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NDDC, Niger Delta and national interest

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The crisis rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over who should occupy which position in the running of the commission is fired by the selfish interest of each of the gladiators and not for the development of the Niger Delta or national interest. Twenty years after the NDDC was established to bring development to the region and leverage the people, nothing has been achieved and yet billions and billions have been pumped into the commission with nothing to show. The money has been frittered away by greedy, unscrupulous actors.

How to continue to milk the commission that has turned into a cash cow is the bone of contention. None of these greedy people is interested in bringing development to the blighted Niger Delta region or in leveraging the suffering people. Can there ever be sanity in the NDDC for it to do the onerous task it was established to do? I am even scandalised that the Federal Government that should stamp its feet and sanitise the commission appears to be complicit in fueling the crisis.

The NDDC, which mimicked the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), was established to perform a similar task. Within a decade, the FCDA transformed a virgin forest into the Abuja FCT. It worked conscientiously from scratch to accomplish that huge national assignment. Why has the NDDC worked for twenty years without achieving anything except to be mired in controversies?The reported setting up of an Interim Management Committee by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpebio, on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari is a step in the wrong direction and it is at the root of the crisis.

What is the rationale for setting up another Interim Management Committee when the president had already appointed a governing board, which the Senate has approved and waiting to be inaugurated? Why not inaugurate the board for it do its job? What is the committee supposed to do, especially, at this juncture that the president ordered a forensic audit? President Buhari should diffuse the tension in the NDDC by doing the right thing. The failure to do the right thing is causing confusion.

The oil politics in Nigeria and the escalating crisis in the Niger Delta is a matter of grave concern. What is Nigeria’s national interest as far as oil is concerned? Is it just to exploit the oil to earn billions of dollars, which in turn is stolen by corrupt government officials and their cohorts after which, anything can happen? Is it to use the wealth in developing the country, promote equity, justice and national unity? Is it to make Nigerians be proud of their God-given country? I cannot figure out exactly what is Nigeria’s national interest in the oil.

It seems to me that as far as Nigeria is concerned, our oil is just an article of trade. Consequently, what matters is what quantity is being produced (sold) and at what price? The price at which the oil is sold is given pre-eminent thought in government than anything else. No thought, whatsoever, is given to ideological issues, which, in this case, includes Nigeria’s national interest at the domestic level. No thought is given to how the oil revenue is used in developing the country.

That underscores why the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta are in deplorable state of abandonment. The factors that have given rise to armed unrest, kidnapping, disruption and destruction of oil facilities in the Niger Delta are as old as the oil industry in Nigeria. The militancy is not new, as some people erroneously believe. The militancy has been there in small scale and has been ignored for long. To deal with the unrest, therefore, we must go back to the root of the problem.

When oil was first discovered in Nigeria by Shell in 1957 at Oloibiri, in the present Bayelsa State, during the colonial period, the development and transformation of the Niger Delta ought to have started right from that time. Unfortunately, this was never to be. As colonial economic adventurers, the preoccupation of Shell and the colonial government was to exploit the oil for the benefit of their home country industrial development. As a result, Shell from the beginning did nothing to alleviate the abject condition of the people in the oil communities. An inhuman and explosive precedent was set in motion, which formed the reference point in subsequent years by the emergent neo-colonial Nigerian governments.

If the colonial administration had put a policy to adequately address the needs of the oil communities, it would have provided a framework for the up-coming independent Nigerian governments to follow. Besides, the discontent voices that later arose against the neglect would have been nipped in the bud. But, there was no such policy. That was the genesis of the injustice and deprivation in the Niger Delta. The foundation of today’s creek warfare was actually laid from 1957 when oil was first struck.

Three years after oil was discovered, Nigeria got her political independence. Ordinarily, the situation ought to have changed for the better, as Nigerians took over the reins of governance. Unfortunately, the Tafawa Balewa government neither inherited any blueprint nor did it develop any to address the emerging ugly scenario in the Niger Delta. The situation was compounded by the fact that the newly independent Nigeria lacked the capacity to take full control of the oil industry. The country did not have indigenous technical manpower, technology, infrastructure, energy supply, etc to harness the oil. As a result, the entire oil industry was in the hands of foreigners. The new independent Nigeria appeared not to understand the ideological issues of oil prospecting. Nigeria did nothing to give attention to the oil communities in the post-independent National Development Plans.

Somewhere along the line, displeasure began to creep into the sub-conscious mind of some aggrieved persons in the oil communities. These people began to feel that the transforming impact of oil was not being felt in their area. That was when Isaac Boro formed a reactionary group to kick against the perceived injustice being perpetrated by the federal government and the oil companies. Isaac Boro was suppressed. Although, he died in the struggle, his spirit lived on to fire the cause.

The political crisis in parts of the northern and western regions at the time in which many easterners were murdered only served as a convenient platform to vent the pervading angst and give meaning to it. The result was the civil war, which broke out and ragged from 1967 to 1970. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu (rtd) declared the Republic of Biafra comprising the defunct Eastern Region. The war was essentially fought over oil. At the time, oil production increased as more oil companies besieged the Niger Delta.

At the end of the war, oil production resumed with vigor and there was oil boom. The General Gowon-led military government earned huge revenue from oil and embarked on major development projects. Lagos was transformed with a network of flyovers across the marshy city. The Gowon administration did nothing to provide basic amenities in the Niger Delta. Later on, the Federal Government decided to move the capital from Lagos to Abuja in order to decongest Lagos. As I said earlier, within a decade, Abuja was transformed from a virgin forest to a city.During the Abacha regime, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots resurrected the Isaac Boro spirit and began to kick against the environmental degradation caused by oil in the Niger Delta. The

Abacha government arrested, tried and condemned Saro-Wiwa and his other compatriots death. Abacha executed them and a permanent military force was deployed in the area.The first attempt to give some form of attention to the Niger Delta was the establishment of the Oil and Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) by the military government. OMPADEC made little impact and was phased out in 1999 by President Olusegun Obasanjo and replaced by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). NDDC ought to have been a veritable framework to fast track development in the region but it has failed woefully and politicized.

The creation of more states in the Niger Delta and the 13 per cent derivation given to the states from the federation account did not help matters. The misappropriation and stealing of the huge allocations by politicians of the region further subjected the people to excruciating hardship. The practice of giving money to the chiefs and community leaders by the oil companies was ill-conceived, as it served private interests and could not placate the people. The same procedures, actions and strategies used in developing Lagos and Abuja should be applied in the Niger Delta and that is why the NDDC was established.


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Godswill AkpebioNDDC
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