Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Niger Delta Avengers and the Long-term implications of Short-term Solutions

The Niger Delta region is a region whose squalor is a fallout from its splendour and whose poverty is a product of its wealth
In the last couple of months, there has been a resumption of hostilities by certain militants under the aegis of ‘Niger Delta Avengers’, these men of the creeks are no mere rabble rousers as their activities are having significant economic effects across the length and breadth of the nation. The attacks by the Niger Delta Avengers have been equally audacious. Promising to bring down the Nigerian Economy to ground zero, their threats cannot be merely overlooked as they have significantly reduced Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. The recent spate of attacks on oil installations is expansionary as it is astonishing, as we have seen pipelines being blown up in the South Western region, an activity hitherto restricted to the South South. The Niger Delta Avengers have worsened the challenges currently facing the Nigerian economy which is actually in recession as figures from the National Bureau of Statistics showed a contraction of Nigeria’s GDP by 0.36% for the first quarter of 2016. Power supply has declined drastically while the ‘removal of fuel subsidy’ has seen the price of petrol rice to N145 per litre even as states are unable to keep up with the payment of salaries in an environment where the prices of goods and services continue to rise. The current economic woes of the nation are caused by the global fall in the price of crude oil, and the Niger Delta Avengers have added insult to injury by reducing Nigeria’s crude oil exports, this is double tragedy. These Niger Delta Avengers are literally holding the Nigerian Nation by the jugular as oil is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.
Understanding the significance of the liquid black gold in ensuring the implementation of the ‘Change Agenda’, President Muhammadu Buhari has jettisoned his characteristic ‘high handedness’ and shown a willingness to dialogue with the boys and work out a deal that would ensure the cessation of hostilities and bring an end to the economic sabotage meted out by the Niger Delta Avengers. Gauging the President’s disposition to dialogue, other groups have crawled out of the woodwork to seek an inclusion in whatever deal the Presidency wishes to strike with the Niger Delta Avengers, this has presented more challenges and retarded efforts towards bringing about a solution.
However, though the Niger Delta Avengers is a ‘new group’, the current challenge posed by their activities have occurred severally in the past and because all past administrations have simply papered over the cracks caused by the exploration of oil in the Niger Delta region, the Nigerian nation is doomed to witness this de ja vu once in a while in the course of our national journey and accept militancy as a recurring decimal in our corporate existence.
Oil was discovered in January 1956 at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State by Shell, oil production started at Oloibiri in early 1958 with 3000 barrels per day. After the construction of oil pipelines from Oloibiri to Port Harcourt the first shipment of Nigerian crude oil exports of 8500 tons arrived at Rotterdam on March 8, 1958. This marked the entry of Nigeria into the ‘coveted’ oil club and the potential transformation of our agrarian economy into a petro-dollar driven economy. Simply put, Nigeria contracted the ‘Oil Curse’.
After the discovery of oil, the waters of the region, the Niger Delta region, were polluted, the farmlands were destroyed, the air fouled and the people impoverished. At the Newswatch Colloquium on Niger Delta held in 2007, Ray Ekpu rightly described the Niger Delta region as a region ‘whose squalor is a fallout from its splendor and whose poverty is a product of its wealth’. No noticeable improvement took place in the region and the region commenced a regime of agitation led by Isaac Adaka Boro in the 60s (1966), followed by the playwright Ken Saro Wiwa in the 90s and the likes of Asari Dokubo, Government Tompolo, and Tom Ateke in the 2000s before late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Amnesty program. Since the establishment of the Presidential Amnesty Program, coupled with the Niger Delta Development Commission and the presence of a Ministry of Niger Delta affairs, the nation witnessed a reprieve until the recent onslaught by the Niger Delta Avengers.
Aside the fact that the exploration of oil degraded the lives and environment of the Niger Delta people, they do not feel a sense of ownership of the oil in their backyards despite being the goose that laid the golden eggs from which the rest of the nation is fed. It is worthy of note that prior to the commencement of military regimes, oil producing states held a derivation of 50%, this drastically reduced to 20% (minus offshore proceeds) in 1975-79, then to 0% in 1979 -1981, 1.5% in 1982-1992, 3% in 1992-1999 and the 13% (minimum) under the 1999 Constitution.
To douse the growing discontent from the region, successive administrations had sought to implement policies that would appease the people. These policies ranged from the setting up of dedicated organisations to revisions of the derivation formula. The first of these organisations was the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) which was established in 1961, the NDDB did not make any meaningful achievements and as pointed out by the UNDP, ‘bothered itself with some scanty surveys and researches’. The Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) replaced the NDDB in 1972 but was equally unsuccessful in tackling the challenges facing the Niger Delta region. The Federal Government under General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd) raised the derivation from1.5% to 3% and set up the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992, the agency failed in its historic mission due to poor management, corruption, inadequate funding, lack of manpower, and meddlesomeness by government and its officials. In 2000, former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo submitted to the National Assembly a Bill for an Act to provide for the repeal of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission Decree 23 of 1992. Among other things, the President’s goal was to establish a new commission with a reorganized management and administrative structure for more effective use of the special funds it will receive from the federation account to tackle ecological and other related problems arising from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger Delta areas. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act was subsequently passed into law in 2000 that established the Commission. The NDDC is still with us and plagued with allegations of massive corruption and incomplete projects.
