Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, was arguably at his empathetic best when he issued an impassioned statement over the state of the Niger Delta oil communities to underscore the failure of the Federal Government to adequately address the plight of the ravaged people and their environment. He will do well to go beyond lamentations and use his good offices to mobilize action for the improvement on the lives of the people of the Niger Delta.
After sixteen years of democratic governance, the ideal is that some positive changes would have taken place, giving the people hope and dousing the tension in the region. But that, unfortunately, is not the case. The people are much more in despair and aggrieved by their plight in a nation that has been built solely on their resources.
The Speaker made his remarks during the National Stakeholders Summit on Petroleum Industry Reforms organised by the House Committee on Petroleum in Abuja. He said the legislature was determined to draft a law for the industry that will be in the interest of Nigerians, repeating the familiar line that Nigeria remains one of the richest countries in the world but has not been able to effectively maximise its immense oil and gas potentials and the revenue accruing from them.
Dogara’s expressed frustration points to the fact that not much has really been done to redress the environmental degradation and blight plaguing the region. In a way, it means that the actions and strategies applied so far have been ineffective and need to change The heart-rending state of the oil communities is well known and has been the root of armed agitations. The injustice to the people has drawn international attention as decades of oil prospecting and exploitation have blighted the communities even as their livelihood have been devastated.
Oil pollution and gas flaring have degraded both land and water surfaces, thereby rendering fishing and farming impossible. Though, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has launched the Ogoniland cleanup programme, as prescribed in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, real action is yet to commence, even, as the project represents a tip of the iceberg, given the magnitude of degradation and devastation in the entire region.
But while that and other remedial measures are being proposed, the people need to live a meaningful life. The absolute neglect of the communities evident in the lack of basic social amenities highlights the degree of injustice the people suffer.
It is commendable that Dogara has recognised that problems abound in the Niger Delta, which can only be solved by concrete action, he and his fellow lawmakers should also effect changes through appropriate legislations.
The establishment of the Niger Delta Ministry and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among others, have come to be regarded as mere tokenism and their impacts have been negligible. Not even the amnesty programme has proven good enough a solution to the problems.
Nothing short of a massive construction effort in the manner of Abuja, built from the scratch, is desirable in the region and can assuage the people’s agitations.
The neglect of the region has created room for the emergence of several militant groups including the dreaded Niger Delta Avengers, which at present is a thorn on the flesh of the Federal Government.
Certainly, government needs to create the enabling environment for investment and improved livelihood in the region for all to have peace.
After years of oppression and suppression which have not worked, wisdom demands that government returns to the drawing board with the view to doing the appropriate things in the interest of peace, justice and equity. Otherwise, the country’s economy will continue to bleed as a result of vandalization and attacks on oil facilities. For example, the country’s crude oil output has been on steady decline since the Avengers stepped up attacks on oil pipelines thereby drastically reducing the income accruable to government.
As part of its first gesture of seriousness about ending injustice in the region, President Muhammadu Buhari should take personal charge of the development initiatives in the Niger Delta and visit the place regularly. Also, the Ministry of the Niger Delta, NDDC, NNPC and other oil prospecting outfits should be compelled to relocate to the Niger Delta even if only in symbolic show of their readiness to identify with the people of the region.