NDDF 2016 and Changing the Niger Delta Narrative

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Amaechi Christopher

From the multi product economy of the 1960s, Nigeria has metamorphosed into a mono product economy, completely reliant on oil. Every other source of revenue has been systematically abandoned by successive governments. All emphasis has been on oil, oil, and more oil. Scant attention was paid to other sources of government income because oil money was pouring in as global oil prices soared. For years the boom continued. No one dared imagine Nigeria and indeed the Niger Delta, the proverbial cash cow, without oil. It was inconceivable!
And then there was a burst. Oil price crashed. And for a long time it stayed crashed and refused to rise.

The cost of producing oil became more than the price it was sold. It was a harsh reality everyone had to grapple with. Other sources of government revenue had to be found and quickly. The inconceivable had not only become possible. It had become a reality. A harsh reality for many. A Niger Delta whose oil could no longer save Nigeria.

For organisations like the Niger Delta Development Forum (NDDF), who envision a Niger Delta where all persons are able to live sustainable livelihoods, generate income and employment, and create economic opportunities unhindered by constraints from within and outside the market system in the region and beyond, who have advocated and continue to advocate a self-sustaining non-oil dependent development in the Niger Delta, it was a validation that the Niger Delta can exist and develop without relying on oil and that sustainable development is not dependent on oil. In the five years of its existence, the NDDF have provided a platform for information sharing and collaboration opportunities for government, private sector, and civil society organisations pursuing approaches for equitable and inclusive economic growth in the Niger Delta.

This year’s edition of the NDDF, the 5th in the series, was held in Owerri, the capital of Imo State on the 19th and 20th of October 2016. The Forum was sponsored by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), in collaboration with Niger Delta Development Initiative (NDPI), the Imo State Government and DFID funded Market Development for the Niger Delta (MADE). Technical partners for the Forum include USAID Nigeria, DAI, NSRP, BRACED Commission and DEMAND Alliance. The theme of the two days event was ‘Towards Self-Sustaining Development in the Niger Delta: Narrating and Showcasing a Re-Imagined Niger Delta’.

Participants were drawn from government, the private sector and Civil Society organisations all over the Niger Delta. Those in attendance include the Governor of Imo State, the NDDC Chairman, representatives of the governments of the nine Niger Delta States and the federal government, Development partners, Academicians, Activists and people from all works of life. Celebrities of Niger Delta extraction were not left out. Tee Mac, Nigeria’s maestro Concert Flutist, Hilda Dokubo and Monalisa Chinda, renowned Nollywood actresses and Mike Nliam, composer of the new theme song for the NDDF, were in attendance.

In his welcome address, Sam Daibo, the Executive Director of PIND stated that ‘with each edition, the attendance at NDDF increases, the number of stakeholders interested in the Forums increases, and in the last two years, we have been able to involve the governments of the host states directly in the planning of NDDF in order for them to take ownership of and drive the policy recommendations that come out of the Forums. We no longer need to convince anyone as to the importance of dialogue and collective action for the Niger Delta, as our partners now on their own individually take on policy recommendations and decisions reached at the NDDFs into their own respective work plans’.

While acknowledging the current challenges facing the Niger Delta, especially the re-emergence of violence by new militancy groups resulting from the hardship caused by the crash in global oil prices, Daibo stressed that PIND has been working towards a more peaceful and equitable Niger Delta for over five years and that they had great confidence in the region’s ability to realize its fullest potential. ‘In the face of these challenges, it is important to understand how we got here and to articulate our vision of how to move from where we are to where we want to go. We are putting NDDF to the service of this need to re-imagining a possible future, beginning with changing the narrative of the Niger Delta. We must promote a Niger Delta that ranks high in inclusive citizen participation in governance; where state governments operate with the concepts of transparency, accountability, and effectiveness; where diversity in economic pursuits are championed by state governments and executed openly; and a region that no longer grapples with violence but where peace reigns’ he stated.

Several goodwill messages were delivered by different partners and government representatives, including the new NDDC Chairman who noted that the problems bedeviling the Niger Delta were as huge as they were multifaceted and that the crash of the oil price and renewed militancy have further compounded the woes in the region.

In declaring the 2016 NDDF open, His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the Executive Governor of Imo State, represented by his deputy Prince Eze Madumere, stated that the outcome of the round table meeting with all partners was the most important aspect of the NDDF and promised to drive all the projects to be implemented by PIND and the Demand Alliance Partners in various agricultural value chains in Imo State.

Proceedings at the Forum focused on four key topics of Peace, conflict mitigation, elections and development; Regional cohesiveness – The role of federal, regional and state government institutions; Climate change and the green economy; and Economic diversification and the digital economy, in the form of presentations, discussions, and syndicate sessions. While the sessions focused on different topics, one recurrent theme in all the sessions was how to increase actionable opportunities for sustainable development in the Niger Delta.

Lately, the Niger Delta has been in the news for the wrong reasons especially with regards to oil spills and militancy. For fora like the NDDF and other initiatives working to change the narrative in the Niger Delta, the major task is to create an enabling platform for dialogue on a way forward for the region and to facilitate collaboration among key stakeholders in the region including the government, the local communities, CSOs, the private sector and donor communities. It is only when they succeed in this that a Niger Delta that ranks high in inclusive citizens’ participation in governance and development can emerge.

– Christopher wrote from Media Insight, Abuja