Thursday, May 29, 2008

Niger Delta: President Yar'Adua Sore Point in Nigeria

Niger Delta: Yar’Adua’s sore point

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Courtesy of The Tide

Stakeholders and experts in the Niger Delta have frowned at the snail speed at which the regional agitation have been pursued by President Yar’Adua’s administration in the last one year.

Besides, they are of the view that the federal government has not shown any proactive steps in tackling the enormous infrastructural, human and social challenges facing the area as President Yar’Adua promised during his inaugural address on May 29th last year.

A survey interview conducted by The Tide to guage the view of stakeholders over the performance of the present administration to solve the Niger Delta quagmire, indicate general skepticism and distrust by the people of the area on the ability of the federal government, to sincerely address the problems of the area.

In a recent press conference, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) South-South Zone headed by Apostle Geofrey Numbere said the violence and crisis in the region can’t be solved by lip-service.

In a statement made available to newsmen the Christian body said, “OMPADEC, NDDC and Truth Commissions will not solve this intractable problem so long as the majority tribes and the federal government think they are condescending and doing the Niger Delta people a favour by setting up these bodies that they are even starving of funds in the first place.”

It further said, “No genuine Niger Delta person and that includes the church, is happy about this oppressive, humiliating treatment meted out to us for over fifty-six years of oil discovery in our soil.”

Responding to question on whether the federal government in the past one year had shown genuine resolve to solve the impasse, an executive member of CAN in Delta State, Bishop Diamond Emuobor submitted that there have been no results in the past one year in the region.

His words: “Yar’Adua has continued to pay lip service, calling it due process and finding it difficult to release NDDC fund. I think there is a designed plan to suppress the issue of the Niger Delta because of its oil resources.”

Assessing the administrations performance in the past one year over its policies in the region, past president of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Mr. Bobo Brown described the actions of federal government as lacking focus.

For instance, he opined that instead of adopting a window dressing approach to the quagmire, the government should come up with developmental policies capable of reducing the plight of the people.

He picked holes in the recent plan to use militants to police oil installations and said it is a way of avoiding the core issues affecting the region.

In Brown’s view what should be adopted is pure industrialisation, “what this needs is the multiplication of employment opportunities, we do not want a generation of pipeline guards. In other words, they would be breeding them for political assignments”.

The former NIPR boss’ view seems to contradict the stance of the Minister of State Energy (Petroleum), Mr Odein Ojumogobia (SAN), another Niger Deltan.

Explaining why the federal government is planning to adopt the plan, Ojumogobia said it would foster security and at the same time provide employment for the militants responsible for sabotaging the pipelines.

However, Brown believes the plan would fail since it would not address the root of the militancy, recalling that such policy in the past failed to achieve results, but rather pitted the different groups against one another, in the bid to control their territory.

He was corroborated by the local facilitator of the Commission of Nobel Laureates to the Niger Delta, Mr Tony Uranta who said the policy would only exacerbate the already tense situation in the Niger Delta, stressing that it would amount to dressing criminality in another garb.

For him, until the root cause of the militancy is finally addressed, no amount of policy would yield fruitful results in checking underdevelopment in the region.

Former Deputy Governor of Rivers State and Eze Oha Evo Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Eze Frank Eke however expressed a different view, but noted that the militarisation of the region would not solve the crisis.

His words: “I am against militarisation of the region, they should reduce the militancy presence in the Niger Delta, so that a proper dialogue can be had with the militants.

The same view is being held by the Coordinator of the Niger Delta Non-Violence Movement (NDNVM), Mr Onengiya Erekosima.

The NDNVM Coordinator has at various fora poured flaks on more deployment of soldiers to the region. He argued that military presence had led to the violation of human rights and intimidation of the local populace.

Mr Erekosima said the federal government was not sincere in solving the region’s problems, but rather wants to forcefully suppress the people and milk their resources.

Always outspoken against violence, the NDNVM leader said dialogue is still the best option to check the crisis.

The recent presence of USA warships in the Gulf of Guinea is being viewed by some prominent Niger Deltans as a ploy to increase military presence.

