Osinbajo and the Niger Delta
The Vice President agreed that the region had been neglected for too long, and lamented that all previous initiatives to provide development in the oil-producing region have failed. But he promised a new dawn, which he predicated on a new understanding by all that the Niger Delta has a unique environmental terrain, which predisposes it to developmental challenges. Then, he said all must agree, too, that it is a special place and special economic zone; and that it must be treated specially.
Previous discourses and literatures on the Niger Delta have laid it clear, just as the VP noted that the region needed special attention. For instance, even before Nigeria attained independence in 1960, the Willinks Commission had reported that the Niger Delta had a peculiar terrain, with peculiar developmental needs.
But like he said, all previous efforts have failed and this is the time to begin on a new slate. Hear him: “Many of the initiatives to change the story have not been able to make those changes. From the Niger Delta Development Board in the 1960s to OMPADEC to the NDDC and the amnesty programme, many of these projects have not been able to meet the objectives they were set up to achieve. My message to you today is that it is time to prepare for the future.”
And the Vice President promised that the future is already here. He is optimistic that rapid infrastructural development will commence in earnest, believing that the national legislature will do its part to ensure that pending bills, including the long overdue petroleum industry bill, will enjoy accelerated processing. The VP sounds very real and many will have no reason not to key into his optimism.
There are those, however, who still nurse reservations regarding the sincerity of the Federal Government to attend clinically to issues of the Niger Delta with the seriousness and timeliness it deserves. They think the Vice President is simply doing his job, which includes running errands for his principal, President Buhari, who is yet to demonstrate a convincing commitment to Niger Delta issues.
According to people in this camp, it is political will that is needed to move Niger Delta matters away from the realm of rhetoric, where they have been warehoused for decades. The Nigeria Project is dominated and controlled by members of the political class, which has been hijacked by the major ethnic tribes. They are the ones who can determine when to treat Nigeria with the seriousness the country yearns for. They seem not ready yet because it pays them to feast on the Niger Delta and drain it of the oil and gas deposit that is in abundance in that region. When the region is sucked and dried out, then, perhaps, there will be a political will to re-examine the status of Nigeria.
Elder E.K Clark expressed doubts concerning the visit of the Vice President, even though he was in attendance. He said the visit does not replace the dialogue with the Federal Government, for which leaders of the region have clamoured. The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), a meeting of leaders of the zone, had presented a list of 16 items, which it wants government to commit to, as a basis for sustainable peace in the region. The PANDEF intervention came on board in 2016, when activities of militants grounded oil production by nearly half of government’s projected figures for the year. That had a crippling effect on budget 2016, over which government had pegged oil production at over two million barrels per day. As stated by the Vice President last Monday, between January and June 2016, there were over 1, 447 incidents of vandalisation of oil infrastructure. That brought oil earnings down to less than expected and was responsible for the failure of the budget. It was thus apt for the VP to commence early in the year to seek peace, so that budget 2017 will not suffer the same fate as that of 2016.
PANDEF and other stakeholders do not feel comfortable that a government that is reluctant to summon a comprehensive dialogue to continue from where it stopped last year after it was presented a wish list, now seeks a backdoor through Osinbajo’s visit. They are also not comfortable that Buhari himself does not show up anywhere near the Niger Delta, but would lead a delegation to seek peace in The Gambia.
The other time Buhari was to flag off the Ogoni Cleanup Project in June 2016, he backed off a few hours to the exercise, only to delegate the historic task to his vice. Osinbajo rose to the task, as he convincingly rallied the crowd in a solemn pledge for a new future for the Ogonis. But that future is yet to materialise as we speak. It took government six months to attend to bureaucratic matters before it could set a template for the cleanup. So far, a Project Manager has been appointed for the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), which is the body that will manage the cleanup. Nothing else has been done. Investigations have shown that this government has no dime in place to kick-start the cleanup, while oil companies are ready to put money down, but are not comfortable dropping money for HYPREP, knowing that our Federal Government has the sickening penchant not to honour counterpart responsibilities. That is the stage we are on the Ogoni Cleanup, and that has serious backlash on the VP’s mission to the Niger Delta. Some skeptics even say that that flag off of Ogoni cleanup was a political gimmick to buy sympathy for the ruling party countdown to the senatorial re-run election, which was slated for around that period last year. But the re-run was again shifted.
Therefore, this is the time for the Federal Government to show sincerity and commence the dialogue for peace and development in the Niger Delta and the entire country. Budget 2017 is largely dependent on oil earnings, because virtually every other economic activity from which government plans to earn revenue is tied to the health of the oil and gas industry. If there is no peace in the Niger Delta to provide enabling environment for oil production, government could as well go back and draw another budget excluding oil.
There comes a time when serious human beings put an end to playing politics with issues of survival. Nigeria is tottering and the times do not call for evasiveness and avoiding the issues. Why is Buhari refusing to confront headlong the problems of the Niger Delta? Why is he sending emissaries and avoiding PANDEF? Now, the gist in town is that government wants to use the Osinbajo expedition to buy time. They say government is already looking towards 2019 and using specific projects to appease geo-political zones.
This approach did not work for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which repeatedly awarded fictitious contracts for the 2nd Niger Bridge, even when there was no dime in the purse. Before 2019, Ogoni people must see that the cleanup of its environment has gone far. Before 2019, the dialogue to restore hope and peace in the Niger Delta must yield concrete result, not appeasements of groups and individuals.
In October last year, government launched a new oil and gas Road Map, at which the sum of $10b Infrastructure Fund for Niger Delta was proposed. We are yet to see serious activities in that regard. Government seems to be saying too many things at a time, without any serious action.
The Vice President is a trusted professional and man of God. He must not be unequally yoked with politicians, who promise and fail. Nigerians are waiting!