Niger Delta and the future ahead
Since the discovery of crude oil in Oloibiri, in present-day Bayelsa State in 1956, and as it became the main source of the nation’s income, there have been myriads of agitations in the Niger Delta bothering on resource control, derivations, environmental degradations, unemployment, just to mention few.
Several pundits have identified the wide gap between the people in the Niger Delta and government as the major crux of the agitation in the region, causing the people to wallow in abject poverty, abandonment and dilapidation in all spheres of human endeavours.
However, past governments had taken some measures to assuage the suffering of the people and this led to the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000, yet, the agitation in the region gets worse till late President, Musa Yar’Adua, initiated the Amnesty Programme in 2009.
Similarly, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has taken some bold steps towards addressing the many challenges of the region which include efforts towards infrastructural development, ending gas flaring, implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (2021).
Worthy of note that the NDDC had deviated from its core mandate before the administration of President Buhari. As said by many public observers, it was an ATM machine for some politicians, who used it as conduit pipes to siphon public funds and self-aggrandizement. This further worsened the agitations in the region.
But the emergence of the former Governor of Akwa-Ibom, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, has changed the fortunes of the commission and tremendously improved the lives of the people of the region.
Other moves to assuage the ever exacerbating agitations in the region include: addressing environmental pollution/oil spillage, implementation of Forensic Audit Report Recommendation, new regional master plan, and poverty alleviation programs, responsible for peace in the region.
Although the environmental challenges facing the Niger Delta are egregious and many of them: manmade, the situation has persisted for too long without adequate commitment towards effective mitigation of the impact from previous governments since the return to democracy in 1999.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that since the election of the present government in Nigeria, far reaching steps have been taken towards ensuring speedy regeneration of the dilapidated infrastructure in the region in order to leave an enduring legacy.
There was the completion and commissioning of Special Protection Unit (SPU) Base 6 in Rivers State and NDDC Headquarters 22 years after successive governments abandoned it despite huge budgets for the project annually.
An important feature of the reform is accommodation for officers and students. The President directed that the building of barracks for men and women of the Police Force should be done in collaboration with the social housing efforts of the Family Home Fund.
Sources in the commission said the reforms would enhance speedy execution of the projects in all the barracks and completion of 1050 bed hostel in University of Uyo, and a 132 KVA Substation Power Project located in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.
Also, they disclosed that the 2×150MVA, 330/132KV, 2 X 60MVA, 132/33KV substations and associated lines in Ikot Ekpene, alongside the 2x 30MVA, 132/33KV substation in Ekparakwa and 132KV, DC line from Ikot Abasi to Ekparakwa, are expected to be completed this year.
Currently, the Nigerian government through the Ministry of Niger Delta has introduced a lot of reforms, prominent among which are the Forensic Audit, New Regional Master Plan, and the recently enacted Petroleum Industry Act, with 3% hostcom, which are geared towards reshaping all spheres of activities in the region.
The Forensic Audit in particular has tremendously improved on the delivery capacity of the many service providers including addressing the lacklustre performance of many contractors engaged in the key sectors of the development activities of the region.
In a desperate search for solutions at home and beyond borders, a 3-day international Partnership Peace Forum just ended in Paris, the capital of French, promising a viable speed to “Building excellence for the future of Nigeria’s Niger Delta reforms, result and the road ahead.”
At the comity of nations, this year alone, the leaders reviewed 80 projects designed to improve peace across the globe and ensure more harmonious living like reforming capitalism for more impact on the global economy, responding to the urgency of climate change, fake news; and the challenge it poses on journalism and cyber security.
In attendance was the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio, with other world leaders at the ongoing Nigeria International Partnership Forum, titled: “Beyond The Pandemic.” Speaking on the prospects and challenges ahead, he projected his mandate areas: Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Rivers, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Abia and Bayelsa, to global fore.
Akpabio, in his speech at the international forum, titled: “How can we build excellence in terms of infrastructure to attract investors, ensure reform, get result and take a look at the future of the region,” revealed how Ondo State is regaining her leading role for production of much-sought-for-cocoa globally, doing better than petroleum; and how Imo, Akwa Ibom and Edo’s production of palm oil will soon eclipse crude oil.
He marketed the region to the outer world and how a lot of thing can change for the better if the region is touched in terms of investment and funding by government, disclosing frantic efforts to make a deep sea port and urged investors to buy into the plans to develop the region and nation at large.
“Above all in the economy, we look at the sea shores, area in the Niger Delta today outside the part that have been developed in Port Harcourt, in Bonny, in Warri and in few other areas. We have places we are marking for deep sea port and you have about 16 to 18 metres of draft without dredging, so if you are able to invest in it, you can have a major deep sea port that would perform as a shipment port for the whole of west Africa and even some part of Sao tome Principe, Equatorial Guinea and all that.
