Oil, Gas, Post Amnesty: Role Of The Nigerian Editor

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Being speech delivered by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State at the 6th  All Nigerian Editors Conference which ended in Port Harcourt, Friday

On behalf of the good people and the government of Rivers State, I heartily welcome everyone in this distinguished gathering to Port Harcourt, the beautiful and peaceful capital of today’s Rivers State.

This gathering is indeed distinguished in so many ways. For one, it sits the minds that make it their life business to mind the business of our great nation and of those who straddle its affairs. It sits individuals who, with the tools of their trade, tease out the accepted standards that could distinguish or rubbish the rest of us. Above all, it sits men and women, who have defied and continue to defy very difficult challenges, near poverty, persecutions, imprisonment, even death of comrades in arms, in order to uphold their conu11.itment to the peculiar challenges of defining Nigeria’s tomorrow today.

We, in Rivers State, salute you. You are the heroes of Nigeria’s Jubilee. Rivers people and indeed the entire Niger Delta appreciate you for finding a space to begin the playing of our song: the telling of our true story.

The truth of that story would necessarily demand that we remember yesterday with the fresh strokes of our very mighty pens and signals. For Yesterday contains within itself the capsule of our national misadventure in the exploration of oil and gas from the lands and waters of today’s Niger Delta. Yesterday is the sheet upon which the prognosis of the disease sought to be cured by amnesty and post amnesty is written. Amnesty is a deed. Post amnesty, on its part, is a process: a series of deeds. Its’ key elements, even though ascertainable, depend for its right determination on the honest engagement of the misdeeds, defaults, neglects, ignorance and omissions of yesterday.

That is where the Nigerian Editor comes in as the gatekeepers of the texts that inform the minds and spirits of the emerging nation, Nigeria. You have the sacred duty of communicating to every stakeholder of this nation that there is something diabolically unjust about the state supervised economic oppression of a region that contributes 80% of government revenues, 95% of export receipts and 90% of foreign exchange earnings. There is something that violates the peaceful bent of any young mind forced to live within violent realities of the so-called oil curse while a few revel in wealth flowing directly from oil and gas. Instructively, in more tl1an 20 years, Rivers State, which I now have the privilege of governing has not felt any touch of federal presence.

It is not just about Rivers State or the Niger Delta though: it is about our national destiny. After a half century of oil production from which almost $300 billion in oil revenues have {1owed directly into the Federal government’s coffers” Nigerian per capita income still stands at $2748, abysmally low, compared to Ghana’s $10, 748 and Cameroun’s N10,758. Indeed, for the bulk of Nigerians, living standards are perhaps worse now than they were at independence. The Story is infinitely worse in the Niger Delta region. TI1e truth of yesterday is that the discovery of oil in Nigeria ‘and the attendant annual oil revenues of tens of billions of dollars has ushered in a miserable, undisciplined, decrepit, and corrupt form of ‘petro-capitalism’.

Oil and gas seems to have crippled the inherent but readily available mental capacity of our nation to engage itself fully with the lure of easy petro-dollar. Curiously, it now sounds mischievous to remind ourselves that God has placed within the natural and human resources of every sub-national entity in Nigeria, east, west, north or south, all it needs to be successful. That was yesterday: the Nigerian Editor needs to push that truth out today through insistence on fiscal federalism.

Our nation stands on a threshold even as we turn the corner into 2011 and the transition it portends. Never before has the agenda setting role of the media via its editorial engine room been as needful as it is today. The choice lies between undue sensationalism and clear headed battling for the soul of our nation. It lies between choosing to be on the side of Nigeria’s fundamental or directive principles of state or the whims of politicians. Nigeria needs the rule of law: it also needs editor who appreciates the full implication and the demands of that regime. Nigeria needs editors who would hold elected servants accountable to the mandate of the people who elected them.

Certainly, in Rivers State, we would welcome any objective effort to hold us accountable to the people and stakeholders of Rivers State. In reality, it would just be complementary to our own efforts at remaining accountable to Rivers State. We, as a government, are focused not just on combating violent militancy but in the prudent use of our God-given resources to rightly re-define ‘life’ in our State.

