Niger Delta stakeholders set agenda for Tinubu
• Resource control, NDDC, East-West road, seaport top list
Like some other regions in the country, the Niger Delta people, feeling marginalised and still calling for resource control, have put forward a number of demands on the government of President Bola Tinubu.
President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, listed the issue of environmental degradation as very cardinal, saying the Niger Delta has suffered high level of multiple degradations as a result of the impact of oil exploitation and exploration, as oil and gas remain the mainstay of the country’s economy.
He recalled that since 1958, no concrete remedy has been done to ameliorate the suffering, lamenting that the Ogoni clean-up, which was designed to be the beginning of strategic engagement in trying to see how the wrongs of the past could be cleared off, seems to be a mirage.
“So, we expect that the new President should look at the issue of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. Let the best practices in oil company-community relations be addressed.
“Secondly, the PIA remains an insult to us; the three per cent allocated to host communities is unacceptable. We still believe, and strongly too, that derivation principle should be a minimum of 50 per cent as a starting point is the only thing that can bring about sustainable development of the environment.”
Insisting that this is not a new demand, as Nigeria has since 1946 recognised the importance of derivation; hence, it was part of the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, he stressed: “Resource control is very important. Resources that are solid are controlled by the owners of the land where they are found in this country, such as gold in Zamfara State, where communities go into cooperation.
“We are all aware of the merchants that move from Zamfara State to Saudi Arabia and other places to sell gold and other solid minerals. So, if the people can own gold in Zamfara State, why can’t we be allowed to own our oil resources?
“One good thing about President Tinubu is that he was an activist and had issues with a past president in the course of that, so we want to believe that he understands these things and the problems of the Niger Delta. So, as he becomes president, the expectations are that he would make these things work better.
“Thirdly, the educational system in this country, particularly in tertiary institutions, has dwindled over the years. Today, primary and secondary schools could be said to be managing due to the private sector involvement, but the same cannot be said of the higher institutions, especially the universities, which are quite expensive.
“So, the allocation to the education sector should be increased to meet the UNESCO minimum benchmark of 26 per cent of yearly budget. He also listed multidimensional issues of insecurity, decreasing standard of living in Nigeria and rising cost of living as matters that should be tackled, saying the economy is suffering from high levels of inflation and life in Nigeria today is so difficult.
“Indeed, he should make efforts to see that the government provides the basic amenities to improve the standard of living and for industries to thrive.
“The state of the East-West road and other major roads in the South-South, for example, is terrible. The infrastructure deficiency in the Niger Delta is unimaginable. It’s very shameful that the region from where the mainstay of the economy is domiciled lacks good roads, schools and basic infrastructure in general. That is why we emphasise on resource control,” Okaba stated.
Leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEND), Kennedy West; Niger Delta Non-violence Agitators Forum (NDNAF), Wisdom Ikuli and Bayelsa State Chairman of APC, Dennis Otiotio, all pointed to under-development, marginalisation and restructuring among many issues Tinubu should address.
To Ikuli, the Tinubu administration should restructure the country and ensure there is fiscal federalism and financial autonomy, where component units could control resources in their domains and pay royalty to the centre.
He stated: “Since the discovery of crude oil and gas in 1956 at Oloibiri-Otabagi in present day Ogbia Local Council of Bayelsa State and subsequent discoveries of same in other parts of the geographic Niger Delta region, the region has continued to feed the entire country that operates a mono-economy that depends solely on wealth from crude oil and gas.
“Unfortunately, these natural resources and wealth, which are supposed to be great blessings to the people, have rather become a curse, because the generous and very hospitable people of the region are sidelined, deprived, marginalised and denied of benefits accruable from their God-given wealth. The worst is the economic and environmental genocide that is going on in the region.
“The Tinubu administration should restructure the country and ensure there is fiscal federalism and financial autonomy. The component units should control resources in their domains and pay royalty to the centre.
“The above will present feeding-bottle democracy to a very productive and resourceful democracy and system that will encourage healthy competitions and developments among states.”
