Niger Delta: Time For Action Is Now


The Niger Delta has experienced much restiveness in recent times arising from agitations, mainly by youths of the region, against pervasive neglect, poor infrastructure development, fund mismanagement and other social vices. With the situation climaxing to militancy, governments both at the state and federal levels, as well as local and international communities made frantic efforts to calm the situation, and bring back normalcy to businesses and societies disrupted by militant activities. Key to achieving this normalcy was several stakeholder consultations held within and outside the Niger Delta in an effort to find lasting peace. But with the recent happenings, the hand-writing is already on the wall that the solution on ground may be anything but a lasting one. The federal government in its balancing act between trying to avoid an unpopular, unpredictable military engagement with youths on the one hand and trying to craft a political solution on the other hand; had after weighing its options, proposed and granted amnesty to the militants who, by common law, had been regarded as criminals. In addition to the amnesty, militants are to be given skills training and rehabilitation packages (including monthly allowance of N65,000) to help them fit back into normal social life. While the amnesty package may be seen as a wise winning-without-fighting deal, it has drawn several disparaging commentaries with some seeing it as an unconsolidated package and a political truce that is unsustainable. For one, the issues that gave rise to the agitations in the first place appear to have been swept under the carpet. For another, common criminals who had operated under cover of resource control agitations are also being perceived to have enjoyed federal government’s blanket pardon, drawing the ire of law-abiding youths most of whom are qualified graduates, under the burden of unemployment. Some would like to work for even N20,000. The question now remains, “Is big-time criminality the answer to self-determination?” However, more worrisome is the widely announced protests from the pardoned militants, that the federal government is not keeping its commitment to the settlement. This is not the first time a government would renege on its bargain but what makes this most disheartening is the consequential attack at the University of Port Harcourt and its environs, and more attack is being feared. Last night alone sporadic gun blasts were heard within the Mile One Flyover area of Port Harcourt, reminding us, sadly, that the era of rat race may not have been over yet. It is therefore very clear that if the amnesty programme seemed as straight forward and seemingly pacifying as it has been hurriedly packaged, the post-amnesty programme would need more serious commitments from government to achieve a lasting peace. Government shouldn’t be making agreements it cannot sustain even if fast solutions are needed. Lasting solutions usually should arise from addressing the fundamentals. For one, poor infrastructure issues upon which agitations began and for which the genuine agitators demanded as part of the settlement, is not just burgeoning in the Niger Delta, but in the whole nation. However, most worrisome in the Niger Delta case is that so much money has been spent in the region (at least on the records) by both the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), companies, NGOs and the governments, but hardly are the impacts felt. Is it road, electricity, potable water or housing? All these have got heavy expenditure records not commensurate with what is on ground. Who is to blame? This year alone, the quality of roads constructed in Port Harcourt got their full stress test. Either due to poor road execution or over-payload, virtually all of them failed that test. On the Choba Road axis for instance, most street roads which were designed and built as alternative street roads all collapsed under use by vehicles diverting from a Rumuola-Mgbuoba-Choba Road project that went awry. Elsewhere in Port Harcourt, road decays were accelerated by poor construction (or even abandonment), uncontrolled floods and neglected pot-holes. Much as the present administration in Rivers State has tried to rebuild, re-order and reconstruct the state, it would take the combined commitment of government officials, contractors, communities and youths to ensure that something tangible, something visible and something enduring is put on ground to account for the huge funds being allocated towards these projects and to let the commonman see developments springing up as a result of the wealth of the land. For instance, when the deadline approached in December last year, for the ban on okada riders, which government issued and defended, rightly, due to criminal activities aided by okada, many okada riders who lost their only means of economic survival were forced to troop out of the city with their mattresses, cooking pots and household belongings, without any government resettlement package. Also on the transport reforms, sad tales arising from MOT operations remain fresh. That taskforce which was carefully planned by government to control traffic degenerated into a money-making exploit by greedy agents. Also, in the wave of demolitions that followed government’s decision to re-order Port Harcourt, many suffered undue hardship, especially occupants of buildings tagged illegal. Worst hit have been tenants who were displaced at shortest notice and yet not compensated. It is true that landlords hold the rightful claims to buildings, however, because the tenant makes use of the house as his or her natural habitat, both should be seen as stakeholders and government is expected to put this into consideration when making compensation plans. Even when a house is illegally erected, the landlord may loss compensation because of his default, but the tenant who may not have known anything about the building’s documentation and permit, should be considered if such property must be demolished. These are forms of controling restiveness. In the execution of projects, government is also expected to focus on projects one after the other. Handling so many projects at the same time would spread available resources so thin that every project may not be adequately funded. Such projects may eventually be delayed, cost more money, more man-hours and over-labour government’s supervisory and documentation mechanism. Already, many projects which were awarded last year could not be concluded during the dry season and were therefore caught-up and halted by the rainy season. The result was very demoralizing for most inhabitants of Port Harcourt. While many would remember 2009 as the year of demolitions, many mothers who had to take their kids to school would remember it as the year of hauling children through muddy roads. And should these roads remain in their present condition till the next rain? That’s a question as challenging as driving from Ada-George Road to Choba. As most residents of Port Harcourt prepare to hang their rain-booths, thanks to the approaching dry season, the challenge now on government is to critically look into the issues of development in the Niger Delta in view of dousing the ember of anger from both militants and residents alike. In doing this, many road users who had had to frequent mechanics this year due to driving on bad roads, should as well be saved from frequenting doctors to monitor BP trends, by drafting a more considerate reconstruction and settlement plan, even for illegal structure owners and their tenants, bearing in mind that almost every structure in the state has some approvals from one government official or another. There is also need for people to see reconstruction works at former UPTH quarters which were supposedly pulled down to make way for the Clintotech hospital project. There is need for a new cultural centre in Port Harcourt main-township area as well as a new Obi-Wali Cultural Centre. Or shouldn’t there? There is of course need for so many road works and the implementation of a drainage masterplan to save billions of naira being spent on road works every year. In deed, the time is now. The challenge is now on government to make its reconstruction vision materialize and time is running out before new round of elections approach in 2011.


Joseph Nwankwor