Monday, January 30, 2006

Giving the Niger-Deltans a Stake in their Society

It is a disturbing scenario that Federal Republic of Nigeria-held at ransom- had to grease the palms of some bandits to prevent the killing of the just-released expatriate hostages. It is even more disturbing that the bandits' action was done to protest the marginalization of the Niger-Delta area and its indigenes. The situation becomes really appalling when one factors in the fact that Nigeria derives the bulk of its revenue from this region.

Although, no one knows for sure what transpired between the kidnappers and the government negotiators, however, it is naïve to think that the hostages were released voluntarily without any concession from the government. According to Chippla’s weblog:
“No one can truly be sure what sort of 'behind the scenes' negotiations went on. The International Herald Tribune reports that the militants were paid a whooping "100 million Naira ($770,000) as ransom", as indicated by a militant source involved in the negotiations…”
His conclusion echoes the minds of many Nigerians since he also “finds it very difficult to believe that the militants gave up their hard-line position and became saints all of a sudden, letting the hostages go free, without any ransom being paid.”

The problems in the Niger-Delta can not be simply wished away, neither can it be resolved by periodically “settling” the bandits that have found new homes in the the numerous creeks and swamps in the delta region. But it appears "settlement" is the best the government can do. Since the armed uprising started some five years back, the government has not being able to find a lasting solution to the crisis- which unfortunately but not unexpectedly- has waxed stronger by the year.

The government of Nigeria should remember these words of Dr Martin Luther King, and reflect on it:
"There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society, with a large segment of people in that society, who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don't have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it."
What can the administration of President Obasanjo do to solve the crisis by giving the people of the Niger-Delta “a stake in their society”?

First, as long as the Niger-Delta Development Commission exists, which in all essence is and functions as a parallel government, the development of the oil-producing regions will remain stunted. Since its inception, the NDDC has being used by successive governments as a means to pay political dividends- I’m yet to find a member that has not left the commission extremely richer than he/she was before joining. The NDDC should be scrapped, period. And the local governments should be strengthened to assume the role of the NDDC.

It is a simple common-sense that the cost of the infrastructure the Niger-Delta needs will be in multiples of what it would be in other regions because of the rough terrain. So the region requires more money to develop. At present, however, with the exception of Lagos state, the oil-producing states have about 3-times the budgets of non-oil-producing states so more money will not necessarily do the job.

A combination of “bottom-up” interventions may work. The locals in these regions should be educated and brought on-board, they should have “a say” in their destiny, shouldn’t they? There should be a stricter regulation of oil exploration in these areas, while an independent body (with the necessary legal backing) should strictly ensure compliance.

The emphasis should be on a “bottom-up” approach and education of the indigenes so they will understand their responsibilities. It is wrong to have the elites (in the NDDC) call the shots; they don’t live the in the community and they have any business deciding for the people. Why not let the locals call the shots? Give them a stake in their society, please!