• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Resolve the Niger Delta Question now

Nigeria cannot afford a militancy problem now

The amnesty deal made by the Federal Government with militants in the Niger Delta appears to be in danger of suffering a setback. The six governors of the south south geo-political zone, last Thursday held a meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital as a follow-up to the South South Economic Summit held earlier in the year in Calabar, Cross River State.

At the end of their meeting the south south governors announced they had pulled out of the amnesty arrangement and gave four reasons for doing so.

The governors said the proposed Petroleum Industries Bill is inimical to the interest of communities in the Niger Delta and that the movement of the University of Petroleum Resources from Effurun, Warri to Kaduna is unacceptable to the south south zone.
The other reasons given by them are that there has been no definite post-amnesty plan for the region, which they consider crucial to the success of the deal and the anti-Niger Delta posture of the Rilwanu Lukman, the petroleum resources minister.
We believe the Federal Government is desirous of peace in the Niger Delta. Just last week during his state visit to Bayelsa State, President Umaru Yar’Adua reiterated his government’s commitment to ensure that peace returned to the Niger Delta. He said success of the Seven-point Agenda was dependent on restoring peace and security in the Niger Delta. We cannot agree more with the president that without peace in the Niger Delta region the country will gradually grind to a halt. For instance Angola has overtaken Nigeria as Africa’s largest producer of crude oil because militants’ activities have reduced Nigeria’s daily production of crude oil by more than one million barrels. In addition, the government’s promise to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December appears to be a mere dream as the electricity supply available to the entire country has gone down from 3,000 megawatts to about 1,000 megawatts as a result of the blowing up of gas pipelines by militants in the Niger Delta. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has announced that 820 firms have shut down in the last eight years as a result of the nation’s harsh business environment caused mainly by epileptic power supply.

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The grouse of the south south governors against the proposed Petroleum Industries Bill is that they were not consulted before the bill was put together. Opinion leaders in the region feel that the bill, if passed as it is now, will erode whatever gains the Niger Delta has made in the fight for resource control as the various taxes that will be levied will go to the Federal Government with little or nothing for the oil-producing communities. It is wrong for the Federal Government to have initiated a bill with far reaching implications for the oil producing communities without making any effort to consult the governors and communities to be affected for their input. This top-bottom approach in governance is outdated and in the case of the Niger Delta, it should not be an option. The bottom-top approach in which the feelings, opinions, interests and aspirations of the people concerned remains the most effective method in conflict resolution. We, therefore, call on the government to immediately withdraw the bill and initiate another draft process that will involve the Niger Delta people and other stakeholders.
As part of the amnesty plan, the Federal Government proposed a N50 billion package for the rehabilitation of militants that will renounce violence after the 60-day deadline. The package is inadequate as it addresses only short time issues without provision for a definite plan for the Niger Delta region. A well articulated post-amnesty plan for the region endorsed by the Niger Delta people is crucial, as the governors pointed out, for lasting peace in the region otherwise the fundamental issues that brought about militancy will not be resolved. If such issues are not resolved, whatever gains that will be made from the present deal will only be short term. There must be long term solution to the problem in the Niger Delta.
President Yar’Adua should call Lukman to order. The minister of petroleum should shed his adversarial posture on issues concerning the Niger Delta so that there will be a conducive atmosphere for dialogue. His comments and body language do not show that he is one with Yar’Adua on the need for peace, reconciliation and security in the Niger Delta. His arrogance, which has not been helped by his patronising attitude on the Niger Delta Question is the reason why Nigeria is in this sorry state.
We cannot locate any sound argument in favour of moving the petroleum university from Effurun, Warri, Delta State to Kaduna. The Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), in Effurun was established several years ago to train junior and middle level manpower for the oil industry. It makes economic sense for the permanent site of the petroleum university to remain in Effurun because the university will benefit from the facilities and personnel that PTI already has. Besides, unlike Kaduna, Effurun is in a region that produces oil, so even for reason of field work, the university should remain in Effurun that has a tradition of petroleum research. The argument put forward by Lukman that PTI only produces low level manpower and that the university is for highly skilled manpower for the oil industry is not enough to move the school to Kaduna. In Nigeria and indeed all over the world, universities establish institutes for specific projects or research interests or for the training of certain classes of manpower. It will benefit both the petroleum university and PTI and save the nation huge sums of money if both institutions remain in Effurun with PTI being an institute of the university.

On the other hand, if the petroleum university must be moved out of Effurun, it should be located in any other part of the Niger Delta, not Kaduna or anywhere outside the region. That is the only way the government can demonstrate that the decision to move the university out of Effurun is not political.

At a time the government is negotiating an amnesty deal with militants who feel that their region has gained nothing from producing the bulk of the nation’s wealth, we do not see the political expediency in moving an institution which represents a symbol of that agitation to an area the aggrieved people see as a symbol of their oppression and deprivation.
We call on the Federal Government to show a genuine remorse on the plight of the Niger Delta and take practical steps to express its remorse. The only way it can give expression to its remorse is to look into the issues the south south governors have raised, address those issues and redress the anomalies which are glaring. That is the only roadmap to peace in the Niger Delta and progress for Nigeria as a whole.