A Bold Socio-cultural Awakening


Omon-Julius Onabu examines the promise which the nascent Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili socio-cultural group holds for stimulating the local economy amid the intensified campaign for diversification

The need to effectively tackle pervasive poverty among the larger segment of societies especially in developing countries has for decades been a major preoccupation of international organisations, institutions and governments. The introduction of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the year 2000 by the United Nations is, perhaps, a poignant reminder that developing countries have a whole lot to accomplish, and a very long way indeed to go, in bridging the gap between theirs and the economies of developing countries.

Former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, is in the class of leaders who have asserted that there is a strong correlation between “good governance” and eradication of poverty. Annan identified good governance as probably “the single most important factor” in eradicating poverty and promoting development. Here, emphasis is on the importance of democratic governance in providing the enabling environment for executing certain development programmes and projects that could substantially reduce or even eliminate poverty.

However, there seems to be agreement that government cannot go it alone in addressing the huge challenge of poverty in developing countries. In other words, complementary roles by individuals and groups are invaluable to the poverty removal process.

It is, perhaps, against this philosophical conception that Nigeria was recently treated to a flurry of intellectual and social activities heralding the birth and unveiling of Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili, a new socio-cultural organisation which, according to the founding fathers, is unique because of its comprehensive development predisposition. For two days, the Delta State capital, Asaba, was practically held spellbound as the nascent group organised the maiden Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili Stakeholders Economic Summit and capped that with an uncommon cultural fiesta. The twin events attracted who-is-who in the focal area, the state and across the country, including the Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who as the special guest of honour at the summit also inaugurated the organisation. And, the governor made no pretence about his approval of the stated vision and goal of its initiators as well as the complexion of the presentations by the resource persons, who are all professionals in their own right.

Speaking at the event, Okowa charged the people of the state to rise up to the challenge of diversification of the Nigerian economy. While commending Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili for taking the initiative of bringing all the critical areas of development in Aniocha-Oshimili, and indeed, the entire state, into probing focus through the various in-depth dialogues at the summit, he stressed that most communities in the state had the potential of constituting the food basket of the nation.

Specifically, the governor urged the people of Aniocha/Oshimili constituency to explore ways and means of improving agricultural productivity by cultivating rice as the area is within the rice belt capable of feeding the state and beyond. He noted that the federal government was on the verge of placing a ban on the importation of rice, urging the people to be actively involved in agriculture, which remains one of the country’s greatest employers of labour.

He also urged politicians and philanthropists to review empowerment packages for their beneficiaries in order to make them more relevant and ultimately valuable in line with today’s economic realities; to adopt a paradigm shift by assisting them to acquire training that would sharpen their entrepreneurial skills, thus making them both self-reliant and employers of others. “I am pleading that our politicians train the people to acquire skills and mentor them, than just giving out motorcycles and other equipment as empowerment programmes. If the people are well trained and they work hard on their own, they can be job creators.”

The governor explained the principles behind his administration’s entrepreneurial and job creation schemes which he recommended for emulation. “We have had a lot of success stories with our skills acquisition programmes and – beyond what the government is doing – individuals and corporate organisations should find a way of assisting the people to acquire skills. We have provided a window for people to come from the private sector and bring youths for us to train and they will empower such persons while we mentor them.”

The convener and chairman of the Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili Economic Summit, Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN), noted that the nascent body as a “thought leadership and advocacy group” was necessitated by the need to arouse the people of the area to certain fundamental challenges meant to chart a course towards speedy economic growth and development. “One of the objectives of Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili, which is being fulfilled today, is to enhance the socio-economic well-being of indigenous people of Aniocha-Oshimili district through advocacy, policy development, research, conferences, civic engagement and education,” the legal luminary told THISDAY in Asaba.

Azinge further explained the objectives and issues that prompted the birth of the new organisation: “It is pertinent to note that Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili is a non-partisan, non-profit socio-cultural organisation positioned to be the foremost organisation that represents consensus of the people within the Aniocha/Oshimili district. Basically, it really means ‘coming together’; that is, coming together of people, blending, forging unity and oneness: Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili.

“We are conscious of the fact that there are a lot of issues confronting the Aniocha axis. Some of these include the quality of public education, transportation, unemployment, housing, electricity, quality of our healthcare and water; and, at this point in time, the quality of security arising from the menace of the herdsmen that has made our people vulnerable, especially our women that are, more often than not, subjected to the indignity of rape and sexual molestation.”

Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili is not envisioned as a rival group to similar existing organisations within the greater Abioma nation; it rather seeks to complement them by completing the tripod for enhanced development of the entire Delta North and, indeed Delta State and Nigeria. It indeed does not intend to operate in isolation in seeking to address the litany of challenges through collaboration with elected officials at the national and state levels in advocating for legislation that is all-inclusive and development-oriented.

Nonetheless, the organisation is concerned that Asaba capital territory remains the only one in the country without a federal university, saying it was desirous of encouraging the appropriate authorities to allow the Federal Technical College of Education, Asaba, to translate into a full-fledged university. Beside education and exploration of its agricultural potential, the summit dwelt on making the area an Industrial Technology (IT) hub like the Silicon Valley in the United States of America; address unemployment through tourism through the eyes of renowned environmentalist, Chief Newton Jibunoh; understanding the concept or model of a modern Asaba Capital Territory; creating an enabling environment for foreign and local investment; leveraging on the economic overflow across the Niger and development of Asaba Airport as well tackling security issues from a professional perspective.

Resource persons at the occasion included Jibunoh, Chief Henry Okolo, Dr. Boniface Chizea, Mr Innocent Isichei, Mr. Mike Ejiofor, Dr. Tony Iweaka, Prof. Sylvester Monye, and the Director-General of Asaba Capital Territory, Chief Clement Ofuani. Their respective presentations dwelt essentially on how to exploit the economic potentials of Aniocha and Oshimili area, which includes Asaba, for the benefit of the people. Specifically, the discourse outlined strategies for exploiting these potential and opportunities through cooperation with government and private agencies as well as organisations in the state and across the country with similar interests.

While lauding the Nijko Aniocha-Oshimili group for organising the economic summit, Okowa encouraged more of such exercises in the state to help the people to articulate ways to grow their respective economies at the ethnic nationality level, saying Deltans doing well in their chosen fields should take greater interest in the development of their communities. This is obviously in tandem with the principles behind the comprehensive interventions by the United Nations, which underlines its concern for dealing a fatal blow on poverty, particularly in developing countries like Nigeria.

Such initiatives should complement the efforts of government in tackling poverty by safeguarding citizens’ rights; provide security, stimulate economic growth and services like education and healthcare. In the words of Azinge, convener of the maiden Njiko Aniocha-Oshimili Economic Summit, “We consider ourselves lucky and privileged that we are at the seat of government to some extent; but it is an advantage we do not intend to misuse or exploit unnecessarily. While trying to attract the attention of government towards harnessing our vast economic potential in all ramifications, we are also thinking of what we can bring to the table in order to have a true government of the people, ultimately to give our people better quality life.”