Niger Delta: Buhari Must Agree To Our 16 Rules.

Credit: Vanguard
On 1st November 2016, the Nigerian President met with Niger Delta leaders to discuss ways and means of taking wind out of the frequent militancy storms in the region and stabilise the region. Led by the chairman of Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council, Alfred Diette-Spiff, the Niger Delta Delegation to the Villa reeled out 16 demands on the federal government that remind me of the tyrannical discipline prefect in My Headmaster. The demands by the Niger Delta leaders who, on some demands, sound to me more like militants than leaders include the following:

Inclusive participation in the oil and gas industry:

Already the Niger Delta is very much at the center of participation in the oil and gas industry. Beginning with Nigerian Content requirement of the oil and gas industry, it is always Niger Delta people that are employed by international oil corporations pursuant to the legal requirement of Nigerian content. If truth must be told, Nigerian content in the oil and gas industry is Niger Delta Content. Ministry of Niger Delta, Niger Delta Development Commission, 13 percent derivation are operationally and beneficially testimonials of Niger Delta participation in the oil and gas industry.  The demand here borders on reprehensible acquisitiveness which is ruinous to the bearer of it. As the popular saying goes, he who is not contented with what he has is not likely to be contented with what he will like to have.
Ownership of oil blocs by natives of the region:

Like other privileged Nigerians, privileged Niger Deltans already own oil blocs. These demands only seek a lopsided increment for privileged indigenes of the region who if they are given the oil blocs, poor indigenes of the region would no more benefit from such oil blocs than poor Nigerians from other parts of the country. This being the case, the demand was made not  for the benefit of the teeming population of Niger Delta, but for a microscopic, infinitesimal minority who, by and large were part of the delegation that visited the Villa. This is Nigeria. A delegation supposedly sent by its people to make a case for the people abandoning the people to make a case for itself.

The problem of Niger Delta is not so much ownership of oil blocs by its indigenes as putting to good use oil resources already ceded to the area through the 13 percent derivation, the Ministry of Niger Delta and Niger Delta Development Commission. Grasping at everything sometimes leads to catching the wind. We should not bow to greed; greed should bow to us.

III.  An urgent review of the amnesty programme to reappraise its core mandate to provide robust exit strategy in order to transmit recipents into jobs:

The amnesty programme instituted by President Umaru Yar’Adua while serving the good purpose of rehabilitating militants had the downside of forcing the state to patronise bad guys to whom blackmail and murder are farcical games of survival. The amnesty programme is due to end sometimes in 2018 after running for over 10 years. Initially, the programme was intended to run for only five years, but has been extended several times to achieve the original objective of ending restiveness in the region and re-integrating erstwhile militants into society. However, after more than 10 years of the existence of the programme, calm is not in sight in the Niger Delta, instead the tail and horns of the dark one are up in the air. Rather than achieving tranquility in the region, violence seemed to be on an upward swing in the region recently and not too recently. Some 17,322 youths had been trained under the amnesty programme leaving 12,678 youths, some of whom are currently undergoing training. It is not clear whether review of the programme sought by the Niger Delta leaders is to further extend the programme or as they put it, to provide a robust exit strategy in order to transmit recipents into jobs. If the latter is the case, transmitting all amnested militants to jobs will be a tall order for the federal government under the current economic recession the country is going through. Even if the government can meet this demand, there is no assurance that guns, dynamites and bombs will go silent in the region in that event. If on the other hand, the demand is to continue the amnesty programme, there is no guarantee that doing so will abate militancy in the region. An important objective of instituting the amnesty programme was to stop or at least significantly reduce restiveness in the region. Alas this was not to be. This being the case, continuing the programme makes neither economic nor security sense. The government is caught in the cliffhanger of a catch 22: It would be damned whatever it does in the region. Being in the red whether it funds or does not fund its account in the region, provides it with little persuasion to fund it.
Effectively integrating amnested militants freeing them from stipends dependency:

This is likely to mean giving amnested militants jobs. Fine. Yet, militants may be freed from stipends dependency without them necessarily being freed from greed dependency. I have a feeling that militants used to getting big money from acts of sabotage, blackmail and brigandage, have become junkies to violence and therefore cannot easily be weaned from the drug by payment of wages.
Addressing pending law and justice issues regarding some aggrieved groups and individuals yet to be resolved:

This seems to be about relieving people of the region aggrieved either by the activities of government and oil corporations in the region or excusing the sins of some indigenes of the region that have violated law. The first leg of this statement is the legitimate entitlement of those so aggrieved, but the second leg is an indulgence the state can ill-afford; an indulgence that bears no recompense nor tolls happy tidings for government.
Reversal of the deployment of military personnel into Niger Delta which has led to rise of invasion of communities:

It is neither fair to innocent, hardworking Niger Deltans nor to other Nigerians to ask the government to reverse the deployment of military personnel to the Niger Delta region, without the region making some efforts to reverse violence by its militants. It is not only unfair to the rest of the country which suffers the consequences of violence in the region in reduction of oil production and consequential low earnings from oil export, but also unfair to innocent indigenes of the region for the federal government to withdraw the nation’s armed forces from the region leaving people and oil infrastructure at the mercy of bad guys that mercy is a stranger to.

