August 11, 2016 – The Niger Delta Crisis: Issues, Challenges And The Way Forward By John Uzie
Historically and cartographically, the Niger Delta consist of present day Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States.
In 2000 Obasanjo’s regime included Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross River State, Edo, Imo and Ondo States.
Some 31 million people of more than 40 ethnic groups including the Bini, Efik, Esan, Ibibio, Igbo, Annang, Oron, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Urhobo, Ukwani, Kalabari, and Ogoni, are among the inhabitants of the political Niger Delta speaking about 250 different dialects. – – – – Wikipedia.
The contending issues of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria resurfaced again in February 2016, when the self styled Niger Delta Avengers ( NDA) began a campaign of destroying the Nation’s oil and gas assets within the region. The euphoria that arose from the unhindered success of the NDA gave rise to various militant groups claiming to be fighting for the interest of the region.
THE ISSUES OF THE NIGER DELTA :
1. Ownership of oil wells.
2. Pollution of the regions environment from oil mining activities.
3. Low level of infrastructural development in oil producing communities and the region.
4. Increase in the derivation fund to oil producing states from the current 13%.
5. Lack of job opportunities for the growing youth population of the region.
6. Wide spread poverty in the region in the midst of enormous oil wealth.
THE CHALLENGES OF THE NIGER DELTA :
Various avenues and platforms have been put in place to develop oil producing communities and the region, such measures includes the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which has its headquarters in Port Harcourt, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, 13% oil derivation fund paid monthly to oil producing states, social corporate responsibilities to host communities by Oil Companies, and the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. These intervention platforms have done little to address the economic and developmental challenges of the region.
REASONS FOR THE FAILURE OF THE VARIOUS INTERVENTION EFFORTS IN THE NIGER DELTA :
1. Corruption and poor management of intervention Programmes and projects – A lot of projects embarked upon by the NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs are either abandoned, or poorly executed, and payments are made for projects not executed. The Commission and the Ministry has a high recurrent expenditure. The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme has been plagued with reports of fraud and poor management.
2. Mismanagement of 13% oil derivation fund by state governments – Since the commencement of the payment of this fund in 2001, the states of the region has collected trillions of naira from the Federation accounts. The intent of this special intervention fund which is paid monthly, is for these states to channel the funds for direct development of oil producing areas. The management of this fund in virtually all the affected states is done in secrecy, there is lack of accountability, political manipulations, and in some cases diversion of the funds to develop non oil producing areas of the state, as well as outright theft of the funds by state government officials. In states where attempts were made to develop oil producing areas, projects cost were inflated, poorly executed, and in some instances projects not executed were paid for.
3. Lack of political will by Federal, States, and Local government councils to develop oil producing areas and the region – Successive governments at the three tiers have failed to bring economic and infrastructural development to the region. Many oil producing areas have no Federal, State, or Local government council’s impact or presence. Are these communities only relevant for crude oil production ?
4. Poor implementation of agreements between Oil Companies and their host communities – As part of social corporate responsibilities, Oil Companies enter into memorandum of understanding (MOU’S) with their various host communities yearly or every two years. These MOU’S cover employment slots, scholarship for students, skill acquisition programmes, provision of basic amenities such as roads, water, electricity, schools, clinics, markets, training and empowerment programmes for farmers. Many of these agreements are poorly implemented, Oil Companies refuse to implement some aspects of these agreements, and there has been cases of active connivance between management of Oil Companies and the leaders of their host communities. These unscrupulous community leaders trade implementation of signed MOU’S for personal financial gains and award of contacts.
5. Failure of Niger Delta leaders – Prominent leaders of the region have greatly contributed to the woes of the region. Past and present leaders from the region failed to use their positions to bring meaningful development to the region and her people. These parochial and narrow minded individuals concentrated on being ethnic champions, and working for their personal financial gains. The mismanagement and corruption that was entrenched in the NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme occurred under the watch of Niger Delta indigenes.
RESOLVING THE CRISIS :
The issues and challenges facing the Niger Delta region of Nigeria can be resolved through peace and sincere dialogue, what the Niger Delta Avengers, their co-travellers, promoters of anarchy, ethnic champions, and tribal assemblies should know is this, the people and patriotic leaders from the region have the capacity and will to engage the Federal Government of Nigeria in a peaceful and sincere dialogue to change the fortunes of the region for good. Those who have embarked on a destructive spree of the Nation’s oil and gas assets should also know , through peace and dialogue Delta and Baylesa States were created, payment of 13% oil derivation fund was implemented, OMPADEC which is now NDDC came into existence, and also the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
The Niger Delta Avengers and their co-travellers should understand that the people of the core Niger Delta are not in support of their dream to declare a utopian Republic of Niger Delta. The ethnic nationalities who were politically placed in the Niger Delta have no desire for such a Republic. The cost of environmental clean up arising from oil pollution, and repairs of damaged oil and gas assets would be funded by oil revenues from the region. As the Nigerian economy suffers from loss of oil revenues, the States, and Local government councils as well as the people of the region also suffer.
The NDA and their co-travellers should embrace peace and dialogue, if they continue with their grand standing, and engage the Nigerian Armed Forces in an arms conflict, they should face the consequences alone. Civil wars and armed insurrections do not always go as planned, fresh in mind is South Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. Citizens of these countries are still licking their wounds from various armed conflicts. The misadventure of the Boko Haram sect in North Eastern Nigeria has produced suffering for the poor, helpless, and innocent people of that region.
THE WAY FORWARD :
1. The Ownership of oil wells should be reviewed by the Federal Government, a political solution should be worked out with stakeholders from the region. The percentage of oil wells owned by people of the region should be increased.
2. The Federal Government should put an action plan in place to address the problems of environmental pollution and gas flaring in the region.
3. The Federal, States, and Local government councils in the region should site viable and meaningful infrastructural projects in oil producing areas and the region, this will help address the anger the people have towards the government.
4. The Federal Government should work out a political solution to increase the current 13% oil derivation fund. Political leaders from other regions opposed to this increase should have a rethink.
5. The Federal Government should vigorously pursue its economic diversification efforts.
6. The NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the Niger Delta Amnesty programmes should be re-positioned to fulfill their mandate. Corruption should be eliminated from their operations.
7. The 13% oil derivation fund should be judiciously used by the state governments to bring meaningful development to oil producing areas of the states.
8. The Federal Government should initiate an action plan for the establishment of industries that utilize hydro carbon as raw material for their production processes, such refineries, fertilizer, and petrol chemical plants in the region. This measures will help tackle youth restiveness and unemployment.
9. Oil Companies should be alive to their social corporate responsibilities in their host communities, MOU’S should be properly implemented. Host community leaders should put their people’s interest above personal financial gains, they should work for the implementation of signed MOU’S.
10. Leaders of the Niger Delta should put the interest of the region and her people above personal financial gains, they should work hard to bring meaningful economic and infrastructural development to the region.
The failures of past governments in Nigeria to remedy the problems of the Niger Delta region has brought us to where we are today as a Nation. As long as the people of oil producing communities and the region do not get meaningful benefits from oil revenues, militancy, violent, and destructive agitations will be a recurring event. The time for the government to act and right the wrongs suffered by the region and her people is now.
[Article by JOHN UZIE]