LECTURE: “Niger Delta: Beyond Resource Control – Burdens and Realities of Transformation”: Being text of A lecture delivered by His Excellency, Governor Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan at Business Hallmark public policy forum, at Events Centre, Asaba on the 24th August 2012
I read the organisers’ intention in selecting this topic as an expression of their concern over what becomes of the Niger Delta beyond resource control. In other words, how can the Niger Delta region march on with or without controlling their famed oil and gas resources?
If I were to interpret this further, I might assert, can the Niger Delta region succeed without controlling their resources? The poser can be expanded. Can Nigeria succeed without controlling Niger Delta resources? I shall provide my perspectives in the course of this presentation.
Resource control became a political term from the efforts of Niger Delta peoples to get a fairer share of their God-given resources and more say in their own affairs in relation to the rest of Nigeria. Resource control in that sense therefore, has become a rallying cry for the long-suffering peoples of the Niger Delta region and understandably subject to various interpretations depending on the individual’s stand in the country’s often fractious socio-political and economic debates.
If the demand for resource control has remained trenchant, it is simply because our peoples have for long lived with the stark evidence of a mindless exploitation of the oil resources in their land. They have lived with the despoliation and degradation of their environments without concomitant benefits to them as a people and to their communities where these resources are.
As it eventually happened, the wheel turned and they found their voices and are demanding for justice and for their rights, much to the shock of those who want the exploitation to continue unchallenged. Surprisingly, some have made an enterprise of justifying the suffering in the Niger Delta, in a provocative manner that tends to take the peaceful nature of our peoples for granted. Thankfully, our people have ignored them as we continue the search for justice in the matter.
Dr JD Ikechukwu captured the devastation of the region succinctly in his article on the Niger Delta crises in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution in Nigeria, when he noted that,
“The oil which has brought so much wealth to the multinational oil companies and the Nigerian State has at the same time brought to the people of the Niger Delta untold poverty, disease, persistent pollution, ecological and environmental degradation.”
Sad, as this picture may look, the Nigerian economy has largely depended (85 per cent) on earnings from crude oil sales. On the strength of this single point, it is easy to see the fundamental importance of the Niger Delta region to the Nigerian economy and its oil to global energy resource. Sadly, that importance does not reflect on the treatment the region gets from the federation.
As a ranking exporter of crude oil, Nigeria’s supplies from the Niger Delta region play a crucial role in maintaining global supply stability. On the other hand, finding the delicate balance in the well-being of the Niger Delta region, the demands of the Nigerian economy, and the global community’s energy needs, is at the heart of the complexities associated with issues emanating from and concerning the region.
In a sense, I seem to have answered my second poser, which was, if Nigeria could survive without controlling resources of the Niger Delta region. Current reality dictates otherwise, from a standpoint of national economic survival, the stability of Nigeria as well as its ability to exercise influence as a sovereign state in the international political system.
If Nigeria derives all these benefits from the resources taken from the Niger Delta region, the moot question is, what would happen to the peoples of the Niger Delta, when oil and gas resources finish, as they must one day. This, to me, is the more compelling question, which we must urgently address.
Having this in mind therefore, what should a transformation agenda for the Niger Delta look like today? There are two cardinal points, I envisage in this. One, get the most you can from oil now as you transform to a post-oil era; because, like it, or not, that era must come. Two, develop other sources of revenue and diversify your economy to optimise available options or create them. To do the latter, you must revive agriculture and invest in agro-allied industries, enhance rural industrialisation, revive and deepen manufacturing, clean up the environment, develop human capital and upgrade infrastructure.
Ladies and gentlemen, for the first leg of the struggle I would say since the return to democratic governance in 1999, these points were not lost on the political leadership of the zone. Let me in this regard salute the pioneering works of our past governors, especially my predecessor, Chief James Ibori and the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, who especially championed the cause of achieving a better and more equitable allocation of resources to the Niger Delta region. That era gave resource control life. The battle, as most will recall, was not easy, as they were often deliberately misunderstood and their leadership questioned. Thanks in large measure to them, the argument for a fairer allocation of federal oil revenue to the Niger Delta region though not won, has become a progressive issue on the national agenda.
