…The acceleration and deceleration
…And the way forward
The Niger Delta has definition problems whereby it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify the actual place so called. At the end of the blurred vision, two definitions have emerged: Geographical Niger Delta and Political Niger Delta. To accommodate both, we now have the expanded definition which looks at oil region, deltaic region, and political catchment. Some talk about the ‘core’ Niger Delta.
The Niger Delta refers to the route or area through which the River Niger and River Benue which married at Lokoja followed in flushing into the Atlantic Ocean. In doing this through the River Nun, the waters spread through flat plains to form a deltaic basin, one of the largest in the world.
“In terms of geography, the Niger Delta, as now defined officially by the Nigerian government, extends over about 70,000 km2 (27,000 sq mi) and makes up 7.5 percent of Nigeria’s land mass. Historically and cartographically, it consists of present-day Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States, but for political definition, it adds Edo, Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Imo and Abia states. These also form the oil zone.
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The original area known as core Niger Delta led by the Ijaw ethnic nationality had been a water-based region and its development had been about jetties, boats, aqua-culture, etc. Its wars were fought on water and its sport was boat regatta. They had early contact with the Europeans and had early influence in education and Christianity.
When they were to have political interaction with the rest of Nigeria (upland), they demanded for a separate development plan. They feared they would be marginalised in the larger Nigeria and that their development needs were so unique that they never expected the larger Nigeria to handle it well. They sought for either a separate entity (state) or whatever would handle their development better.
The British colonial masters thus constituted the (Sir) Henry Willink Commission on November 23, 1957 which delivered report with recommendations on June 1958. It rejected the demand for a separate state saying more states do not guarantee development. It however addressed the fears by recommending measures to guarantee: Fundamental Human Rights (FHR) to be entrenched in the Independence Constitution to safeguard the interests of the minority; The police should be under federal control; Minority areas should have special councils; and that there should be special development board for Niger Delta areas.
The Niger Delta has thus got all the structures the British felt were needed for their protection and accelerated development.
The problem however, may be in how slow the structures came.
A political economist, Chris Finebone, said: “The story of the Niger Delta of Nigeria is about the same with that of the rest of Nigeria. At Independence, the Niger Delta, like much of Nigeria, generated high expectations with regard to development. The intentional agenda to develop the Niger Delta was identified and articulated early in those days.
“In 1958, the Henry Willink’s Minority Commission Report characterised the Niger Delta as infrastructurally and generally poor, backward and neglected, and advised the central government to establish a Federal Board to address the problems of the area. Such was the quest to bring development to the disadvantaged region. It is trite to say that no sooner Nigeria got independence than her many political woes set in, rendering the development of the Niger Delta impracticable and of little or no priority. The number one concern of the government became how to hold together a badly fractured nation that led to a bitter 30-month Civil War from 1967 to 1970.”
Development Commissions and Revenues
The first to be set up to handle the development of the Niger Delta was the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC).
The problem was that the development commission envisaged by Willink was not from oil but despite oil. This seemed not to be given until oil was discovered in the region. So, many critics argue that OMPADEC only answered the oil revenue equity demand, not the craving in the Willink’s Commission.
The FG began to award different percentages from oil to the oil bearing stated from 10 per cent to one per cent to three per cent to 13 per cent.
The OMPADEC was dissolved and in its place, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The Commission gets percentage from the Federation account, gets from the Oil Majors, and other donors. Yet, the demand has continued to mount. It appears no amount or percentage would be enough or satisfactory to the Niger Delta people. The governors have often demanded for 50 percent; the militants and environment activists demanded for resource control whereby they get all the oil proceeds as owners only to be told what tax to pay. The argument continues.
So far, the Niger Delta gets 13 percent which goes to the states and local councils, they get three percent to the NDDC, they get direct funding from the international oil corporations (IOCs), they ought to get from the ecological fund, they get from the Amnesty Fund, etc.
A former Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, once put the grossing to $40bn in 12 years.
The resource deployment question
Whereas the people of the region demand for more, most outsiders and the IOCs have questioned the effective deployment of the one so far received. Indictment comes from home and abroad.
The former minister, who spoke at a meeting held at PTI Conference Centre in Warri, Delta State, involving prominent leaders from the coastal states declared in the presence of monarchs, youth leaders, politicians and Secretary of MEND: “I’ve been to the creeks myself and discovered that there was no meaningful development of the riverine communities as expected by the Federal Government despite the huge amount disbursed to the region.”
Reports said he stated that the state of infrastructure was disappointing despite the huge effort to alleviate the infrastructural defect in the region.
As the way forward, he called for an audit of money expended in the region so far to know what exactly went wrong to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
The Niger Delta can count on many areas of development. They got the Commission to develop at their own pace. They get funds to the NDDC to develop the region, they get commission (13 percent) for hosting oil, they get Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds from the IOCs in form of direct funding, and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) has dedicated another three percent to host communities.
If it is money, it has come in.
They have also witnessed massive infrastructures such as the building of the NLNG city in Bonny (Rivers State), a N120Bn first ever road to Bonny (almost completed), emergence of cities such as Port Harcourt, Warri, Uyo, etc. Major roads and flyovers have dotted the region. Many universities have been established and numerous sons and daughters have been trained overseas to think like the Western world.
There has been cradle to career education schemes that pick children of the poor from the poorest communities (by Total and Shell) to be trained at Ivy colleges to compete with the children of the super-rich and see how both breeds cope. The area has attracted some of the biggest corporations and service companies around the world. The region has also produced super men. Huge funds have passed through the region, and it has produced multi-billionaires; men and women who can afford to buy whatever they wanted in the world.
