Federal Government’s employment of 350 ex-Niger Delta agitators, who graduated from various tertiary institutions across the world, is commendable. The 350 new employees are among the about 30,000 ex-agitators sponsored to study various courses abroad by the amnesty office of the Federal Government. The former Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) helmsman, Brig-General Paul Boroh (retd), disclosed this after a meeting of the Niger Delta Inter-Ministerial Committee presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Giving employment to ex-militants, who have embraced peace and acquired requisite qualifications, is good news. We commend the Federal government and the PAP for this significant improvement and urge that many others, who are still in school be quickly assisted to finish their programmes and be employed. We must not forget that investment in human capital is one of the best investments a government can ever make.
However, we recall that the Amnesty programme was designed to be a stopgap in redressing the many years of criminal neglect of the oil-bearing region of the country. So, the interventionist programme must have a terminal date. What could be more important and enduring therefore would be a kind of affirmative action by government to develop the region and improve the living condition of the people, considering the neglect and the environmental degradation the communities have suffered so far.
Government must consider moving in massively with resources and goodwill to develop the neglected communities of the Niger Delta. Many stakeholders have canvassed the deployment of similar measures that were used to develop the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, to develop the region. This should be more effective, given that past government initiatives to address the problem of the region through the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the 13 per cent derivation principle do not seem to have yielded the desired results.
But, government must continue to find creative ways to sustain positive engagements with the people of the volatile region. Therefore, the on-going Ogoni and other impacted communities clean up exercises must be commenced as quickly as possible. In fact, leaders of the Niger Delta region have at various times submitted minimum conditions for peace and sustainable development in the region to government in negotiated settlements in the past. Government must implement these terms faithfully to ensure the continuous buy-in of the people of the region for the overall national security and development.
The story of the long years of neglect of the region is changing with the positive activities of agencies such as the PAP and the Nigerian Local Content and Development Board in developing the capacity of the local populace of the region in the oil and gas industry.
With such specially designed and targeted efforts, it would only be a matter of time before the narrative changes completely in favour of the suffering people of the Niger Delta and the country as a whole. We urge the government not to relent in its efforts towards attaining the desirable goals.
In addition to these initiatives, the Federal government should consider the implementation of the long-standing development projects destined for the Niger Delta. Some of these include the building of modular refineries, the relocation to the region of the corporate offices or if need be the headquarters of the International Oil Companies operating in the region. Similarly, the NDDC should raise the tempo of its development activities in the region. Above all, it must be borne in mind that the peace currently enjoyed in the area is invaluable to the development of the region and the country and no sacrifice is too great to secure that peace.