Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Niger Delta Master Plan: Another View

Amidst usual banters and self-righteous pontifications, the President launched the most-awaited Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP) recently. The master plan, which was facilitated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in collaboration with local stakeholders and international development agencies, 
is geared towards achieving orderly and accelerated socio-economic transformation of the Niger Delta.
With an implementation timeframe of 15 years (2005-2020) in the first instance, the master plan is divided into five areas, like economic growth, under which wealth is expected to be generated in order to reduce poverty, support better living standards, diffuse social tension, and regenerate urban areas. Human and community needs will address the welfare of individuals; the natural environment aspect aims to conserve bio-diversity resources, remediate and restore environmentally impacted sites and degraded resources, and set standards for regulation and control.
At a cursory look, the above which according to its authors, is "unique and represents the veritable road map for concrete development of the region", appears to manage the magic of proffering a comprehensive and pragmatic solution to the Niger Delta conundrum. But for a region that comprises nine states (all under PDP control for 7½ years), 185 local government areas and over 13, 000 communities, and is at the same time home to the livewire of the nation's largely undiversified economy, the plan is not only ill-timed, it sure stinks of socio-economic masturbation and tokenism.
Let’s state the fact in unmistakable terms. Niger Delta today has become a perfect picture of stupefaction with neglect and violence as totemic icons of fluctuating existentialism. Blessed with one of the biggest oil reserves on the planet and with over 34 billion of black gold tucked under its voluptuous belly, the region still shamefacedly flaunts itself as the habitation of some of Africa’s poorest people and probably the region with the worst environmental destruction and degradation on earth.
It continues to attract quantum of attention in national and international discourse due to the fact that whilst other regions in Nigeria share the benefits of enhanced national revenue accrued from oil and gas, only the impoverished people of the Niger Delta bear the burden of hosting the black gold that sustains the nation and at same time lubricates the fantasies of her rulers.
Expectedly, the colossal indifference of successive Governments to redress these anomalies and promote national harmony, peace, justice and fairness in a pluralistic society like ours has created the present situation of disruptive restiveness in the region occasioned by an ever-increasing army of militant Youths with a rabid predilection for violence. This has been manifested through kidnapping of oil workers and expatriates, vandalising oil installations, general insecurity of lives and property, and many other vices.
The dictates of the above behove on any Government worth its salt to tackle these issues firmly, objectively and with all sincerity of purpose by putting first things first as well matching words with action, and not merely adulating in rhetoric and self-derided notion of progress. The act itself, of launching a master plan, rulebook or strategy whose birthday postdates the existence of an act of parliament that legislated its implementer into being smacks of putting the cart before the horse.
Moreover, the Niger Delta is today where it is, not because of the absence of well-articulated plans, strategies and governmental apparatus to serve as veritable engine rooms of growth but because of our seemingly hereditary inability to right historical wrongs, hold aloft the banner of truth and justice, promote equality and fairness to all men, place good of the State of over self, and internalise the mechanisms of ‘Social Contract’ as postulated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
For a region that wears the toga of poverty and violence like a crown, a master plan that is supposedly meant to raise the standard of living above the poverty line, and go beyond that to create favourable conditions for social stability, greater productivity and economic prosperity in the rural and urban Niger Delta cannot be said to be a "clearly defined and people-oriented, multi-stakeholder development strategy for the region" as the peoples’ views, hopes and legitimate aspirations as contained in their bill of rights, declarations, and charter of demands which the government continues to treat with utter contempt, were totally disregarded.
Furthermore, the master plan’s capacity to mitigate violence and stop the tide of hostage-taking in the region can only be situated in the fate that befell the much-lauded report of the Ogomodia Special Security Committee on Oil Producing Areas which is presently occupying a pride of place on the shelves of Government, gathering dust!
One wonders the propriety of launching a master plan in 2007 when Government has not commenced the full implementation of the recommendations of the Lt. Gen. Alexander Ogomudia-led Special Security Committee on Oil Producing Areas which submitted its report to the President on the 19th of February 2002.
Another intriguing thing about this master plan is its distended shyness of the key recommendations of the panel which are: upward review of the minimum 13% derivation to not less than 50%; Training of Niger Delta indigenes for employment in oil companies; Provision of infrastructures such as electricity, water, roads, e.t.c, Repeal of the Land Use Act, Petroleum Act, Gas Re-injection Act and other laws which dispossesses oil producing areas of their land; and the full industrialisation of the Niger Delta region?
Posers on Government’s intrinsic incapacitation to translate into tangible reality, the recommendations of the James Ibori Presidential Standing Committee on the Niger Delta; the NNPC-Niger Delta Youths Standing Committee, the Major Gen. Mohammed Presidential Committee on Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta; and The Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy (PASS) will further give us a prophetic insight into the expected destination of this master plan: the recycle bin.
It might even suffer a shoddier fate with the coming of the next Government (even if it’s a PDP-controlled one), which may not be under any moral suasion to implement the twilight plan of an administration that had 8 years to cure a national malady.
Hopes that a shared understanding of the plan would go a long way to secure and sustain public faith and participation throughout the plan implementation period as well as help the stakeholders, especially oil companies and international organisations make informed contributions that will enrich the plan can be said to be a hopeless hope as long as the people are shut out from relevance.
Relevance in this case pertains to recognising and accommodating all local interest groups and communal assemblies in any plan that aspires to add meaning to their existence. And at the moment, there is no overstating the unassailable fact that the prolonged mindless incarceration of Asari Dokubo for treasonable felony (which the master plan obviously evaded) constitutes a daring assault on the collective integrity of every Niger Deltan as well as an abhorrent normalisation of selective justice against a people so oppressed. The aggregate opinions in the region points to a speedy and expeditious trial/release for the NDPVF leader as precursor to any further intervention in the Niger Delta.
Also, glorifying and recognising oil companies and organisations as drivers of effective delivery of the master plan negates outrightly, the antecedents and contributions of these bodies in the degradation of the region as well in other parts of the world where there is always an intricate nexus between civil wars and natural resource ownership.
It is a well known fact internationally that wherever there are resources to be plundered we find foreign companies ready to cooperate; often there is the World Bank, Shell, Chevron, Texaco or ExxonMobile to put a smiley face on these atrocities, claiming things would be worse if they did not supervise the corruption and pay a blind eye to the despoliation of the environment.
Similarly, expecting State governments that stashed away monies and other resources accruable to Niger Delta States way in hidden bank vaults and used same to service personal fantasies and phoney presidential ambitions to now “come in through ecological funds and professional funds management in order to ensure improved revenue generation, encourage public-private sector partnership, and special projects” can as well be likened to praying wishes to be horses for beggars to ride. Leopards are not yet known to be chameleonic, at least not in the Niger Delta.
This is hoping that the authors of this plan will look into the aforementioned drawbacks with a view to correcting same as a Niger Delta where peace, prosperity and progress walk on all fours is the wish of every true Nigerian!
Atâyi Babs©

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