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Niger Delta: Setting agenda for Orubebe

By Muhammad Ajah
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As this writer makes his final touches to his voluminous book on Niger Delta titled “Nigeria Question: the Price of Niger Delta Oil Money”, it is easier to hear the sounds of guns on a movie than telling the sad but inspiring story of people who live, kill and die in plenty.

Niger Delta is a name that has come a long way to be in the history of Nigeria and the world.The area known as Niger Delta region is made up of nine states where crude oil and gas exploration and production are based. The states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers altogether, according to statistics, produce over 90 percent of the nation's economic revenue through the oil and gas business. But unfortunately, the region has been facing acute backwardness in terms of human capacity building, physical infrastructural development and lack of social amenities and institutions.

It was in an attempt to fast tract development in all its ramifications that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua created the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in December 2008. Amidst controversy, charges and counter charges, the President overruled all popular views and demands and picked erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette to head the maiden ministry. Elder Peter Godsday Orubebe was drafted as the minister of state for the Niger Delta after being minister of special duties.

Many Nigerians believed that the creation of the Nigeria Delta Ministry was another avenue to embezzle the oil money. The critics based their argument that several ministries exist but without visible impact on the lives of the Nigerian people. Others strongly believed that it was a right decision which was long overdue. They argued that the creation of the ministry was not the problem but that the leadership and funding factors would justify the end.

Barely fifteen months after the birth of this all-important ministry to the stability of the nation at large and the development of the oil-rich region in particular, one can stand firm on the two feet and reckon the achievements the ministry has recorded. It is worth mentioning that the ministry has worked side by side with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to add value to life in the region. This spirit of cooperation for a common and well-known cause should be sustained and effectively monitored to guard against derail for personal interest.

Since the birth of the ministry, the high level of insecurity, the volatility of the people of the region, the dwindling of oil revenue and the spoilt nature of life in the area are gradually changing for good. Secondly, there has been a rise in the daily oil and gas production of the nation. Thirdly, businesses and especially those related to oil and gas have once again began to boom. And not the least, the people are realizing that war or anarchy in most cases brings forth little or no fruitful results.

These are points in the agenda which Elder Orubebe has to pursue with vigour and intrepidity. It is not contestable to still describe the situation in the Niger Delta as uneasy calm. Although the insecurity which permeated the nooks and crannies of the area and which was absolutely perpetrated by the Niger Delta militants has subsided, Nigerians are yet to heave a complete breathe of relief and move about their businesses in the region especially in the creeks and waterways.

Howbeit, the insecurity of lives and property of the citizenry has been a national question. Thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives in the Nigeria Delta struggle and defence. Whether they were right or wrong does not arise now that a completely government amnesty programme has been in effect. What remains the greatest challenge is the true and sincere rehabilitation of the youths and the repentant insurgents by training and engaging them in meaningful entrepreneurs that will ever lure them away from going back to the creeks and handling AK 47s and machine guns. They have to be made to naturally accept the enormous demands of good citizenship. If that is done, they can only look at the past, reflect and become peace and unity preachers in their immediate families, societies and Nigeria.

That is part of the agenda. Another part is that those who lost their lives have families. Some of the deceased were the breadwinners of their families and their death must have inflicted untold hardship on their offspring and survivours. Some feel that their family members or breadwinners were illegitimately killed in the regional quagmire. Unarguably, some innocent citizens lost their lives during the crises. Therefore, there is the need for the ministry to compile the list of genuine and law-abiding citizens who lost their lives in the struggle and compensate them, financially or by granting their children scholarships and material assistances. By so doing, even if gradually, the fear of the children looking into the book of record with the view to staging revenge will be curbed.

The volatility of the people of the region should be of serious concern to the nation. The dwellers of the creeks have proved over recent times to be unpredictable. It is because of the level of awareness the crises have brought to the people. As it is now, an average Niger Delta citizen can discuss oil business even though they own little of the oil infrastructures. They are ever ready to take arms against the government to be heard. They can threaten the oil coys with the greatest pugnacity and strike at will. They seem to have shown that life is meaningless when they cannot enjoy their God-given blessings from oil resources. This calls for intensive human capacity building of the people. The religious leaders and non-governmental organizations that preach peace and inculcate the spirit of tolerance, respect and loyalty to lawfully constituted authorities, brotherhood and perseverance should wake up to this challenge. Then, the Niger Delta Ministry should boost these campaigns.

No one needs to be told of the losses the Niger Delta crises have caused the people of the region and Nigerians. Properties, some being irreplaceable, have gone into the dust. It may be difficult to replace all the lost properties, but the destroyed homes of the law-abiding citizens must be replaced.

There is what I refer to as spoilt nature of life. I know very well, having lived for several years in the Niger Delta, that the people used to be morally sound, religiously guided (even in the traditional religions) and exceptionally hospitable. For instance, there is a town called Buguma. Anyone who knows this town before the Niger Delta crisis and what it became of after it can tell the rest of the story. Hospitality is inborn in human beings, but it was a common abstraction in the people of the region. This was gradually being eroded due to the hostility the crisis created. They were fears and loss of trust. It became difficult to identify who is who and sincerely offer hospitality attractions. Children and women were abused. Teenagers were kidnapped and abused. Thousands of the youngsters voluntarily or forcefully waded into prostitution either to keep body and soul together or make fortune. Even in the days of yore, it was a common thought that girls of Benin, Urhobo, Port Harcourt and some other Niger Delta States sustained vibrancy in sex business. I cannot go further.

The implication of the latest episode demands that the Niger Delta Ministry should create several recreational centres in all the cities and towns of the region. There should be a special attention to the women department in the Niger Delta Development Commission and the ministry to cater for the many negative attributes that have been associated with the women folk of the region.

However, Elder Orubebe has been favoured to head this task-burden ministry because of the wealth of experience and the efficiency he showcased in his past national assignments. Some oil producing communities have no access roads, no electricity, no portable water sources, no good schools and hospitals and no life-assistant infrastructures. The near absence or complete absence of these social amenities have been the bane of restiveness among the people of the area. All those giant projects which have been flagged-off by the ministry in the region must be vigorously pursued and completed within the limited time.

The agenda is set and the greatest assurance to the success of all these is funding. Let the federal government pay more attention to this region and allocate more funds to the ministry and, God being on the side of this nation at all times, Orubebe's will achieve more for the Niger Delta people.

Muhammad Ajah, a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance writes from Abuja ([email protected] uk, 08055247005)

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