The rains will be peaking in the next few weeks and despite early warnings about massive flooding this year and promises by the federal government to intervene in areas that were devastated by floods last year, there is nothing on the ground to show that, anything is being done to save the people of the Niger Delta region from the agonies of yet another flood disaster.
Recent developments in Abuja about the Niger Delta have created room for stakeholders in the region to ask questions about the agenda of the new government of President Bola Tinubu for the region.
Just after the Senate approved the nomination of ministers last month and portfolios were assigned to the new ministers, the portfolio of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was conspicuously missing. This fuelled speculations that the President might have surreptitiously abolished the ministry created in 2008 to galvanise the development of the Niger Delta especially after the strategic Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was removed from the MNDA.
The President eventually named Abubakar Momoh to the portfolio of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and doused the fears of a constructive scrapping of the ministry.
Momoh’s appointment has not however totally addressed the fears of the people of the region. The ongoing spat between the Navy and Tantita Security Services Limited over oil theft allegations, has not helped much to assure the people of government’s genuine intention towards the development of the region.
Government needs to assure the people that the instability in the recent appointments and reappointments of the governing board of the NDDC is not aimed at keeping the agency so unstable that it will not be able to deliver on its primary objectives of developing the region.
The failure of government to complete the East-West Road, particularly the sections that were swept off by last year’s floods, also point to the fears of the people. The East-West Road is the main road infrastructure in the region and any genuine effort to touch the lives of the people in the region must address the condition of the road.
Despite being the cash cow of the nation, the Niger Delta has often fallen behind in the development agenda of successive governments in Nigeria. It is important therefore that the present federal government should dust up the file on the region and commence a strategic programme of developing the region.
The NDDC must first be freed from the stranglehold of partisan politics so that, its operations would not be hampered by the vicissitudes of politics. In the past four years, the commission has been crippled by the politics of the appointments of its management and governing boards. When eventually a governing board was appointed a few months ago, the offices of the Chairman of the board and the managing director of the commission were engaged in a long destructive war until the board was dissolved after the installation of the new government of President Tinubu.
Needless to say that the functions and duties of the offices of these two principal officers must be streamlined even if it means going back to amend the Act setting up the commission. The stability of NDDC is needed, if it must fulfil the objectives of setting it up. A master plan for the development of the region was developed by the commission almost two decades ago. That master plan should be retrieved to guide the programme of action of the commission. Furnishing classrooms and providing micro water schemes are not the core duties of NDDC. The region needs massive infrastructure development.
The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs must also be funded and assigned roles to play in the coordination of the development of the region. It cannot be accepted the way it was that since its inception, the ministry had been dormant and poorly funded. At a point, the main project in its file, the East-West Road was taken away and given to the Federal Ministry of Works.
The President must ensure, even if it requires executive orders to do so, that the Petroleum Industry Act and the local content law that were enacted to empower oil bearing and producing communities create the necessary impact spelled out in the laws.
The people of the region cannot afford to see yet another period of governance pass without witnessing the promised development of the region. The Niger Delta is also a part of Nigeria. The federal government of Nigeria must come clear with its agenda for the region.