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The Niger Delta region occupies a central position in the political economy of Nigeria. The oil and gas sector in Nigeria has assumed an increasing significance since the late 1950s when oil was discovered in the Niger Delta. The volume and importance of oil has increased over the years.  It has been documented that Nigeria has about 35 billion barrels of proven oil reserve and another 5 billion in development. At the moment, the oil sector accounts for about 95 percent of expert revenues, 76 percent of government revenues and about a third of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Similarly, Nigeria has an estimated 180 billion cubic feet of proven natural gas making it the ninth largest concentration in the world. The Niger Delta has slipped into crisis as a result of oil and gas related issues. There is a high level of uncertainty and instability in the Niger Delta. There is extreme danger to life, businesses and property. Human rights violations have reached unprecedended proportions. There are several reported cases of brutality against the citizens including rape, kidnapping and extra judicial killings. People in the delta are living in very difficult situations that affect every facet of their lives. The people are passing through a lot of stress, physical and psychological trauma. Indeed life in the Niger Delta has become nasty, brutish and short. Although the amnesty programme has made it possible for increased production of oil for the country, life remains precarious in the region.

Even before independence, every regime and development strategy has a place for Niger Delta in terms of how to deal with the challenges of the region. The Nigeria Vision 20:2020 recognised that the development of the Niger Delta is a major challenge for the Nigerian state. The overall objective of the Nigeria Vision 20:2020 plan for the Niger Delta region is to promote sustainable poverty reduction by strengthening local governance and participatory planning, ensure sustainable use of renewable natural resources and the construction of critical social infrastructure and the provision of basic education and health facilities. The specific initiatives enunciated in the vision include implementation of the Niger Delta master plan;  adoption of a more participatory and effective local governance structure which is responsive to the needs of the Niger Delta people; acceleration of initiatives targeted at facilitating the socio-economic development of the Niger Delta region; efforts targeted at meeting the basic needs as aspirations of the people by providing a source for regular supply of portable/safe drinking water, health care facilities, accessible and paved roads, educational facilities, (scholarships, vocational and skill acquisition centres), electricity, sporting facilities, micro credit facilities, town hall, agricultural development, community income yielding ventures (palm oil mill, rice  mill, cassava mill) and implementation of economic empowerment programmes to cushion the effects of socio-economic dislocation in the area.

During the campaigns, the President elect, General Muhammadu Buhari made concrete promises on the development of the Niger Delta. He pledged to restore the integrity of the Niger Delta by implementing relevant sections of the Ledum Technical Committee on human capital development, resource management and distribution, governance and rule of law, reclamation and environmental and sustainable development. He also committed himself and his administration to the phased implementation of the United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) recommendations on Ogoniland and unveiling  a marshal plan for the regenerative development of the Niger Delta.

The Ledum Mittee Technical Committee on the Niger Delta was inaugurated by the then Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on 8 th September, 2008. The committee was charged with among other things to collate, review and distill the views of reports, suggestions and recommendations on the Niger Delta from the Willinks commission report (1958) till 2008 and make recommendations  for government action to achieve sustainable development, peace, human and environmental security in the Niger Delta region. At the end of its work, the committee among other things recommended:

The establishment of a multi-stakeholders committee to give quarterly feedback or progress report on the development of the region.

Increased revenue allocation to 25 percent in the interim but with graduation towards 50 percent.

Leveraging extra funds from other sources.
Establishment of a disarmament, Decommission and Reintegration Commission.

Amnesty for all Niger Delta militants
End to gas flaring by December, 2008.
Achievement of 5,000 MW of power for the region.
Completion of the dualisation of the East-West road

Improvement in education, health and youth employment in the region

Establishment of a youth employment scheme for the region

Establishment of regulations that compel oil companies to have insurance bonds against environmental pollution, strengthen independent regulation of oil pollution and work towards an effective environmental impact assessment mechanism. Make enforcement of critical environmental laws as a national priority. Expose fraudulent environmental clean ups of oil spills and prosecute polluters. End gas flaring.

Rehabilitate existing health care facilities and provide free medical care to persons of 65 years and above, children under five years and pregnant women as well as provide free drugs to malaria patients.

Rehabilitate and equip all existing public primary and secondary schools and staff them with well trained teachers as a means of reversing by 50 percent the current levels of WAEC failures in the region.

The Federal Government should fully settle all persons displaced from Bakassi and forestall the ongoing dispersion and eventual extinction of the Bakassi people as a collective entity.

Establishment of mechanism and institutions including National Minorities Commission; a multi-stakeholder Niger Delta Policy and Project Compliance Monitoring Committee; a Special Niger Delta Infrastructure Intervention Fund; a Niger Delta Futures Trust Fund and a Community Trust Fund for Oil Producing Communities. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoniland was based on an assessment that took place over a 14 month period. The report was presented in 2011. The UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, 122 km of pipeline rights of way, more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings. The team found out massive pollution as a result of over 50 years of oil operations.

The report documented soil and groundwater contamination and drinking water contamination with high levels of hydrocarbons. In Nsisioken Ogale  for instance, close to NNPC pipeline, drinking water was contaminated with Benzene, a known carcinogen at levels over 900 times above WHO guideline. The report emphasized the need to bring sources of contamination to an end even before clean up. The report stated that countering and cleaning up the pollution and catalysing a sustainable recovery will take 25-30 years requiring the deployment of modern technology, improved environmental monitoring and regulation and collaborative action between government, the Ogoni people and oil industry. The report recommended that all sources of ongoing contamination must be brought to an end before the clean-up of the creeks, sediments and mangroves can begin. The report recommended establishing three new institutions in Nigeria to support a comprehensive environmental restoration exercise. The three institutions are Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority, Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre and Centre of Excellence in Environmental Restoration. The Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority would oversee implementation of the study's recommendations and should be set up during a Transition Phase which UNEP suggests should begin as soon as possible. Authority's activities should be funded by an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, to be set up with an initial capital injection of US$1 billion contributed by the oil industry and the government, to cover the first five years of the clean-up project.  The Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, to be built in Ogoniland and supported by potentially hundreds of mini treatment centres, would treat contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job opportunities. The Centre of Excellence in Environmental Restoration in Ogoniland to promote learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil contamination in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the world. Other recommendations include reforms of environmental government regulation, monitoring and enforcement, and improved practices by the oil industry are also recommended in the report.

A marshal plan named after General George Marshal is a plan to assist to return normalcy to the European economy that was ruined by the Second World War. It is a massive programme of infrastructure development and directed against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. The purpose of a Marshal plan is to revive the economy and create enabling environment for the emergence of institutions. A Marshal plan is heavily funded with alternative financing strategy in addition to the normal budget.

Buhari's three point agenda for the Niger Delta of implementation of Ledum Mittee report, UNEP report and marshal plan for the Niger Delta is a revolutionary programme that has the potential to bring sustainable development and peace to the Niger Delta region. All progressive Niger Deltans will be looking forward to clinical implementation of these promises.

***Dr. Otive Igbuzor is a Pharmacist, Human Rights Activist, Policy Analyst, Development Expert and Strategist. He holds a doctorate degree in Public Administration.

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