A Niger Delta Development Bank?
Much as a radical and innovative approach to the development of the oil-bearing and long-suffering Niger Delta region is desirable, it is difficult to see the wisdom behind establishing a bank specifically for the region as the Federal Government is reported to be contemplating. What can a so-called Niger Delta Development Bank mean? What can it do? What is this chasing of shadows for?
It is important that the Niger Delta should be treated as a special area for development. It is a sensitive region. It produces the mainstay of the national economy and it is just appropriate that the Vice President has declared that the region will be treated as a special area.
Indeed, the Federal Government demonstrated this belief in and commitment to making the region a special zone during the interactive trips which the then Acting President carried out on behalf of the President. The announcement that modular refineries will be built in the region is also a positive one. No effort should be spared in assuaging the hurt feelings of Niger Delta indigenes and developing the goose that lays the golden egg.
The restiveness in the region has had a deleterious effect on the national economy. Oil production has dipped. This is because of perceived and actual neglect in terms of development. Such violent bodies as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) sprang up in ostensible reaction to decades of official exploitation. Ethnic militias, something hitherto alien to the Nigerian State became a familiar occurrence. The oil pipelines across the country were vandalised.
In reaction to the decades of infrastructure deficit, the Federal Government had over the years created many institutions. These include Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the Amnesty Office. Also, there has been a proposal to create a Maritime and Transportation University. If current agitations are anything to go by, these institutions have not made a dent on the gargantuan challenges facing the region. Creating more bodies, therefore, is not the solution. The time has come for a hands-on approach by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government may need to answer some questions: what is the development strategy for the region? Is there a development master plan? What is missing in the plan that requires a special bank? Is the bank going to lend money to developers? Is the bank going to source money and lend to the Federal and state governments? Is this not an attempt to create another bureaucracy that fat-feed a new set of briefcase-carrying businessmen and politicians? Has the Federal Government followed through with its much-applauded directive to the oil majors to move their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta? Has there been any data on how much money the Niger Delta interventionist agencies have been given since their inception and how these monies were expended? Has there been a thorough needs-assessment programme? Why has the 13 per cent derivation fund not impacted positively on the lives of the people of the region?
The proposed Niger Delta Development Bank is another tokenism which the people of that region do not need. What is needed at this time is a big dream, a big plan and a firm determination to turn the dream into reality. The Niger Delta can become a Dubai. The Niger Delta could be built like Abuja. These are territories that were transformed into ‘wonderland’ because of the human will to conquer, re-shape and positively transform its environment. The government should give itself a time limit to carry out a development plan. It should come out with a blueprint that would cover the entire BRACED states of the region. Such a plan should take into consideration the ecology of the Niger Delta, its topography, its peoples and culture and the potentials that it has for tourism and business investments. This is what the Federal Government should concern itself with.
In nation building, there must be continuous dialogue. Dialogue is often a two-way affair. It is not a process of one person or a group imposing preposterous ideas on another. Modern forms of development are preceded by clear thinking. Such thinking is usually holistic. It considers the total factors. Also, there must be a sincere willingness to frontally confront thorny issues which bedevil the region. A Niger Delta Development Bank is not a correct approach. The idea should be jettisoned immediately for it is an insult on the collective intelligence of the people. The existing institutions – the NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs – should be given time-framed mandates to implement transforming policies. Where they fail, their operators should be held accountable. With effective monitoring after developing a concrete plan and a clear mandate given to operators, failure will not be on the table.
Indeed, the Presidency should perish the thought of creating a Niger Delta Development Bank. The existing institutions should be given a clear mandate to do their jobs.