Let’s continue the discussion from where we stopped yesterday. The temptation is to ask: What has NDDC, the Presidential Amnesty and the Ministry of Niger Delta done for the benefit of the Niger Delta people since they were established by the Federal Government? The answer is simple: they are individually doing their own things – operating at cross-purposes. If they were operating in collaboration, they would presently be tackling problems of basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, healthcare and education in the region.
In his analysis of the situation in the Niger Delta region, Ndutimi Alaibe mentioned and discussed such issues as power infrastructure challenges caused by insufficient power generation capacity while the enormous natural gas that would have helped solve that problem is being wasted, then of course the poor transportation infrastructure, and the region’s difficult terrain.
So, what are the way out? Timi mentioned and dwelt on five strategic imperatives for SD.
He started with policy and government reform which involves strengthening regulatory frameworks towards ensuring adherence to environmental standards and human rights protections; and enhancing transparency and accountability by implementing measures to combat corruption and improve governance.
The second strategy has to do with protecting and restoring the environment as a move to mitigating pollution and ecosystem degradation. In the Niger Delta, he said this can be achieved through implementation of measures to control oil spills, waste management, and clean-up initiatives and reforestation.
In addition, he spoke on the importance of sustainable resource management which can be achieved by encouraging responsible extraction of natural resources, renewable energy promotion, water conservation, and flood control plus land reclamation projects; this would be in addition to preservation of biodiversity by protecting the mangroves, forests, and aquatic ecosystems.
The next approach, stated Timi, is community engagement and empowerment. This implies investing in education and healthcare; community empowerment and fostering inclusive participation in decision-making processes by engaging local communities in planning and implementing development projects by ensuring that their voices are heard. As an Ijaw man, ‘Timi could not help mentioning cultural preservation; that is, recognition and preservation of indigenous knowledge and practices. Lastly, he talked about application of appropriate conflict resolution mechanisms.
Another strategy discussed by him was economic diversification and infrastructure development aimed at promoting alternative livelihoods. This, he said, can be done through support to entrepreneurship, agriculture, and tourism initiatives so as to reduce reliance on oil revenue.
Then he focused on the need to build some critical infrastructure for sustainable development through road construction, building of bridges, power plants, and telecommunications networks to improve connectivity and stimulate economic growth.
Diversification of the economy through promotion of non-oil sectors; job creation through investment in local industries; vocational training; entrepreneurship development; and poverty reduction through equitable distribution of resources, social safety nets, and wealth generation opportunities were also discussed by him.
The last of the required strategies was government commitment and international support. These issues or strategies were not entirely new; but the government needed to be reminded of the fact that if the crisis in the Niger Delta must end; and if Nigeria must earn revenue beyond the dwindling oil-based income, these factors must be taken into consideration.
Timi went ahead to analyse certain case studies of projects and initiatives employed in the past to handle the situation. They include the NDDC; Ogoni Clean-up Project; Niger Delta Youth Empowerment Programme; Microfinance and Small Business Support Initiatives; Community-driven Development Projects; and the Mangrove Reforestation Programme.
I can confirm that some of these programmes died at birth. If they did not, as Timi explained, their success would have demonstrated the potential for positive change for sustainable development in the Niger Delta region. The truth is that they can be resuscitated and their potential maximised.
Permit me to fast-forward at this point and reflect on an issue that is of serious importance to me here. That is, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan which was intended from the beginning “to be a pathway and harmonisation framework for the various intervening agencies and tiers of government operating in the Niger Delta”.
The Master Plan was conceived as a miniature version of the legendary Marshall Plan sponsored by stakeholders to rebuild the war-ravaged European infrastructure. It was envisioned to serve “as a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of life in the Niger Delta region, focusing on economic growth, infrastructure, human and community needs, institutional development, and environmental conservation”.
As stated by Timi, every intervention agency in the Niger Delta was expected to key into this plan in the execution of its vision. However, that has not happened; partly because every administration at the NDDC and other interventionist agencies have ignored the Master Plan.
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From the NDDC to the Presidential Amnesty and the Niger Delta Ministry, all of which are separately funded, there has always been a struggle for operational sovereignty instead of collaboration. The victim of that struggle is the Niger Delta and its people.
The Master Plan had five visions wrapped in one pack. They are economic growth of the region; infrastructure development like power, water, education, health, transportation, and housing; human and community needs; institutional development and natural environment which suggested balancing human needs with environmental conservation for sustainable development.
My suggestion is that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu revives that Master Plan if he really means to develop the Niger Delta, increase the quantity of oil produced and stop oil theft which has of recent become quite scandalous. In reviewing the Master Plan, every agency of government operating in the Niger Delta must come together. There must be a renewed commitment towards solving the problems these agencies were established to solve.
Tinubu may decide to appoint someone with executive powers to coordinate the operations of these agencies on his behalf. The moment he does that, with the Master Plan as the operational manual, a lot will change in the Niger Delta. Such an individual must also be demanded to deploy all required machinery towards ending the mechanised oil theft in the region and monitor the avoidable spills. These things are not beyond the ability of serious-minded and committed Nigerians. They only require the political will of the president.