Ankio Briggs of the Ijaw Republican Assembly at the first Niger Delta People’s Asembly held in Port Harcourt was of the opinion that it is a collaboration of the federal government to invite foreign support in terms of securing oil installations.

She said: “AFRICOM and other policies are not going to work, America, Britain owes this region a responsibility to develop the place, because of the wealth they take away.”

On the Gulf of Guinea Energy Security Strategy, Briggs said the government needs to explain the essence of the policy since it was going to affect the people of Niger Delta more than any other part of the country.

President of the Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy, Prof. Pat Utomi argued that the issues of Gulf of Guinea needed to be through adequate human resources development in the region.

Part of the ongoing effort he opined, is to pursue a constitutional amendment that would give a fair share, equity and justice to the people of the area.

The recent indictment by the Secretary to the Federal Government, accusing elders of the region for contributing to the underdevelopment of their area is what worries former Commissioner for Economic Development in old Rivers State, Chief Monday Okonny.

Chief Okonny remarked that Babagana Kingibe’s statement was a blanket indictment of all leaders in the region.

Describing it as a ploy to cause ill feelings among the people of the area, Okonny maintained that the federal government is playing a seek and hide game to the issues of Niger Delta.

He cited the withholding of funds accruable to NDDC as part of the gimmicks being displayed by the government.

Chief Okonny noted that starving the interventionist agency of funds, which it would have used for developmental projects to the tune of over N200 billion betrays government’s lack of sincerity to develop the region.

Another area where stakeholders have continued to pick holes in the last one year is on the numerous workshops being organised by the various federal government agencies.

Most of the stakeholders are displeased that the hyped Niger Delta Peace Forum is yet to be convened.

At various workshops, Special Assistant to the Vice President on the Niger Delta, Nze Akachukwu Nwankwo had promoted the essence of the forum.

He explained that it is part of the strategy being adopted by President Yar’Adua in finding a lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis.

Part of the plans he buttressed involves engaging the various ethnic groups and finding out their peculiar problems, immediately that is done, then it would be easy to address the challenges once and for all he assured.

At the 1st Niger Delta People’s Assembly held in Port Harcourt, Nze Nwankpo was challenged by youth leaders at the one-day workshop.

Immediately the VP’s SSA rose to give his usual power-point lecture the entire hall went into corruption. For some minutes Nwankpo was forced to stop his lecture. A hail of: “We are tired of talking! We want action!” engulfed the venue.

Senior Research fellow at the Centre for Advanced Social Science (CASS) Port Harcourt, Dr. Sofiri Peterside told The Tide at another workshop organised by the NDDC that the people of the region are tired, following the number of talkshops held towards addressing the crisis.

He described the workshops as ‘jamboree’ and stressed the need to translate all the issues discussed into action plan, “unless the government begin to translate all these plans into actions, it would still not get the problem solved,” Peterside observed.

Calling on immediate action to transform the region, the sociologist explained that unless the lives of the common man is transformed through provision of amenities and employment opportunities, the problem of the Niger Delta would still be a hard nut to crack.

Commenting on how to solve the problem, Professor of Geodesy and member of the Rivers State Economic Advisory Council Prof Dagogo Fubara said the Federal government should revisit the Willinks Report on the minorities in 1957.

The traditional ruler remarked that the solution to the regions, crisis largely rests on the provisions of that report even though it is over 50 years.

In the report, he explained that recommendations were made on how to develop the riverine regions considering their peculiar terrain.

Furthermore, he said the revenue allocation formula must also be revised and stated that the current sharing formula lacked equitability and fairness.

He attributed the problem in the region as a pent-up reaction that had accumulated over the years due to bad governance, pointed out that it would still take a long time to address.

Eze Gbakagbaka of Evo Kingdom, HRM Eze Frank Eke summoned for patience from the people. According to him, “We should stop being so much in a hurry …so far so good, I believe Yar’Adua has good intention at least he has started programmes that would give us peace, but then all can’t happen overnight”.

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