‘Government should embrace dialogue in Niger Delta to save economy’
Misbau Opeyemi Aminu is a member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Council member of Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce. In this chat with Babatunde Oso in Lagos, he spoke on the need for government to dialogue with all stakeholders in the Niger Delta, with a view to saving the economy.
On the situation in Niger Delta crisis
For me, even though the Federal Government initiated its new military strategy code-named ‘Crocodile Smile’, l still think that the use of force rather than dialogue would be counterproductive in the long run. Military action will do no good in the Niger Delta. Rather, the resources deployed for the military action could be used for provision of infrastructure in the region. The planning for the proposed solution can be done within six months, while genuine implementation may span 10 years. I had successfully managed some very volatile situations through citizens engagement, and think that the Federal Government should embrace dialogue; special education programme; compensation; infrastructure development and de-militarization of the region.
The Niger Delta region has undergone denial of means of livelihood of the people, oppression and persecution. The inhuman conditions have changed everything about the Niger Delta and have reshaped the average mind of people in the region to lose trust in the leadership, in the nation, become suspicious of every move, defensive in nature and rebellious.
Genuine complaints were raised about oil spills by environment-conscious and rights movements like the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and rights activists the late Gani Fawehinmi, among others.
What did Nigeria, through our former leaders like Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Generals Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar do? We persecuted Ken Saro Wiwa and other agitators and tagged them criminals. Today, the country’s revenue is down to almost zero, with GDP declining to almost half the value, one and half years ago.
Over time, the people of the Niger Delta have ‘tasted’ the black gold, (oil) and found it was sweeter than fishing and farming. What cannot be gotten legitimately has been accessed illegitimately now. Pipelines have been tapped for illegal refineries, or transported in small barges into awaiting heavy ships on the high sea. Huge money is being realised. Mansions are being built, parties are being held, and lives have become ostentatious. It is now difficult to spit out the honey for bitter kola (farming and fishing).
Our Niger Delta brothers have realised the relevance of oil and gas to the nation’s revenue (85%) and the relevance of region to power generation. Our primary source of energy for electricity-gas accounts for almost 75% of the total source and it has become a weapon of negotiations.
The Niger Delta people’s main points include; destroyed farmlands and aquatic life, polluted environment, inadequate or selective compensation, systemic inequality that has favoured non-oil producers to have more and juicy oil wells, while the bearers of the brunt of the environmental disaster wallow in poverty, youth unemployment and lack of meaningful development/dearth of infrastructure, among others.
Intervention through special education
Government, needs to design a policy that can offer basic education and addresses the mind and soul of the Niger Delta people.
The education programme can be segmented into three: Education system for the pupils in the nursery, primary and secondary school. While giving basic education, a lot of emphasis will be placed on re-orientating minds for a constructive future.
Also, a modified amnesty programme should be put in place for youth between ages 18 and 55 that would encourage special education (basic and mind education), skill acquisition, entrepreneurship, welfare packages and rewarding stake within the industry.
Need for, negotiation and compensation
The trend in the world is no longer taking a ‘hard line’ but embracing negotiations to resolve crises.
For instance, the United States recorded an oil spill in 2010 and the company responsible for it, British Petroleum, responded to the negligence by ‘negotiating, compensating, cleaning the environment and paying fines’ of about $61.6 billion, according to the Managing Director of British Petroleum.
The people of the Niger Delta need to be compensated after a meaningful dialogue since the Nigerian economy is bleeding profusely now due to the crisis in the region.
Over N500 billion is lost monthly, which could have been used to fulfill electoral promises and grow the economy. We are just pretending or ignoring the causes of our economic recession.
On infrastructure development
The Federal Government, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other agencies only have capacity to initiate, fund and supervise projects, but that they cannot implement.
A lot of projects have been awarded to different companies, but the contractors could not execute these projects in the Niger Delta. It has resulted in abandoned projects or loss of government funds. The people will rather impose impossible conditions on the project or collect cash from contractors, than allow smooth execution of projects.
Once we embrace dialogue, compensate and educate, then meaningful projects will evolve in the Delta and it would soon become another Texas or Dubai.