Healing the Niger Delta

Jun 01, 2006 02:00 AM

by Tunde Arokoyo

Before Nigeria gained her independence from Great Britain in 1960, environmental degradation problem of the Niger Delta region had become an issue which no government could gloss over. From 1958 when the colonial government set up the Willink's Commission to recommend strategies for developing the area, every successive government introduced one programme or the other to fight ecological and major environmental issues within the region.
A careful study of previous efforts made to address the Niger Delta problem, reveals that the objectives of past policies, though well intended, failed at the implementation stage. It was discovered that these efforts were defeated due largely to dishonesty and insincerity of purpose by the agents of government charged with the enforcement and practical implementation of the policies.

The Niger Delta Development Board, NDDB, created in 1961 as a fall-out of the recommendations of the Willink's Commission, would have set a good start for the development of the region if it had achieved its goals. But it failed.
Its operators chased shadows instead of engaging in practical and meaningful development of the area. That faulty start by the NDDB, trailed other past efforts to better the lot of the Niger Delta people.

The River Basin Development Authorities of the 1970s fared no better. They were saddled with problems that ranged from poor funding, bureaucratic bottle-necks to unhealthy politics. The military governments that established the RBDAs did not help matters as their loyalists and cronies became overnight contractors at the River Basin Development Authorities.
Apart from the management of water in the semi-arid regions of the country and some minor agricultural activities across the country, the River Basin Development Authorities failed in harnessing the natural potentials of their areas of operation as well as the in-depth development of the regions especially the ecologically depraved Niger Delta.

It has been said severally that Nigerian Governments are never lacking in formulating policies or churning out good programmes, but have always lacked the will to implement such policies and programmes to meet the aspirations of the populace. This is one major area of difference between President Obasanjo's Government and past regimes.
In the dying days of the military in the governance of Nigeria, the pan-genetic nature of the Niger Delta situation made it the albatross of every regime. Not even the setting up of the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission, OMPADEC, in 1992, could save the situation. Most Nigerians had hoped the OMPADEC would provide the necessary breather to the otherwise near hopeless condition in most very rural, undeveloped, inaccessible communities in the Niger Delta.

Again, OMPADEC became a nest for political patronages. Its primary goals of rehabilitation and development of oil producing areas were defeated, so, it equally failed. It is on record that the OMPADEC was not starved of funds as badly as other agencies before it had experienced.
Unfortunately, parochial interests seemed upper most in the minds of its managers. One had expected that the Commission which received over 23 bn naira in six years should have had good achievements to show for it. In all these wasted efforts, the people of the Niger Delta were worse for it. The region experienced more environmental degradation as a result of oil and gas pollution which destroyed aquatic lives and rendered the soil impoverished.

With the turn of events in the Niger Delta area, one must say that President Olusegun Obasanjo deserves not just a commendation, but a rich applause for the bold, courageous and enduring steps he has taken to restore hope to the people of the Niger Delta region. Today, there are good roads, portable water, good school buildings, hospitals and health care centres, electricity supply, community halls etc. courtesy of the Federal Government through the NDDC, Niger Delta Development Commission.
The coming of the NDDC and other laudable programmes initiated by President Olusegun Obasanjo for the upliftment of the Niger Delta region and her people no doubt places the present administration as the fairest and most honest in addressing the problems of the area from 1958 to date. It is on record that the Niger Delta Development Commission alone has achieved more in terms of rural development through the provision of amenities than former agencies with similar mandates ever did.

The Obasanjo Administration's love for honesty and transparency led to the establishment of anti-corruption institutions like the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. These commissions have served as major checks on fraudulent public officers and contractors who would have derailed Government efforts in the region in a business as usual tendency.
It is no secret that the publication of oil accounts and the monthly allocations to the States of the Federation has enabled the people -- the real owners of the funds -- to check the excesses of some State Governors in the region.

The impeachment and subsequent trial of D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha, former Governor of Bayelsa State, was heralded by Nigerians. Only a purposeful Federal Government headed by a man like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo could have provided the platform and created the necessary environment that encouraged Nigerians in Bayelsa State to take such a bold step.
Other State Governors in the region now boldly point at developmental projects embarked upon by their Governments as a result of more revenue that is accruing to them from the Federation accounts.

The Obasanjo Administration has taken more concrete and very realistic steps to ensure stability in the Niger Delta than any previous government ever contemplated. The creation of community committees to be made up of elders, local government officials, political and religious leaders, civil society groups, with the aim of having them build a wholesome community where traditional values and virtues will take centre stage, has been acknowledged as very positive.
Engaging the Niger Delta Militant youths in dialogue has helped to a great extent in bridging the gap that existed between the parties. Although there are still areas of disagreement, one cannot deny the fact that both the youths and the Government understand each other's position on the issues better. What is desired now is for both parties to move a step further, and lasting peace will be entrenched in the hitherto turbulent region of Nigeria.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has the will and the means to give Nigerians and indeed the world oil community a permanent rest from conflict and hostage-taking in the Niger Delta area.
One only hopes that other stake holders in the region will shift grounds and give the Government policies, programmes and promises, for uplifting and rebuilding the area, a fair chance. Doing so will be for the good of all.

Source: Daily Champion
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