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New Niger Delta ready for business

By Chigachi Eke
03 July 2017   |   3:43 am
In November 2016, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, who doubles as chairman of Northern States Governors’ Forum comprising the19 northern states, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with Armand Pineda...

In November 2016, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, who doubles as chairman of Northern States Governors’ Forum comprising the19 northern states, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with Armand Pineda, Senior Executive Western Europe and Africa of General Electric, GE, and Lazarus Angbazo, President/Chief Executive Officer of General Electric Nigeria.

The GE, leader in energy and electricity with over 120-year experience, will construct five solar power plants to generate 500 megawatts of electricity for Borno, Kebbi, Nassarawa, Niger and Taraba states. The electricity so generated would “stimulate economic activities and social services in the affected states through boosting agricultural food processing, small scale businesses in addition to supplying electricity to schools and hospitals.” In other words, the North is addressing the very condition that gave rise to religious fundamentalism-poverty. But what else are we not seeing?

Firstly, northern governors are thinking strategically switching to alternate energy firmly under their control than rely on petroleum outside their control. Independent energy makes them master of their own fate and from this position of strength can afford to agree or disagree with you politically. A day may come when states that failed to adapt to independent energy could atrophy while the North endures. It happened in 19th century United States of America. The North adapted to fossil fuel and prospered while the notorious Bible-belt South continued to rely on slave labour and became poorer.

Secondly, they could also be looking at the big picture diversifying from being recipients of monthly allocation to exporters of manufactured goods. To be able to do this, they need abundant electricity, as the modern production system is energy-intensive. Any principality without cheaper and better energy could as well be living in the Stone Age.

By transiting from fossil fuel of the 19th century to the 21st century renewable energy, the governors are responding to the energy challenge of the day. Let it not surprise you that the ‘conservative North’ is on the cusp of Industrial Revolution while the ‘radical South’ sleeps.

Finally, and most importantly, by cleverly going out of its way to attract the GE the North launders its image as investor friendly. Never mind that only yesterday it was a byword for insecurity as Nigeria Army battled the Boko Haram. Today, the same north is fairly reported by the media as the epitome of law and order united under a common banner. That is no mean feat.

Events up North are sobering for us here in the Niger Delta. Rather than begrudge the pragmatic North, governors of the nine states making up the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, should replicate the northern milestone. The Senator Edwin Kiogbodo Clark-led Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, has brokered peace between Niger Delta militants and the President Muhammadu Buhari government. The big question is what to do with this peace.

Our aim is twofold: To secure the present peace for all time by identifying our past mistakes leading to the collapse of the first peace, 2009-2015, ushered in by the 2009 Presidential Amnesty; and Creating the much needed awareness that the region is peaceful and ready to do business with local and international business people.

The first peace was latent with three congenital flaws. One, it was self-serving as its mission and vision were limited to ensuring optimal oil production than eliminating those anti-people conditions that created the Tompolos of Niger Delta. Rural communities whose economies were destroyed by the Military Joint Task Force, JTF, and militants did not receive attention in that peace.

Two, we lost the first peace for its sectarianism. Whereas the 2009 Oil War was waged and fought for the ‘collective’ emancipation of the Niger Delta, when Amnesty was secured, the dividends of that struggle went to Ijaws alone. Exclusion was the reason why Itsekiris and Urhobos vigorously opposed the Niger Delta Avengers 2016 even though they backed the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, 2009. In Ijawland itself poor Ijaws were left out as ex-militant leaders cornered the dividends of Amnesty.

And three, the location of Amnesty Office in faraway Abuja was a contributory factor why the first peace failed. One reason advanced by the revered Harold Dappa-Biriye before the 1957 Sir Henry Willinks Minority Commission was the impossibility of a government sitting in faraway Enugu to fully appreciate the developmental challenge confronting a creek dweller. Likewise, it was impossible for an Amnesty Office located in Abuja to fully monitor peace in remote creeks. Amnesty Office was unaware that John Togo was recruiting having built a vast camp on the bank of the Forcados River till it was too late. Innocent natives of Ayakoromo paid with their lives for that lapse.

No Amnesty Office was in the Niger Delta to address Kelvin Ibruvwe’s complaints. Before resorting to kidnap-for-ransom, Ibruvwe was known to complain bitterly that Shell pushed him out of his only source of income; being a farmland he inherited from his grandfather. Since he couldn’t fight Shell, he decided to try his hands on the booming commercial cyclist business called Okada Economy. As fate would have it Okada Economy, the only hope for many an Urhobo youth, was a front for banditry and Ibruvwe never looked back. It is instructive that when finally tracked down what he asked for was a separate amnesty for his marginalised Urhobos. He made this demand because remote Amnesty Office had nothing in common with his people.

Custodians of the present peace, namely, Presidency, the Nsima Ekere-led NDDC, MNDA, PANDEF, etc, must do things differently. We caution that prosecuting defaulting ‘contractors’ over abandoned NDDC projects could backfire. The outcry over abandoned projects must be balanced with the sombre reminder that these projects were awarded quid pro quo for peace by past administrations to ex-militants leaders turned peace-time contractors. Peace-time transparency must never be used to judge war-time measures as tokenism, contracts, swapping of prisoners, etc, are non-military means for accomplishing military end, according to Professor Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu. What resurrected militancy 2016? Was it not the bungling Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC, that declared a prominent ex-militant leader wanted over contracts?

The Presidency wants the NDDC to track down and punish well-fed contractors. But those whom things have not changed are loudly saying “No. Save our souls first. The NDDC should urgently intervene in our daily realities in the same manner the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE, is empowering northerners. We Bakassi refugees were here before North East refugees!” Acting President Yemi Osinbajo should write off abandoned projects as part of the larger liabilities his Principal inherited. The NDDC under Ekere is focused and aligned with Buhari’s drive to develop the region. Samuel Adjogbe, the Executive Director Projects, EDP, is daily in rural Niger Delta building infrastructure. We don’t need distractions as the contractors could sponsor anti-Ekere protests. We now come to the issue of creating the much needed awareness that there is a new Niger Delta open for business.

Perception matters. The Northern Wonder under Shettima is a challenge for us to salvage our own image. We must greatly deemphasise war and speak frankly and positively about a peaceful Niger Delta. If Nigerians and the international community still believe that the region is unsafe then no one will come to do business with us. This realisation means the nine Niger Delta states must embark on a massive enlightenment campaign that the region is peaceful, safe and ready for business.

Finally, law enforcement must reflect the changed social outlook; relying more on persuasion and less on brute force. The new security model designed by Nigeria Police Rivers Command under Commissioner of Police Zaki Ahmed is worth replicating. Ahmed and his officers don’t beat up or kill unionists; pro-Biafra agitators or communities embroiled in land and chieftaincy disputes. The Rivers Command dialogues with them, which works very well.

Ahmed personally settled the industrial dispute between Agip and Agip Indigenous/Landlords Contractors Association. His intervention saved oil installations from being vandalised, perhaps. We would like other police chiefs in the Niger Delta to also encourage aggrieved groups to step forward and be heard. Properly managed, a war condition can become peaceful just as wholesale peace can degenerate into intractable conflict in the hands of bad managers. There is something called pattern of history that must never be allowed to repeat itself.

By going solar the 19 northern states are thinking beyond the petrol-dollar economy at a time when the nine Niger Delta states are yet to attain same. That is another way of saying that the region is behind time in relation to the North. To catch up we must now deemphasise militancy for industry. Spread the message that there’s a pacific Niger Delta ready for business.