By Oghenekevwe Laba
Before now, poverty, illiteracy and high rate of criminal activities ranging from militancy, piracy, armed robbery, oil pipeline vandalism and incessant attack on oil pipeline and platforms were the order of the day in the Niger Delta Region.
Today, the situation looks different. Environment experts say the damage done to the Niger Delta Region fragile natural environment and to the health of the people was due largely to uncontrolled exploration and exploitation of crude oil and natural gas, which led to numerous spills, gas flaring, the opening up of the forests to loggers, indiscriminate canalizations, flooding, and coastal erosion and earth tremor.
Criminal activities in the region resulting from the degradation of the region led to speedy decline of the nation’s economy as the oil production which is our main source of revenue generation dropped to all time low rate of 700 barrels per day.
Reasons for the criminal activities in the region were not farfetched. The indigenes of the region felt that as the ‘chicken that lay the golden eggs’, they ought to feel the impact of the resources drained from their area. Successive governments from military rule to democratic government neglected the region.
But the people breathe a sigh of relief when Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua became the President of Nigeria in 2007. The President saw reasons with the people of the region and decided to implement programmes that will ameliorate their sufferings. Thus, he introduced the amnesty programme and urged the warring youths of the region to embrace the programme by denouncing hostility and handling over their illegally acquired fire arms to the government. Unfortunately Yar’Adua did not live long to see the programme the fruit of the programmes he started.
However, President Goodluck Jonathan, who took over from Yar’Adua as the President of Nigeria did not let his late boss down as he implemented the programme to the latter. Thus, three years after the amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants, the man at the helm of its affairs, Kingsley Kuku, is handling the glory to President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he said had pursued the programme with a single-minded tenacity. Kuku, Special Adviser to the President, said the President’s attitude for the success of the programme was all part of his greater picture of leaving behind a united country with a robust economy, where the citizens and foreigners would be free to live and pursue their trades under a safe environment. According to him, the success of the programme had seen the growth of oil production in the Niger Delta Region from a mere 700 barrels per day at the peak of the crisis in the Niger Delta area to the current 2.6million barrels per day, and a leap in its earnings. The militants, who had been targeting oil installations apart from engaging in other forms of activities that made the area unsafe to live and do business have all been evacuated from the creeks and have been rehabilitated at various institutions in Nigeria and abroad, where they are learning both formal and informal skills.
A total of 5,204 ex-militants are currently undergoing various forms of skills acquisition training or formal education in Nigeria and other parts of the world. The career choices selected by the delegates range from marine, heavy duty operations, welding, agriculture, boat building, oil and gas technics, entrepreneurship, automobile technology and aviation among others. The Amnesty programme’s trainees are spread across 28 foreign training institutions in 15 countries across the globe and 36 local training institutions in 10 states of the federation. No fewer than 5,067 of the beneficiaries had already graduated in skills acquisition fields such as welding and fabrication (1,847), entrepreneurship (1,609), pipe fitting (150), carpentry & plumbing (206), oil drilling (32), electrical installation (232), ICT (125), marine related courses (564) and others (302). Already, 95 delegates have been offered direct employment in various governmental and private establishments. Besides, the Amnesty Office is putting finishing touches to mentoring programmes that would see many of the graduates becoming self-employed and employing other Nigerian youths. In addition, 6,280 delegates had already been processed for deployment to local and foreign training institutions to undergo courses ranging from aviation technicians, oil and gas technicians, marine technicians, entrepreneurial development programmes as well as formal education.
The rehabilitation of the militants has resulted in the creating of peace and security in the region which has led to the production of between 2.4 and 2.6 million barrels of crude oil per day as against the abysmally low between 700,000 and 800,000 barrels per day at the peak of the Niger Delta crisis in January 2009, the nation and its Joint Venture Partners are currently making production savings of up to 1.9 million barrels per day. When computed with prevailing exchange rate of about N160 to $1, daily production savings for Nigeria and the JV partners currently stand at a minimum of N33.4 billion per day. Given that oil production in Nigeria hovered between 2.4 and 2.6 barrels for all of 2011, it would be safe to emphatically assert that savings for Nigeria and the JV partners for year ending 2011 is estimated to be a whopping N6 trillion.
As for infrastructural development, Jonathan through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other intervention agencies has provided good roads which link the adjoining communities of the area. This has led to improvement of trade and social activities among members of the various communities. Dilapidated school buildings are renovated to standard while new ones were constructed to meet modern standard. Bridges are constructed to link riverine areas.
Besides, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is fast tracking the completion of 57 ongoing projects valued at N1.3 trillion spread across the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The Managing Director of the commission, Dr Christian Oboh, stated recently in Port Harcourt that the new board had resolved to award fewer contracts and speed up the completion of the 57 on-going projects inherited from the previous board.
Although critics may argue that enough has not been done in the region, but critical observation showed that ever since Jonathan mounted the saddle of power, there have been serious developments in the region, particularly in human, infrastructure, economy and social aspect. This development has led to increase in the financial balance sheet of the country.
Laba, a journalist, wrote from Lagos