We cannot forget also the great efforts of Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River in focusing his State as a tourism destination of choice. It was no surprise then, that when the State lost 76 oil wells in a Supreme Court judgement, Governor Liyel Imoke reminded his people that there was life without oil. He stressed the more important contributions of human resources and tourism to the growth and development of the State. He was not talking out of emotion. A foundation for this has been laid, and he is building on it.
There is indeed, life after oil, and the current leadership of Niger Delta region is immensely aware of this fact. On our part, my administration since inception in May 2007 has made it a covenant with the people to look beyond oil. We have set for ourselves, a three-point agenda of peace and security, human capital development and infrastructural development. In my article of October 2007, titled, “Delta Without Oil – The Changing Global Economy”, I pondered the question of Delta surviving without oil. While acknowledging the difficulty, I submitted that,
“This administration from the beginning has thought in that direction. We do not work for the money that comes from oil. It is easy money; it has changed our orientation about hard work. Our young people are growing up in expectation of an easy life from oil.”
I am happy to report that five years on, we have succeeded to some extent, in changing our people’s fixation on oil money. Our first strategy was to return peace to our State, especially as the turmoil was related to contentions over easy money from oil. Without peace and security very little else can take place. Given the long years of military rule and the upsurge in militancy in the entire Niger Delta region, no thanks to the divide-and- rule strategy which was often employed to keep our peoples apart, restoring peace and security to our State was not the easiest assignment to undertake. Our strategy of persistently engaging the different peoples and interests in our State has ensured peace for even development.
Commenting on this age-long security challenge, Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation-building, noted on the Niger Delta in Chapter 11,
“We may characterise the history of the democratic struggles of the people of the Niger Delta as consisting of two main directions: resistance to European pacification, domination by ethnic majorities, and most recently, military authoritarianism. At the heart of this resistance lie the control of resources and livelihoods. Initially, it was the rich trade in commodities on the Oil Rivers; now it is the control of the rich petroleum resources of the Niger Delta.”
Obviously, the security challenge is enormous and complex, but with security and peace top on our agenda and the huge resources we have deployed to their attainment, a lot has been achieved in maintaining the peace which we now enjoy.
We have also invested heavily in human capital and infrastructural development of the State. As I have often done, I am going to reiterate some of the highpoints of our programmes which are geared towards building our vision of Delta beyond oil.
Delta State with a land area of 18,050 square kilometres, substantial portions of which are riverine, marshy and underdeveloped is challenging, but not impossible to develop. What it demands is enormous investment in money, energy and time. We are compelled to develop remote areas as many of our people have opted to live on their ancestral lands—which in many cases are locations of oil facilities, flow stations and pipelines. We believe they should get the best from the proceeds of the resources taken from their land. That, to me, is the fair and just thing to do.
I also sense that many people outside these areas have no understanding of life in the creeks. They are not concerned that our people living in those parts should be treated as equal and are entitled to enjoy life as others. As an administration, we do not share such cynical attitude which, I might add, is a major source of anger and frustration for our people in the oil producing areas and other parts of rural Delta.
Our administration is sincere and determined to change the landscape of the riverine and oil producing areas. It is therefore the singular reason we are perhaps the only State that is heavily funding its agency for that purpose. The Delta State Oil Mineral Development Commission, DESOPADEC, has since its creation been receiving 50 per cent of the 13 per cent derivation to support state government’s own programmes in developing the oil producing and impacted areas of the State.
The funding of DESOPADEC is huge and accounts for the decline of funds at the state level, but we are not deterred. We believe that from whom much is taken, much should also be given. If Nigeria were to embrace similar principle, the peoples of Niger Delta would feel justice done to them with respect to their contribution to the wealth and growth of the country. This is especially important as the terrain they live in is an extremely difficult one to develop.
In many areas we are developing, we have had to build schools, hospitals, access roads, bridges, electricity and clean water from zero. We have had to contend with oil pollution and its environmental degradation, which has left many of our peoples without sustainable means of livelihood.
For our administration, it will be unconscionable to overlook this state of affairs. Our intervention is to rescue our people who are facing destitution, poverty and squalor. It is unacceptable not to speak out on their behalf. We have to be their voice, otherwise they are voiceless. The whole struggle of resource control is about our people, such that when oil finishes or loses its global relevance, we would carry on with life with minimal disruption to our revenue sources.
