The Niger Delta Changing Narratives

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Aside from being perceived as backward and degraded, occasioned by crude oil exploration, exploitation and production, Niger Delta region means different things to different people.

To some, it is a region where communal right to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies is being violated in the Niger Delta. By its admission, the oil industry has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in detail. Aquifers and other water supply sources which are being adversely affected by industrial or other activities need to be recovered while communities are adequately compensated for their losses.

To others, it symbolizes a location where the government, employs non-participatory approach to development/ broad-based consultative approach that strips the people of the Niger Delta their sense of ownership over their own issues, where the government and other Nigerians failed to see the problem of the Niger Delta as a national one and not restricted to the region.

To the rest, it is a zone where fierce war has been raging between ethnic and social forces in Nigeria over the ownership and control of oil resources in the Niger Delta. And as a direct result, a long dark shadow has been cast on efforts to improve the wellbeing and economic development of the region’s individuals, peoples, and communities.

However, looking at recent developments particularly as it affects the region; it will not be described as hasty to say that the narrative is changing.

Out of many, this piece will concentrate on two.

First is the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by both Houses after seventeen years of back and forth movement on the Bill. And recently, precisely on Monday August 16, 2021, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.  A Bill, now an Act that provides legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry and development of Host Communities. It contains 5 Chapters, 319 Sections and 8 Schedules.

The second development has to do with the recent declaration/revelation by Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in Lagos at the GbaramatuVoice Newspaper’s 6th Anniversary Lecture/Niger Delta Awards.

Beginning with the last, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, among other remarks told the gathering that this administration is determined to see through to completion of all the critical projects that we have embarked upon in the region. Indeed, we are committed to doing so confident in the knowledge that what we do for the benefit of the Niger Delta and the entire nation at large.

In his words, we have invested significantly in the Niger Delta as the region that holds the energy resources that have powered our progress for six decades as well as the keys to an emergent gas economy. In 2017, following my tour of the Niger Delta, which involved extensive consultations with key stakeholders in the region, the New Vision for the Niger Delta was birthed in response to the various challenges which had been plaguing our people. The objective of this New Vision is to ensure that the people of the region benefit maximally from their wealth, through promoting infrastructural developments, environmental remediation and local content development. We also have the Solar Power Naija Programme under the Administration’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) which will complement the Federal Government’s effort towards providing affordable electricity access to 5 million households, serving about 25 million Nigerians in rural areas and under-served urban communities nationwide.

At this point, the Vice President who was represented by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Mr. Edobor Iyamu, said something that looks more like presentation of scorecard!!

He captures it this way; Today, I am pleased to announce that the New Vision for the Niger Delta has begun to yield some tangible achievements. As part of the quest to expand economic opportunities in the region, this administration has promoted investments in modular refineries. The objective of this initiative is to address our present energy demands and empower the Niger Delta people through promoting local content. So far, 3 Modular Refineries have now been completed, these are: the Niger Delta Petroleum Resources (NDPR) Modular Refinery in Rivers State; OPAC Modular Refinery in Delta State and Walter Smith Modular Refinery in Imo State, whilst there are several others at different stages of completion across the region.

The remediation exercise happening in Ogoni land, under the recommendations of UNEP is another milestone we are proud to announce as an administration. The Clean-Up commenced in January 2019, with the handover of the first batch of sites to the selected remediation firms. A total of about 57 sites have so far been handed over to contractors by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) under the Federal Ministry of Environment. It is important to note that the Ogoni clean-up is the first of its kind in the history of the Niger Delta. Indeed, this is the first time the Federal Government is directly involved in remediation activities within the region.

We are equally committed to expanding infrastructure in the region. This includes the ongoing construction work on the 34-kilometres Bonny-Bodo Road/Bridge. This project, which was abandoned for decades, is a tripartite agreement between the Federal Government, Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) and Julius Berger Nigeria. When completed, the Bonny-Bodo Road/bridge, which was flagged off in October 2017, would connect several major communities and boost socioeconomic development in the region.

The Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail Line project, which was commissioned by Mr. President in September 2020, and has the capacity to handle both passengers and freight services, is connecting several communities and promoting commerce within the region.

The Federal Government is also developing a number of deep sea ports across the region, including the Bonny, Warri and Ibom Deep Sea Ports, among other development projects such as the establishment of Export Processing Zones to boost economic activities.

In 2018, the National Universities Commission (NUC) approved the commencement of undergraduate degree programmes at the Nigerian Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State. President Buhari approved a 5 billion Naira take-off grant to support this university, which happens to be situated in the great Gbaramatu Kingdom. The University currently has students spread across 13 undergraduate programmes in three Faculties, namely: Transport, Engineering and Environmental Management.

In terms of addressing concerns around public safety and social security in the region, while ensuring peace and stability in the region, the administration has, among other things, sustained its commitment to the Presidential Amnesty Programme under which youths and ex-agitators are engaged in formal education, vocational skills acquisition and empowerment programmes that offer a pathway towards productive and dignified livelihoods.

The cumulative effect of all these measures is certain to have a positively transformational impact on the Niger Delta and on the future of our nation as a whole. This path of progress and prosperity is one that we will pave by maintaining the partnerships between the administration, the leaders of the region and the communities. He concluded.

Away from Vice President’s comments to the recently passed/signed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).  Among its content, Chapter 3 made far reaching provisions for the Host community’s development. The chapter going by commentaries, demands that any oil prospecting license or mining lease or an operating company on behalf of joint venture partners (settlor) is required to contribute 3% – 5% (upstream Companies) and 2% (other companies) of its actual operating expenditure in the immediately preceding calendar year to the host communities development trust fund. This is in addition to the existing contribution of 3% to the NDDC.

Board of trustees and executive members of the management committee may include persons of high integrity and professional standing who may not necessarily come from any of the host communities. Available funds it added are to be allocated 75% for capital projects, 20% as reserve and 5% for administrative expenses.

Finally in my views, even as these developments appear alluring/welcoming, the truth must be told to the effect that the people of the region are particularly not happy with the paltry 3/5% allocation to host communities by the new ACT.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com

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