Mr. President Meeting with Niger- Delta Region Stakeholders: Hope For Minorities?
By Samuel Orovwuje
LAGOS MARCH 14TH (URHOBOTODAY)-The various fine points and strategic engagements by the Acting President – Professor Yemi Osinbajo as he then was with the leaders of the Niger- Delta Region have been commended. Indeed the stopover and consultations has helped to douse the tension in the land and largely have given the people some sense of recognition and belonging to the greater Nigeria project. This political tokenism and gestures has brought a new beckon of hope to the region!
This article examines the more than five decades of controversial oil production in Nigeria and Niger- Delta socio- economic trajectory from the point of view of recent engagements, consultations, and endemic violent conflicts and often criminal reactions of militants to equally criminal exploitations and the neglect of the region by successive governments and deceitful and doubtful regional leaders that had held back development in the region.
As varied and profound as the town hall meetings with selected leaders and consultations are, the huddle cannot claim to have engaged with the core and fundamental issues of neglect and underdevelopment. Yet it is still a moment of somewhat tempered optimism for the Niger- Delta people. President Buhari, with his electioneering campaigns is walking on an uncommon tight rope of balancing various interests while aiming to fulfill his party’s ambitious change mantra, which include cracking down on corruption and insecurity amongst others.
Furthermore, as commendable as the stakeholders consultations appears, the key questions remains: Does the government at the centre have the political capital and indeed capability to resolve the fundamental issues of oil exploration and exploitation that drove the region into almost five decades of under development and environmental degradation?
Crucially, the Niger Delta serves as a host community to Nigeria’s vast oil and infrastructure of 30 oil fields, 5,284 wells, and 7,000 kilometers of pipeline, 10 export terminals, 275 flow stations, 10 gas plants, 4 refineries and a massive liquefied natural gas, LPG sector. This perhaps underscores the strategic importance of the region to national development and the core issues of authentic reconciliation being pursued by the federal government in line with the new diplomacy with a view to sustaining peace in the volatile region is a welcome dialogue.
Nevertheless, the Niger delta region has often been read as an inevitable outcome of historically warring people or portrayed as militants, agitators, extremists, secessionists, and more recently economic terrorist and criminal groups in disagreement with the Nigerian State. Pitifully, these interpretations are simplistic and misleading, therefore, for an understanding of the political economy, it is useful to start with July 30 1958, the Willinks Commission report of the British Colonial administration, which inquire into the fears of Nigerian minorities with a view to assuaging them. One of the major recommendations of Sir Henry Willink Commission amongst others includes, “We suggest that constitutionally it would be necessary to place on concurrent list a new subject which might be ‘The Development of Special Areas’. It would be open to the Federal Government to announce in the Gazette that certain area has classified as Special and from that moment special plan for its development would become a Federal as well as a Regional responsibility….’
The Niger Delta struggle initially tried to address its grievances through constitutional and political means. However, the killing of the Ogoni 13 and the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa by treacherous military regime of Sanni Abacha, the government failed to pacify majority of Niger Deltans, and instead a feeling of disillusionment and lack of trust in the political leadership grew. Furthermore, instead of accommodating the legitimate grievances of the Niger Deltans, the government in connivance with the international oil companies and the oil bloc buccaneers responded by implementing a piece meal approach to conflict resolution and more often than not a draconian military intervention, which fuelled the splitter groups across the region become irrepressible.
Despite several attempts at peaceful resolution, no political settlement was found and under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on June 25, 2009 pursuant to section 175 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a fragile peace deal was brokered through the Amnesty proclamation. It should be noted that President Yar’Adua acknowledged the implicit failure of previous governments to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the Niger Delta people, which has resulted in militancy and unlawful means of agitation by a section of the population to draw attention to their plight thereby threatening peace, security, good governance and jeopardising the economic well-being of the nation.
While acknowledging that criminality in the Niger Delta should not be encouraged under, any circumstance particularly the destruction of strategic national assets. However, it is expedient that the government at the ever-present centre must acknowledge the tensions between peace and justice as well as recognise that matter-of-factness and recent development indicate that justice cannot always claim primacy in nation building efforts. While impunity for people who have committed the gravest acts of destroying national asset is morally repugnant, sometimes doing a deal with perpetrators is unavoidable and indeed necessary to prevent further conflict and suffering in the land.
Going forward therefore, it is imperative that Stakeholders meetings and consultations necessitates that all options including the pursuit of reintegration of the restive youths into positive nation- building efforts without undue political colourations, must be on table. This insistence ignores the very important deterrence impact of military option, which failed in the past. As part of the ongoing conversations, we must draw from positive lessons and best practices from resources trust funds from different parts of the world. The case in point is the Alaska Trust Fund in the USA and Nunavut in Canada. The Alaska Permanent Fund on the one hand was established in 1976 and it is one of the world largest natural resource funds with investable funds in excess of USD 25 billion and each year the communities receive dividends and on the other hand, Nunavut Trust Fund established in 1993 is an acknowledgment of how revenues can be shared with local communities and how such communities can be compensated for the negative impacts of oil extraction in their land. Such strategic initiatives in my view will be critical building block for resource nationalism. The current NDDC and the ministry of the Niger Delta in my view are political sedative. These agencies of government have failed to incorporate the interests and aspirations of the people and they should be scrap for Trust Funds independent of government and political patronage.
It is hope that a realistic implementation of the promises and indeed the adaptation of illegal modular refineries by the provision of permit and licence by the Federal Government are speedily, considered with necessary legislative frameworks and the political rhetoric of relocation of the operational head office of oil companies to the region should not be another talk without walk!
Overall, the Ogoni land clean- up project with a sustained peace –building process and physical infrastructural development particularly the Lagos – Calabar and Ajaokuta / Itakpe- Warri railway corridor will be a sweet-smelling savour for healing broken minds and a foundation stone for restorative justice and authentic reconciliation mechanism for the people of Niger Delta. The time is now!
Orovwuje, Founder Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos. firstname.lastname@example.org, 08034745325