Tackling the plight of Niger Delta Region
By Grace Omowumi Semudara
Niger Delta, as a geographical entity, her folks and the enormous gift of nature (crude oil) have been the cynosure of all eyes as their struggles dominate national discourse.
It can be said with all sense of humility that the region and her people, by their endowment with abundant natural resources, should not have anything to do with stifling poverty, as postulated by many.
But that is not the case, the tale of the Niger Delta is that of misery, despair, penury and haplessness in the face of immeasurable wealth, that would have accrued them, if the proceeds of their crude oil resources are judiciously used to develop their polluted lands.
The region is only a microcosm of the dense citizenry of our African Giant Nigeria. A nation so blessed with human and mineral resources, yet its people live in abject poverty and sickening squalor. No thanks to the haphazard and ill planned oil exploration activities, most villages and towns of many Niger Delta states, have been polluted, due to oil spillage, apart from rendering aquatic life extinct.
The thoughts of the villagers whose peasant occupation is fishing not having to practice their age-long fishing tradition for instance, only leaves one neglected.
In the face of these odds, the menace of militancy sprouted. The youths started to revolt against the government. Soon, oil rigs and pipelines became their targets. They were bombarded by aggrieved youths belonging to various dreaded militant groups. As their lands were further contaminated due to wanton level of oil pollution, so was the nation loosing enormous revenue because of pipeline vandalism.
As condemnable as the militancy attacks appeared, it became the only way to attract governments attention and sympathy. Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, had in the wake of the needless and constant attacks in the creeks, a decade ago, swung into action. He soon established the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and unveiled the Amnesty programme for repentant militants to surrender their arms. Other laudable programmes and activities, aimed at rehabilitating the irate militants were launched. The result was remarkable as a sizeable number renounced their membership of various groups. Soon, they were trained in various vocational skills both at home and abroad and given monthly allowances, together with starter packs immediately they rounded up the artisan trainings.
Brilliant youths sponsored to acquire degree certificate abroad returned with amazing results, some even bagged first class. Part of the deliberate measure, and perhaps, the most laudable measure taken by the erstwhile late President , was the establishment of the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. No prize for guessing, but everyone knew what the motive and cardinal objective of setting up the special ministry was. Has the ministry lived up to expectation? That is a topic for another discussion.
In recent times and specifically in the last three years of the APC-led federal government- there has been bombardments of pipelines. Some hitherto repentant militants have taken up arms again, hence returning to their ‘diabolic’ venture, it seems.
However, several media reports that some of those who were sent overseas for studies are now stranded in foreign lands, are replete. Like their peers, Governors of the Niger Delta States, have been complicit in the art of misappropriating, diverting and ‘personalizing’ the allocation of their various states.
Little wonder, the oil producing states despite the additional 13% derivation fund given to them from the federal monthly allocation still epitomize under-development and backwardness.
The narrative of the geographical entity called Niger Delta needs to be changed. Reviewing some of the earlier launched empowerment programmes, will be the first step to addressing the perceived injustice meted out to Niger Delta masses.
Then, massive infrastructural development, provision of basic amenities and speeding up the activities of cleaning their polluted lands, namely the Ogoni clean up should follow suits. These, and many other activities or programmes can be embarked on by government to assuage the feelings of the Niger Deltans. Since they (the activities and programmes ) are not rocket science, the government has no alibi to offer if they fail to do the needful. We envisage immediate action, and enough of rhetoric. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
Grace Omowumi Semudara, an intern with PRNigeria and Economic Confidential writes from Abuja and can be reached on [email protected]