Niger Delta Minster’s Visit: Matters Arising
By Ezugwu Benson Whyte,
When President Umar Yar’Adua assumed office on May 29 th 2007, he included the troubled Niger Delta region in his fast fading 7-point agenda. At this point many concerned citizens and interest groups were of the view that his government will have an articulated blue print on the way forward to ending the unending crisis in the region.
Since then the administration has been wobbling and fumbling (apology to former flying eagles coach Fani Amun) in its attempt at finding a lasting solution to the region’s problems, particularly the issues of militancy, underdevelopment, environmental degradation occasioned by oil exploration and exploitation, oil spillage, neglect of the oil producing communities and lack of infrastructural development. This government since its inception has met on several occasion with stakeholders in the region to parley on the next line of action. When it appeared the situation was worsening, it attempted military solution by deploying troops massively to the region.
The president at a time even traveled to Britain to allegedly seek support of the international community in his quest to stem the rising wave of militancy which then had risen to the embarrassing level. Following series of criticisms that trailed the militarization of the region by the administration, the government came up with a 40-man technical committee headed by activist Ledum Mittee from the Ogoni oil kingdom. Even before then Yar’Adua’s administration had announced the withdrawal of the oil multinational, Shell from Ogoni land.
But while the committee was yet to be inaugurated, the government announced the creation of ministry for Niger Delta Affairs. The first of its kind in the history of the Niger Delta crisis, though skepticism trailed the idea due to what some political analysts termed ‘a borrowed robe.’’
While all these were happening , the government has continued to withhold over three hundred billion naira, belonging to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), meant for the development of the region. And uptil today, I am not sure if that money has been released. But one thing that is common among the people of the region is that, they are always very excited each time the federal government announces any measure, to solving the problem of the region, no matter how cosmetic that measure appears to be. Some of them, including some of their political leaders, never give critical analysis on such measures, rather what they do is to run to Abuja to struggle for who heads what.
Before president Yar’Adua named the minister incharge of the Niger Delta ministry, many political leaders and interest groups from the region were busy making overtures about who would be appointed as the minister in charge of the ministry, rather than fashioning out a blue print for the smooth take off of the ministry. Even when a minister was eventually appointed there were hues and cries on the suitability of Chief Ufot Ekaette as the minister of Niger Delta affairs. Ekaette’s appointment was greeted with protests from several quarters within the states of the Niger Delta, while at the same time people from his native state Akwa Ibom rejoiced and defended their son and brother.
Meanwhile as the minister and his minister of state Elder Goddsday Orubebe, embarked on tour of nine states of the region recently, there is no doubt that they have had enough of the complaints from both the people and government of states of the region. In Rivers, governor Rotimi Amaechi cried of lack of federal presence in the state. In Cross River it was tale of woes. In Akwa Ibom, Abia, Imo, Delta and Ondo states, the story was the same. Bayelsa was an eye saw, where people live inside water, swim with fish but have none to drink. In Edo, the ministers met the peoples’ comrade, the hope of our generation. And true to type, Adams did not hide his feelings. He spoke like the usual labour leader for which he is known for. Oshiomole lamented the long years of neglect of the region despite the wealth that comes from its backyard. The governor bared his mind on several critical issues bothering the people of the region. Expectedly, as he spoke the people shouted and hailed him.
Unfortunately, as the governor was hammering the truth in Benin, somewhere in a community in his state, calamity struck. The entire community was sacked by gas leakage from a pipe that ran across the community. Such has been the true story of the people across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region. Already the federal government has budgeted a paltry N70 billion for the ministry in the 2009 budget. And Ekaette has promised to make the East – West road his priority. Whether this sum will be enough for the completion of the East-West road alone talkless of developing the swamps remain to be seen.
The truth is that, unless the multinational oil companies, who are direct beneficiaries of the fruit of the land and who are the culprits in the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta, get directly involved in the development of the region, no cosmetic approach by any administration, will liberate the people of the region.
No escapist approach by the federal government can change the degraded environment of Oloibiri and other oil producing communities in the region which has consistently been ravaged by oil exploration and exploitation. The Niger Delta ministry with the bureaucracy in the civil service cannot do more than what NDDC has been doing, where provision of ordinary borehole is celebrated to high heavens.
Ezugwu Benson Whyte is the coordinator Movement Against Second Slavery