Hon. Dakuku Peterside, former Rivers State Commissioner for Works, member of House of Representatives and Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (downstream) spoke to newsmen recently on the forthcoming Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro Economic Zone Development Summit, 2012. Here are excerpts:
What is Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro Development Summit all about?
On the 21st December 2011, I convened a constituency stakeholders meeting attended by virtually all the key stakeholders of Andoni and Opobo/Nkoro LGAs of Rivers State. In that meeting, we identified the fact that we have a lot of untapped potentials in our area and agreed on the need to bring these potentials to the fore and mainstream it to our community development programme. That in summary is the origin of the concept of Andoni, Opobo, Nkoro Development Summit. The proposed summit is about showcasing the economic potentials of the area and presenting to development partners a forward looking roadmap for the infrastructural and social development of this unique area in the Niger Delta. It is also about sharing our experiences of development initiatives that works and what seems not to be working. Instructively, it is a development effort driven by the people themselves.Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro area of Rivers State more than any other part of Rivers State typifies the Niger Delta setting. It is two of the three LGAs in Rivers State without motorable roads because we are locked up in islands. We are among the few LGAs in Rivers State that are not connected to the national grid. Our area has the least number of primary and secondary schools in Rivers State when compared to other federal constituencies. All of these is despite the accelerated development of our area which Governor Rotimi Amaechi has championed. This explains why ours is a unique case.
You have a Rivers State strategic development plan in place as well as Niger Delta masterplan. Why Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro development plan?
The proposed Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro development plan complements both the Rivers State and Niger Delta masterplans. Niger Delta masterplan and Rivers State strategic development plan are broad strategic plans. Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro development plan which is one of the products expected from the forthcoming summit will serve the purpose of a strategic spatial development plan, providing necessary details and peculiar local perspective. It is expected that this AON masterplan will partially feed the State and regional masterplan as well as operationalise it. If you have followed developments in Rivers State, Governor Amaechi went from community to community encouraging the people to make input in their own development. He also challenged communities to champion their own development. In all of this we recognize the central role collaboration and partnership plays in sustainable development. Thus, we will work closely with Rivers State Government and NDDC. The Rivers State Government has a clearly defined programme for our area thus we must leverage on it and ensure our people optimize that plan.
What is the vision driving this summit considering the fact that very often we mix politics and development?
This has nothing to do with politics. It is a community driven initiative anchored by the people themselves. All stakeholders of different persuasions are involved. The day you begin to play politics with development you lose it and risk crisis. The vision is to see Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro area that is the hub of tourism, oil and gas, agriculture and generally economic activities in the Niger Delta. If we can develop a community model that works then we can encourage other communities to replicate our model. This way we will all not fold our hands and wait for government to drive development in our communities. It has been proven severally that communities have a role to play in development. Government-community relationship as encapsulated in the AON document must be complimentary. We have stated clearly our economic vision which captures a medium and long term plan on how best to leverage on our natural endowments, geographical location and abundant human resource and the opportunities the present development efforts of Rivers State Government under Governor Amaechi offers and achieve sustainable levels of prosperity for our people and our area. Governor Amaechi is constructing one of the most ambitious roads in our area that will open the area to the entire world. Rivers State Government under Governor Amaechi has made substantial investment in constructing model primary and secondary schools in our area as well as health centers, our people will not get optimal benefit if they are not positioned. We must take advantage of these development projects and many other initiatives and lift our people out of poverty. This is key. If development does not improve quality of living then it has served no purpose.
What led to the conceptualization of the summit in the first instance? Please let us into your inner mind.
