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By Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe
May 12, 2008

It is sad to note that the governors of the states that constitute the Niger Delta have failed the entire citizens of that region. With Billions of Naira from oil derivation, it appears that about 85% of the region's funds find its way to private pockets and glorified politicians.

Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa States, for example, receives sizeable billions of naira on a monthly basis. The number of roads constructed and the level of development since 1999 cannot be quantified with the huge sums of monies received from the Federal Government plus internally generated revenue (IGR).

The flamboyant lifestyle of our Governors in the Niger Delta as well as State Commissioners, political aids and government officials is a pointer to the fact that the public treasury has been dealt a big blow.

The most painful aspect of the reckless financial evil of our government officials is that they do not consider the fact that they are also citizens of the state they are elected to govern. They fill their pockets and that of close associates and simply smile abroad to invest in real estate, aviation, land and rail transportation, etc.

Evil greed has accounted for the poor infrastructure in most parts of the country, particularly in the Niger Delta. Politics in this part of the world is viewed as a commercial venture where people invest little for a huge return. The focus is on "making money" rather than bringing about development in the country.

The Socio-economic and political crisis in the Niger Delta is a serious indication of the many years of neglect by both federal and state governments in planning and execution of developmental projects that should reflect the value of monies raked by government from crude oil exploration in the region.

It is a truism that the federal and state governments in the region are presently faced with the Herculean task of solving the activities of militias in the region. It is also true that their efforts are yielding little or no results. Why? Reason is that, the youths and stake holders in this region have fully realised that the huge wealth from the region goes into the pockets of top government officials and their associates to the detriment of the owners of the resources. Therefore, what appears to be the only remedy now is for the government to negotiate a new sharing formula that would accelerate the development and economic empowerment of the Niger Delta.

Our brothers up North, who in the past, felt that the Niger Delta people will be foolish forever may have to dusk their thinking cap and face reality. The government, too, should know it that the time to face reality is now. The militias in the Niger Delta appears to be resolute in their demand for equity and justice. Of course, they reserve the right to negotiate for a fair deal in connection with proceeds from the natural resources in their domain.

In conflict resolution, fairness, equity and justice must be seen to have been deeply explored. This is not the case yet in the Niger Delta. The region is fast gaining global pity. Any sane person who has been to the Niger Delta region will admit that past leaders of this country have been cruel to a people whose wealth constitute 90% of the nation's wealth. Thank God, members of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta confessed that the region is in shambles in terms of development.

Right now, what the militias and the people of the Niger Delta are saying is that they are tired of fake and unfulfilled promises. They want practical solutions. A blue print of economic empowerment and development strategies and a separate ministry for the Niger Delta like the federal capital territory ministry should be created, to be heavily funded.

About 95 per cent of the school children in some part of the Ijaw nation sit on the bare floor to write during school hours. From a short distance, they see Chevron Oil beautiful mansion accommodating all personnel. The expatriates and their Nigerian staff are enjoying in full capacity to the direct view of these extremely poor and frustrated citizens who ought to be millionaires by virtue of the natural resources in their domains. What a pity. In fact, it is provoking. It is grossly inhuman and spiritually a disregard for God, who had blessed the Niger Delta people with abundant wealth and resources. Should this continue? No, God forbid.

Painful enough, too, is the oil spillage which the multi-national oil companies handled and treated with absolute disdain. They throw some peanuts to community leaders to suppress the huge compensations they ought to pay to the communities, local government authorities and state governments. They have been doing that for decades. No oil company in the United States will be irresponsible enough to pollute water and destroy farm land to the detriment of US citizens living within the locality. Never. It won't happen anywhere in UK or Europe, only in Africa and Nigeria in particular. Why? That's why the people of the region are saying that "enough is enough".

Therefore, to end the conflict and militia activities in the Niger Delta, both government and the multi-national oil companies must wake up from their deep slumber and face reality. No tricks, no games, no fixing of community leaders, no cosmetic development plan. A 50 year developmental plan must be worked-out backed by annual funding provided for in the nation's budget. The Niger Delta development master plan funding should take about 25% of the federal government annual budget, and reduce Ministry of Defence budget and apply the reduction towards the development of the Niger Delta. There is nothing to defend in Nigeria without the Oil.

The Ijaw Communities are worst affected and therefore should be tagged "PRIORITY ZONE", in the masterplan and in the federal and state budgets. All institutions of learning in the region should be well equipped. Classrooms should be built to modern standard, provide clean drinking water, site industries that would generate employment for the youths in the region, allocate 35% employment to qualified youths of the region in oil companies and government establishment such as NNPC, Nigerian Liquefied Gas Company, Eleme Petro Chemical, etc.

The multi-national companies should immediately work out huge payments as compensation for oil spillages to be applied towards provision of infrastructure and basic amenities for the people in the region. Chevron, Shell, etc should face reality in terms of huge compensation. They have raked trillions of dollars in the past decades from the region and should be reasonable enough to invest heavily for the development of the Niger Delta. The oil companies should forget the idea of using military protection for their operations. It worked before but it is never again going to work. What will work is huge compensation for spillages, join hands with the communities to engage in substantial development and also team up with state and federal governments to ensure that life is "good" to the people of the region. Anything less than quality life will amount to persistent conflict and restiveness.

Truth is bitter but I urge the government and major stakeholders to swallow this bitter truth for the sake of peace, justice and equity particularly in the case of the Niger Delta.

Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe
Executive Director

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