There is a $1bn cleanup fund for Ogoni alone and there are payouts during disputes over pollution.
Critics such as Ken Henshaw, Mike Karikpo, Lawrence Dube, and Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface argue that the region is developing backward. Some say that for whatever oil has brought, it has destroyed many folds by destroying the environment.
Many argue that no indigene was hungry before the advent of oil because food was by the riverside. Now, the revenue goes to a few (about 50,000 oil workers) while the over 40 million others watch and starve.
They further argue that while few are employed by oil, those previously into farming, fishing, etc, have left their duties to wait on oil. So, this has created a new but destructive social order. Their economy has turned to a consumer economy with no effort to industrialise the Niger Delta.
Development projects consume a lot of funds for maintenance but in the absence of income-generating ventures, the development projects pose a high maintenance overhead and eventual deterioration.
Dube thus, said that the development in the oil region was destructive and disjointed.
Darlington Nwauju, an activist and political thinker, said: “The region has seen an acceleration in terms of mental awareness about the environment, negative impact of the activities of IOCs on our immediate environment and audit of these activities.
“The region has not fared well since independence till date, in terms of social development against the backdrop of its contributions to the national economy.”
Another point is who controls the Niger Delta? A study by Henshaw says that at any point in time, non-Niger Deltans control the development structures. He traced from OMPADEC to NDDC and submitted that the control has always been from the centre.
Corruption has always been pointed at but Henshaw said no effort has ever been made by the centre (FG) to stop looting in the region. The centre hand-picks CEOs, control the release of funds, and probably dictate who gets what. This has caused chaos in NDDC, OMPADEC, and even in HYPREP and Ogoni Cleanup fund. The CEOs seem to run to Abuja (centre) for the minutest clearances.
NDDC was so rotten that a forensic audit was ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari with huge excitement and hope in the air. The delayed report merely said N6trillion had been burnt. Many expected a whitepaper on it listing names, amounts, and sanctions. Nothing happened and Buhari left office.
Many thus, suspected that the people who ordered the audit and their cronies may be same people indicted, hence the silence.
Another criticism is that the agencies of development have been railroaded in civil service cloak and bureaucracy. NDDC is put under a ministry, meaning that an MD managing over N500bn budget in a year is to submit to a Director in the Ministry who reports to a Minister (whose budget may be mere N18bn) and then to the Presidency. The Ministers become interested only in the NDDC.
Many have argued that the development agencies’ budgets are not well structured. They get piecemeal amounts per year per project, thus doing little or nothing with the tokens over many years.
Fineface said the deceleration of development of the Niger Delta (much like most of Nigeria) had begun in what he termed “The Great Decline.”
He went on: “With crude oil discovery and production giving new vista and momentum to the nation, both the government and Nigerian citizenry abandoned their hold on agriculture while putting all their hopes and aspirations in that single basket of crude oil. Rather than serve as a beacon of hope and driver of growth to the crude oil-laden Niger Delta region, it turned out as a major gloom for the region both to its physical environment and the already damaged psyche of the people.
“On June 25, 1992, Ibrahim Babangida established the OMPADEC. It took another eight years (June 5, 2000) for the then Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government to establish the NDDC to replace the lame-duck OMPADEC. with the onerous task of offering a ‘lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.’
“With the unending stories of corruption bedeviling the Commission to this day, only time will prove whether the Niger Delta is in acceleration or still tottering and decelerating.”
Many have suggested that laws should stipulate what areas the development agencies should focus and leave rest to state and local governments.
Some say a high-powered but standing tribunal be set up to try every single audit indictment within short speed. Many however, say the tribunal would soon be bought over.
Development commission funds must not be found in political campaigns any more. Annual reports of the activities and spending of each agency be put in the public domain and on a dedicated website. The Niger Delta Development Plan that lasts for 10 years must be revived and followed. Any breach must be punished.
The law must state what happens to the 13 percent given to oil states which seems to produce super governors who easily donate money to private interests. Some states have created boards to manage their shares, but many did not. The law must decide what happens on this.
Many folks have different ideas on the way forward.
Nwauju said: “My advice would be that the FG must have to differentiate between tackling the development challenges of the political Niger Delta and sincerely solving the challenges of a Delta region because of the uniqueness that deltas all over the world present. Billions of dollars are dedicated to the development of the Lower Mississippi Delta in the United States. Developing the region should and must be a deliberate policy of the government of Nigeria!”
Nobody scathingly criticizes the Niger Delta people like their own critics. Blessing Nwikina, an information management strategist, can be said to have summarised the story of the Niger Delta.
He said: “The Niger Delta people are like spoilt brats. They didn’t care much until oil came. The whole cry came, but money was not deployed to develop the region. The whole thing they cried against and complained against is what they are doing right now. They have become a spoilt baby.
“The development is in their hands, let them not blame any other region. They have multifaceted attack of revenue from 13 percent to NDDC, etc. It’s upsetting to see how the revenue is frittered away to political abracadabra. What we have are a people who were marginalised but are now spoilt, and don’t know that if they do not apply the oil revenue well, they will wake up to realise that there will be no oil or gas.
“If they can de-emphasise participation in high-wired national politics and focus on development, the communities will benefit from their oil.
“An example of the nature of the Niger Delta people is the East West Road. The state of that road is a reflection of what the Niger Delta people are.
“Is it not an irony that the Lagos-Ibadan Road will be commissioned in October (2023) but the East West Road will remain a mirage, a story we tell every day. That is the story of the Niger Delta.”