Friday, 5 May 2017

Applying Alaibe’s recommendations for devt of Niger Delta


The assurance, by the federal government, that all the oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta will enjoy equal treatment in the distribution of developmental projects is a soothing balm to the wounds of communities that have over the years suffered neglect by successive administrations in the various attempts at addressing the vexed issue of even development of the region.

Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, reportedly gave the assurance not long ago when representatives of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State paid him a courtesy visit.

For far too long, communities in states that are derisively considered as ‘fringe members’ of the Niger Delta have suffered what can at best be described as official neglect in the distribution and siting of developmental projects, for the simple reason that they are not the ‘mainstream’ oil bearing states, and therefore do not suffer the same level of destruction of the environment and other negative consequences of oil exploration and production, like the latter.

It is the reason Niger Delta has inadvertently come to be synonymous with states like Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Cross River and Edo. It is hardly remembered that Ondo, Imo and Abia states are also in the Niger Delta. In fact, reference is sometimes made to Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa as the so-called core Niger Delta. It doesn’t help matters, either, that people in these three states see themselves, rather arrogantly, as the ‘real Niger Delta’ people, through utterances and actions.

But thank God for the Buhari administration. Recent actions of the government suggest that we are about to witness a significant departure from what has been the usual practice of concentrating developmental efforts on some selected sections of the Niger Delta, perhaps because all the noise, threats and actual destruction of oil installations and facilities by armed militants have been coming from those sections. The all-inclusive approach of the federal government to finding lasting solutions to the problems of the entire Niger Delta, not just a few states, is undoubtedly the panacea to the restiveness that has seen the country being held hostage, with the predictability of the rising of the sun.

The government has started on a good note by engaging stakeholders in the Niger Delta in dialogues that are meant to chart the way forward for the region. One of such activities was the recent tour of the region by the vice president, during which he held town hall meetings with people from all segments of the society. Before then, President Muhammadu Buhari had held a meeting with representatives of the region in Abuja, at which the demands of the people of the region were presented in documentary form.

If past experience is anything to go by, it will not be surprising to see the government follow up by setting up a committee to draw up a plan of action for implementing the demands of the region, both from the president’s meeting and the vice president’s various town hall meetings. There should be no need for this. The government has a working document to serve as guide for a systematic development of the region, one that would satisfy the yearnings, demands and aspirations of all the communities in the region.

Timi Alaibe, a former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), has been a one-man advocate for equitable distribution of resources and developmental projects in the region, irrespective of percentage of contribution to the national oil revenue, or degree of negative consequences suffered from oil exploration and production activities. For him, environmental degradation, like oil spill, does not recognize state or community boundaries. Nor is underdevelopment or unemployment concentrated in some sections of the region.

The former presidential adviser on the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme does not lose any opportunity to speak on the issue of even development of the region wherever he finds it – at public lectures and media interviews.

Alaibe’s ideas of what are required to ‘liberate’ the Niger Delta from the shackles of underdevelopment and poverty, quite lofty as they come, are encapsulated in the Niger Delta Development Master Plan that he personally authored. The document is a guide for the systematic and sustained development of the region, quite different from the periodic handouts that successive governments have been content to giving the people of the region.

Though yet to be fully implemented, save for one of the pillars that deal with demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of former militants, the Master Plan has remained largely unused. Perhaps the document waited for the Buhari administration that is designing a new approach to solving the problems of the region, to be fully implemented.

Is it a coincidence that the Senate has just exhumed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that had remained buried in its closets for nearly a decade, just when the federal government is trying to design new initiatives to tackle the Niger Delta problem? Perhaps it is not. The PIB and the Niger Delta Master Plan find common grounds in some areas, such as joint ownership of oil infrastructure by communities, which would make them assume full responsibility for its security. There is also the issue of involving oil bearing communities in profit sharing of oil proceeds. Both documents are on the same page on this.

The federal government must walk its talk by ensuring even distribution of developmental projects in the entire Niger Delta region, which is in line with Alaibe’s recommendations in the Master Plan. This is what would give every community and hamlet in the region a sense of belonging. Some sections should no longer be made to feel that they are the special children that deserve to be pampered, while others pick the crumps that fall from the table.

If the time has come for the people of the Niger Delta to feel differently (positively) about living in the area that serves as the goose that lays the golden egg, that feeling should spread everywhere.


(The Nation)

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