Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
A friend one said early in the Yar’adua administration, that President Yar’adua, Nigeria’s President shouldn’t have bothered himself –and by extension Nigerians-in listing seven whole agendas which included amongst other issues power and the Niger Delta, for his administration. In his opinion, the Man should have just picked and concentrated on one agenda which if successfully executed will leave Nigeria better off instead of seven that might never be achieved.
Today (as I write) one year and four months into the administration, I can’t help but agree. None of the seven bogus agendas has neared being achieved and given the state of things, it doesn’t seem like any would be. It is now even looking like a complete waste of time discussing it, on a personal note for example, I now refrain from commenting on power because it has since turned into a hopeless situation.
Hitherto, I had stayed away from commenting on the complicated Niger Delta issues, but today, I feel a strong urge to say something about the seemingly endless “one step forward, two steps backward” dance of the administration as it concerns the all important Niger Delta- the source of the money our leader’s daily share amongst themselves.
I had held my peace on the Niger Delta because of its rather complicated nature. I was happy and hopeful when the government muted the idea of a Niger Delta Summit that perhaps we were finally moving in the right path towards the end of the age long issue. We all know how it all ended. An obstinate federal government insisted on a Prof Gambari who was rejected by those most affected and then suddenly dropped the whole idea as though it never really was their intension. It was at that point that I began to feel that this people really had no plans whatsoever for the emancipation of the Niger Delta like Mr President glibly boasts.
To confirm my feelings, the Federal Government (as an alternative to the rested summit) came up yesterday with the idea of a Forty man Committee which would review the Niger Delta issue with a view to advising government accordingly. That is the move that has forced me to join in the discourse. With all sense of purpose, I feel that it is the most banal idea I have ever heard of.
For a start, what is the difference between forty sitting committee members and a summit? When forty men (and of course their aides) sit down to discuss whatever, isn’t a summit already holding? The forty men we are told were nominated by their various states, so what are we talking about here? Aren’t we just calling a summit by another name?
These forty men it must be noted did not fall down from the skies, neither did they just return to the country after decades abroad. No, the committee is made up of the same old names. People who have been in and out of office on countless occasions, People who have been part of the problem at various degrees, people who have been in a position to influence government policy on the region but failed woefully, people who from their antecedence clearly lack any idea on how to improve the region, people who have fed fat from the illegality that has haunted the region, persons who have been recycled and recycled, people who have nothing good to offer the poor, deprived, desolated and increasingly criminally minded people of our oil rich Niger Delta.
Now, we are not new to committees in Nigeria. We’ve had a whole lot of them…committees, panels, commissions, etc, that spend weeks junketing from one part of the country to the other at the expense of the public purse. At the end, they submit bulky well bound reports that soon join the others in the archives some where to gather dust. From pre independence till now, the Niger Delta has had countless committees and panels that have reached all sorts of conclusions and made all sorts of wonderful recommendations which never saw the light of day. What makes yet another committee any different?
What even were the criteria for the selection of the forty?
MEND one of the popular militant groups in the Niger Delta is reported to have dissociated its self from the committee describing it as “the appetizer on the menu of another banquet of deceit orchestrated by an in sincere government to give it a semblance of integrity” and therefore unacceptable. Their major grouse is the non inclusion of youths in the committee and the demand for the release of Okah one of their own who is currently standing trial.
Simple reasoning is enough to let any one appreciate the troubles of committee work. Too many cooks they say spoils the broth. Now when such a committee is not five man or ten man but forty man, the troubles can best be imagined. What in heavens sake do we need forty men to dust up old reports and make new recommendations for? Perhaps only the joint juxtaposing of ideas by these forty will present us with the fool proof Niger delta blue print.
I see a situation where in a meeting of the forty, ten are reading a copy the days daily, another ten are retired to the back sits, too tired of the boring meeting and nodding aware in a much desired siesta, five are engrossed in a hot argument about things like the ongoing build up to the US elections, five others are on the phone running their various businesses, five are absent and what ever work there is, is left for the remaining five.
Does it have to take that number of people and such cost to Government just to produce another document that would say nothing different from those we already have and which will like those others end up in some Aso Rock put away office cabinet.
Moreover, do we need a committee to know that multinational oil companies operating in the region are not doing so in line with globally accepted best practices? Do we a need a committee to know that the environment is polluted and that the people can no longer source their means of livelihood from their surroundings?, do we need a committee to remind us of the level of insecurity in the region? Do we need a committee to point out to us that the youths hiding under the guise of activism are now perpetuating all forms of criminality in the region? Certainly, we do not need a committee to make us understand that we’ve failed the Niger Delta region as a nation.
Someone might ask what better ideas I have. My answer will be that as much as I don’t claim to be an expert in problem solving, I am convinced that this idea-the committee- will not work. What the Niger Delta needs now is not another long session of intellectual masturbation, but a clearly defined action plan of development. Government must begin to turn words into action and show a will (not just by taking about a list of agendas) to really turn things around in the region for the better.
What the people require is nothing new or different. What they demand is the same old necessities of life. Good roads, electricity, portable water, jobs, good schools for their children, functional health care facilities, and an environment In which they can grow raise their children and live better lives.
And by providing good roads we don’t just mean awarding contracts of eye popping figures, but awarding them and ensuring that the job is properly done and that the terms of the contract is met to the letter. Same applies to all the other amenities. The solution to the Niger Delta situation is not sloganeering but sincere dedicated developmental efforts.
Further more, no efforts to change things in the region will succeed without the involvement of the youths who are actually those leading the militancy. While I do not encourage militancy, constituting a committee of that nature without involving the youths who are by every reason major stake holders is to say the least a wasted effort as it is apparent that the youths have lost confidence in their elders and would prefer to represent and speak for themselves.
So it goes without saying that the committee is simply yet another big jamboree. An effort by an administration that is fast losing the confidence of the people –who never really elected them in the first place-to show that they are doing something . And as stated earlier, I sincerely do not expect anything new or good from them.
Just as I was completing this piece, I overheard on Radio Nigeria that the President who went AWOL seventeen days ago was finally back. It’s good to know he is back alive from what ever it was-a prolonged lesser Hajj or a Kidney transplant- as Nigerians will love to see him at work, making reality of his seven point agenda rather than on a controversial unofficial leave abroad.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo