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President Buhari’s 59th Independence Day Speech And The Niger Delta

By Substance Udo-Nature

“We remain equally resolute in our efforts to combat militant attacks on our oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta and accelerate the Ogoni Clean-Up to address long-standing environmental challenges in that region. The recent deployment of the Niger Delta Commission from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to the Ministry of Niger Delta underscores our commitment to enhance the living standard of our communities in the Niger Delta, through coordinated and appropriate programmes” – Excerpt, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Speech.
“At my age, they can’t deceive me again. We have been deceived for far too long.” – Mr. Nubari Tabu, an elderly fisherman in Ogoni, May 2019
“We don’t want to hear anything about HYPREP or Clean-Up anymore, except they are ready to implement all the recommendations of UNEP as outlined in the report” – an Ogoni indigene, May 2019

In just two bulleted sentences,
President Muhammadu Buhari
hurriedly swept through the humungous dilemma of the Niger Delta in his October 1, 2019 Independence Anniversary broadcast.
Although the President is characteristically not given to saying much for mere ornamentation, the two sentences made in specific reference to the Niger Delta may have pushed open a thousand windows of curiosity and controversies. The first among the many, perhaps, was: how really committed the President is to the Ogoniland Clean-up Project, beyond practiced political make-overs.
As good as the mention of intensified fight against militancy and “acceleration” of works on the Ogoni Clean-Up were, Niger Deltans apparently expected the President to also have said something, even he were not to really mean it, about the East-West Road which at the moment still remains a victim on the calculus of political abracadabra. But that was totally absent. East-West Road was not part of the President’s cardinal concerns; or so it can be assumed.
The missing link in the President’s speech therefore could not have been mistaken. Or could the President have found justifications in “The recent deployment of the Niger Delta Commission from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to the Ministry of Niger Delta”? The omission of that popular abandoned road project therefore perhaps betrayed the Presidency’s mindset on the project, dreamed since the early 70’s but which construction contract was officially awarded in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration; yet 13 years now, it cannot be completed.
Even the cursory mention of Ogoni Clean-Up raised eyebrows. Recall that in 2011, on invitation by the Nigerian government, the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) had submitted an expository report to the Federal Government on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoni Land. It later came to be commonly known as “UNEP Report”. The report contains detailed information on the assessment of areas marked as Ogoni Land viz-a-viz he effect of oil activities, a nomenclature that is as generic in nature as it is in geographical dimension.
The UNEP report mentioned contaminated land, groundwater, surface, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, industry practice, institutional matters as well as recommendations on possible steps to be taken in executing the report. In specific terms, the UNEP findings found thick concentration of benzene, a carcinogen, in the outdoor air and drinking water, with some areas having benzene contamination of over 90 times above the World Health Organization’s guideline, and drinking water in some areas containing 1,000 times the recommended level of hydrocarbon.
According to UNEP, the contamination or pollution of Ogoni land and its vicinities was so devastating that it will take about 30 years for the areas to me completely remediated or cleaned up. It therefore recommended an initial sum of S1billion to be paid by the Nigerian government and oil companies in funding the project. In spite of the dangers posed and the urgency that it should have attracted, the Jonathan administration adopted snail-pace approach to the matter not until President Buhari took what looked like the first practical steps on June 2, 2016, when the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the Clean–Up exercise in a community called Bodo, in Rivers State, with a launch of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), with Dr. Marvin Barinem Dekil as the man in charge.
To effectively drive the project, a Project Coordination Office (PCO) was set up in Ogoniland, with the mandate “To remediate the environment and restore the livelihood of the people”. Core of the middlemen labour force and service providers for the project were to be sourced from Ogoniland. Some, especially the youth, were to be trained in related areas to also provide services or serve as feeder teams to expatriates.
The fact remains that Ogoniland suffers what it has been suffering as a result of oil exploitation and exploration in the area that have been going on since 1958, without any genuine attempt at replenishing or taking care of the land and environment to reduce the obvious effects of associated damages. The people have suffered years of neglect with regards to massive environmental degradation, inaccessibility to portable water, health challenges, lack of infrastructure, unemployment, etc. Prior to the expected holistic remediation, the 2011 UNEP reports also recommended some stop-gap or emergency measures to be taken to provide temporary relief to the people of the area.
In a somewhat practical response to the UNEP report, the Federal Government had no choice than co-opt, by re-engagement, the same United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) experts who earlier did the study to liaise and work with HYPREP for 12 months, to provide needed take-off technical assistance and supervision and in the process build capacity of staff.
The Head of Media of HYPREP, Ekaette Umo, in a July 2019 article entitled: “Ogoni Clean-Up: The Journey So far” gave HYPREP a favourable scorecard for the achievements so far recorded. There was a mention of medical outreach exercise that covers communities in Gokana, Tai, Khana and Eleme –all in Rivers State – where over 200 patients with various ailments have so far been treated and over 400 surgeries carried out, in collaboration with the Rivers State Ministry of Health.
