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We Must Help The South East As Well

By Nwokedi Nworisara
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I have been working and living in Bayelsa for a while helping to actual the famed Restoration Agenda of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson aimed at diversifying the Economy of this oil rich Riverine State to position her for life without oil.

To this end, I have been helping to push forward the Ijaw cause that agrees with the Bayelsa cause.

Earlier, I had been committed to the Niger Delta question. The Niger Delta deserves Preferential treatment not just as the goose that lay the golden egg but because of the difficult terrain.

This cause has progressed through the establishment of the NDDC as an offshoot of the Willink's Commission of the 50s set up by the Colonial powers to decide how best to develop the Niger Delta Region.

The commission had recommended that a preferential treatment be meted to the Region going by its difficult terrain as the only way to produce positive developmental impacts. In my own little way,as a writer,working with NGOs in the Niger Delta,I reasoned once that the Region deserved a more realistic Masterplan from NDDC because the one released by the

Commission appears to stand on a Wooden legs or rather hanging in the air and so it was not sustainable from the start. It did not include social justice for the people of the area in terms of oil production and the environment and so the body could not really make any "difference".NDDC appeared concerned only with Physical "transformation" of already negatively transformed environment. It never really thought of solving the inherent injustice of the old to annul its spiritual effect on the present.It preferred to resettle the people in a different home so as not to tamper with their original degraded home to protect oil production. In order words it could only help them as refugees! After the commission itself failed to mobilize part of its promised funding from States,it was reduced to just a political platform for distribution of political privilege to chosen few.

For instance if you are well placed you could literally get the NDDC to tar the side road into your private house!

I was closely associated with an advocacy group the NIGER DELTA INTEGRITY GROUP and we kept our pens active in the media.

When it was clear that the NDDC experiment was not really what could further true development of the Region and taking cognizance of a seeming lack of interest from other zones,we began to push for short term solutions. Studies were ongoing and many pointed to the direction of social justice for the people even if symbolically.The problem was how to concretely transfer theory into practice. The same question always reoccurs : How do we allow help to trickle down directly to the people without the danger of its being cut short at elite levels to the detriment of the masses.

The grassroots approach or the bottom up began to make some sense. Organizing the bottom to deal with the top posed its own problems as the gap remained up filled by many emergent theorems. Of course the politicians also understood it their own way,their own crash programs were being put forward. They call it "empowerment",whatever that means.As if tired of such crash programs,the Presidency of President Obasanjo commissioned a landmark study, the "Community committees" emerged from recommendations of the

committee headed by then Bayelsa State Deputy Governor,Goodluck

Jonathan about 2005/6 . This was a grassroots study aimed at bringing

peace and stability. The Study may have brought into legal existence

the now pervasive Community Development Committees (CDCs )in the Niger

Delta. It was to be the basic unit at the ward level democratic and

autonomous enough to deal with other tiers of government and it was

thought seriously this will help trickle down help to the grassroots

and bring needed peace to the most troubled. The Niger Delta

Presidency Project. Remember that already background events that

heightened tension in the region had come to pass. The Ogoni debacle

climaxing to the execution of Late Ken Saro Wiwa by the Abacha regime

may have brought so much pressure on his successors to find a

solution. It may also be that the Ogoni grassroots solidarity and

organization had posed a problem of control for the Military and

pseudo military regimes of those days that the need to replicate it

all over the Region was already determined but this time under the

firm control of the powers that be. What it means is that the new

attempt soon began to degenerate to political patronage and lost much

of its attraction at the level of theory.
Anyway the whole detail became necessary to properly position the

event in a historical perspective that helps us understand what

follows. We began to agitate for a South South Presidency in our

little way knowing that perhaps only a son of the soil can appreciate

the need for urgent attention to the challenges of the Region. Maybe

President Obasanjo was thinking in the same direction but how to

realize it in a democracy was still seen as "crazy". It may be that a

vice Presidency would assuage them,it may be many other thought forms

all leading to the selection of Then Governor Jonathan. I can vividly

remember when this draft plot was brewing. We were consulting for the

state on the Masterplan by 2006- 2007 when a conference on Democracy

was held in Yenagoa. It seemed strange to us that time that such an

important national event was to hold in Bayelsa and transmitted live

to the Federation. I could almost see the many OB Vans outside the

Women's centre which was decorated to make it come to some standard

and Governor Jonathan delivering a keynote address. It was clear to us

this was a dress rehearsal but we couldn't place our mind on anything

until the announcement came later on that the governor was to be

running mate to then Governor Yar Adua in the forth coming

Presidential Elections to pick President Obasanjo's successor. There

was indeed to be no third term for him.
As a part of a consulting team,(that worked not directly though )with

