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President Yar'Adua And The Niger Delta Ministry by Joel Nwokeoma


President Yar’Adua and the Niger Delta Ministry

By Joel Nwokeoma

If any one is in doubt about the sincerity of the Federal Government of Nigeria to address the protracted crises in the Niger Delta region of the country, recent measures by the government point clearly to that direction. In what he said was a measure aimed at achieving the “prompt execution of his programme for the area”, President Umaru Yar’Adua, recently created the Ministry of the Niger Delta.

The thinking of the President, reflected in his widely reported remarks to the visiting British Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Lord Malloch Brown the other day in Abuja, is that, “when the blueprint of the region’s development is aggressively  implemented by the ministry, it will be clear to everyone that the Federal Government did its homework  on how to end the neglect”. How the President arrived at this simplistic thought process over such a crucial issue beggars belief, to put it mildly.

This, however, followed quickly on the heels of the composition and inauguration of a 40 member “Technical Committee on the Niger Delta”, penultimate week, headed by Ledum Mitee to, as was reported, review all the Reports and Position Papers  on the region from the colonial period to the present era, ranging from the Sir Willinks Report to the Deneral Alexander Ogomudia Committee. And this, not forgetting the much celebrated Niger Delta Marshal Plan which the last administration had launched with
funfare last year. To be seen to be in a haste to redress the challenge, the Federal Government gave the committee just 10 days to submit its report as if we do not know what the problems and challenges over the years in the region are, which we need a team of 40 wise (wo)men to distil from mountains of reports spanning over half a century.

It is instructive however that as plausible as this might seem, the creation of the Niger Delta ministry “as the primary vehicle for engendering rapid socio-economic development in the region,” by President Yar'Adua is one huge joke taken too far by the Federal Government because, if history is anything to go by, there is nothing to suggest that the newly created ministry would perform any wonders as anticipated by the Federal Government. In fact, as they say in the development circle, there is just no verifiable indicator around to depict that the ministerial mechanism would work.


This is so because the bureaucracy in Nigeria has never been an engine of growth and national development in the country especially following the advent of the military in Nigeria government and politics in 1966. Instead, it has been a study in gross inefficiency, waste, graft, and national stagnation. In fact, it can be safely said that Nigeria is what it is today, a land of dashed opportunities and wasted potentials, because its bureaucracy has long ceased to be a vehicle of anything progressive and useful. Given this, thinking of a ministry as a mechanism to addressing the long drawn developmental challenges of the region, at the risk of sounding monotonous, is a voyage of fantancy.

The bureaucracy in Nigeria is beset by myriads of self-inflicted challenges and constraints, which does not make it primed enough to solve the numerous and peculiar problems, the type of which define the Niger Delta landscape, and have since assumed national and international dimension for reasons too obvious to recount here, which the ministry would be expected to solve too soon.

For instance, a recent survey conducted by the World Bank Country Office in Nigeria in collaboration with the British Department for International Development (DFID) indicated that the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education, which has been in existence since independence in 1960, has between 1999 and 2007 alone spent a whooping N832.6 billion to finance public education in the country. This huge expenditure notwithstanding, the main features of public education in Nigeria within this period include among others decaying or collapsed facilities, poor remuneration of teachers among others, leading to, as one report recently put it, over 8 million Nigerian children of school age being on the streets instead of classrooms. The consequences of this ugly reality on our socio-economic development are too chilling to contemplate. This unfortunately is the case with other ministries across the country where so much funds are allocated yearly with nothing to show for it. Is it in the Health ministry where our hospitals and clinics have since become burial grounds with the president himself admitting to have gone to a German hospital recently to treat a bout of catarrh? Or that of Defence, where a certain top official was charged for stealing and theft of funds running into hundreds of millions while salaries of staff remained unpaid?

Against the backdrop of the foregoing, it seems too naïve to think that the creation of a ministry of Niger Delta is the panacea to the region's many and long drawn challenges. As one activist conceeded the other day, government sponsored efforts to solve the problems in the past had not worked. In his words:"To create another bureaucracy that does not deal with the real issues and that stalls the Niger Delta problem would be difficult to take".

But if one may ask, what is the guarantee that the newly created Ministry of Niger Delta would now perform the magic which the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), another of the many interventionist strategies of the Federal Government, set up in 2000 by the Olusegun Obasanjo government to relieve poverty in the region, has so dramatically and sensationally failed to perform till date having been hamstrung by the twin factors of poor management and funding?  Millions of dollars meant for the body were withheld from it by the government of former President Obasanjo while the Chairman of the Board was recently charged with stealing 800m naira ($6.1m, £3.5m).

It obviously bears repeating that the sincerity or otherwise of the Federal Government in the Niger Delta would be seen more by its actions on the region rather than its posturings. To engender rapid socio-economic development in the Niger Delta, it is evident that no one needs a ministry and a 40-Man Team as a vehicle, measures that woefully failed in times past. What is needed, instead, is sincerity of purpose, strong committment and the political will to act right by the Federal Government. Was it, if one may ask, the Federal Capital Territory Authority ministry that turned Abuja into the fastest growing city in Africa? Why can't the Abuja experiment be replicated in the Niger Delta region? Or, do we need a ministry to construct and/or repair the Warri-Port Harcourt Expressway, the Ore-Benin and Onitsha-Owerri Federal Highways, to mention but a few, all deathtraps in the Niger Delta, build model health institutions, create jobs and make life less brutish, nasty and short in the region?

Nonetheless,one hopes, and prays too, that by the time the ministry marks its  one year anniversary this time next year, the President would not, as he is wont to, reverse its creation.

Nwokeoma is executive director, Concerned Professionals Ltd/Gte, an NGO based in Lagos

Joel Nwokeoma, M.Sc
Executive Director
Concerned Professionals Ltd/Gte
36A, Ikorodu Crescent,
Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi
Tel: +234-01-461-4085
Mobile: +234-805-2030-175
Email: njoel@concernedprofessionals.org


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