At the heart of the Niger Delta Oil crisis is the question of resource control with voices in the region calling for total ownership of the region’s resource or at least a restoration to the status quo ante (50% derivation). This sentiment can be seen in the Kaiama Declaration and the Ogoni Bill of Rights. With Nigeria’s return to democracy, South Southern governors continued the resource control struggle and were involved in legal skirmishes with the Federal Government. At the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) convened by then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005, the governors of the region campaigned for more concessions to their states. The recommendations of the commission reflected their position, according to the commission: i) “an expert commission should be appointed by the Federal Government to study all the ramifications of the industry including revenue allocation with a view to reporting within a period of not more than six months, how the mineral resources concerned can best be controlled and managed to the benefit of the people of both the states where the resources are located and of the country as a whole”. ii) “A clear affirmation of the inherent right of the people of the oil producing areas of the country not to remain mere spectators but to be actively involved in the management and control of the resources in their place by having assured places in the Federal Government mechanisms for the management of the oil and gas exploration and marketing. iii) an increase in the level of derivation from the present 13% to 17%, in the interim pending the report of the expert commission. Delegates from the South-South and other oil producing states insisted on 50% as the irreducible minimum. Having regard to national unity, peace and stability, they agreed to accept, in the interim, 25% derivation with a gradual increase to attain the 50% over a period of five years. However, even these modest recommendations were not acted upon by the Federal Government and this led to a resumption of armed militancy in the region.
To address the Niger Delta oil crisis, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua set up the Niger Delta Technical Committee (NDTC) in September 2008 to: a) collate, review and distill the various reports, suggestions and recommendations on the Niger Delta from the Willinks Commission Report (1958) to the present and give a summary of recommendations necessary for government action; b) appraise the summary recommendations and present a detailed short, medium and long term suggestions to the challenges in the Niger Delta; and c) make and present to government any other recommendations that will help the Federal Government achieve sustainable development, peace, human development and environmental security in the Niger Delta region. The NDTC turned in its report to the Federal Government in December 2008, the report contained reasonable recommendations that could provide a solution to the crisis in the region. The report noted that: “the very first action by the government towards implementing these recommendations is even more important than any other subsequent intervention…Consequently, the recommendations are set out as two inter-related parts; the first part being those actions that set the right tone for the implementation of all subsisting and further actions. The tone setting agenda appears …in the form of a Compact with the Niger Delta… The short-term Compact will deliver on a visible, measurable outputs which produce material gains within an 18 months period…guided by a principle in which the Federal Government…. report publicly on progress in implementation every three months”. Among other things the Compact aims to deliver the following within an 18-month period: a) Immediately increase allocation accruing from oil and gas revenues to the Niger Delta to 25% (i.e. additional 12%)…b) Within 6 months, complete initial steps that will support a disarming process for youth involved in militancy. This process would have to begin with some confidence building measures on all sides. These measures include cease fire on both sides, pull back of forces, open trail of Henry Okah [currently doing time in South Africa in relation to the 2010 Independence day bombings]. Also credible conditions for amnesty, setting up a Decommissioning, Disarmament and Rehabilitation (DDR) Commission and a negotiated undertaking by militant groups to stop all kidnappings, hostage taking and attacks on oil installations; c) Establish by the middle of 2009, a direct Youth Employment Scheme (YES) in conjunction with states and local governments that will employ at least 2,000 youths in community works in each local government of the 9 states of the Niger Delta; and d) Complete the East-West road dualization from Calabar to Lagos by June 2010… It would be remembered that the Yar’Adua administration went ahead to establish a Ministry of Niger Delta and a Panel on Amnesty but did not implement the full report of the NDTC.
As Goodluck Ebele Jonathan became President after the death of his principal Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the region was happy that with one of them becoming President, the end of their plight was in sight but as events turned out, not much was done. Then came 2015 with the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the polls. The president’s political incorrectness and his unfiltered statements coupled with his body language and no attempt to continue the culture of appeasement that bought previous administrations time to serve out their tenures with guaranteed returns from oil sales led to a return to the creeks by some militants and the resumption of economic sabotage, this time more daring.
As has been shown, previous administrations only sought ‘temporary ceasefires’ in their engagements with the Niger Delta region, this can be seen from their refusal to implement different report recommendations and resort to quick fixes. As the current administration prepares to engage the region once more, it must beware of these time buying short-term solutions employed by previous administrations and their effects on the nation, the administration must genuinely implement policies that would make the people of the region willing partners in the exploration of oil and the development of the nation. If this administration is truly committed to the development and prosperity of the nation, it must seek out a lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis and not one that would die with the expiration of the current administration.
Written By Innocent Okoro

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