then Governor Jonathan in both the preparation of the CDCs document

and his own practical translation in Bayelsa of the immediate post

Alamieyeseigha era,in terms of the Yenagoa city Masterplan,I found

myself wanting to see how my own theories would be concretely

implemented and I think that this may have bound me to a certain

degree to Bayelsa State.I have been searching too to see the

fulfillment of my own theories in concrete form here. I suppose I got

into trouble when a consulting Firm to NDDC in Port Harcourt in 2005

threw the bulky Niger Delta Masterplan final draft on my laps and

challenged me to do a critic in one week. To join them,I had no choice

but to do this. So I did a critique that may have merited my

absorption but it had also opened a pandora's box so to speak. It

literally made nonsense of this document by removing the rug of its

feet. Identifying the missing link to sustainability of the plan and

the NDDC charter. The absence of social justice to the people that

owns the land or settled there first.So until I moved on from

there,the question was what do you think should be done? How should it

be done? But each time I answered these questions the sooner these

answers were rejected as too utopian. I found myself getting gradually

into positions to help prove it can be done and so it became a

personal challenge and I had no choice but to live it out. That is how

I saw myself tied had and feet to these developments up to the

formation of the political structures and processes especially in the

emergent states. When Governor Amaechi came on board,we thought he

would be the springboard for the emergence of an alternative capital

for Nigeria in the Newport Harcourt and we (PROJECT CONCEPT

ASSOCIATES) helped the think thank during his sectorial study

conferences. The same way we worked with all the Bayelsa governments

and can actually say without fear of contradiction that Restoration

encompasses the dreams we have been nursing. So I am also trying my

best to add value to the wonderful vision of Governor Henry Seriake

Dickson particularly through the social Media.
Why am I tracing these roots? In the course of my work here I have

often had to grapple with constantly explaining to myself and others

why I am here.I have not been able to satisfy even myself not to talk

of others as to why I have to live and work in Bayelsa. Sometimes it

seems like a very grave sin. But I cannot seem to help myself . It is

like I owe much to the people and yes maybe my writings and theories

have bound me like a tether. Only the success of these theories,these

people seem to assuage it a bit and until more success is indicated.

But there has been of recent increasing clamour that the neighboring

South East region has fallen much more into neglect each day and some

schools of thought opine that I should see the entire region South

South and South East as belonging to one vital whole. We must now help

the entire East if the progress made by the Niger Delta is to endure

because the two are just like different faces of just one coin. This

realization hit home on me last week when I visited Uzuakoli my place

of birth after a long while. I was warned it would not be rosy,never

to drive,nor take my car along. It amused me at first. So that day,I

took off from Port Harcourt early on public transportation and was

still unable to cross Oyigbo bridge the very suburbs of same Port

Harcourt bounding Abia State,3 hours later ! I could not go back to

mainland Port Harcourt nor continue with the journey. The Expressway

to the East had cut into two impassable joints so bush parts into

Oyigbo the other epitome of neglect ,became THE ONLY OPTION, and

brought us into swamps and make shift pass ways with many having to

trek much of the way because even the cars and buses often needed

more help than the people. This must be the hell ,I told myself. What

is the essence of developing only a part when the whole will make

nonsense of you efforts in the long run. We saw the same thing in Port

Harcourt. When Okada was to be replaced by Taxis,we warned that the

situation of the traffic would be worse despite the numerous roads

built,the dual carriage ways. It happened in our very eyes. The more

the roads built,the more cars poured into the city from other less

endowed states from the hinterland. Also more of the Okada drivers

converted to taxi drivers returning with their vehicles. There was

need to implement a low class transport system and we suggested the

Keke Napep to fill into a small part of the gap. In the same way

perhaps in another facet of it,the Bayelsa development will only be

sustained if similar visions are driving the South East in tandem so

that Bayelsa or Rivers do not just become a migrants paradise with its

attendant problems. So it is important that we shed borders as much as

possible and carry every ones problems as if it is our own. There is

nothing wrong in the Bayelsa state governor suggesting some directions

to his Abia State counterpart in this area. If the Contriman Governor

can sandfill a swamp to build an International airport,what stops

the Abia state counterpart from doing so with so many level lands in

the state? We need to help each other at this time if our development

will endure. As for me I will use my writing to help promote the

development of the South East as well as the South South ,indeed all

Nigeria in need because it makes common sense.
I appeal to those who see development from the perspective of separation recheck their

theory,and stop aggravating the situation because Nigeria is a house not many houses. For a room to separate from the house it implies a damage to the building and this will be resisted by occupants of the

other rooms.
So advocates of separation must know that they are actually responsible for creating spiritually the physical potholes separating the south east roads from the rest of the country. The right direction is to contribute to further up building of the Nigerian house so that more decks are added and everyone can have enough space to do his thing.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Nwokedi Nworisara and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."