Troops In Niger Delta Without Addressing Fundamental Issues Is No Solution
Professor Benedict Benapepena Naanen, a specialist in economic history in the Department of History and Diplomatic Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, told KELVIN EBIRI, that current economic and political challenges facing Nigeria are consequences of poor planning and wrong decisions taken in the past. But, he sees a light at the end of the tunnel if the country could reprioritize its economic policies.
What can be done to revive ailing economy?
THE government has to engage in whatever it can to stabilise the economy first. It is a very big problem that the economy remained for a very long time undiversified. And that has created a great deal of problem for this country. The economy ought to have been diversified. I do believe in investment in industry and agriculture. I give you an example. The development initiative now or development ideology no longer favours State investment in industry, productive activities and business activities. What the government could do is to develop the industrial sector through partnership. It could engage in some kind of partnership between the private sector and the government, having minority shares in industries, massive industrial development. That is where job creation is, in industry, agriculture as well as the service industry. These are issues that should have been considered before now.
I think the presence of troops is necessary, but the most fundamental issue is to address the grievances of the region. When a people are angry, no matter the level of troops or the number of troops deployed, it cannot sustain or quell the anger of an angry people. So, yes it is necessary, but the fundamental issue is to address the grievances of the people. If you do that, there will be no need for troops. Remember the cost of sending troops, this could have been used to address development issues or whatever grievances that the people are having. The amnesty problem has been there, though the amnesty did not spread across the Niger Delta. The issue of amnesty was sectional, but still, we have to look at it. Also, the issue of environmental cleanup of Ogoni that has been held up all these while are some of the issues that should be addressed
There is also the issue of corruption. Look at the revelation we are receiving. We cannot be sustained with the level of corruption that is being unraveled. It is simply impossible. This country could have been stolen out of existence without the intervention of the present administration. In summary, I will recommend massive promotion of industrial development, agriculture and a check on corruption. These are where the jobs and opportunities are. Oil does not create jobs. For an industry that accounts for 30 percent of the country’s GDP, the impact on job creation is minimal because it is a capital intensive industry unlike other extractive industry where you have mines and somebody is on the ground creating opportunities, employing a large number of people. Opportunities must be developed in extractive industry. We should put emphasis in manufacturing and agriculture.
How can Nigeria attract direct foreign investment amid her numerous security challenges?
That is a huge challenge and that is why some form of sensitization and dialogue is very important, as well as strong presence of law enforcement. No country can develop with this level of insecurity. We know that poverty is part of the problem, but where do you start? It is like the story of the chicken and the egg. Do you get the chicken first that will produce the egg or the egg that produce the chicken? That is the story of poverty and insecurity in the Niger Delta and other parts of Nigeria. We must start from somewhere. I think the Niger Delta people, for instance, have to give peace a chance so that the government can do what is appropriate. There has to be assurance by the government. We have to see concrete plans by government to develop and empower the people and get the people engaged in entrepreneurial activities.
The Naira seems to be in a free fall. What can be done to urgently revive it?
The strength of any currency is dependent on a country’s productive capacity, the ability to earn foreign exchange. For long, we have hinged everything on oil and now we see the collapse of the oil market. Reviving the Naira is not something that will be very easy. I cannot really predict an end to the slide in the value of the Naira, beyond promoting productive activities, exports that will earn foreign exchange so that we can fund development. It is not going to be easy. The slide is very likely to continue. If you say you are going to support it artificially, it is going to be a very big burden on national economy. So the only solution is to earn the foreign exchange through export and that is the only long-term solution. I think this is the payback time. We are now seeing the reward of wrong economic policies in the past and getting out of this situation is not going to be a day’s affair. It is going to be a long time struggle the way I see it. Developing the productive capacity of an economy is not something that occurs magically. It comes out of conscious development policies that have been pursued over a period of time. And now, we are living with the consequences of not planning well, the consequence of corruption, the consequence of wrong policies. For now whatever we can do earn foreign exchange should be done. There are a lot of in-export activities that could be pursued. Of recent the telecommunication sector has added quite substantial point to the GDP, but we have to explore other areas like solid minerals. I understand there are quite a lot of minerals that have been unexploited in this country that we could explore, exploit and export. So, whichever activity will enable this country earn foreign exchange has to be pursued. That is the solution that I see.
Isn’t a clear cut strategic economic blueprint imperative to pull Nigeria out of this
I think we need a clear economic blueprint. There are two ways of doing that. One could be through budgetary allocation. Another one could be in terms of clearly defined policy that would identify opportunities and areas that the government wants to emphasize for economic development in the country. At the moment, such a comprehensive policy seems to be lacking, but one can get a glimpse through the budget, areas of emphasis like zero budgeting, which this country is not use to and also developing the country through foreign loans and local financial sources. That is also another risky area that we have to be clear about because it is going to impose a lot of burden in the future to be able to pay these loans. But if the loans go into targeted areas that are economic, that yield income for the country like infrastructure, industry and so on that are really economic targets, we can say alright the policy may not have been wrong headed. If you now borrow into areas that are not productive, this country will be doomed. So we need a clear economic blueprint that will spell out the government’s economic direction and its intention to build the national economy.
What can government do in the short and long term to boost economic activities?
