Not quite long ago, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) threatened to resume attacks on oil and gas facilities in the region as well as attack some of their politicians for their alleged complicity in the underdevelopment of the region and its people. Their threat came on the heels of the expiration of an ultimatum issued to government by Chief Government Ekpemupolo, otherwise known as Tompolo, leader of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), over the constitution of the NDDC board.
It will be recalled that the MEND leader had on June 5 acquiesced to the request by the Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to inaugurate the new NDDC board by July ending when the forensic audit would have been completed and submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari. The Avengers had among other things stated: “It is disheartening that despite being the economic backbone and having resolved to maintain the peaceful environment for the smooth operations of the oil multinationals, whose proceeds the country clings unto for economic survival, the Niger Delta and the South South remain the most underdeveloped with our needs and interests undermined by the Nigerian State.”
They also stated: “We decided to suspend our famous, operation red economy, which bled the Nigerian economy into recession about 4 years ago not because we are lazy but for the love we have for our people and our respect for the voice of the elders of the Niger Delta region, who beckoned on us to give peace a chance and avail the government time to act on our demands at the time.”
It is good that President Buhari has reached out to the Niger Delta militants with a view to addressing their grievances. At the same time, the government should walk its talk and not wave aside the threat with the mindset that it will still be business as usual. The neglect of the region, generally regarded as the goose that lays the golden egg, by the federal government and oil majors is monumental. The environmental hazards of oil exploration and exploitation in the region are there for all to see.
The so much advertised clean-up of Ogoniland by this government must go beyond the photo shop. The project is never interminable. The process of Ogoniland clean-up must be scaled up if the government is serious in doing so. The demand for the constitution of the new board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which some Niger Delta activists made is quite in order. No doubt, having the new board inaugurated will accelerate development of the oil-bearing communities in the region, which have suffered utter neglect by past managers of the intervention agency.
The unbridled and unconscionable corruption in the agency was why the forensic audit was set up in the first place. It is good that Senator Akpabio has met with the region’s agitators and calmed frayed nerves in his usual uncommon approach to issues of the region and other national assignments. Remember his monumental achievements as the governor of Akwa Ibom State. Many years after leaving office, his legacies in terms of infrastructural development and others are legendry. His developmental strides are yet to be equaled in the annals of the state. In his recent media interaction on the new NDDC board, Akpabio assured that the recommendations and the outcome of the ongoing forensic audit would be implemented by the new board that will soon be constituted. He also stated that “when the exercise is completed, NDDC cannot be the same again.” The minister equally said: “We have also mandated them to come up with an organogram that could make NDDC a bankable institution. For example, they could go to any international institution and get money to do major projects to change the lives of the people of the region.” Therefore, nobody should doubt Akpabio on these promises.
With these explanations, it is therefore appropriate to believe Akpabio on the scheduled date for the conclusion of the forensic audit and the inauguration of the new NDDC board. But, it is worth noting that the investigation of the activities of the NDDC from 2009 to 2019 will not be an easy task considering the alleged systemic corruption in the agency. Unraveling such mind-boggling corruption in the agency, which has for years been a cesspool of corruption, serving as an ATM for some political appointees and their cronies, will really take some time and painstaking efforts to accomplish.
Apart from constituting the new NDDC board, which is of paramount importance, there is need to address the developmental needs of the oil-bearing states in the Niger Delta region. The federal government should, as a matter of urgency, address the grievances and demands of the Niger Delta activists so that they will not disrupt the activities of oil majors in the region and hurt the nation’s struggling economy.
The government must ensure that all oil-bearing communities are really developed and given a new lease of life as obtainable in oil-bearing communities abroad. It is a sad commentary that some oil-bearing communities in the region still lack potable water, functional health facilities, electricity, well-paved roads and affordable houses. There must be concerted effort by the government, the NDDC, oil majors and other stakeholders to change the ugly narrative.
The government should not wait for the activists to issue ultimatums before addressing the environmental challenges of the oil-bearing region. Since the world has become a global village, it will not be wrong for us to borrow a leaf from Europe, US, Middle East and other oil-producing countries on how oil-bearing region is treated. It is also not out of place to ask the oil majors to relocate their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta region as earlier agreed. Doing so is quite in conformity with global best practices in oil exploration ventures.
So far, Senator Akpabio has done well in repositioning the NDDC and by extension the oil-bearing region on the path of progress. But, he should do more. He is aware of the enormous problems facing the region and I believe that he knows the best approach to tackle them headlong. However, he should be given the chance to complete the good work he has started. The July ending deadline for the submission of the outcome of the forensic audit and inauguration of the new NDDC board is not too far.
Let the Avengers and others sheathe their swords and give the authorities more time to attend to their demands. I say this bearing in mind that their grievances are genuine and must be holistically addressed as a matter of national priority and urgency. With the general insecurity across the country and poor state of the economy, Nigeria can neither afford another disruption of our oil economy nor another wave of restiveness in the oil-bearing region.
Any destruction of oil and gas facilities in the region now will badly affect the economy as well as the seamless implementation of the national budget. President Buhari should also address the issue of lopsided appointments in the NDDC leadership as alleged by some oil-producing communities in Imo State. The leadership structure of the commission must reflect the nine oil-bearing states that constitute it, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.