Ikuli also urged Tinubu to build coastal roads and rails to connect the entire region, saying: “He should resuscitate the seaports in the Niger Delta and also build new ones, like the Agge seaport, knowing that the vast wealth of countries are in the marine sector, especially as this will also help to decongest the seaports in Lagos.
“The government should provide basic social amenities, like electricity, water, hospitals and other health facilities, schools, etc, as well as embark on genuine clean up of the polluted Niger Delta region. “He should run a government of national unity and ensure that deserving Niger Deltans are given adequate responsibilities.”
Similarly, Otiotio charged the new President to tackle the twin problems of flooding and erosion and fix the East-West road that has been in a state of disrepair for years.
He said: “The issue of environmental pollution in the oil and gas industry, particularly as it affects the Niger Delta, should be adequately addressed, as well as ensure the completion of the East-West road.”
West described Tinubu as a man of virtue, who understands the sentiment and demands of the people, especially as he was also in forefront in the call for restructuring.
“So, we are expecting restructuring in his tenure to give the minority ethnic nationalities that sense of belonging, and the only way to do that is by restructuring this country. Constitutional amendment is also key,” he stated.
Regarding the Niger Delta, he said: “We want to see the ports working the way Lagos ports are working. We want to see all the ports working in the Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Ministry adequately funded. This year’s N10 billion budget for the ministry is absurd.
“We want to see the government pay all its arrears of the counterpart contribution funding of the NDDC. We want to see a government that will not interfere with the NDDC, because that is the reason NDDC is the way it is today; it has become a sector for political patronage.
“Now that it has a functional Board in place, they should be allowed to function without ambiguity and be given the necessary guidelines.” In Cross River, stakeholders identified insecurity, economy, judiciary, external debt, uniting the country and taking immediate action on climate change as urgent issues to be addressed.
Executive Director of the We The People, Mr. Ken Henshaw, said: “There are five things extremely urgent for the President to address because he inherited a divided country on account of the outcome of the election that brought him into office, which has left many people aggrieved.
“If Tinubu is interested in salvaging Nigeria, the first thing to do is to address his own election and he should be bold enough to admit that the process that brought him to office was fraught with some irregularities, just like the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted.
“Secondly, he needs to address the present insecurity in the country, especially in the Northwest, Northeast, South-South, Southeast and other places. We have different parts of Nigeria begging to leave, trying to break away from the country as a result of the sense of injustice, conflict and violence, so security needs to be addressed quickly.”
He further stated: “The third is the issue of Nigeria’s external debt. He is going to inherit a massive debt profile and declining revenues on all fronts. He needs to address the country’s mounting internal and external debt profile.
“The next thing is the fact that Nigeria’s economy was totally comatose under the Buhari administration. Why can’t we have any serious business investment and business climate in the country at the current exchange rate, which also means that the cost of living in the country has increased tremendously and more and more Nigerians are sliding below the poverty line. Tinubu needs to address this.
“And then finally, the President needs to take immediate action to address climate change. Whether he likes it or not, the impact of climate change is all over Nigeria, from desertification up North to flooding and changing agricultural patterns down South. The impacts of climate change are everywhere.
“He needs to address these five issues and address them very well,” Henshaw said.
For Dr. Martins Egot, there is a need for the new President to urgently address the current insecurity in the country, saying there is no way any government or democracy can thrive without security. He stated: “For society, there are basic things that the government needs to address, chief of which is security because there is no way a government or democracy can thrive where there is no security.
“Where people cannot be free to travel in all parts of the country, businesses are truncated, nothing is happening. So, the first task he has is to ensure that there is security in this country, because different administrations have talked about security, but till now we still have issues with security. His immediate priority is to ensure there is security in the country.
“Then going forward, I’m sure that if we have that in place, our economy will improve, because I tie the economic situation today in the country to insecurity. Businesses are not working. The exchange rate is very high, so we need to provide a good working environment for business to thrive for local and foreign investors and for local farmers.
“If Tinubu can fix these two things, I think there will be a better change than the one we had before his government.”