Overall, we have not been deterred in our pursuit of developmental programmes – challenging as it is.The vision to build a Delta beyond oil, is a daunting one, but clearly conceived in anticipation of the day we will not depend on it entirely or the day oil will be one of the many other revenue streams of the State, not its only main revenue stream. All over the world, feverish effort is being made to end oil’s dominance of the energy basket. We will be foolish not to prepare for the end of the oil era.
To prepare us for that day, this administration has been implementing systematic plans to protect the State from the shock by building infrastructure that will support diversification of the economy. Our infrastructure is both human and physical; we are in a hurry even though our vision spans a 50-year period. We believe that the thinking, planning, and implementation have to begin today.
Our plan is simple – do that which we can with an abiding concern for the future. We leave when our time is up. When we hand over, it will be a State, which others can build on because we have laid a solid foundation for its future, something that is sometimes difficult for our critics to understand. In that regard, our objective was never to finish all the projects we began, though we are determined to ensure most are completed or at irreversible stages of development.
I am satisfied that the State is moving in the right decision. If this process continues, I foresee a future in which the State will earn value from all the investments we are making. The journey we have embarked upon is a difficult one, but as I said in a recent presentation,
“I am rather pleased we had the confidence and willpower to even begin it at all. Future generations will, I am sure, look to this moment and salute our courage.”
In building a Delta that will prosper beyond oil, we reckoned it was important we had the following critical infrastructures – Oghareki power plant, Asaba International Airport, upgrade Osubi Airport to international standards, industrial clusters, (Koko Industrial Park, Warri Industrial and Business Park, and Asaba ICT Park). We thought we should harness our people’s entrepreneurial skills through our Micro Credit Scheme and nurture SMEs.
Our success with Micro Credit Scheme is spectacular. We have won three consecutive CBN awards and we have about 100,000 beneficiaries of the scheme whose stories are as enthralling as they are varied. Other States are understudying the Delta State model because of its acknowledged successes.
We have as much as possible partnered with big private investors in co-funding projects such as the multi-billion Naira OFN/Delta Farms, the N40 billion Delta Leisure Park, which on completion will make the Delta the tourist destination of choice. Some of these projects are the foundations of our hope of a better future in which other opportunities can become relevant in stimulating the prosperity of our State.
From what we have been doing, the picture of Delta State that is emerging is one that should give us great optimism and belief in the State and ourselves. For that reason, I feel as I said the other day that we should take pride in our infrastructure programme that has seen us construct 252 inter/intra city roads. I am confident that with the dualisation of major roads that include 148 km Asaba-Ughelli, 33 km Ugbenu-Koko, Effurun-Osubi-Eku, 7.2 km Ughelli Artery, PTI/Jakpa, Old Lagos/Asaba among others, we are gradually eliminating bottleneck in movement of goods and creating major network grids to link all the corners of the State.
The results of our human capital programme have been remarkable. We are making progress in addressing maternal and child mortality rate in the State. Our performance is commendable. There is a steep drop in maternal and child mortality rate in our hospitals. New health care facilities are being constructed or upgraded, but of note for me is the progress of Oghara Teaching Hospital as a centre of excellence. With current efforts, soon, Oghara Teaching Hospital would become a centre of note in Africa. I am sure with Oghara Teaching Hospital we will contribute to reversing the search for healthcare treatment outside Nigeria.
We are investing heavily in infrastructure upgrade and modernisation of our public schools for our children, teaching and non-teaching staff facilities. So far about eighteen thousand classrooms have been built, renovated or upgraded. We will still do more. With collaborative efforts and keeping to standards, the physical condition of our schools can compare with any in the world, in a few years.
Through our liberal programme in education, we are giving our brightest youth with first class degrees, a head start in life. Our offer of scholarships, up to PhD level, tenable in any university of their choice, is a deliberate investment in the future.
These youths are prized assets who will look back with pride the support they received from their government. In a knowledge driven world, we are positioning our best and brightest not to be left behind. We are also sending a message to our other youth to step up and enjoy similar opportunities. We have also been consistent in payment of our bursary to augment financial investment made by parents in the training of their wards.
