The ascension of the son of the Niger-Delta, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the Presidency in Nigeria following the death of his then principal, President Umaru Musa YarAdua was greeted by many as an excellent opportunity to drive a lot of the much envisaged development projects in the region. The same factor was also very visibly canvassed in 2011 when Jonathan sought a popular national mandate to continue in office at the close of the official Yar’Adua tenure.
Sadly however, five years into his being on the saddle, many of the core aspirations of the people of the region in line with international standards elsewhere, where Oil and Gas exploration activities take place, are yet to be realized. The much-hyped East-West Road is one. It is yet to be concluded. Former Niger Delta Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe promised to complete the project during his tenure. That was not to be. Dr Steve Oru, the incumbent Minister of Niger Delta, on assumption of office, pledged to ensure that the East-West Road is completed on or before December this year. But sadly enough, these have become mere cosmetic talks and rhetorics. Additionally, Hopes for reform in the educational arena to ensure that young people get a more meaningful educational bouquet have also not been met. And with that also has been the continued inability of Niger-Delta school leavers and graduates to find and access jobs outside of the political industry.
Beyond these, and perhaps even more fundamental however is the very galling fact that the administration has been unable to deal with the graver issues of the despoliation of the Niger Delta ecology by oil firms that constantly pollute the ecosystem through spills that endanger the flora, fauna and the citizens. Many have continued to raise the poser: Can what is happening in the Niger Delta actually happen in other lands where oil and gas activities hold sway? For example, in the United States, BP faces a $2.4bn(which it has agreed to pay) penalty for violating the Country’s Clean Water Act. The action by BP which occurred in 2010 at its exploratory drilling at Deep Water Horizon rig had killed about 11 persons. The Judiciary which handed a tough penalty attributed the explosion to negligence on the part of BP(67% responsible), while Transocean, the Rig Owners and Halliburton ,which carried out Cement Sealing, shared 30% and 3% blames respectively. Paradoxically, SINCE August 2011, when the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) released its Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, to the Federal Government, no visible and evident action has been implemented by the Jonathan Administration as it relates to the recommendations of UNEP. It is instructive to note that UNEP had called for a comprehensive clean up of Ogoniland, restoration of polluted environments and a stop to all forms of oil and Gas despoliation in the Region. A staggering sum of $1bn was estimated as cost for entire exercise. Three years down the line, where are we?
In the midst of these though, there have been what some palatable actions which some describe as tokenist improvements. For example, Several Niger-Delta indigenes hold positions in the Federal Government in Abuja in addition to some others benefiting from government contracts of one sort or the other. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ministry of Niger Delta and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, are being driven by sons and daughters of the Niger Delta. But the deeper reality is that the region does not boast of much to point to as the benefits accruing from their son being in power. What are they really doing? They either shape up or be sacked.
The New Diplomat calls on the Federal Government to puts its act together as the people of the Niger Delta deserve a better deal ,in line with international practices, than they are presently getting. Now is the time for accelerated reform across board and the development of both the human and infrastructural capital of the region. A stitch in time saves nine.