Vice president Yemi Osinbajo flanked by Chief Edwin Clark and Delta State governor Ifeanyi Okowa during as the vice president addresses leaders of the Niger Delta during his visit to the region recently. PHOTO: TWITTER/PRESIDENCY
As though the recent fact-finding visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the Niger Delta during which he lamented the scandalous neglect of the people of that zone by successive administrations was an eye opener for him, his comments about the unacceptable neglect of the region remains a true expression of genuine sentiment by anyone who has any modicum of a sense of rights and justice.
Osinbajo, who led a Federal Government delegation that included the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, decried the deplorable state and criminal neglect of the Niger Delta in the most uncomplimentary terms. He was quoted as saying: “Many of the initiatives to change the story have not been able to make those changes. From the Niger Delta Development Board in the 1960s to OMPADEC to the NDDC and the Amnesty Programme, many of these projects have not been able to meet the objectives they were set up to achieve. My message to you today is that it is time to prepare for the future.
“No Nigerian can be proud of the state of development in the Niger Delta. We are all beneficiaries from resources from the region. However, we cannot have instability and be able to carry out speedy development of the region.”
Whatever informed this gesture, it could be recalled that in the heat of the agitation by the militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), President Muhammadu Buhari was advised to reach out to Niger Delta people by paying a working visit to that region. If the Osinbajo’s visit was a way of heeding that plea, it was a step in the right direction. Thus by his frank and sincere comments, the vice president seem identified with the Niger Delta people. He did not rebuff them and did not demonstrate the characteristic arrogant, hard-line posture of the Presidency, which once suggested that the place be put under siege for oil exploration to progress.
As a symbolic gesture, the vice president’s visit was long overdue. Even though he seemed to have done the right thing by leading a delegation to the region as this newspaper had advised, that visit would be termed a token or a mere vocalisation of platitudes except some substantive gesture begins to take place with alacrity.
One clear demonstration of government’s readiness and commitment to the Niger Delta people would be a national development plan to completely rebuild the region through massive investment and intervention in terms of infrastructure. Despite the revenue generating capacity of the Niger Delta, there is no official edifice of the kind in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja that would be found in the whole of the South-south. Notwithstanding the challenging terrain and topography, roads and infrastructure that signal federal presence are in a terribly bad shape. The ports in the region are not viable. With the establishment of the FCT Abuja, it became as if every development agenda of the Niger Delta stopped. Why can’t the model used in building Abuja be used in rebuilding the Niger Delta?
In agreeing to a common euphemism, the Niger Delta should be transformed into the ‘Dubai’ of West Africa and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) must be made to work.
Owing to decades of neglect, inattention and systematic pauperization of the people, there is a growing mistrust of, and bitterness over the rest of Nigerians. Because they seem politically powerless, the elite of the Niger Delta seldom muster enough political will to address issues affecting the collective. They seem to have been so emasculated, demoralised and stationed at the periphery that a total vision for the Niger Delta people is lacking, or so it seems.
Years ago, the coalition of governors of the South-south region established what they termed the BRACED Commission, with an economic development initiative established by the states of the south-south, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Edo and Delta for massive reconstruction and infrastructural development of the region. Owing to pervasive politicking as well as the ethno-culturally heterogeneous nature of the region, and despite the many blue-prints this commission has churned out for the development of the region, there has been nothing concrete to show for long years of existence. There is no apparent sign of any big picture about development coming from the South-south.
The Niger Delta does not need routine managers, who are tenured to man the mills as usual. It does not need actors who want to merely make a living, or fill political slots of godfathers, or those seeking to better their lot. What the people of the Niger Delta need are visionary leaders who are sufficiently motivated to sacrifice their talent, time and treasure for a drastic turn-around of that region.
Perhaps, it is time to challenge the Niger Delta people and ask them: What do you want? Are you conscious of your needs? Except one is conscious of one’s needs, help cannot come to one. The Niger Delta people should talk to Nigerians when they are airing their grievances. They must know that they do have compatriots, who are ready to support them in their struggle, and also work with them.
All this would however, come to naught if the government does not begin to think along the lines of true federalism. In whatever sense this might be interpreted, true federalism requires that a people take custody of their resources for their own growth and survival. It demands that power gets back to the people. As it concerns the Niger Delta people, it is a passionate proposal for economic restructuring as a principle of distributive justice in the management of national resources. Although it has been wrongly construed as a step towards national disintegration, restructuring by its true meaning is a viable economic philosophy that ensures equitable distribution of natural resources in the land.
As this newspaper once posited on this issue, having a proper understanding of what restructuring entails would inform leaders about having a sense of rights and justice, and that it is morally wrong and unethical to denial a people that which is incontrovertibly theirs. The owners of the product of a given land are the people of that land. It is a warped sense of justice to think and do otherwise, be it for oil, or for gold, marble, or any product.
To demonstrate the sincerity of the vice president’s lamentation and erase the impression that he was merely carrying out a mere messenger’s public relations assignment, the Federal Government needs to address these problems for they are very timely.
For as long as the destruction of the region in the name of oil mining continues without corresponding infrastructural development of the area and empowerment of the people, the Niger Delta problem would continue to be a ‘Nigeria’ problem.