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WHY NIGER DELTA MAY REMAIN POOR

By NBF News
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Nigeria, or the FG, has always squandered any goodwill or financial opportunity such as the Gulf War oil windfall that comes her way, and this present opportunity may not be an exception. The new-found enthusiasm seems anchored on some recent developments, especially the emergence of a Niger Deltan as President and Commander-In-Chief of Nigeria. It is believed within the region that Goodluck would simply write off all the problems in the region since he 'has' the power and knows the problems. Those outside the region simply believe that now that a man from the oil zone is king, his kinsmen would simply drop their arms and walk home satisfied. Unfortunately, this is a very myopic and simplistic expectation. The nation would find this trust to have been misplaced, and the danger would soon be the notion that 'nothing can satisfy the Niger Delta people', which in itself is also not true.

The truth is that Jonathan may be President of Nigeria but he surely does not have all the power to resolve the Niger Delta question. He can only act as a catalyst. This is because the problem is complex and aged, requiring all strata of the Nigerian leadership spectrum to adjust in one way or the other to give a unified end-result. The bone of contention is the demand for resource-control. The demand came as a result of decades of neglect. Now, the FG is trying to give some developments but the size of what is being offered far under-weighs the anger in Niger Delta's souls. By this, the enthusiasm on the part of the Niger Deltans that the messiah has come at last would be misplaced. On the other hand, the expectation by the larger Nigeria that the Niger Delta section or South-South geo-political zone has got a president and should be pacified is a gross under-statement because a presidential slot is far below the issues at stake. Resource-control is far bigger than the presidential slot, and would galvanize the lives of the entire citizenry far more than any presidential slot would ever hope to achieve.

The reasons why the Niger Delta may remain poor despite the emergence of a president from the zone are many. The first is the nature of the neglect. The area is waterlogged and swampy, requiring a different development strategy than the one applied in other zones. It has environmental and ecological challenges that have been aggravated over the years due to discovery of oil. There has also been neglect and fears of domination in the region. The agitations have been violent and have led to some cosmetic solutions, which rather added to the problems.

There has been the Sir Henry Willinks Commission in 1957 in response to the concern of ethnic minorities over their perceived slim chances of survival in the Nigerian enterprise by the colonial administration; there has been the  Niger Delta Development Board, (NDDB) via supplementary Federal Government Gazette no. 56 vol. 46 of September 1959; Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), Decree 1979; Special fund for oil producing areas, by Revenue Act of 1981; Presidential Task Force for the Development of Oil Producing Areas of 1989; Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Committee OMPADEC of 1992; Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) of 2000; Gen. Ogomudia Committee 2002; Coastal States Forum 2006; Niger Delta Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee of 2007;  Technical Committee on Niger Delta of 2008; Ministry of Niger Delta 2008; Amnesty granted to militants in August 2009; and Petroleum Industry Bill granting 10% right to oil-bearing/impacting communities in October 2009 though it has not taken off.

The question many ask is why the region has rather grown more violent and oil production has rather crashed in the face of these policy remedies. The answers can fill nine books, but the fact is that each of these measures has attempted to solve the problem marginally . There has been no holistic approach to solving the problem. The other factor for failure is that more than half of the funds arising from each agency have been wrongly appropriated, leaving the problems unsolved.

The next reason why the region may remain poor is the economic meltdown or recession facing the world.

Many international donors and investors have lost huge spending allocations back home and this is greatly affecting the volume of funds available to do things overseas. This is happening at a time when there is rather a higher clamour and outcry for more. The budgets of the FG and the states are getting slimmer, cash is becoming scarcer, and the financial ability to attack problems is getting weaker. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is getting leaner, and international oil investors are diverting to cheaper/safer environments, thereby denying the Niger Delta the chance for more investments that can provide jobs and boost local economy.

Again, there is a way those in power in Abuja perceive the Niger Delta and its problems. This nonchalant attitude is there, no matter who is heading the FG. See how the amnesty initiative was muddled up despite the over-whelming presence of Niger Delta chieftains then as vice president, special adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, head of amnesty committee, Minister of Niger Delta, Minister of Defence, etc. The mind of the FG is programmed to address the symptoms instead of the virus. The actions are rather piecemeal and later, new symptoms do emerge.

Nothing can illustrate this disdain and the nonchalant indignation of the centre than the fact revealed by the former acting managing director of the NDDC, Power Ziakede Aginighan, while briefing governors of the region at an economic summit at the Tinapa Tourist Resort in Calabar, Cross River in April 2009, that the law setting up the NDDC provides for 15 per cent of all oil revenue to be remitted to the Commission. Now, between 2000 and 2007, the nation earned N2.9Trn in oil and gas revenue and the 15 per cent amounted to N436Bn within the period. Instead, he said Obasanjo remitted a mere N110Bn, leaving N326bn outstanding.

Most observers believe that the FG would continue chasing shadows, will continue to do fire-fighting, will continue to treat the symptoms, and so long will the Niger Delta region remain poor and continue to haunt Nigeria.

Perhaps, the most intriguing factor in this saga is the danger of the attitude of leaders in the region such as ministers, governors, development agencies (NDDC) executives, and local council chairmen. The belief is that these leaders are simply interested in looting and stealing, to make themselves and their future generations comfortable for ever.