We remain most grateful for the Federal Government amnesty programme put in place by late President Umar Yar’ Adua saw many militants laying down their arms. Its result has been the release of the once treacherous creeks of southern Ijaw controlled by Southern MEND to the boundaries of Nigeria and Cameroon where the General Franklin and his boys unleashed terror on the people and oil installations. Today, we are speedily replacing arms with infrastructural development thereby encouraging the gradual growth of peacetime local economy.

Our efforts also include establishment of the Social Rehabilitation Institute (RSI) saddled with the task of embracing real militants for re-integration into decent living. We have since followed up with several other initiatives including training at the Leadership Institute in Jos, Plateau State. Training in. various forms of trade in Okehi was also undertaken. As we speak, we have set up the first batch of 300 into cooperative societies and funded through banks to practice their trades. This is a way of meaningfully engaging the youths so as to take their minds into more productive ventures. Another set of 600 have been screened, 300 of them are rounding off their leadership training for the next batch to go. Some are undergoing training for professional career in sports like football and so on. For us, the circle of engaging our youths remain a continuous one.

We need the Gatekeepers of our national conscience to partner with this project. However commendable the success of the amnesty programme ~ of the federal government, there is the need to ensure that the Federal Government  remains and is perceived as ,being to its commitment. Already, some of the militants are crying foul on the suspicion that the government is reneging on its promises to them. Some of them openly confessed that they have their PLAN B, which .is, returning back to the creeks and resuming militancy-this .is not a good sign.

That is why we have undertaken to hold the fort by making maximum social and economic impact on our people. We are working to seize the moral high-ground by changing the state’s development indices through the delivery of good governance to Rivers people. Our major policy thrust therefore .is to improve living and working conditions as well as the quality of the workforce, through rapid infrastructural development.

To stem the tide of poverty we have had to return to the basics – the provision of basic, compulsory and qualitative education, and good healthcare delivery. So far we have Over 350 model primary schools and 24 secondary schools at various stages of completion. We are also building 160 Health Centres in all 23 LGAs ( municipal councils) of the state and other secondary and tertiary health care institutions. Critical infrastructure is needed to drive development. A Minimum of N100 Billion  invested yearly on roads/bridges/infrastructure in the past 2 year. We have also carried out five land reclamation and shore protection projects.

The state has in addition embarked on a state-wide urban renewal programme and development of infrastructure, chief of which is the Greater Port Harcourt project. Greater Port Harcourt is a new city that covers an area of approximately 1,900 square kilometres(190,OOO Hectares of land) with a projected population of two million. The Master Plan is for a period of fifty (50) years, with periodic reviews, and will be implemented in phases.

Indeed we are mindful of the fact that bad governance and a corrupt leadership can only serve as catalysts for brigandage and an unwholesome environment. We also recognise that an effective democracy is one in which the people actively participate in the things which affect them.

Our vision is to be the preferred destination in which to live and do business in Nigeria, and we are changing our economic direction so as to create a robust economy that will meet the challenges of our present reality. While building on our natural strengths of oil and gas, we shall return to Agriculture, we are also making deliberate efforts to be the technology hub of Nigeria. By actively pursuing education, providing the requisite infrastructure and improving access to credit at all levels, we are fast tracking development. Also by encouraging commerce and entrepreneurship, we are restoring the values of our past while tapping into the gains of modern economics.

For us in Rivers state, this is a new dawn. While we clearly understand the need to tackle the twin problems of underdevelopment and poverty we are even more certain that building enduring structures and entrenching good governance are the only ways we can secure the Niger Delta and put an end to the menace of criminality masquerading as militancy. That is the future we have to define today.

As you converge to discuss, I would like you to remember that a lot depends upon those deliberations for the next decade of Nigeria’s existence. It is therefore gratifying that you have chosen not to play the ostrich but rather have chosen to frontally engage the very issues that strike at the core of Nigeria’ existence today:

Oil, Gas, Post Amnesty (defined as the accelerated but concrete development of the Niger Delta), and the Nigerian Editor. You have the right issues: I am confident your deliberations would bring us all the right answers.