The article also said that there have also been sensitization exercises in the 21 communities earmarked for the project. It further disclosed that one of the signs of commitment by the government was when HYPREP conducted the technical Bid Opening for phase 1, Batch 2 of the remediation of hydrocarbon impacted areas in Ogoniland on July 28, 2019. The report said about 100 contractors bidded for the available 35 lots.
Against all shades of criticism and cynicism, claims and counter-claims, the Buhari administration must be commended for finally initiating the idea of the clean-up of Ogoni Land after years of internal agitation and international pressuring. But just how realistic is it? How truly committed is the government to the project so that the President would make boasts of it in his 1st October Speech?
Three years after, government is observed to be too slow to the initial commitment it showed. A report by the Premium Times unveiled alleged hiccups and anomalies in the execution of the programme. First was the allegation that considerable percentage of the 16 contractors approved for the work knew little or nothing about the contracts they were given, perhaps on political patronage. According to the report, “The bulk of the companies were set up for businesses such as poultry farming, cars sales, textile dealership and fashion, palm-oil production, building design and construction”, the source had stated.
From the office of HYPREP, the companies include – Louizant Ferretti Enterprises Ltd.; Environmental Resource Managers Limited; Asonic Associates Limited; Mosvinny Nigeria Limited; Rey and Reina International Limited; Pacrim Engineering Limited; and Newpal Nigeria Limited. On the list also are Amazing Environmental Solutions International Limited; Earthpro Unique Integrated Ltd., Tiptree Intertrade Nigeria Limited; Navante Oil & Gas Company Ltd.; Shamsa Resources and Services Limited; and Odun Environmental Management Services Limited.
Premium Times, in its analysis, further emphasized on the status of the 16 contractors handling the job, “Only one of the companies has anything remotely to do with remediation of oil spills. Again, one of the pre-qualification conditions by HYPREP was that interested companies must have a minimum of five-year experience in hydrocarbon remediation, yet none of the companies tends to have met that requirement. Out of the estimated S1billion dollars for the remedial clean-up as recommended by UNEP, about N180milion is so far said to have been released to HYPREP.
On the merit or otherwise report by the media, if the President is really serious about the Ogoniland Clean-up beyond politics, there is a rising need for the Presidency to look into certain allegations and streamlined the processes toward ensuring that those engaged know their onions and are not ghosts whose main target is to get the money and vamoose into thin air, leaving the people to continue in their age-long agonies.
In a statement released January 2019, Gbo Kabaari, a group of Ogoni Elders, rubbished the updated reports by HYPREP that it has commenced remediation exercise in the region. They said everything is a fluke and designed to win public praise. For instance, the Premium Times report hinted on how the group lamented over the abandoned state of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, a research centre for hydrocarbon remediation in Bori, Rivers State, which had since been overgrown by wild weed, after its groundbreaking in 2017 by former Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed.
Ironically, Mr. Marvin Dekil, the man in charge of HYPREP, is an Ogoni and Niger Delta man. Based on counter-reports, the people are already accusing him of double standard and betrayal over a matter that should concern him most. “Is he not supposed to be the one who should guide others on the best and right thing to do for his people whose plight he is part of?” That seems to be the question on both gullible and informed lips.
It would altogether not be surprising that Dekil may choose to play pranks to gratify the gods politics or massage the ego of his pay masters. That tends to be an endemic fallout or misgiving of Niger Delta stakeholders. In 2015, The Ijaw Youth Council was bold enough to state in a Press Release that “Institutions run by Niger Deltans to empower the people and develop the region are conduits for stealing money – we are our biggest problems”. Dekil must either prove them wrong beyond all reasonable doubts or fall prey to that position.
Hence, government, as a matter of transparency championed by the Change Agenda, must step up its game to convince the masses, the Niger Delta People in particular, that the Clean-Up of Ogoniland was after all not a facet of media hype for cheap political applause or another spate of official fraud as some may already be insinuating. At the end of the day, it is the President who shall be held accountable for the success or failure of the project, beyond grandstand rhetoric.
It doesn’t seem to require any counter arguments that the Nigerian government only always sluggishly respond, by way of reaction, to issues pertaining to the deplorable condition of the Niger Delta years after reports by an outside body has been submitted. We can only wonder why it has always been so for a region that is the bread winner to the country.
The Ogoniland clean-up project was used as bait during the 2019 election campaigns. In that connection, the President must prove to Nigerians and the wider world that his 59th Independence Speech in areas concerning the Clean-Up of Ogoniland was not merely for the political sake of the moment.

The Niger Delta Master Plan: The Journey So Far?
A section in the Punch Newspaper’s Editorial of May 23, 2017, with the title – Rediscovering the NDDC Master Plan – made this incisive observation: “Essentially, the funding of NDDC activities is not its biggest challenge, but lack of committed management…to oversee its realization of government’s objectives. It had watched the pillaging of its resources through contract inflation and abandonment…However, it is the Federal Government that should be given the hardest hit for failing in its responsibility: strict control and supervision as espoused in Section 7, (3) of the NDDC Act have been lacking”.
In retrospect, agitation for equity or commiserate compensation for Delta Niger Region began as early as oil was discovered in the region and progressively gained momentum and dynamism in approaches with the expansion in oil exploitation and exportation as well as awareness and escalation of associated hazards posed to human and natural environments by oil activities. Two prominent champions and martyrs of the struggle were Major Isaac Adaka Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa.
