By Paul Boroh
Water, water everywhere. The paradox of water. I am not referring to the tragic floods of Benue State nor those of Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey. I am not referring to Huricane IRMA, which has caused so much devastation in the Caribbean and United States. Rather, my mind is on the ancient riverine Community of Gelegele in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State, which I visited again on Friday, September 8. It was like keeping an appointment with destiny; I had promised myself and officials of the Presidential Amnesty Programme that the next time we visit the town, we must leave a positive mark. I had no doubt what that should be.
Gelelge is an oil-rich town in the watery creeks of the Niger Delta, which has almost been by-passed by civilisation and development in spite of centuries of contact with Europeans.
Despite its being virtually submerged in water, the town had no safe drinking water. It reminded me of the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” who was in a ship at sea, but had no water to drink because it was salt water. He had lamented “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Like the Ancient Mariner, Gelegele was virtually inside water, but had none to drink. The town being oil rich, with gas flaring right inside it, but not in a demonstrable way, benefitting from its natural resources, was another paradox.
I knew that the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has evolved policies to stop gas flaring, involve the people directly in the wealth of their land by encouraging them to participate in the Modular Refinery project, produce mass jobs with the proposed pipeline surveillance project and generally, take the lead in the development of the region. But I was also conscious of the reality that these cannot be achieved immediately, so I thought of some quick-impact project that would make life easier. So, I decided that we need to develop a big borehole that would be high yielding, easy to operate and easy to maintain.
It was Chinua Achebe in his 1960 book, “No Longer at Ease” who admonished that “A man who lives on the banks of the Niger (River) should not wash his hands inspittle.” That could well be the story of Gelelege.
When I returned to Gelegele on September 8, to commission the borehole, I felt a sense of fulfillment although this is essentially, a gesture. I felt one with the people and the community; I felt we had a bond that would grow. Speaking and interacting with the community, led by His Royal Majesty Alagbabunafa of Olodiama, with the Zonal President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Chief Robinson Ogunkoru, I had a feeling of elation, especially when they let it be known that this was a Government that has rekindled their hope and an administration they can trust.
But I had more good news for them. The President Buhari Government is not only committed to ending gas flaring, but the process will also lead to the direct creation of an estimated thirty six thousand direct jobs and two hundred thousand indirect jobs in the Niger Delta region. Additionally, some six million households will have access to renewable energy, as the gas being flared, will be harnessed and channeled to homes. The Gelegele people expressed their appreciation but had a request; they wanted to play an active part in the surveillance of pipelines. On this I assured them that it was the policy of government to make this project, community-based; the conviction of the government is that the best persons, who can do such a job, are the very communities through which the pipelines pass. Another request they made, was for skill acquisition centres; this I told them the Presidential Amnesty Programme was willing to look into within its budgetary approvals.
The next day, I was in Ondo State where I visited Governor Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, who wanted the Federal Government to expand the Amnesty Programme to accommodate more youths in the region in order to reduce youth restiveness. He also advised that educational training should be domesticated. I was happy about this, as one of my first acts as Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, was to domesticate the offshore training of the project.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ondo State Council, also conferred on me the award of Niger Delta Peace Ambassador. The NUJ Chairman, Mr. James Sowole, said this was in recognition of my “dynamic” leadership of the Amnesty Programme and my peace-building initiatives in the Niger Delta.
At the second summit of the National Council of Niger Delta (NCND) held in Akure, I was elated as the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, rolled out the plans of the administration for the Niger Delta, including the injection of more funds into the Presidential Amnesty Programme for overall greater impact in the region.
I was also privileged to accompany the vice president to Igbokoda, in Ilaje where he listened to the people, addressed and interacted with them at the Ondo State Niger Delta Communities Stakeholders Town Hall Meeting. I had nothing but praise for the youths, who had maintained peace and along with the rest of the populace, warmly welcomed the vice president and his delegation.
I came away from Ondo State ever convinced that the most challenging task we have is to engage the youths in whatever way; from vocation, education, training (especially in agriculture) empowerment to make them self-employed, to mass employment. I also had no doubt that this cannot be left to the Federal and State Governments alone; the private sector – especially the oil and gas companies – has to play a major role.
Brigadier General Paul Tarela Boroh (Rtd.) is the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.