VII.  Prompt take off of the maritime university at Okerenkoko:

This is all very well for the good of everyone and should be done if only resources are not denied the federal government by Niger Delta Avengers and scores of other militant groups. We cannot be pouring oil into the sea and stretching our hands to government to collect money the oil poured into the sea would have earned.

VIII.  Key regional infrastructure:

Already the president has launched a 10 billion dollars Fund for infrastructural development of the Niger Delta. The Fund would be contributed to by the federal government, the private sector and states of the Niger Delta region. It will be used to provide power and cross border infrastructure such as roads and railways among other facilities. Really this demand coming on the heels of the president launching the 10 billion dollars infrastructure Fund is ill-timed, smacks of poor courtesies and savours of bad faith.
Security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure:

While asking for military personnel to be withdrawn from the region, the Niger Delta delegation demanded for surveillance and the protection of oil and gas infrastructure. This is contradictory. The very forces that will provide surveillance and protection are being required to be withdrawn. Is it vigillante groups the federal government would employ to tackle with sticks and clubs fully armed militants? No doubt, if Niger Deltans are very serious with surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure in the region, they can be very effective doing so knowing the terrain the way they do and knowing the rampaging saboteurs of the infrastructures the way they do.

Relocation of administrative and operational headquarters of international oil companies:
From pollution point of view which I assume is the reason for this demand, I can’t see any significant positive effect relocation of the operational headquarters of international oil corporations will have on the fortunes of the Niger Delta. There are international oil corporations whose headquarters are in Lagos and not in the Niger Delta. There are no statistics showing these oil corporations have been less polluting of the environment than those with headquarters in the Niger Delta. International Oil Corporations in the Niger Delta are not portfolio investors that can just carry their portfolios and leave the region at the snap of the fingers of the federal government. On the contrry, they are foreign direct investors with heavy capital on ground. What is more, the federal government on admitting the capital of IOCs into the country, owe them under international law the duty of fair and equitable treatment and also the duty of full protection and security.
A power plan to tie power supply in the region to gas supplies:

This is all very well if the militants were not blowing up gas facilities in the region.

XII.        Economic development and empowerment:

This is also all very well if the militants had not reduced oil production from 2.2 million barrels a day to about 800,000 barrels a day. All very well if oil selling at 118 dollars per barrel during Jonathan’s government is still selling at that price and not 40 dollars per barrel that it is currently selling.

XIII.  Restructuring and funding of Niger Delta Development Commission:

I think istead of asking the federal government to restructure and fund the Niger Delta Development Commission, the delegation should have asked the government to investigate how the commission has being using funds it is receiving from the federal government. With an annual budget of 322 billion naira and with little to show in development of the Niger Delta, the issue should be more one of query of where the money of the commission is going, not restructuring and funding. If restructuring, it should be to hold administrators of the commission to responsible performance of their office. If the commission had being developing the Niger Delta according to its mandate and resources given to it, the Niger Delta would not be in its current parlous state and there would have been less restiveness in the region.

XIV.  Strenghtening of the Niger Delta Ministry:

As the case is with the commission, it is with the ministry. There is little to show for the ministry’s existence in terms of uplifting the standard of life of people of the region. If the statistics of poor people in the region before the ministry was created was taken and another statistics is taken today, I am sure there would be no remarkable difference between the two statistics. If this statistics cannot be easily taken, statistics of development in the region before and after the establishment of the ministry has been taken and this statistics shows there is not much difference.
A comprehensive resettlement plan including development for host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of turning them into stateless people:

As much as this demand is a fallout of international corporations’ poor oilfield practices that fall short of international best practices, it is also the consequences of militants’ sabotage of petroleum installations that has impacted negatively on the environment over the years. Niger Delta people owe it to themselves as they owe it to Nigeria to, where they can prevent acts of sabotage that takes a livable environment from them, do so. These days, there are very few places to flee to. It therefore behoves everyone to manage well his homestead or else die by it.

XIV.  Speeding up of Ogoniland cleanup:

Five years after the United Nations Environment Programme turned in its report on polluted communities in Ogoniland, the president on 2nd  June 2016, innaugurated the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the Cleanup of Ogoniland. These two bodies will oversee the operational part of cleaning the affected lands. The president has shown his good intentions by innaugurating the two bodies. All that may be expected of him is to ensure the two bodies discharge their responsibilities.

The delegation from the Niger Delta had made their demands in circumstances that call for entreaties and supplications from it. These demands for the most part are founded on wrongly assumed responsibilities of the federal government rather than on legitimacy of claims. Responsibility is always a two-way traffic. There is nowhere in the demands the delegates assume responsibility for the state of affairs in the Niger Delta. I think as much as the federal government owes the region responsibilities of helping to develop and stabilise the region, people of the region owe themselves and the federal government responsibilities to prevail on their people in authority to use judiciously, funds they receive from the federal government to deliver development to the region. They owe to themselves and the country a responsibility of prevailing on their youths to behave. There is usually no quarrel if both sides to a transaction perform their obligations. The point is, the Niger Delta should help the federal government to help the region.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Legal Matters, Research and Documentation
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About Chidobe Ibeji