For whatever reason best known to them, some restive youths in the Niger Delta region are at it again issuing threats of violence against the interest of the federal government in the region.
It is almost a recurring decimal and it comes in a pattern that is very predictable: anytime the government seems to have a disagreement with any of the leaders of the region, these youth – a few of them actually – turn themselves in as a cannon fodder. This trend is clearly a betrayal of the noble intentions of the original agitators who stood firm to point fingers directly at the neglect and abandonment of the Niger Delta areas over the years that government explored wealth from the ground and waters of the region.
In trying to pay closer attention to the unacceptable degradation of the environment and lack of infrastructure in the Niger-Delta, the federal government created the Niger Delta Development Commission with the mandate to fast-track the physical development of the region and also to facilitate the human capital development of its people.
But even that intervention did not squarely address the concern.
If anything, the NDDC grew to become a reward machinery for the elite who are loyalists to the government of the day. That further accentuated the agitation of youths and other advocates of development in the Niger Delta. It is thus no surprise that with all the billions of Naira that has gone into its funding, the NDDC had not been able to position itself as a truly development agency and on that basis it is very understandable if the youths of the region would demand a better deal from government.
But compared with other previous administrations, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has done a better deal to the Niger Delta region.
In a first, the Buhari government appointed a seasoned administrator in the person of Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba as the chairman of the governing board of the NDDC. With the decision President Buhari had cast the first signal that the NDDC under his administration will not be business as usual, thus underscoring the president’s commitment to cleanse the Augean Stable and set the commission to its core mandate. And true to that commitment, the Ndoma-Egba led NDDC board has been successful in the past one year to steer the wheel of the commission away from its erstwhile trajectory of being perceived as elite patronizing agency.
There is a new dawn for the Niger Delta as the Ndoma-Egba governing board has espoused far-reaching initiatives that will ensure that the region is fully developed. By reaching out to state governors of oil-producing states and seeking cooperation with them, the commission has been able to reduce the unnecessary red-tape that slowed down the pace of work and it now operates on the basis of intervention advisory from respective state governments. With this approach the NDDC is intervening at those core areas of needs that will have direct impact on the lives of the ordinary people.
Another strategic agenda of government that the Ndoma-Egba board is pursuing is the promotion of non-oil economy in the region. With the prices of crude oil fluctuating in the global energy market it is insightful that a sustainable development of the Niger Delta region should explore the non-oil potentials of the region.
In doing this, the NDDC has been taking inventories of tourism potentials that dot the landscape of the Niger Delta region. It is also entering into partnerships with relevant government agencies, international donor agencies and the organized private sector in Nigeria to buy into the idea of building a world-class tourism industry in the Niger-Delta region.
In addition, the commission is promoting the idea of laying optic fibre cables throughout the entire region in a drive that is aimed at releasing the energy of the youths of the region into potential info-tech entrepreneurs. Towards this end, the commission is already developing a master-plan with giant telcos in the country.
In order to achieve a complete wrap-around of the non-oil economy, the NDDC is mulling the idea of a development bank. The objective of this Niger Delta Development Bank is to sustain and accelerate developmental efforts of government in the region. All the six states of the Niger Delta are expected to have shares in the bank.
Ndoma-Egba, while explaining the purpose of the bank during a working visit to the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki said: “We intend to establish a Niger Delta Development Bank so that the budget formation process of the commission would be strengthened and we are going to involve governors of the member states so we can work together and get our priorities right.”
The second pointer to the commitment of President Buhari towards a rapid development of the Niger Delta region is in the decision of the federal government to increase the capital provision for the Ministry of Niger Delta to N53.89b in the 2018 budget, from the N34.20b provision of the 2017 budget. The president also increased the NDDC budget to N71.29b.
No one needs a soothsayer to decipher the lofty dreams that President Buhari has for the development of the Niger Delta. He has shown his love for the region and he has even voted more resources for the building of those lofty dreams. The youths of the Niger Delta must not be seen to be a cog in the wheels of development of the region.
And just like Ndoma-Egba admonished just recently, “Our environment is already polluted and is in dire need of restoration. Destroying oil pipelines and installations would further destroy our environment and expose our people to sickness and untold hardship. It would worsen our already bad situation and expose innocent women, children and youths to grave danger.
“NDDC is not resting on its oars in the efforts to finding a peaceful and permanent resolution of issues of development as the commission has strategic intervention plans that should transform the region. To achieve this however, peace is a must.
“The region is the goose that lays the golden egg. It is our collective patrimony and should not be destroyed. We would be doing a great disservice to ourselves and our future generations if we continue to destroy our own God given heritage in order to prove points that are already proven.”
. Effiong sent this piece from Calabar, Cross River State.