President-Elect And N’Delta Saga

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As it were, right from his good old days as Deputy Governor and later Governor of Bayelsa State, President Goodluck Jonathan, sworn-in as President of the country in May, last year, following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, has left no one in doubt that he has all it takes to utilise to the best of his ability, any opportunity that comes his way to the glory of God and service to humanity. Yes, his declaration last month as President-elect, by Prof. Attahiru Jaga, National Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), underscores Jonathan’s success story in Nigeria’s polity.

Indeed, penultimate Monday, April 18, 2011, was yet another red-letter-day in the history of Nigeria, the acclaimed giant of Africa. On that fateful day, Jonathan was declared president-elect of the country, following his (divine) success in the presidential election held on Saturday, April 16, 2011.

Well, Dr. Jonathan’s declaration as the nation’s president-elect by INEC, the country’s electoral umpire, followed his emergence as winner of 2011 Presidential election, which he scored 22,495,187 votes, the highest number of votes cast, and scoring at least 25 per cent of the votes in 31 states of the federation, obviously more than the two-thirds majority votes required by law. Already, President Jonathan and his Vice, Namadi Sambo had been issued certificates of return by the National Chairman of INEC.

Addressing Nigerians shortly after his declaration as president-elect, Jonathan listed what could be termed the agenda of his administration, prominent among which is the desire to intensify efforts at ensuring security, peace and development of the country, no matter whose ox is gored. He expressed sadness over “the destruction of lives and property” by the youths in the northern part of the country, and advised Nigerians, especially his political opponents to see his victory as “no victor, no vanquished”. According to Jonathan, “I am the President of all Nigerians; come and join me for national transformation”.

What’s more, former President Olusegun Obasanjo also bared his mind on Jonathan’s victory and the bloody political violence that followed, and admonished Nigerian politicians to see election as a game which “some people are bound to win”, while others are bound to lose”. He therefore, called on the political class, especially those who lost in the presidential election, to advise their supporters not to take the law into their hands, so that Nigeria can move to the next level in her democratic process.

That said, as Jonathan, an indigene of Bayelsa State, a core state in the Niger Delta region, awaits his swearing-in again as president of the country, come May 29, 2011, there cannot be a better time than now for him to take pragmatic steps to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta. Yes, this will convince the poor indigenes of the region about the commitment of the Jonathan-led administration to the socio-economic transformation of the long-neglected Niger Delta area.

Happily, with the relative peace being witnessed in the region now, following the amnesty programme, mid-wifed by late President Yar”Adua, there are very strong indications that the oil-rich Niger Delta region would begin to witness concrete steps in terms of projects delivery than mere talkshops.

Sadly, the politics of the development of the Niger Delta area had, for too long, been lingering with the region being enveloped in under-development. Therefore, Nigerians and indeed, Niger Deltans would be sleeping with their eyes open to see what the Jonathan-led regime has in stock for the region.

Being a Niger Deltan, and a former Bayelsa State Governor, Jonathan is certainly not a stranger to the problems of the oil-producing communities in the area. Therefore, as president of the country in the next four years, it behoves him, to begin to focus on the mega-projects that would, in no distant time, turn things around for the better in the oil-rich region.

What’s more, Jonathan is not a novice to the problems of the area; he knows the terrain very well, and more importantly, he understands the mentality of ex-militants and he is fully abreast of the yearnings and aspirations of his people in the Niger Delta region.

Yes, such credentials are quite necessary because there is really no time for Jonathan to waste on formulating new plans. Well, no one is expecting him to reinvent the wheel to develop the region. The erstwhile Niger Delta Technical Committee, chaired by Ledum Mitee, has already charted the way forward, as it synthesises the reports and recommendations of previous bodies set up by successive regimes, ostensibly to develop the neglected region.

To make things more easier, the Jonathan-led administration should, as a matter of urgency, adopt the already (well-laid out) Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, facilitated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)

Again, another sure way to turn things around for the better in the region is for Jonathan to spear-head (so to speak) the implementation of the Ledum Mitee-led technical committee’s report, as well as the master plan. This appears to be the surest strategy to make an enduring impact in the region within the four-year available to Jonathan’s administration.

Unlike in the past, when communities in the oil-rich region were contented with freebies and tokenism, the stage has come in the struggle for the emancipation of the region where drastic and urgent steps must have to be taken to provide succour for Niger Deltans.

Yes, as the number one citizen of this country till 2015, and a Niger Deltan, Jonathan may be the “Joshua” that would take the long-neglected Niger Deltans to the “promised land”. Well, posterity will judge him.

However, this column is not oblivious of the fact that Jonathan is president of the whole Nigeria and not Niger Delta alone. Therefore, while urging him to give the region a new life, it is instructive to state that he should also address urgently, other parts of the country that had suffered long-time neglect, reminiscent of the Niger Delta saga.

That said, one can recall vividly that Mr. Timi Alaibe, former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), while welcoming the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts, had blamed the problem of the Niger Delta on the long years of neglect occasioned by the government’s abdication of its responsibility to the citizens of the area. He said with adequate funding, the commission should be able to address some of the infrastructural problem like roads and bridges, which had given rise to the security operatives’ handicap in curbing youth restiveness in remote coastal communities of the Niger Delta.

The problem of NDDC’s under-funding boils down to the unwillingness of the executive to do what is needful in the troubled Niger Delta region. The Jonathan administration, should therefore give the region the priority attention it deserves. It is only by adequately funding the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta that Niger Deltans will be convinced that truly the Federal Government means business to transform the region. The presidency to be led by Jonathan in the next four years, must work in tandem with the National Assembly to solve the Niger Delta saga.