The relative peace in the Niger Delta region appears to be threatened. Recently, the Niger Delta Avengers warned that it would cripple the Nigerian economy by attacking critical oil and gas installations across the region. This was sequel to an ultimatum by a former leader of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, to the Federal Government to constitute the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or face the wrath of the people of the region.
In April this year, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) had similarly issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government to constitute the NDDC Board by the end of June or face dire consequences. To show their seriousness with the threat, they physically occupied the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt and its premises in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. The NDDC has been operating without a formal board since the beginning of 2020. Interim management committee supervised its operations until Effiong Oko Akwa later emerged as its sole administrator.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to the rising tension in the region came in form of promises. He promised that he would not delay action on restructuring of Nigeria as demanded by Niger Delta leaders. But that is only when the National Assembly finalises the process of constitution amendment. The President, through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, also gave assurance that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated possibly by July ending when the forensic audit report would be ready. The forensic audit was set up following the financial recklessness that almost crippled the interventionist agency. Between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020, for instance, the Interim Management Committee of the agency spent N81.5 billion on such things as COVID-19 palliatives for management and members of staff, oversea travels, and Lassa fever kits, among others.
The Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, had promised that he would fast-track the process of getting a substantive NDDC Board by June ending. That has not happened and it has fuelled tension in the region. Good enough, Tompolo has urged his fellow agitators and stakeholders in the region to remain calm and maintain the existing peace. “The truth of the matter,” he lamented, “is that there is so much bitterness in the land, owing to the lackadaisical attitude of this government in handling matters of great importance to its citizens.”
It is imperative to note that successive governments had neglected the Niger Delta region. This was despite the fact that the activities of the oil companies had seriously polluted the environment of the area. This has precipitated serious crisis, leading to the formation of different groups which waged armed struggles to emancipate the people of the region. These militant groups attacked oil installations and almost crippled Nigeria’s economy. Oil export dropped considerably and foreign countries gave travel advisory to their citizens to avoid Nigeria then.
It was not until the late President Musa Yar’Adua intervened that the people simmered down. Yar’Adua granted amnesty to the Niger Delta militants and came up with various interventionist policies to ameliorate their plight. Even at that, the Niger Delta Avengers attacked an underwater pipeline and almost halved the country’s oil production in 2016. Since 2017, nevertheless, there has been relative peace in the region.
We cannot afford to go back to the crisis era again. A major threat in the oil-producing region will seriously affect international oil business. Government should stop living in denial about issues concerning the oil-bearing region. The promise to clean up Ogoniland, for instance, has not been fully implemented. Interestingly, President Buhari has directed the Minister of Environment to ensure that the ongoing clean up is implemented with a high percentage of local content and inclusion of the surrounding communities.
In all, we urge the government to look into the Avengers’ demand. The constitution of the NDDC board is important because without it, nothing much can take place in the agency. The law establishing the NDDC in the year 2000 provides for a Board of Directors and management team with broad based membership.
Government should also learn to listen to the complaints of the people and not allow things to degenerate or wait for somebody like Tompolo to rouse them from deep slumber before intervening. It needs to begin now to look for ways to douse the brewing tension in the region. It is not good to neglect the goose that lays the golden egg.
In 1958, the Willink’s Commission identified Niger Delta as a place that should be given adequate attention. Since then, not much has been done to address the needs of the oil-bearing region.