31st March, 2017
By Boniface Ita
The Niger Delta Master Plan unveiled by the administration of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was perhaps the first serious attempt by any government to move away from the tokenism that has characterized interventions in the region said to produces the nation’s wealth. Before then, there hadn’t been any clear-cut policy on how to permanently and satisfactorily address the problems of the region.
This much was said by none other than Timi Alaibe, the man who led development of the master plan, in an interview on Arise Television, recently. Alaibe said the former president gave the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) the go-ahead to commence implementation of the master plan, but regretted much could not be done before the tenure of that administration ended.
Obasanjo’s successor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, bought into the plan and was favourably disposed to its implementation after several presentations he, Alaibe, a one-time managing director and chief executive officer of NDDC, made to him. The death of the then president put paid to any hope of taking practical steps to end the plethora of problems that beset the region.
It would appear that implementation of the all-important plan that presumably addresses the issues which have made the Niger Delta a recurring decimal in national discourse depends on the disposition of the government of the day. Discussion on whatever had been the cause of the delay in implementing the master plan before now would amount to a mere academic exercise. It is no longer important. What matters now is the seemingly renewed interest of the Buhari administration to find a lasting solution to the problems of the Niger Delta, which should bring about a reinvigoration of efforts and implementation of initiatives to end the crises that periodically set the country back in the effort to have a steady and uninterrupted flow of income into the national purse.
The Master Plan, according to Alaibe, perhaps one of the few Nigerians that have had the opportunity to see its contents, is anchored on five pillars. These are disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR); infrastructure and economic development; environmental protection; involvement of host communities in the protection of assets and their inclusion in the sharing of oil proceeds.
While the first pillar, DDRR, can be said to have been successfully executed to some extent during the Yar’Adua era and up to Jonathan’s tenure, notwithstanding the resurgence of militancy in the region for the greater part of last year, not much can be said of the other pillars.
Infrastructure and economic development continue to be a work in progress with the huge sums of money that have reportedly been sunk into the area, through both the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. The reasons mat not be located too far away from the endemic problem of corruption, politicization of projects and programmes, as well as noninvolvement of host communities in the choice and design of projects that are meant for them. The commencement of the cleanup of Ogoni land may be regarded as the beginning of a larger initiative to address the issue of environmental degradation that is not limited to one community, but the entire Niger Delta. It is not clear if the exercise is specifically mentioned in the Master Plan. But it is safe to assume that it addresses quite significantly the environmental protection that the Plan talks about.
If the federal government should consider it a national priority to return to the Master Plan and make it an integral part of its current efforts aimed at achieving permanent peace in the region, so the country can derive maximum benefits from oil exploration and production activities there. The government must move away from the tendency to give out handouts as a strategy to buy temporary peace and loyalty of the people of the region.
It is possible each of the states the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, visited recently presented its own list of demands. But it is doubtful if the demands did not incorporate the five pillars of the Master Plan, even if not clearly spelt out. The government must resolve once and for all the contending issues of involvement of host communities in the protection of oil assets and installations and, most importantly, sharing of oil proceeds. The latter issue is one of the prominent features in the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill that has languished in the National Assembly for almost a decade.
Alaibe advocates a return to the 2009 template for the development of the region, through implementation of the 16-point agenda. The government’s plan to convert illegal refineries into modular ones is a step in the right direction, since it would create legitimate jobs for the thousands of jobless youths who engage in illegal bunkering, thus solving the problem of unemployment that fuels their activities in the region.
Ita, a social commentator, lives in Lagos