Chinecherem Ojiako writes that youth restiveness in the Niger Delta is being tackled aggressively by the numerous empowerment schemes by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio
Before now, youth restiveness, no doubt, has been on the increase in almost all communities of the Niger Delta region. Violence of all forms and killings were recorded through bomb blasts, kidnapping and abduction in the region. Expectedly, it affected sustainable development in the region.
Following the continued restiveness in the region, the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) just barely a year after the return of democracy in 1999 with the sole aim of put to an end the crisis in the area and as well see to the development the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
The idea behind the establishment of NDDC was as a response to the demands of the population of the Niger Delta, a populous area inhabited by a diversity of minority ethnic groups. During the 1990s these ethnic groups, most notably the Ijaw and the Ogoni established organisations to confront the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies.
The minorities of the Niger Delta have continued to agitate and articulate demands for greater autonomy and control of the area’s petroleum resources. They justify their grievances by reference to the extensive environmental degradation and pollution from oil activities that have occurred in the region since the late 1950s.
In order to ensure the total return of peace in the region, in September 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua also announced the formation of a Niger Delta Ministry, with the NDDC to become a parastatal under the ministry with core mandates of training and educating the youths of the oil rich region to curb hostilities and militancy.
But years after its establishment, many lament that the NDDC which was meant to address the developmental challenges in the region has rather allegedly enriched a few. Several faceless contractors have pocketed monies meant for projects leaving majority of the people of area with nothing.
The vision behind the formation of the commission was to ensure formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area, conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications, surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development, preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the region and the estimation of the member states of the commission.
And also the implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the federal government and the states of the commission, identify factors inhibiting the development of the region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the region, assessing and reporting on any project being funded or carried out in the region by oil and gas companies and any other company, including non-governmental organisations, as well as ensuring that funds released for such projects are properly utilised, tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the region and advising the federal government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution, liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control and executing such other works and performing such other functions, which in the option of the commission are required for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and its people.
In order to put an end to the bad perception the people have about NDDC and also ensure the development of key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity in the region, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio promised to work in line with the mandates the commission was established so as to restore the hope of the people.
Akpabio is known for his sense of modesty and a trusted performer. This is no doubt, the reason behind his appointment as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs by President Muhammadu Buhari as against the choice of others.
In Akpabio’s first meeting with the management of NDDC, he stated that it was a shame that a commission which so much funds has passed through was still a tenant and gave them a marching order to complete the permanent headquarters building. The building which is almost completed would be commissioned and put to use in the next few months. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs would also soon complete the construction of nine housing estates as well as the construction of one skill acquisition institute in each of the Niger Delta States.
Akpabio, who realises the importance of peace in the development of the Niger Delta region, has rolled out programmes to ensure the successful empowerment of the youths and women of the region. Identifying youth empowerment as best means of achieving peace even right from when he was governor of Akwa Ibom, Akpabio recently empowered about 1600 youths and women with different skills through the youth empowerment programme of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
Also, Akpabio secured the commitment of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for strategic alliance for improved agricultural development and the provision of employment opportunities for the teeming youths of the Niger Delta.
The ministry is embarking on a pilot programme on rice production in the nine states of the region which would also help to provide employment opportunities for the people check hostilities and youth restiveness and improve the living standard of the people.
During the training and empowerment programme for women and youths from Niger Delta Region held in Abuja, the ministry said that the empowerment initiative is in line with the governments drive to diversify the economy from substantial dependence on crude oil.
The scheme according to the ministry, would promote national food security, invest in people and equally generate employment for the good people of Niger Delta Region, adding that the training package was meant to provide the participants with skills in the assigned areas and also equip them with knowledge in entrepreneurship to enable them manage their business and finances in order to transform their business into successful enterprises.
Akpabio noted that the Empowerment and Community Development Programmes being organised by the ministry are continuous to expand reach in the effort to ensure that no one is left behind.
He, however, informed the beneficiaries that the officials of the ministry will periodically monitor their progress to provide guidance, mentorship and ensure compliance in line with the objectives of the programme.
Speaking further, the minister explained that the ministry was actively involved in other forms of empowerment programmes aimed at encouraging the growth and development of micro and small businesses such as provision of tricycles and motorcycles to entrepreneurs and farmers to ease transportation of goods and services.
Other areas of empowerment according to him include provision of sewing machines and other accessories for fashion designers, equipping of ICT centres, hospitals, schools amongst others.
Speaking on behalf of the beneficiaries, Mr. Ofuyaekpone Charles Tuoyo, the class representative, appreciated the MNDA for the programme and assured that the ministry’s efforts would not be in vain.
Tuoyo delightfully expressed that they have been trained from the scratch on the hatching process in fish farming among other things and they have realised that farming is a viable business, noting that they have deliberated among themselves on how to start the business successfully and assured the ministry that the empowerment package given to them would be well utilised to enhance their income and livelihood. Apart from farming, the ministry went further to make sure that the trainees acquire knowledge in ICT and entrepreneurship to enhance their businesses.