by Henry Ekwuruke
Published on: Apr 20, 2007
Type: Opinions

The Niger Delta region is no doubt the primary treasure base of the Nigeria state proudly and geographically endowed with both human and natural resources. The inability of these human and natural resources to understand each other well bring about conflict and unrest in the area in the recent times. The area being the treasure base has in abundance alluring vegetation, great waters, lands and most importantly oil and abundant gas in both offshore and onshore base.

The state of the region which is at the moment a “village” of sporadic outbreaks of violence and hostage taking of foreign petroleum and oil workers, environmental degradation, high youth unemployment, and no-availability of sources of livelihood, in fact “under- Nigerian” developed, amongst others.

However, the youth of Niger Delta has been pivotal to these situation as the new democracy in Nigeria has provided a voice for the youth to say what they think about their lives and well-being as against the unspeakable military regimes of later years. Now more young people from the region are speaking out against the injustices they perceived to have been melted to them ever since the discovery of oil in the region and since Nigeria’s independence from colonial reigns from Britain.

Recognizing the know fact that the same region is the economic life-line of Nigeria, if not for any other time but at the moment since it possesses huge oil and gas reserves, and since petroleum products is the dominant foreign exchange earner of the country, there are series of implications arising from not only the exploration of the oil, but the distributing of the wealth generated from the oil.

The degradation created by the exploration of oil in this region has left much to be desired as to the International Environmental Laws and standards which are reluctantly breached by the Operators of these Oil companies whereby leaving several host communities in the region impoverished and at risk as their rivers, water bodies, agricultural lands and people become heavily polluted.

“Many of the operating Oil corporations here are “never mind” operators, with environmental friendly safety guides and standards written on paper but never implemented for their selfish interests and gains” said Chinedu Okoro an indigene of Port Harcourt South Local Government. He further stressed, “They are corrupt!”

Many reporters having covered the region, even some, international media correspondents confirm that although the Niger Delta region currently produces the wealth of the Nigerian state, there is very little evidence in the area to show that it is receiving a fair deal from the government and the oil corporations even with such interventions as NDDC (the Niger Delta Development Commission)

Past inequalities are always difficult to address without making mistakes when the right stakeholders are left behind. Programmes that fail to involve the youth in the past failed, and would fail again, unless the youth are incorporated in the mainstream, and the Niger Delta crisis must be addressed through planning and inclusion of young people to ensure they share in the prospects, wealth and opportunities created in the oil – rich region.

It would be recalled that this struggle for Niger Delta “Emancipation” started decades ago with youth and today, it is still being led and powered by youth and their “Gun” and “Voice which is not clear is heard with the languages of violence”

Right from the unset, It has been a struggle of “will and caprices”, as lack of transparency and politics, authoritarian leadership and bad governance on the part of the government and corruption of local authorities in implementing development projects.

In the period prior to and during the colonial rule, the Niger Delta was a region of contesting between the indigenous people and rampaging foreign interests. Though the interest of the Niger Delta people were subdued through the colonial control of the area and the rest of what would come to be called Nigeria, the struggle continues.

Thus, the origin of youth restiveness in the region can best be appreciated in the origin of the Nigerian state itself. Youth restiveness and resistance to bad administration of the region assumed a formal front in the example of Issac Boro during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70.

The Ogonis through the youthful Ken Saro-Wiwa raised alarm of their plight to the government and the whole world through the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (Mosop) in the 90s but the autocratic government of Sani Abacha then failed to recognize the youth and subsequently Saro-Wiwa an eight other youths were hanged in 1996*

The manner of death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others will not deter youths from fighting for what they perceived to be their marginalization from the mainstream of social political development and wealth. Today, new youth movements in the Niger Delta area emerged to become more militantly active in confronting the police and military forces, kidnapping foreign oil workers, setting some available pipelines and rigs ablaze and committing several acts of violence and as the day passes, so emerges different coalition of forces of these groups of young people.

But the story of Niger Delta is not only that of youth militancy. Some organizations like Amnesty International, Environmental Rights Action Network, Friends of the Earth and others have engaged in very useful environmental activism and written reports drawing attention to the environmental situation in the area. These injustices could be addressed immediately creatively and honestly.

Partly as a result of the agitation by the people of the Niger Delta, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) was set up under the then Military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. It failed like the others before and after it to resolve the Niger Delta problems since it failed to incorporate the key stakeholders – the youth. The current Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) of President Olusegun Obasanjo, is still grappling with the issues of development and one cannot expect it to solve the huge developmental and environmental crisis in the area. The core reason of the failure of these commission and initiatives being that as palliative programmes they stop short of addressing the issues of youth development and youth concerns amongst others and also fail to work with the youth, for youth and with little knowledge of what the local youths want and think for a secured future.

These challenges can only be addressed by looking at the issues involved more creatively and critically and with deeper understanding. Recent military operations at the region can only exacerbate the already heated situation and thereby making the area ungovernable and accessible, with its attendant anarchy and loss of revenue. Hopefully this is not the outcome envisaged for Nigeria and it is far from what the Niger Delta youth are asking for.

Dialogue must be the key to resolving the impasse. In the process of dialogue, other fundamental issues facing the region will need to be addressed. The main causes of youth restiveness and militancy in the region can then be addressed from the root: lack of development, inequality in distribution of benefits from oil proceeds/ derivation, unemployment, lack of incentives, etc. proper confidence building resolutions should be reached then. All the tiers of governance, local authorities and youth and youth networks must sit down together, meet to overcome these challenges!

Focus should be on youth because youth are the today and future of the Niger Delta. Therefore, and as a matter of urgency, as the discuss continues the government should increase awareness in education and further improve the condition of schools, youth friendly social centers for sports and recreation and ICTs should be set up, skills acquisition/ entrepreneurship development centers should be set up and fully equipped to provide entrepreneurship training for self help and development, job opportunities with good pay should be created and scholarships be made available for aspiring youths to be educated and have sustainable livelihoods.

The New Niger Delta master Plan for Development created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the Nigerian government and the Second edition of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) should imbibe these practical far-reaching practical solutions for Niger Delta development and peace.

These measures may not be far-reaching enough unless the government finds a constitutional satisfactory means to increase the derivation percentage to the Oil producing areas and ensure that the funds given to the Niger Delta Development are judiciously used for development purposes that touch the core of the lives of the generality of people in the area through report based implementation.

Niger Delta region’s resources, above all things has to be made to work for the poor indigenes and all, by involving the youth in the development strategies leadership, planning, programming, and implementation and auditing. I don’t think there exist a better option to its development!

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