Segun James writes that governors of Niger Delta States, like Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State are making big developmental moves to change the narrative of the region
In the bad old days, occurrences in the Niger Delta Region were replete with tales of the ugly. One of these three things happened frequently: A kidnap, hostage taking or disruption of production activities of the many oil companies by irate youths or militants operating along the creeks.
Surprisingly, it has all been quiet in the Niger Delta, the restive area of the country whose land produces the black gold, crude oil that is the mainstay of the nation’s economy. The youths have gone silent and the oil companies operations have resumed unhindered.
When there was a stirring in the region about one year ago, President Muhammadu Buhari decided to bare his teeth following the blow-up of the oil lift facilities at the Forcados Terminal in Delta state. The action of the perpetrators had significant implications on the economy of the nation.
With the lifting facility not available, the country could not export almost 500,000 barrel of oil per day. This was at a time oil prices hovered around less than $40 and the nation’s economy had gone into recession, the federal government decided to draft men of the Nigerian Armed Forces into the creeks and waterways of the delta in search of the perpetrators. However, the initial plan for an onslaught against the offenders was cancelled at the behest of the oil companies who feared that severe military action could lead to a long-drawn battle. The timely intervention of the government of the United States of America and the pleadings of the international oil companies operating in the region stopped the federal government from taking that course of action.
It has been nearly a year since there was reported stir of restiveness in the Niger Delta. While other parts of the country, especially, the North-east and the Middle-belt states have had rumbles in recent times; the Niger Delta has been unusually quiet. This calm may be compared to the silence of the graveyard, with a of foreboding in the air.
This has not always been so. The Niger Delta region, the part of the country whose land produces the black gold that is today the mainstay of the nation’s economy has acquired a bad reputation for restiveness.
Since oil was first discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri in Bayelsa state in 1956, the oil has continued to be what sustains the nation. While other parts of the country have grown, the region has been neglected. Given its contribution to the nation, today, it is a sad commentary that the Niger Delta remains the least developed part of the country. For example, Bayelsa was only connected to the national power grid in 2006! Yet state is the third highest producer of oil in the country. It is widely believed that over 70 percent of the state does not have access to pipe borne water, electricity, roads, hospitals or schools. So what has region gained from the oil that is being taken from the bowel of its land?
However, forward-looking governors like Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State have embarked on a deliberate effort to change the developmental narrative of the state, by taking it in a direction that it would not depend solely on oil. The aggressive industrialisation agenda of the Emmanuel administration is a novelty in the entire Niger Delta region. Again, Akwa Ibom is the show piece of the region for floating an airline and pursuing the Ibaka Deep Seaport, which will positively change the economy of the state, forever.
States like Akwa Ibom have resorted to because the federal government has abandoned it to its fate. On the flipside of the arguement are those who insist that woes of the Niger Delta region are self conflicted by its irate youths and irresponsible, self-serving elders.
The region has taken the federal government and President Muhammadu Buhari to task following the relentless efforts of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to forcibly take over political power in some states in the region. The APC federal government is not masking its attempts to take the reins of power in Akwa Ibom, for instance, by hook or crook. The struggle for the soul of Akwa Ibom may be heading to gruesome stages. The question on many lips is, ‘What has the region gained since the present administration came to power?
When President Buhari came to power, he insisted that that sharing of government patronages by his government would be determined by the number of votes he got from the state and region. Unfortunately, the Niger Delta where the president’s opponent in the 2015 presidential election comes from voted massively against him.
The President not mindful of the fact that the oil that sustained the economy of the nation comes from the region, and without care for the federal character policy enshrined in the constitution, made good his threat.
Beyond statutory appointments, the APC government has not in any way brought benefits to the Niger Delta.
He appointed Dr. Ibe Kachikwu the Minister of State for Petroleum, but appointed a northerner as the Managing Director of the NNPC who reports directly to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, a position held by the President himself. With this, he effectively rendered Kachikwu useless.
Realising that statutory appointments like the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) could not have been taken away from the region, he ensured that the commission was rendered ineffective by lack of adequate funding. Even with that, the NDDC under the APC has been more inclined towards politicking with its former Managing Director and chairman actively involved in politicking to the detriment of their jobs.
Incensed by the political activities that the managing director of the commission who is now the APC governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom state in the March election was engaging in to the detriment of his duty to develop the region, Akwa Ibom state government officials have repeatedly challenged him to bring forward what he has done for the people besides the enthronement of political lackeys.
When Justice Walter Onnoghen was appointed the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the first southerner to hold that position in a long while, the people of the region were happy, but the scandalous way he was recently removed has left a bad taste in the mouth. To them, this is another example where a South-south person is being pushed out of office by the president.
Also, not too long ago, Mr. Seiyefa, a seasoned intelligence officer was appointed as the acting director-general of the Department of State Security (DSS), but no sooner was this done than he was removed after acting for few months.
When President Buhari was in Akwa Ibom state to flag off of his campaign for a second term in office, the state government lamented that he could not mention one particular thing he has done for the state, the highest oil producing state in the country.
In Rivers state, the second highest oil producing state, the state government and the people of Ogoni are still crying that many months after the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the Ogoni Oil Spill Cleanup activities, the exercise has been bogged down with politics and bureaucracy!
The region has taken the federal government and President Muhammadu Buhari to task following the relentless efforts of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to forcibly take over political power in some states in the region. The APC federal government is not masking its attempts to take the reins of power in Akwa Ibom, for instance, by hook or crook.