Ultimately, our investment in human capacity in particular in our youths will stand out as perhaps the wisest investment we have made as an administration. I hope future administrations will sustain this programme of creating generations of knowledgeable youths, committed to the future of Delta.
Making our youths knowledgeable and competitive is certainly another step in widening the options available to Delta State, when oil becomes irrelevant.
Since this lecture is about the Niger Delta region and what its current crop of leaders envisions for the zone, I want to repeat the point I made last April at the 2nd South-South Economic Summit, which I hosted here in Asaba. I said then,
“I am proud of what we are doing in Delta State as well as in my sister Niger Delta States. When we as governors of the South-South States came together three years ago to create the South-South Economic Summit with the BRACED Commission as its driving force, we were deliberately taking steps to leverage on areas of our core competences and to optimise same for the benefit of all, knowing fully that we are not all equally endowed. I am confident therefore in the future of the Niger Delta and the South-South region as we seek new ways of collaboration with our sister States and across the regions both within and outside the country.”
In several ways, we have shown aggressive commitment towards economic integration and partnership in the zone. The BRACED Commission is envisioned as a strategic vehicle through which we can deliver on our expectations. It is our hope that in due course we can become the country’s new economic powerhouse.
Furthermore, I am confident about this because at individual level, the various States are making significant progress. Rivers State is taking giant strides in its renewal efforts with great things to show in its update of the public school system, health care and general infrastructure revamp. I can say the same for Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa and Edo, notwithstanding the latter being a non-PDP State.
For us as governors in the Niger Delta region there is a near unanimity of opinions on what our priorities should be, no matter the differences in resources available to the States. Our human capital development rests on the simultaneous pursuit of education, provision of healthcare, especially primary healthcare to the young, vulnerable and the aged, the upgrade of existing infrastructure and provision of new ones; reviving agriculture and expanding the economic base as well as provision of sports and recreational facilities. These are some of the priorities of our administrations.
A major concern for us also and why we must look beyond resource control and indeed oil, is the devastation of the environment. As I have noted earlier, there are global concerns about the future relevance of oil and the need for cleaner sources of energy. We in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria, as a whole, must share in these concerns. We are aware of the effect of the exploration activities of the oil companies in the Niger Delta region over the years and how that has affected our lives forever. The fact that worldwide huge investments are being poured into developing and commercialising low carbon energy options for cleaner energy only tells us that the days of resource control as it relates to fossil oil are numbered.
Even as we live with the damage already done to our environment, eco-system, economy and total well-being, I have been very concerned about these issues because I also know these damages can be reversed. Our environment can be restored. We can mitigate pollution; the oil industry operators can apply best practices in technology as they do abroad. I have in this respect sought collaboration and partnership both at home and abroad on how to achieve a better treatment of the environment; I am keen that our peoples can have access to cleaner and sustainable energy.
It is a matter of urgency, something in the realm of an emergency. I have often wondered if the Niger Delta environment cannot be reconstructed now, with its vast contributions to the economy what will happen when oil ceases to flow. Where would Nigeria find the resources and political will to clean up the environment? This is probably a more important, though more ignored aspect of resource control.
Despoliation of the environment of the Niger Delta has far-reaching global consequences than the immediate suffering of its peoples. Gas flaring and the wasting of the Niger Delta’s rain forests are contributing to global warming, destruction of aquatic lives and their replacement with a wasteland that would displace millions of people.
That is why as Governor, I have linked up with Governors and regional leaders across the world to float R20, an international non-governmental organisation committed to global promotion of green economy and environmentally sustainable economic developments.
High construction costs in the region – a result of its marshy soil, its disparate islands, and creeks – means that the region cannot be developed within the funds currently allocated to it. There is still need for more intervention, specifically on projects likes the East West Road that would open the Niger Delta to more economic and social activities than oil and gas exploration. These matters rank high in our concerns about the region but they are too often lost to the louder voices in the contests for shares of national revenue.
Study after study has shown the imperative of the East West Road, and the economic potentials that it bears, not only for the Niger Delta region, but also for other parts of the country that can be connected at various spurs in the road’s designs by further developments like railways. Major projects like the coastal road would open up numerous inaccessible parts of the Niger Delta regions and connect them to the numerous opportunities Nigeria has to develop for her people.