The economic situation we are having at the moment is dreadful. But I think one area is to engage in sectors that could create jobs like road and other infrastructure. Some of the money they intend borrowing should go into construction and housing. These are sectors that actually lead to job creation. I understand the development ideology and the liberal policy that we are currently adopting doesn’t allow government at the moment to engage in productive activities, but it could provide the partnership with foreign capital. It is one way we can industrialize this country within the shortest possible time. There should be immediate investment in agriculture and construction. These are areas that can yield short and long term economic benefits for this country. Let Nigerians not deceive themselves, the solution is going to take a long time. We are paying the price for wrong policies we adopted in the past, corruption that has truncated our development leading to capital flight and all that. The government should invest in construction and agriculture to jumpstart the economy.
I must also emphasize that the issue of making the people to create their own opportunities is also important. We have to accept the fact that sometimes expectations on the part of the youth of the Niger Delta are unrealistic. The people have to be made to work their way through their prosperity. To expect that people will just be receiving largess is absurd. You cannot receive largess and prosper. Prosperity comes through hard work. That is another message that the youths of the region have to be made to imbibe and that I consider very important. The largest industry in the Niger Delta is government. If you remove government, the Niger Delta will collapse
Is deployment of troops to the Niger Delta imperative?
I think the presence of troops is necessary, but the most fundamental issue is to address the grievances of the region. When a people are angry, no matter the level of troops or the number of troops deployed, it cannot sustain or quell the anger of an angry people. So, yes it is necessary, but the fundamental issue is to address the grievances of the people. If you do that, there will be no need for troops. Remember the cost of sending troops, this could have been used to address development issues or whatever grievances that the people are having. The amnesty problem has been there, though the amnesty did not spread across the Niger Delta. The issue of amnesty was sectional, but still, we have to look at it. Also, the issue of environmental cleanup of Ogoni that has been held up all these while are some of the issues that should be addressed; and the generally, the issue of sustainable development in the region. The issue of poverty is exceedingly high. It is unacceptable for a country that has experienced several years of oil boom. These are some of the key issues. There is a need for job creation, need for poverty alleviation; need for general measures of sustainable development, including social development. These are crucial issues that can alleviate the feelings and anger in the area.
What does renewed hostility in the Niger Delta portend for the national economy?
It certainly will make the economic challenge of the country worse. The oil that is being exported, assuming that you cut off supply, it will now aggravate the economic situation more than what it is at the moment. It will definitely impact on the Nigerian economy. So, the best thing is to engage in peace building, engage in things that will alleviate the suffering of the people in the region. I must also emphasize that the issue of making the people to create their own opportunities is also important. We have to accept the fact that sometimes expectations on the part of the youth of the Niger Delta are unrealistic. The people have to be made to work their way through their prosperity. To expect that people will just be receiving largess is absurd. You cannot receive largess and prosper. Prosperity comes through hard work. That is another message that the youths of the region have to be made to imbibe and that I consider very important. The largest industry in the Niger Delta is government. If you remove government, the Niger Delta will collapse. They won’t have anything doing. In most of the Niger Delta states, anytime the governor is not in town, you will immediately feel the impact because that is where the largess come from. We cannot develop the Niger Delta based on largess. But in a productive economy, that can only come through the contribution of the people. It will not come from heaven.
What strategy should government adopt to engage the people of the Niger Delta?
I have always said that sensitization and some civic education is important. There is a lot of misconception in the Niger Delta, especially among the youths. This misconception has to be undone. Take for example, a lot of the Niger Delta youths feel that because they are from Niger Delta where the oil is produced, that they are entitled to the good things of life though they work or not. You have to disabuse their mind in some of these things. I am one of those advocates of sensitization and civic education. There should be a consistent process of engagement between Niger Delta communities and the government so that some of these unrealistic expectations and perception could be undone. Some of these perceptions are clearly mistaken, they are not sustainable and they are not tenable either.
How can government end Boko Haram crisis?
If it is Islamic insurgency, one thing that we have learnt about insurgency, especially one that is faith based, even if pretentiously such as Boko Haram, is that you cannot end it through dialogue. It doesn’t happen. All over the world from Afghanistan to the Middle East and all parts of the world where you have extremist religious groups you cannot end this kind of conflict through dialogue. You can only defeat them in the battlefield and that is what we should be emphasizing. I don’t think the government should be wasting its time talking about dialogue with Boko Haram. It should mobilise resources to ensure that Boko Haram is comprehensively defeated. The situation in the Niger Delta is different in the sense that it not religiously or ideologically driven. What we have now in the Niger Delta is pure case of criminality most times. You could engage in dialogue in that kind of situation, but also there is the need for the policy of carrot and stick. If you continue to use carrot alone everybody will eat it and it is business as usual. To come back to Boko Haram, let the government not deceive itself that it is going to negotiate with the group and that negotiation will solve the problem. There is nowhere extremist religious groups have come to terms with dialogue.
How has the Boko Haram issue impacted on the economy?
Just look at the budget and amount of money being spent on security, instead of creating productive opportunities. You cannot engage in any production in a situation of conflict. Look at what is happening at the internally displaced persons’ camps all over the place. A very large productive sector of the economy is being wiped off and that is very sad. Apart from that, the suffering that is involved is something we have to come to terms with. Reconstructing the Northeast as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency is going to be a very expensive project. It is one that is going to impact severely on national budget, apart from the loss of production.