Rufai Oseni proposes an economic blueprint to rejuvenate the region

On the windy day in Oloibiri in1956 when geologists first struck crude oil and were so happy they played football with the villagers, everybody had thought that Oloibiri and the Niger Delta region in no time would be a cynosure of all eyes. But little did they know that the story would be different. The high hopes and expectations that heralded that day has been dashed by consistent neglect of the people!

 Increasingly, people are asking: what is wrong with the Niger Delta, and how we can resolve the problem? At first, we must understand the origin of the problem. There are many angles to it – ranging from bureaucracy to the  Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to lack of regulation in the sector, and to too much demands by the government. 

What are the oil majors claim? The oil majors have always claimed that the reason they have not developed the region is that most of the partnership they sign with the government cedes all the funds for development of the region to the government. Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) would tell you the same. It has to be understood that the oil majors always operate a joint venture mechanism with the government. So if the oil majors keep blaming the government for the dearth of infrastructure then the government should be held accountable because in these joint ventures the government could get as much as 70% in the stake after charges and taxes. So the government must develop a plan which I call the holistic Marshall Plan.

 It is crystal clear that the Niger Delta has been plundered as the fishermen cannot fish because of oil pollution. With environmental hazards everywhere,  the ticking time bomb of insurgency and insurrection hold sway, ignited by Isaac Adaka Boro in the 1960s and now further propelled by the likes of Asari Dukobo. What the government should do is to develop an ecosystem around the Nigeria Delta that makes it a hub for the oil industry in the world.  My idea of a Marshall Plan would involve three cardinal points. One education: In making the Niger Delta an oil ecosystem the government should work on the education system in the region where the universities can effectively provide education in all the subject matters pertaining to the oil industry. Holistic institutions of international repute which can be done with a good endowment structure. The Petroleum Training Institute, (PTI) Effurun was basically for the low-end artisans in the oil industry. We need to have a university with bias for oil in all the Niger Delta states and back them up with training institutes like the PTI. 

Two, creation of industries and ancillary products. There are many ancillary products in the oil industry that can generate a lot of revenue ranging from petrochemical hubs to rubber industries to refineries. The government should increase the capacity of refineries by having more refineries – at least three more refineries – with a ramped- up capacity. This would help boost the productive capacity in the region and boost trade. Also the marine economy should be revived. Boat making and ship making should be enhanced and hitherto moribund ports like Koko in Warri North and Sapele should be revisited. If the marine industry alone is developed it could provide 80,000 jobs every year and put in about $2 billion to the Nigerian economy.

Three, Health care.  Health care of this region is most important. This would involve constant sensitization of the populace including developing an holistic health insurance for the people living in the region. The health care policy would ensure that everyone in the area is covered and they pay a highly subsidized monthly or yearly premium which in turn would be used to develop health care. Through sensitization we could ramp up the life expectancy in the region. The holistic health care plan would create a mix of a viable social structure and an industrial cutting edge. This would also herald the mosquito eradication program as the Niger Delta is prone to mosquitoes due to its tropical rainforest.

 The Niger Delta could indeed become a beckon of hope and inspiration to other regions.

Rufai Oseni, rufaioseni@gmail.com

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