The Niger Delta crisis is a hydra headed monster. From the outset of the discovery of this Oil in Oloibiri in 1956 now, the region has suffered from environmental degradation and untold neglect by the government and the oil multinational companies. Logically, the Niger Delta is supposed to be a model region in Nigeria in terms of socio-economic development, industry, youth empowerment, and employment. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case. Ironically, the region is one of the most neglected areas in Nigeria. Oil and gas pollution and years of abandonment of the people, have resulted in untold economic hardship and health hazards.
The cries of the people as well as several non-governmental organization for attention to the area were not only spurned, but were rebuffed with crackdown and repression from successive administrations in the country with the strong backing of the oil multinationals.
It is no longer news that Niger Delta youths generally experience poverty in the midst of plenty, thereby facing many social, political and economic challenges in their immediate environment. “Where do we belong in our common regional wealth?” they seem to be asking. Unfortunately, in their quest to bite a slice of the national cake, they seem to overreact, and took to self-help by bombing, kidnapping and abducting the expatriate and other categories of personnel of the oil majors in exchange for monetary ransom, since successive Nigerian governments failed to give ear to the complaints of the youths with regard to improving on their living conditions and their environment.
The emerged militant and pressure groups such as the Egbesu Boys, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM), the Okoloma Ikpangi, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and recently, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have become a thorn in the flesh of the Federal Government. These groups generally appear to have a philosophy that seems to suggest that Nigeria as a country is unworkable. Often times, they confront the Nigerian security agents, such as the army, the navy, the police, and the States Security Service (SSS), resulting in colossal loss of lives and property. Acts of violence, armed robbery and kidnapping for ramsom, have become ways of seeking redress and alternative empowerment.
If well implemented, the Amnesty programme in Nigeria could serve to negate the ‘resource curse’ theory that resource-rich economies such as Nigerian, Congo, Angola, etc. are more prone to mismanagement, underdevelopment, and violence. Examples of UK and Norway, both major oil exporting countries, reveals that resource curse is avoidable with functioning institutions and good governance in place.
Nevertheless, Amnesty would not provide a wholesome empowerment and reorientation of the youths. In the first place, it benefited only some youths who advanced themselves as having participated in the ‘fight’ for the survival of the Niger Delta people and who surrendered their guns to the security agents. The numerous other Niger Delta youths were neglected. The question here is, how has the funds released from the on-set of the Amnesty programme been managed? If such amount was judiciously utilised for the youths in a proper system, the issue of youth restiveness would have been a forgotten history in Niger Delta.
From findings as at June 22nd 2016, the Bill seeking to give legal backing to the Federal Government Amnesty Programme for former militants in the Niger Delta region passed through second reading in the House of Representatives.
I am of the opinion that the current Bill as contemplated is not holistic enough since some essentials like orchestrating the guidance of the youth into agriculture, dove-tailing the youth training into the Nigerian Local Contents Policy and artisanal mainstreaming into peripheral infrastructural development close to the former militants home base and camps are not integrated in the Proposed Act.
The Amnesty Programme’s skills acquisition packages promise a better future for both the local population and the companies if well managed. Upon the completion of their training in oil-related skills, the companies should ensure that they are recruited and engaged in the industry through the reservation of some employment quota for the local inhabitants, thus making the local people identify with the companies operating in the region. The proposed Amnesty Bill should amongst other things, authorise the Amnesty Bill should amongst other things, authorise the Amnesty Office to compulsorily interface with the Local Contents office and the Human Resources Departments of Nigeria’s Oil and Gas Companies, receive the annual employment projections of the said Companies, with a view to advancing trained and competent hands either for hands-on experience or full employment.
Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) could be a veritable means in curbing the over bearing youth restiveness in the Niger Delta Region. The problems is that the once-fashionable and much-touted Niger Delta Regional masterplan, is fast becoming a catalogue of mere statements of intent and in some areas seen as purely academic and anachronistic concepts or wishful instrument, when considered against the backdrop of the disjointed, disparate and unco-ordinated projects imposed on the Niger Delta by past several political players and intervening Federal Agencies or the “paper projects” awarded and paid to youth leaders for doing no actual work, by past and immediate managers and directors of NDDC.
There are about 85 LGAs within the Niger Delta. The NDDC Regional Masterplan for the Niger Delta has no specific Needs Assessment projects per LGA / communities or delineations based on locational peculiarities and community yearnings. Neither does the package effectively outline appropriate Indices of Mineral Production (IMP) and corresponding financial expectations / accruals per State / LGA over a given period of time. This is a big problem, as most of the demands for funds for the development of the Region are neither emperically justifiable nor visibly- phased and defensible.
Beyond Amnesty, the social, political, economic and environmental problems triggered by militancy in the Niger Delta need to be addressed. Without this, it is doubtful if Amnesty alone could bring durable peace to the volatile region. For emphasis, Niger Delta apart from being part of Nigeria, is perhaps, one of the most economically important regions of our Great Nation that must not be sidelined in the areas of funds / development allocation by the present or future Governments of Nigeria. The current practice of prejudicially whittling down the budgets of all the federal Agencies whose schedule responsibilities span the development of the region is a gross national disservice and ought to be revisited, even if means through a Supplementary Budget, the economic recession, notwithstanding.
Some other Nigerians cannot be having jamborees, mutiple jet planes and living in super comfort zones with money extracted from the Niger Delta, whereas hunger is left to wear trousers and walk the streets and creeks of the region and their fellow country man are wallowing in endemic poverty and dancing highlife with oil pollution and environmental degradation. The introduction of Amnesty must therefore, be backed up by enhanced funding as well as other socio-economic and socio-political developments in the entire region. Amnesty alone will only bring temporary peace to the region. Sooner or later, new and more dangerous groups may emerge in the region, if nothing is done to adequately address the root causes of the Niger Delta crisis that birthed the Amnesty programmes.
This piece is an excerpt from a speech presented by Professor Jasper F Jumbo at a Public Forum at the National Assembly Complex on October 06, 2016. Jumbo is a pioneer Niger Delta Development campaigner and the enhancer.