By Dayo Ibitoye
Niger Delta, the region that produces the lifeline of Nigeria’s economy – oil, is home to about 31 million people in nine states. Oil was discovered in the region in Oloibiri, which is in present day Bayelsa State, in 1956. However, ever since oil was discovered in the region, there has been a roller coaster of security and development issues.
The Federal Government, in her bid to resolve the insecurity issues bedevilling the region, took significant steps to engage the Delta’s disaffected communities. In 2009, it introduced the amnesty programme, a disarmament programme which granted an unconditional pardon to all persons who have directly or indirectly participated in militant activities in the Niger Delta. The Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee upheld the fact that militant’s disarmament was only a first step towards bringing development to the Niger Delta since there cannot be development without peace.
Another significant issue the Federal Government had to deal with was crude oil theft, which became widespread as a result of pipeline vandalism and related criminal vices in the country’s oil sector. Efforts by the Federal Government to curtail the illegal diversion of oil in the Niger Delta through increased security spending in recent years as well as the hire of private security firms and equipping officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) did not lead to any measurable gain.
Under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, there have been significant strides to improve the fortunes of the region. One of these steps was engagements with key stakeholders in the region. In November 2016, President Buhari engaged the Pan Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF), which provides a concerted regional voice with the capacity to articulate and advance regional concerns and interest as well as engage with the Federal Government. In its first meeting with the Federal Government, PANDEF submitted a 16-point demand, which was subsequently captured in the Federal Government’s 20-point agenda for the development of the Niger Delta region.
The Buhari administration also explored further consultations with stakeholders in the region. On behalf of the President, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, was delegated to lead the consultations and undertake a tour of the oil producing communities in January 2017. The government issued a call for a roadmap to end militancy and promote concerted development in the region by outlining its 20-point agenda, which represents broad sets of objectives and clearly defined statements of intents for the region covering oil and gas investment, infrastructure development, agriculture and youth employment, as well as security stabilization measures in the region. These interventions by the Government has been tagged the Niger Delta New Vision. The Niger Delta New Vision is designed to develop a new and prosperous Niger Delta through the forthright partnerships between the Federal Government, State Governments, Private Sector and Local Communities.
To enable the effective implementation of the New Vision for the Niger Delta, the Federal Government constituted an Inter-Ministerial Working Group (IMWG), which is chaired by the Vice President, with membership drawn from the critical agencies of government involved with Niger Delta. These include the Ministries of Niger Delta, Environment, Petroleum Resources, Works and Housing, NDDC and Presidential Amnesty Programme. The IMWG meets quarterly to review development in the region and prescribe strategic responses. The Vice President mandated the Inter-Ministerial Technical Working Group, which is a subset of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group to develop a development compact called the Strategic Implementation Work Plan which incorporates the PANDEF’s 16-point agenda and the 20-point agenda of the government, along with the various initiatives planned by the Ministries and agencies as well as the oil and gas operators in the region.
The Federal Government has since made significant success in the implementation of the Niger Delta New Vision. Some of the projects in the SIWP that has received significant attention include the take-off of Maritime University in Delta State, commencement of Ogoni Clean-up, approval for the establishment of Modular Refineries, the continued implementation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and infrastructural investments like the Bonny-Bodo Road and Ibaka Deep Sea Port.
However, despite the commitments and attendant responsiveness from the Federal Government, a lot of advocacy is still needed to enable the speedy adoption and implementation of the SIWP. So far, the Federal Government has demonstrated its political will to ensure that the SIWP is fully implemented. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play a significant role in the success of the implementation of the SIWP and by extension the success of the Niger Delta New Vision. CSOs, as we all know, is a vehicle through which citizens can aggregate their interests, voice their preference and exercise the power necessary to effect sustained change. One major foreseeable hindrance to the implementation of the SIWP is the low political and budgetary commitments to the implementation of the SIWP by the Government. CSO advocacy will be vital to driving more Government commitment to hasten this process. This will require CSOs to play a variety of complementary role that includes stepping down the message of the SIWP to citizens and local community representatives in the Niger Delta. The Federal Government has also made several promises to work alongside the CSOs to actualize this laudable initiative.
In the words of Jan Eliasson, a former UN Deputy Secretary-General, “There is no peace without development, and there is no development without peace’’. The SIWP, if effectively adopted and implemented, will help to ameliorate development in the Niger Delta, and improve the living conditions of the people through economic and infrastructural development. Maintaining the peace and stability in the region is needed to ensure this is a possibility.