marginalized others who share their access to these opportunities. It also includes actively thwarting attempts to deny those opportunities. Similarly, empowerment also includes encouraging and developing the skills for self-sufficiency, with a focus on eliminating the future need for charity or welfare in the individuals of the group.

Nigeria- It refers to the geo-political entity in West Africa sub region, which consist of a thirty six-quasi states structure consisting of over five hundred ethnic groups. Nigeria is populated by over one hundred and fifty million people, and a monolithic economy. Historically, Nigeria was colonized by the Great Britain after series of conquest and annexation of the Empires and Kingdoms situate around the River Niger.

It was granted independence on October 1st, 1960 and gained a republic status three years later. It consist of six geo-political regions. Politically, Nigeria proclaims federalism, but is yet to be seen in reality. Nigeria seeks to be a democratic society, but owing to military altercations of political administration in 1966 and 1983 respectively, it has suffered stunted economic progress within the African continent. It is currently led by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR.

Synthetically speaking, Niger Delta peoples empowerment and the future of Nigeria captures a critical introspection and retrospection of the prospects and challenges of the ethnic groups around the bank of the River Niger whose resources have been the lubricating device for the sustenance of Nigeria at least, since 1960s. By way of introspection, there is no doubting the fact that Niger Delta has been a victim of marginalization whether in terms of infrastructure, Education development, Medical facilities and services or social amenities generally.

This is so because, there is no correlation between the quantum of wealth creation that is delicately generated from the Niger Delta region and the petty allocations that is shared to it from the Aso Villa. Again, some commentators have accused Governors and other managing stakeholders of lack of transparency in the management of resources accruing to the Niger Delta States. This has provoked socio-academic thesis like "How Niger Deltans Underdeveloped Niger Delta". Well, only time will tell, how much patriotic efforts of this nature will holistically redress the imbalance that our region and people have been subjected to from time immemorial.

For me, the task before youths of Niger Delta is how to build an independent and sustainable synergy between civil society groups and socio-cultural entities for constructive engagements with state and non-state actors of Nigeria. A clinical examination of intra-social issues of Niger Delta reveals a case of mutual suspicion amongst the various ethnic groups, while most of the ethnic nationalities allege unwholesome domination of the region by the Ijaws, the latter on the other hand have accused other ethnic groups of docility. So, at the home front, we have a problem, and if we fail to acknowledge it, we will be deceiving ourselves and undermining our prospects of greatness. It is an uphill task anyway, but it is not insurmountable.

I wish to respectfully submit by way of a clarion call that ethnic groups in Niger Delta should refrain from trespassing into each others' territorial boundaries or truncating all-encompassing model or initiative that will advance the economic and political prosperity of the region. For instance, the Bight of Benin which was captured as an integral part of Benin nation by the British Government's geographical surveys reports and analysis has been appropriated to Ondo and Delta States by one of the military administrations in Nigeria.

I am of the view that all civil society groups as well as their socio-cultural counterparts should build a study group to evaluate issues of development whether in terms of human capital or social infrastructure. For instance, the study group amongst other things should be able to probe into the activities of multinational companies in the Niger Delta with respect to their corporate social responsibility's commitments. Again, it should be able to evaluate on a quarterly or bi-annual basis the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Owena River Basin Development Authority, the Amnesty Program amongst other interventionist agencies and programs empowered by law to empower the people of Niger Delta.

It is unthinkable that in this modern age and time when Edo State Government embarks on road construction with work-ways, that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs will undertake the Benin-Abraka road project without covering the drains. It is a well-known fact that the project was initiated at the instance of the former Minister of State, Works, it is appalling that four years after, the road project was yet to meet it's one hundred percent completion. It was high time that our representatives in the two chambers of the National Assembly resolved to speak with one mind, voice and the doggedness of heart on the plight of our people and environment, else, sooner than later, our region may be at the mercies of international charity support.

Most of the multinationals, be they construction firms, oil and gas exploration and production firms, breweries, beverage companies, are collectively guilty of taking our communities for a ride, they play on the intelligence of our community leaders and deprive them of their corporate social responsibility entitlements. The Federal Government should re-examine the expatriate-indigenous employees wages disparity in the best interests of our economy. A situation were a technician or mechanic whose knowledge is within the scope of a National Diploma is revered far and above a Masters degree holder both in practical and theoretical knowledge because the former is a white man, and the latter is a black man, is in my view a neo-colonial exploitation that must be rebuked by all and sundry.

In the light of the elite conspiracy against the Petroleum Industry Bill, insensitivity to the effects of oil spill, the plans by the National Assembly to legalize foreign accounts instead of its total obliteration, our socio-economic political constituencies should brace up for tough times ahead, if we do nothing to check these fundamental flaws. We must rise in defense of our communities; else we fail as proactive leaders or activists.

In conclusion, the following will constitute a panacea for the empowerment of Niger Delta people-

1. Unity of purpose amongst the Niger Delta ethnic and tribal constituencies with a view to forestall boundary crises.

2. Deliberate academic and research exposition of Niger Delta people to enhance informed arguments for the region's development.

3. The floating of a study group or groups to examine wide range of issues that are of interest to the people and the environment.

4. Enthronement of a common policy and political agenda for the region. It is a universal principle that where a will exists, there is a way. This will catalyze appropriate bargain mechanisms for the region.

I thank you for your time and attention. May God bless you all. Amen.