There are several reasons that led to the conceptualization of the summit but four are key. First, the communities of Andoni, Opobo and Nkoro despite the fact of our natural endowments are perceived to be disadvantaged, difficult to develop and inaccessible. we needed to prove that that perception does not reflect the reality on ground.Second, the example of Calgary and Ontario in Canada is instructive but the difference is that by Nigerian laws we cannot exist as a separate legal entity but we can drive development at our own pace. This is what we need to spark off with this summit.Third, we are inspired by the example of Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. Here is a man who approaches his development agenda as if the rest of the country does not exist. He has not allowed the laidback nature of other parts of the country pull him backwards. We too will not allow the laid back nature of other parts of the Niger Delta to discourage us.Fourth, our area has several advantages we have not leveraged – perculiar geographical location by the Atlantic Ocean, abundant oil and gas resource that have not been explored, qualitative manpower that cannot easily be found in any other part of the Niger Delta, peace loving people, abundant tourism potentials and most importantly, a dynamic spirit. Nobody is talking about these advantages, potentials and opportunities. Most often the Niger Delta is projected as hot bed of crisis. There are more good things in the Niger Delta than bad things.Finally the need to develop a masterplan, one of the several outcomes expected from the summit, that will serve as foundation for dialogue with Government and development partners on the economic direction Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro wants to go.
So the development plan is distinct from the summit?
Yes, the relationship is not complex. We have registered an Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro Economic Zone Development Foundation with CAC to serve as a platform to institutionise this initiative. AON Summit is an umbrella vehicle under which economic stakeholders in Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro gather, collaborate and set common development agenda. Most importantly my expectation is that the summit will catalyse non-governmental actors to action for the development of our communities. Like I said earlier, one of the several products of the summit is the Andoni, Opobo, Nkoro development plan. Andoni Local Government Area and Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area Councils are also at the centre of the summit thus the factor of grassroot governance is mainstreamed into the programme. The LGA Councils will drive some part of the development programme.
What are the activities and possible outcome expected from the summit? I hear you say development plan is one of the several outcomes of the summit?
We have several activities lined up for the summit. Some are high level thought provoking sessions led by an Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, another is peer to peer comparison of development models. In that respect we are inviting officials of Calgary Economic Zone Authority in Canada to showcase what they are doing. Yet another is a special workshop for budding women entrepreneurs from our area and a special workshop on leveraging on local content in the oil and gas industry for our youths. Ultimately we expect two key outcomes from the summit; presentation of a unique area of the Niger Delta that offers a lot of potentials for investors and presentation of a development blueprint for the area. To a lesser extent the summit will accelerate economic growth in the area and place us on the map of unexplored economic areas.
Where are you getting funding for this project? It is obvious that it is a very big project?
When people are passionate about their development they can go to any level to see it through. You will not believe it that the old woman in Oyorokoto, Iwoma Nkoro and in Kalaibiama is ready to contribute her one naira to make the summit and by extension, development of our area a reality. Second, we have institutional partners who support us in kind, some are UNITAR, ACTION AID, the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, amongst others. We also have media partners that are working with us. The summit is also supported by corporate partners mostly businesses that are interested in our area including Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).Finally, Rivers State Government under Governor Rotimi Amaechi is standing with us all the way. Governor Amaechi is the number one champion for the development of Andoni, Opobo and Nkoro area. He will be at the summit as citizen of the area and Special Guest of Honour.
What is the future of Andoni, Opobo, Nkoro summit?
Very bright, we are set to institutionalize it. Most importantly we want to see our people develop a new mindset about the pursuit of development, we believe our people will share the challenges necessary to achieve sustainable development and collectively take up the responsibility necessary to succeed. We will also share the prosperity that will come from working together. I am confident that after this spectacular first edition, many persons and organizations will buy in. I have no doubt that future editions will come after this.
Finally, what are the valuable lessons for other Niger Delta communities?
A lot of lessons. Development is multifaceted and a chain process. No agency or institution can do it alone. Any weak link in the chain will affect the entire chain. If we can do something about our little corners in the Niger Delta, it is a matter of time, the region will no longer be tagged underdeveloped. While we are tackling the mega national issues, let us make conscious local effort to lift our communities and people out of poverty. This partially explains why NDDC is passionate about our model. The second lesson is that you must locate, unite and invite people to be part of the accomplishment of your aspirations. Nobody can accomplish his vision all by himself, we all need help.