“And of course plans are on the way, we have gone very far. When I served as a governor, we brought in experts and they went in and did a lot of work and then we know how those things can be sited and we know that, yes indeed, if you invest your money there, you will never lose and just to say why did we make a journey here?”
The Minister iterated that “It is for us to re-establish the bond between the colonial masters and the African countries, and particularly to bring the French and the English together. We believe that no company that came from Europe or America that have invested in Nigeria in the last 60 years regretted. Of course, Total can say so because they are still there and they are not in a hurry to go, Shell can also confirm that.
“Companies that have been to Nigeria have all had returns of investment, so we are here in Paris to invite you to come in and you will make quicker return on your investments in all the areas. And what will be most interesting in the Niger Delta region is that we want to add lesser value chain to what we have as products outside the agric area, the oil and gas, the gas is enormous and we are sitting on gas in the entire Niger Delta.”
Shedding more light on the sustainability of the new investment drive, he said “General Muhammadu Buhari alluded to what I’m saying. So it’s something that if we tap we can actually gain a lot outside domestication for our use. We can also export and if you want to process it for even our usage, you have the market with over 200 million households waiting to make use of it. So, that’s why we are inviting you to put in your money here and then you will never regret.”
Senator Akpabio also showcased the vast opportunities in culture and tourism latent for international utilization in the country, urging the foreign investors not to look further than the Niger Delta region first when they visit Nigeria because of the peace and tranquillity the nine states in the region.
He made reference to the proof given by the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Babagana Monguno, who spoke about indices of the maritime waters not having any incidence over the past quarters, no issue of kidnapping, no more militant insurgence, adding that their roads are relatively safe. He reiterated the fact that the Niger Delta should be the first place to visit in Nigeria and invest.
For the first time in the history of the nation, he disclosed that most governors in the region are building their own independent power plants to augment that of the Federal Government, which is making frantic moves to revamp existing ones across the nation; expatiating on how he built one when he was a state governor.
“Outside that, the minister said something about power and the state government are building their own independent power plants. As a governor I also built one, I produced it even though we added it to the national grid. We have fantastic infrastructure from fantastic route, I work with the best brains and with the other governors.
“I mean it’s one thing to build and another thing to evacuate your products, so in the Niger Delta we don’t only have fantastic roads, we also have the water way for you to export your products very easily. The Federal Government has also announced that it’s going to reinstate and revamp the existing railway system. So it’s a place there is adequate power supply, and of course, the roads are available; and the waterways are there for you to export anything you want to any country.”
He did not only assure the foreign investors of great yields on their investments in the region but also gave them guarantee on their investments as the Federal Government is making concerted efforts to tackle the insecurity in the area, especially youth restiveness through massive employment initiative.
“And we are also planning what we call post amnesty initiative. The amnesty that was announced is going to last in perpetuity, so we are preparing to go to a lot of industries to be able to ensure the employment of those who were in amnesty, and those who are of age and are leaving school: we need a lot of industries in that area.
“I will be very glad to partner with you to give you the opportunity to come in with all the available tax incentives available in Nigeria today when you invest. I’m telling you, you can,” Akpabio said.
Recently, the President commended the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, for the pragmatic leadership that has brought verifiable reforms to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Akpabio was lauded for justifying the huge government investment in the NDDC and for providing leadership and resilience amidst mounting challenges, ensuring that projects that have direct impacts on the people are prioritized and completed in line with the directive of Mr President.
Speaking on the wide gap between the people and government in the region, the Special Assistant, Presidential Monitoring Committee on NDDC, Hon. Anthony Onwuka (LLB Hons), stressed that the only way to proffer lasting solutions to the problems in the region is to give utmost attention to the region, especially political powers.
According to him, the Niger Delta region has experienced decades of deprivation and abandonment by past governments in the country. He alluded to the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others, who were unjustly executed because they fought for the rights of their people.
“Since NNDC was established in 2000, the region has felt some reliefs because the government tends to get closer to the people, but the region still wants more. To every part of this nation, it is our oil; but not their oil spillage, not their environmental degradation, not their air and water pollution: it is exclusively the Niger Delta headache.
“The people in the region need to control their own destiny, they need a leader of their own. 2023 is around the corner, there are illustrious sons and daughters in the Niger Delta who are in the saddle, and they should be considered for Presidency. People like Senator Godswill Akpabio will do well, he knows where the shoes pinch the people; he has been tested and proven: he will do well.
“Senator Akpabio is irrevocably committed to assisting Mr President to leave behind a legacy for the Niger Delta people, particularly saving the NDDC from dying like past developmental agencies put together for the region since 1958,” he said.