THE ROLE OF THE SENATE IN RESOLVING THE NIGER DELTA CRISIS
BY NWOKEDI NWORISARA
The Niger Delta Region is of strategic interest to the world and Nigeria in particular. For the past 10 years it has dominated discuss in international circles second only to the Middle East. The reasons are not far fetched. Nigeria is the 6th largest oil producing country in the world and one of the major suppliers to the United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation. Niger Delta is the hub of Nigeria’s oil production, accounting for as much as 90% of the total production quota sanctioned by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Thus any disruption of production has a telling effect on world prices, a destabilizing effect on the world economy.
Despite her strategic role in world economy, the Niger Delta remains in the midst of a paradoxical squalor. Here is so much money existing side by side with so much poverty in the land. Nigeria remains the only Oil Producing Country where a vast majority of the populace live below the poverty line-less than $1 dollar a day per capita income. In the Niger Delta, the poverty index is even higher.
Basic infrastructure including pure drinking water is lacking here. In the most remote crannies even government presence cannot be guaranteed. Efforts have been made by succeeding administrations to address the poverty question in the Region. Starting from the famous Minority Commission of the pre independence era which recommended that the minorities of the Niger Delta should received a special attention in development, to the civil war era that led to the creation of the old Rivers State amongst other states such as Bendel, Cross River and the East Central State.
The strategy adopted by government was in agreement with the Minority Commission report – to take government nearer the minority riverine areas in order to focus more on appropriate measures to solve their problem. Unfortunately this approach have not changed significantly over the year in terms of result because the more government got nearer the people, the more poverty it seemed to produce. Along the live we have had the OMPADEC, the Niger Delta Basin Development Authorities, and now the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The new innovation is the development of a comprehensive master plan for the development of the Region. And entirely different and opposing approach.
In order words, two strategies are being merged into one. The first one was trying to take government to the grassroots by creating more and more states and local governments with the passage of time. For instance, the States did not fully cooperate with the commission until the advent of the presence administration.
There are still many gray areas to fine tune in the stakeholder participation framework, which I believe the senate, should be bold to focus upon in this dispensation.
It is my submission that time has come for the states to pay up their contributions to the Niger Delta master plan implementation programme but also I am aware that we have to fine tune the document, as the President has suggested. The States presently appear to stand almost in opposition to collective planning approach adopted by the NDDC in its master plan.
Ladies and Gentlemen here lives the paradox of development approaches, which has conspired to make government efforts fruitless over the years. It is no longer a secret that NDDC efforts are often at cross-purpose with those of state and local governments within the zone. The NDDC master plan has been criticized as lacking in stakeholder input. At least, the Niger Delta State Governors has recently suggested amendment of aspects of the enabling act of the commission to make it amenable for states to not only monitor its activities but to have a greater sense of belonging and partnership.
I am confident that the oversight function of the senate would serve as a necessary bridge to bring the two ideologically different approaches to some kind of synergy that is needed to drive the development process in a more sustainable manner.
I would urge the senate committee on the Niger Delta Region to brace up it selves for a strategic, role in the implementation of the Niger Delta master plan which I see as the key to peace in the Region.