The question of who between the northerners and Niger Deltans is responsible for the underdevelopment of oil producing areas is gradually becoming a big issue with the potential of creating more challenges for our already fledgling society. Before the recent revelations on corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a body set up by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to see to the development of oil producing areas, there had been this talk that the agency was not the one to undertake such a gargantuan task rather the approach of using agencies was thought as a ploy by Nigerian leaders of northern extraction who first conceived the idea.
To many indigenes of the communities that the NDDC and other allied agencies were supposed to serve, the whole set up was perceived as a distraction designed to hoodwink the people by making them believe government was rewarding them for resources found in their land while in actual fact nothing was being done to improve human capital development and transformation of the physical environment. This was the initial fear and as would be expected, it provoked discussions and concern with government officials insisting the fear was misplaced.
Not long after, events began to prove the fear to be true. The people who suffered great environmental hazards arising from crude oil exploration and exploitation began to hear of huge gains made from sell of oil and billions of naira appropriated or sometimes given out to develop the Niger Delta region from where our society gets her crude. Year after year the money talks continue but with little or nothing to show in practical terms. No development, yet more agencies or would you call them departments came into existence. Ministry of the Niger Delta for instance and then Presidential Amnesty Programme, all targeted at improving the state of things in the areas that produce oil.
Many years after the region is worse off than when the idea of help and transformation was first mooted. Areas that have been hit by oil spillages have been left to face various hardships including slow death consequences of environmental pollution. Economic life has been destroyed and innocent rural population left helpless. In the riverine areas fishing as business is dying; in the upland where my clan, Asa, belongs, farming is no longer a lucrative business because the soil has lost its fertility as a result of oil exploration activities.
Human capital development is still as if no amount was spent pursuing that goal. Young persons barely trained roam aimlessly around communities, looking for whom to beg from or targets to steal from. I interviewed so many young people last week in the region and found that many just sleep and wake up to life not knowing what life entails. I told a group of youths it was much difficult task to go begging than to sit down quietly, think out purpose and resolve to pursue. They sat there moping at me as if saying, “ We can’t comprehend where this man is coming from, is he really one of us?”
I guess this situation is a fallout of government inability to sit down and think through how to transform our society›s treasure bases in a most sustainable and rewarding manner, much above just throwing scarce resources on matters that require integrity first then wisdom. As you read this most of the roads in the Niger Delta region are not passable. They are in such terrible conditions that words can›t adequately describe the pictures and the most regrettable thing in all of this, is that such roads are of the grade «A» class. They are major link roads, many of them cross interstate boundaries.
For some months running, I have heard of the terrible state of the road traversing from Port Harcourt in Rivers State through Obigbo veering off at Obehie, straight to Azumini, border town in Abia State, then into Akwa Ibom State. A trunk “A” road. I travelled through that road last week and the experience was nightmarish. To say the road is in very deplorable state is to be charitable. Those who insist on riding through find they can’t stage a return to safety with their vehicles since it would have ran into a crater perhaps in a no man’s zone where rescue would definitely be very difficult to access. To pass we had to be taken through bushes and farm lands by local guides before we could make a headway. Inside those bushes we saw young men coming out from different locations, roaming around, going nowhere. My team was not attacked but stories of harrassments and assaults were prevalent.
I saw big trucks fall and spill their contents on the road. My local government, Ukwa West in Abia State, has functional oil wells and one of the best brands of crude in the world, yet there I was unable to access my local government headquarters just a kilometer away. Yet that strategic road is part of the responsibility of the federal government and her agencies. The truth today is that that road requires immediate emergency attention. Am even not talking about repairs or reconstruction, no, because that would be like a journey to hell and back. Am talking about palliative measures . Action that could allow Ukwa people in two local governments, their Rivers and Akwa Ibom neighbours to be able to move to transact their businesses and earn survival incomes. It is that bad!
Minister of the Niger Delta, Goodswill Akpabio can rewrite his name in gold by working out an action plan. I know he can pull the magic and people in those locations are trusting he will. Now this on a final note; challenge poor infrastructure in the Niger Delta is not an agency or ministerial failure, it has more to with dirty politics which deliberately puts one region down to raise another. Development of Niger Delta region ought to be a federal responsibility executed in exact manner we got Abuja and Lagos areas to be. We ought to have had a marshal plan executed directly by the federal government.
Those who ran with the idea of agency just shied away from what was and still is a cardinal national responsibility. It suited them to create amorphous bodies to provide jobs for cronies and install avenues to siphon public funds easily. Northern leaders from Abuja picked their surrogates to occupy positions when governors were asked to make contributions and a pattern was already in place. This “Babylon System” kept expanding every year until the point it turned into a national embarrassment. Where is the Ministry of the Niger Delta? What is it doing? We are familiar now with the racket going on in NDDC. What about the Presidential Amnesty Programme?
We can’t build up Niger Delta region but federal government in an era of paucity of funds sees the sense to spend billions of naira to continue to search for oil in Bauchi axis and the banks of Lake Chad. It is building a refinery in Kastina State which has no drop of oil. There are plans by the Federal Government to construct a modern rail line from Nigeria to inside Niger Republic but in the case of Niger Delta, the goose that lays the golden eggs, NDDC, an interventionist agency must be in-charge. Do we still wonder why the face of Niger Delta is ugly in spite of claims of huge funds poured out to develop the region.