Yet I want to caution that no one should be deceived, the neglect of the Niger Delta region over the years is serious even if the peoples bear the brunt with a waning equanimity. The level of degradation with all the attendant consequences on our environment resulting from oil and gas exploration and production activities is even more serious. The resources required for a total revamp of the Niger Delta region are enormous, far more than the present 13 per cent derivation can ever address.
That is why resource control, though we are looking beyond it, will not die. Ikechukwu in the same article citied earlier referred to the Niger Delta region as “a prime example of deprivation directly traceable to the absence of true federalism.” The rest of the federation must do what is right to the Niger Delta region. We must go back to what served us well at the very beginning of this nation. There must be fiscal federalism. People must benefit from what they produce. No one is by this saying that the peoples of this federation do not have a responsibility to one another. We must remain our brothers’ keepers.
I accept that some of these matters are constitutional, but I also believe that they are issues of equity and fairness. Since we are in the process of amending the Constitution, it is time our legislators looked at justice, equity and fairness in addressing these issues. We cannot continue supporting the destruction of the Niger Delta region – which is what our silences and inactions represent – while the peoples are dying and the future of their forebears compromised.
My position is that one way we can be assisted to address the myriads of challenges that we face and to compensate for the violence and despoliation visited on our environment, is a modest increase to 50 per cent derivation. It is entirely in order. My appeal is that as leaders and representatives of our peoples we should not stop engaging others and reaching out at our different fora to press our case. One such forum which has served us very well is the Governors’ Forum. We will continue to seek all avenues for a better understanding and fairer representation of the issues affecting the peoples of the Niger Delta region. As we have seen from the recent intense militancy, which enveloped the entire Niger Delta region and made security of lives and oil production difficult, a wound to one is a wound to all. To put it mildly, it was a double jeopardy, the worst of which we must put behind us forever.
I want to add that it is not all a gloomy picture in the Niger Delta region. We must put on record some gains that have accrued to the Niger Delta region. The Amnesty Programme started by the administration of late President Yar’Adua and sustained by the present Goodluck Jonathan administration has helped secure more peace in the region and freed more resources for development. As at the last count, over 5,200 ex-militants have undergone or are undergoing training in various institutions at home and abroad. The salutary effect on the Niger Delta region and the entire nation is there for all to see.
The creation of a separate Ministry of Niger Delta at the centre can only mean a willingness to show more understanding of the peculiar problems of the region. It must not stop there however. The Ministry must be properly funded and repositioned to carry out its mandate as there is presently cause to worry about its relevance and direction. There is also the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, which continues to impact the various communities of the Niger Delta. Our hope is that it will continue to re-invent itself to meet its set mandate better.
What the peoples of the Niger Delta region would want to see are more profound programmes that would save their environment and open up their areas for economic activities, especially away from oil and gas. The opportunities abound and are waiting to be explored. Agriculture is one such area and the favourable climate of the region creates room for commercial practices from palm oil, cassava, yam, maize, and poultry to the more traditional fishing. More elevated linkages like preservation and packaging of these products for export, industrial and home consumption, will create more sustainable and environmentally friendly economic activities than oil and gas production.
In closing, I cannot be more optimistic. Democracy holds a lot of promise for the Niger Delta region and indeed, Nigeria. Not too long ago, it was almost inconceivable that our country can elect a president without him being from particular extractions. Now we have a president from a minority section of the country. It is one of the beauties of democracy that we can pass that bridge.
We did not only elect a minority, but one from the Niger Delta region! The message is not lost on our peoples. What this means is that we only have to be patient with our processes. The parties are evolving through internal democratic mechanisms. The electoral process, given time, is bound to be more accountable as the votes count more. The laws and institutions of the country will evolve and be strengthened through reforms and amendments. They will hopefully take us, at the end of the day, to a Niger Delta region and country of our dreams.
As I have pointed out throughout the course of this presentation, the road is paved with thorns, sweat and blood, but the end will justify the challenging means.
Once again I thank you all for your attention.
God bless you us all.
Office of the Governor
Asaba, Delta state
Mariam Ikejiani-Clark, ed. (2009): Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution in Nigeria, Safari Books (Export) Limited, Channel Islands, United Kingdom, P 548
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (2000): Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation-building, Bulls Tryckeri, Halmstad, Sweden, P 241