Chairman of Niger Delta Nationalities Forum and member of Ijaw Elders’ Forum, Mr. Seigha Manija, in this piece, proffers solution to the activities of the new militant group in the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA.
A new group in the Niger Delta has been blowing up oil pipelines and facilities for some weeks now. What do you think is responsible for this latest spate of bombings?
Firstly, I can only speculate what could be responsible for the present spate of bombings in the Niger Delta. In any case I want you to know that this spate of bombing stopped since 2009 when the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua declared the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for the Niger Delta. I remember that the Niger Delta was boiling when Obasanjo took over in May 29, 1999. But just after his assumption of office, his first official trip outside Abuja was to the Niger Delta. By the first week of June 1999, he was already in Port Harcourt through Warri where he dialogued with the youths of Niger Delta. Within weeks of his assumption of office, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill was sent to the National Assembly. Even the government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida did not waste much time in converting the 1.5 percent derivation fund to three percent in his time. Yar’ Adua in his early hours even created the Niger Delta Ministry.
All these happened in those regimes because they reasoned on time that the Niger Delta and its oil are strategic to the nation’s economy. This government is about a year old, and if there is anything I can recall in respect to the Niger Delta, it is the reduction of budgetary allocation to PAP from N60billion to N20billion in this 2016 budget. The near omission of the Lagos-Calabar rail project and the announcement by the minister of transport that the Maritime University in the riverine Niger Delta has been cancelled are not too good signals, you may say. It is in the light of the above I think the new group called Avengers is simply behaving or reacting like the two-year-old baby, whose parents have just given birth to a new baby called North East Development Commission.
Everybody including the World Bank, European Union, UNDP and AU among others is pledging one thing or the other towards nursing of the new baby, giving the impression that the older baby has been weaned. The older child – Niger Delta, is asking if it is still relevant to the household and in the process breaking glasses, cups and pots. A good parent must respond positively and adjust quickly too. The Niger Delta Avengers may be asking a rhetorical question on whether and because the government is diversifying into agriculture and solid minerals or because the price of oil has plummeted, the Niger Delta, its oil and the people, especially the youth are no longer relevant? The government sees NDA as criminals just as many commentators do. But, NDA also sees this government as wicked and undermining the Niger Delta region. I think the President has some quick fix jobs to do in this direction.
What should the President do?
One, President Buhari should convene a Niger Delta youth summit to use the platform to assuage their fears. He should take same opportunity to pay former President Goodluck Jonathan a courtesy visit just to say thank you for respecting the wishes of the majority of voters at the 2015 presidential election. These two steps will go a long way in the first place. Again, President Buhari must and should decide whether to collapse all the interventionist agencies in the Niger Delta region into one institution and fund it appropriately or fund all of them properly and insist that they all function rightly. For example, the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry have no business building hostels for existing universities in Port Harcourt, Benin, Calabar, or Asaba; neither should the East West road be the sole responsibility of the ministry. In any case, some of these projects are already variously captured in their respective local, state and federal governments’ budgets. Rather, the East West road should go to the federal ministry of works. NDDC and Niger Delta ministry have no business providing dust bins and electric poles in urban centres such as PH, Calabari, Benin etc. These agencies must be made to purely concentrate on the development of rural and riverine oil producing communities. This way, the youths in these areas can now benefit directly. The rural and the riverine communities are not benefitting enough from these agencies like the city centres. The President should take a guided helicopter trip through the riverine communities and see for himself.
On proliferation of interventionist agencies
On the other hand, these agencies are poorly funded. Yet, people from other regions are baffled with the proliferation of interventionist agencies in the Niger Delta. For example, I hear that in 2016 budget, the allocations to NDDC is N41billion, Niger Delta ministry has N19billion while the Amnesty programme got N20billion, totaling N80billion only. If this is true, it is very poor and it is undermining the importance of Niger Delta region. For example, a loss of 800,000 barrels of crude per day (bpd) as claimed by the Petroleum Minister, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, amounts to 800,000 bpd multiplied by $50 per day. This gives us $40 million per day. Against N300 per dollar, it amounts to N12billion per day. When you take in this for a month, you will have N360billion. It is now left for one to imagine the paltry sum given to these agencies for the development of all the nine oil producing states in a year.
To appreciate what I am saying, the Lagos state government has just announced a budgetary allocation of N844 billion for the building of the fourth Mainland Bridge, spanning 35 kilometres between Victoria Island and Epe, yet the Federal Government is giving less than N100 billion to the interventionist agencies to cater for nine oil producing states of the Niger Delta. It is worrisome to imagine that a paltry sum of N20billion only was allocated to PAP in 2016 budget where over 15,000 youths already captured in the programme are yet to be trained; unfortunately some Nigerians are calling for an immediate end to the programme.
Do you think Niger Delta is presently said to be heavily militarized as being claimed?
It is bad for one reason and good for another. It is bad in the sense that the more the military come, the more the resolve of the youth or some criminals, who feel challenged to do their worst as a test of their capacity and knowledge of the environment. It is also good in the sense that it affords Nigerians from other region the opportunity to begin to appreciate the plight and challenges of the Niger Delta region. A case in point was when I gave a ride to a serving JTF officer from Kebbi State, from Warri to Lagos some years ago. As we discussed along through our journey, he swore that what is happening in the Niger Delta can never be tolerated by either the Hausa or the Yoruba for one day.
According to him, before he was posted to the Niger Delta, he was always angry with the Niger Delta youth because of the ‘criminal activities.’ He confessed that his first and second trips to the creeks in Rivers and Bayelsa states afforded him the opportunity to feel and see the pathetic situation in the region. He concluded that the youth were not even showing enough anger. I was happy with him for being forthright. However, when he was alighting at Ojota in Lagos, he said to me, “Oga, as soldiers we have to do our job.” The essence of my story is to show that many, who may have been compelled to occupy the Niger Delta in the line of duty, will become willing ambassadors of the region someday just as the young military officer did in my story.
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