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Militants, Sovereign Debts, And Nigeria ’s Niger Delta Time-Bomb by Eben Okubo


Militants, Sovereign Debts, And Nigeria ’s Niger Delta Time-Bomb

  After all said and done, there is usually more said than done. This is true of the Niger Delta quagmire. The oil rich hinterland, mangroves, wetlands, and diminishing foreshores of Nigeria ’s coastline is now a war zone. There are family feuds, cult wars, internecine wars, tribal wars, territorial wars, environmental wars, political wars, economic wars fratricidal wars and wars of attrition. There is even a war or words on corruption and due process. In recent months, oil facilities have come under attack, hostages have been taken, supply convoys disrupted, police formations attacked and detainees forcefully released in commando-style raids, self-acclaimed warlords declared wanted, and bonafide warlords surreptitiously defanged and  sent back to school.

  If you connect the dots, the image that appears is that of an emerging guerilla war. For want of a less ominous parlance, the government and mass media have settled for the term, MILITANT, to describe motley groups of  young men and women fighting against injustice, exploitation, disinheritance, poverty, and condescending neglect. They are also fighting their fellow deprived kit and kin, and amongst themselves. With grossly underreported unemployment, there is no shortage of idle hands eager to enlist to either prosecute the wars of liberation or join the ever present criminal elements in the devil’s workshop. To the utter dismay and imminent danger for every Nigerian, the government is as confused as the militants and the general population. Passing the buck, wringing of hands, rhetoric of sympathy, monologue, dialogue, reading the riot act, tokenism, task forces, committees, and a one-size-fits-all solution approach have not moved us forward.


Everyone concurs that the environment of the oil and gas producing areas is in ruins exacerbated by unabated gas flaring, oil seepage, and hazardous production processes, Bad governance, reinforced by endemic rot and corruption acts as a catalyst which fuels underdevelopment, breakdown of law and order, weakening of traditional social structures. A pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair fills the air. Using conferences, seminars, stakeholders’ meetings, workshops, on the spot assessment junkets and so on, we continue to grope in broad daylight for answers while a cataclysmic meltdown looms in the horizon. To recapitulate, successive governments have admitted that the Niger Delta lacks even basic amenities such as potable water, decent housing, safe transportation, health facilities etc. etc.

 As the situation deteriorates by the day, it is incumbent on the Federal authorities to take a detached view, reassess its mindset, and make a radical departure from the conventional approach which has not yielded the desired results in the last fifty years. The hallowed halls of government are awash with theories, proposals, studies, reports, recommendations and statutes relating to the oil and gas communities. Everyone seems to have a remedy for the Niger Delta malady. An analysis of literature on the Niger Delta dating back to the 19th century when treaties were signed between the Oil Rivers Protectorate and the British Crown shows that the words neglect, equity, justice, environment, and employment feature most prominently. To accurately diagnose the malady and prescribe the most efficacious medication therefore, these elements (neglect, equity, justice, ecology, and jobs) must be brought to the forefront.

 All things considered, there are indeed several critical keys to solving the Niger Delta quagmire but first and foremost is the imperative of an intervention agency. Even the British recognized this, hence they canvassed that the Niger Delta be designated as a Special Area for the purpose of development. Consequently, the Niger Delta Development Board was established, with an accomplished administrator from Akassa, Chief Isaac S. Anthony of blessed memory as Chairman. Poor funding and the civil war rendered it moribund.

  There exists today, the Niger Delta Development Commission. It is loaded with experts, professionals, whiz kids, and activists of all shades, yet its current structure, funding, and encumbered operation positions it more like an appeasement agency than an intervention agency. Consequently, it is now a whipping boy, and a fall guy for our collective failure. The NDDC as an intervention agency is the arrowhead of the Federal Government in this strategic but troubled part of Nigeria . To achieve set goals, it must be stripped of the shackles of bureaucracy, and be adequately funded (real cash, real time). An NDDC desk ought to be established at the Central Bank of Nigeria , and also at the Federal Ministry of Finance to ensure timely and unimpeded release and tracking of approved funds. The management must be given a free hand to respond in the shortest possible time to address situations that threaten the peaceful existence of oil producing areas.

 It is thus benumbing to read media reports credited to the Federal Government that budgeted and approved funds due the NDDC which out of incompetence, callousness, or condescending neglect were withheld over the past several years have expired. How can these funds expire when the bridges, hospitals, schools, roads, canals, protected shorelines, and environmental remediation which these funds are to be used for are yet undone? The real story is that indeed, this pattern of withholding goes back to the 1.5% and OMPADEC periods. Any wonder why we have loose canons with the consolidated misnomer militants all over the place?


 When Nigeria in one fell swoop paid-off long outstanding debts owed the London and Paris Clubs, the Federal Government, represented by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala described the debts as sovereign debts. The debts owed the NDDC are indeed sovereign debts which cannot be unilaterally repudiated. The sooner we realize that the continued existence of a viable, peaceful Nigeria depends on the handling of the Niger Delta crisis, the better for not just the Niger Delta, but for every Local Government Council and State Government that goes to Abuja every month to collect funds with which they run their enclaves. The debts owed the 1.5% Committee, OMPADEC, and the NDDC are sovereign debts which cannot expire. They should be paid forthwith.

 With part of these funds, the much desired OIL University with a main campus at Oloibiri can be established. Campuses which will serve as Rapid Development Hubs will be established simultaneously in all NDDC member states. Meaningful jobs which are indeed the panacea for restiveness and militancy in the Niger Delta will be created. Furthermore, sorely needed medical equipment such as scanners, x-ray machines, dialysis machines and other otherwise routine items should be procured from these funds. Three hundred billion naira in any currency will go a long way. After all said and done, one wonders what will happen this time around.

 The hour has come to defuse this grossly underestimated time-bomb or Nigerians and the entire global economy will be sorry to have stood aloof while the debate continued ad infinitum.


By Eben dokubo



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