Undoubtedly, the Niger Delta is the economic kingdom of Nigeria as it holds almost all of the nation’s oil and gas, which for several years accounts for about 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings. Yet, the region hasn’t got much to show for it while the prosperity generated has not actually touched the lives of the ordinary citizens from that part of the nation. Before the issue of extremism in the North Eastern part of Nigeria, the Niger Delta was rated as the least developed and poorest in the nation.
For several years, the region has been deeply immersed in protests and struggles against perceived injustice, inequality, marginalization and neglect. And since 1998, these dissents have become broad and intense that they often slipped into periodic insurrection and insurgency. In an attempt to manage the struggles by the FG, the region is militarized and by strategic miscalculations turned into a theatre of large scale and prolonged military operations ever known since the Nigerian civil war ended in1970. So, just as lives and properties of citizens of the region are being threatened, you have a situation where Nigeria’s economic survival and its nationhood are being consistently endangered.
The Niger Delta conflict is largely seen by most citizens as crisis of state governance, while others see it as crisis of resource management. There are those who see the conflict as crisis of development. These perspectives make some observers come to a conclusion that the Niger Delta region is a cocktail of grievances. Apart from the neglect, underdevelopment and marginalization of several decades, the economy of the region was made prostrate. The contentious issues in the Niger Delta to my mind includes but not limited to environmental degradation, unemployment, and infrastructural deficit. The environment is devastated and fishing which is expected to be the primary occupation has been destroyed due to gas flaring and oil spills. Consequently, several dimensions of agitations namely, political, civil, ethnic and militancy have reared their ugly heads. After a brief threat analysis, the dimension which I considered more potent is the militant struggle.
You may recall that on 24 June 2009, the FG officially declared a two-month amnesty to all militants in the Niger Delta region in exchange for their demobilization and disarmament. As part of the deal, the FGN was to give financial compensation to the militants over a period of time if they surrender their weapons. Since 2009, registered “repentant” militants have been on the amnesty payroll of the FG. When the amnesty funds are not forthcoming, some disgruntled youths in the region carry arms blowing and vandalizing oil pipelines. Only heavens know how they got their sophisticated arms.
Now the 2018 proposed budget tagged “Budget of Consolidation” is at the National Assembly for necessary considerations and approvals. One of the assumptions in determining the 2018 budget proposal was that 2.3 million barrels per day (mbpd) would be produced. There are reports that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has capped Nigeria’s production at 1.8 mbpd. The implication according to analysts, is that Nigeria will be producing less crude oil and thus, earn less foreign exchange.
In the 2018 budget, the FG has allocated several billions of Naira to the rehabilitation of abandoned roads and rail lines in the Niger Delta while the Ogoni Clean-up project is ongoing. “In order to maintain peace and security in the Niger Delta, and to enable economic and social activities thrive, the 2018 budget retained the provision of N65 billion for the Presidential Amnesty Programme”. In response, Niger Delta leaders and beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Programme in the region have been commending President Buhari for his goodwill. According to reports, the President was issued a pass mark for approving the commencement of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State.
There is no problem at all with praises showered on President Buhari as long as “peace” would be given a chance to reign in the region. But the question that comes to mind is whether these development measures will really tackle the contentious issues in the troubled Niger Delta? If the answer is affirmative, will the amnesty grants bring sustainable peace to the region? I want the people of Niger Delta, policy makers and other analysts to help Nigeria think through these questions. I think some powerful individuals are benefitting from a prolonged struggle and agitations in the Niger Delta through the procurement of arms and ammunitions, as well as the yearly amnesty grants.
For how long will the FG continue to buy arms and pay amnesty to militants? The nation’s economy is still very fragile. In our continued search for peace, I plead with defence economists to assist the FG in subjecting the myths, emotions, and special pleading for arms procurement which dominate security debates on the Niger Delta to economic analysis, critical thinking and empirical testing. Why can’t the nation start considering ways and means of industrializing the Niger Delta? I ask this question because too much funds spent on procurement of arms in an economically fragile nation such as Nigeria will be a burden and not a benefit in the long term. With incessant emergence of insurgents, the FG should have seen that amnesty grant is not the cure for agitations and struggles in the Niger Delta.
In my view, amnesty grants provides symptomatic relief. Without industrial development in the Niger Delta, young Nigerians who graduate from the Maritime University and other tertiary institutions will have no place to work. At best they will join the queue for Presidential Amnesty Grant. Unfortunately, industrialization takes time but the journey of many years can start today. This is my humble view. The military and repressive approaches have not yielded positive results in dousing insurgency in the Niger Delta. Methinks the more effective