Peace And Dev: Mainstreaming The Niger Delta 

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Opobo Boat Regatta

Concerns and agitations for a planned development of the Niger Delta region are not recent issues, as many not conversant with the historical antecedents of this region are wont to think. These issues predate the discovery and production of oil in the region and also earlier than the much publicised resource control posturing.
Which ever way the recurring concerns and agitations may be looked at, it is indeed a sad commentary on a country that development would be predicated on levels of agitations and confrontations.
It even gets messier and more worrisome when one considers the fact that the region in question is, to all intents and purposes, the cash cow of a nation solely dependent on oil for revenue generation and foreign exchange earnings.
As the chicken has now finally come home to roost with the sharp drop in oil prices and the concomitant erosion of the national reserves, there must be a rethink of our prioritisation of development in this region in particular and other areas of the country in general.
Prior to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the colonial office in London in September 1957, commissioned Sir Henry Willinks, QC, to carry out a detailed study on the concerns and fears of the minorities.
The recommendations emanating from this study culminated in what is known as the Willinks Commission Report (1958). In the main, it highlighted the peculiar problems of the Niger Delta region associated with the difficulties of their terrain, prompting a strong decision that the region should be regarded as a special area.
To facilitate implementation, this was followed by the setting up of a federal board to fast-track the development of the area. This was the genesis of the Niger Delta Development Board, NDDB, which was eventually inserted into the 1963 Constitution.
But the NDDB failed because it fell short of the requirement of a truly sustainable development initiative for the Niger Delta people. Other reasons it failed were that it lacked a clearly thought-out sustainable development strategy; the absence of people-initiated projects; the absence of a development strategy incorporating its management and lack of clear policies.
Given the failure of NDDB to develop the Niger Delta region, a new development agency known as the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) was established under the Niger Delta Basin Development Board Act, 1961. Following the turn of events, the NDDB structure with only few alterations were transferred to the new agency.
The NDBDA was established to develop the oil producing areas. However, it was far from being established for the sole purpose of developing the Niger Delta region. Rather, it was designed to develop the whole of the country.
In 1978, additional 11 River Basin Authorities were created in different parts of the country even in places where there were no rivers, and they were properly funded. But the policy failed and all the River Basin Authorities collapsed. This spurred another round of agitations in the region.
The renewed agitations during the Second Republic led to the establishment, in 1980, of the 1.5 per cent Presidential Taskforce. Again, the Taskforce could not create the desired impact because of poor funding.
Subsequent to the intensity of protests, the then military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida established the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to manage the 1.5 per cent derivation fund accruable to the Niger Delta.
Once again, OMPADEC also failed to ensure the development of the Niger Delta region. Abandoned, uncompleted white elephant projects of the commission were common features in the region. But more importantly, the OMPADEC dream was truncated following allegations of large scale looting of funds, corruption, failure to implement the OMPADEC law and misappropriation of funds.
Upon his assumption of office, the then head of state, General Sani Abacha, established the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), which development mandate covered the entire country. Nevertheless, his National Constitutional Conference (NCC) agreed on at least 13 per cent derivation. However, he did not live to implement it.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government scrapped PTF and established a special body to undertake a rapid development of the oil producing areas. But instead of re-instating the old name of OMPADEC, the government opted for Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Nonetheless, with the funds allocated to NDDC being a far cry from the expectations of the people of the area and from what it ought to be, late President Umaru Yar’Adua established the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to accelerate  development of the area.
In spite of all these attempts, and with the dismal performances of the intervention agencies and the ministry, the activities of the militants continued unabated. The argument, however, was that the federal government was playing politics with the lives of the people of the Niger Delta.
A state of amnesty was declared by the former civilian president, late Umaru Yar’Adua, in 2009 to the various militant groups in the region. The declaration was made with the aim of restoring normalcy to the area. Regrettably, since after the declaration, remarkable changes have not been noticed.
The amnesty seemed to serve only as a strategy to enable the government and oil firms to continue with oil exploration in order to bring in revenue to the government. This strategy the government adopted amounted to throwing money at issues affecting the region rather than address them head on.
The general perception is that the federal government is deliberately opportunistic in matters concerning the development of the oil rich region. The leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Alhaji Asari Dokubo, aptly captured the situation thus:
“The Niger Delta is a conquered territory. It is a place of ruthless internal colonisation; it is a place where the guns, the tankers, the battleships and the marauding warplanes of the nation are always at the ready to deal destruction and death”.
Agitations by the Niger Delta region are anchored on the issues of marginalisation, environmental despoliation, infrastructural decay and poverty amidst plenty. As far as these conditions persist, there can never be sustainable peace in the region.