The Niger Delta Development Plan was therefore conceived as, or was supposed to be, a holistic template or roadmap that the federal government and people of the region can utilize in actualizing their shared vision towards improvement of life in the region, in ameliorative response to the multifaceted damages oil exploration and exploitation have caused to the area. Conversely, the Master Plan was designed to involve and offer all critical stakeholders opportunities to contribute their quotas to the growth and development of the area largely described as robbed, cheated and neglected in gross disproportion to its unassailable contributions to national budget and growth.
The Master Plan, as originally authored, was to cover demography; environment and hydrology; agriculture and aquaculture; biodiversity; rural, urban and regional planning and housing schemes; Community development; good governance and capacity building; biodiversity and health programmes.
Other part include social amenities such as water supply and electricity; telecommunication, small and medium scale enterprises, vocational training, waste management, location and localization of industries, solid minerals, tourism, social welfare initiatives, arts, culture and sports, women and youth empowerment, conflict prevention and resolution, investment promotion and accessibility to financial supports.
The Niger Delta is a densely populated region of Nigeria’s oil-rich zone of the mangrove stretch traversing core states along the delta and other states later added to the nomenclature because of some measurable proportion of oil located off-shore or on-shore in those places, or at best, their cartographic and geographical proximity to the region that makes up the Niger Delta.
The Niger Delta was previously known as Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil, an area that was designated as British Oil Rivers Protectorate counting from 1885 until 1893 when its borders were expanded to become the Nigeria Coast Protectorate. As presently defined by the Federal Government, the region makes up about 7.5% of Nigeria’s landmass
The region is superfluously rich in natural resources, arable landmass as well as human resources, having belonged to that part of exposed Nigerians who were among the earliest to benefit from Western Education that came with imperialism. Although being the hen hat lays the golden egg and indisputably the chief breadwinner to the country, there are concerns that the region is still underutilized as much more resources may yet be discovered, nor the ones now serving as money-spinners fully utilized due to a number of factors.
As politics and political will would detect, there have been several attempts and initiatives in the past aimed at bettering the lives of the people of the Niger Delta region by successive Nigerian administrations. While almost all had been overtaken by politics and lack of genuine personal interest by leaders who were not from the area, it was the President Olusegun Obasanjo who stamped its foot on ground in 2year 2000 and did something practical which today serves as a critical framework for the development of the region.
As far as back as 1958, same year the 3Es of oil exploitation, exploration and exportation began in the Niger Delta, the Sir Henry Willinks Commission had stated that the area deserved special attention in development in view of what was expected to come from oil and its effects on the environment and the people. It was out of that preview that the Federal Government launched the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in the year of Independence, 1960. But that initiative was narrow in scope because it covered only what was demarcated as Yenogoa Province (in present-day Bayelsa), Degema Province, Ogoni Division (Port Harcourt), and the Western Ijaw Division in the present Delta State.
NDDB lasted for only about seven years because of the maiden coup d’état of 1966 in the country, which culminated in the 1967 -1970 Nigeria Civil War. The eventual oil boom of post-war years did nothing to impact on the region –and the leaders showed no pretentions to that anomaly nor did they have any justifications to offer whatsoever. Nevertheless, somewhat serious attention could be said to have returned to the area in late 1980s into early 1990s.
It was during General Obasanjo’s tenure as military Head of State between 1979/1983 that a Presidential Task Force ridiculously codenamed “1.5% Committee” was set up precisely in 1980 and allocated a paltry 1.5% of the Federation Account to tackle the leviathan-like challenges in the region. In obvious ineffectiveness and total redundancy, that Committee timidly struggled to survive through the push-and-start regimes that ran into the 1985/93 periods. And at the end of the day, as stock-taking clearly revealed, there was nothing to justify the said 1.5% funds for the region.
General Ibrahim Babaginda entered the scene with his peculiar bags of assorted tricks. It was during this regime that the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission (OMPADEC) was constituted, in 1992 to be sure. The only difference was the equally insignificant addition of 1.5% from federal oil revenues to the then subsisting 1.5% that pushed the total to 3%.
OMPADEC had launched out with some initial flashes of hope; but it was sooner consumed by Nigeria’s endemic, intravenous and virulent viruses of corruption, ethnicity and inefficiency of “government thing”, especially for the fact that IBB saw no reason to have appointed somebody from the Niger Delta to man the Commission than General Muhammadu Buhari, a core northerner.
Terminal stocktaking revealed that there was nothing convincing, commiserate and justifiable to show for the 8 years OMPADEC lasted, till it was rolled up in 1999. An autopsy of the Commission by bold and frank analysts for the about one decade it lasted had accused the sanctimonious managers of the Commission of inadequacy, self-aggrandizement, official wastefulness, undue political intrusion, lack of transparency, and diversion of interest to where the terms of preference did not cover. Therefore, because it failed, tension in the area continued, with the people still seeking for palliatives and a messiah.
Midway along the course, following persistent and vociferous agitation, an experimental short-lived Niger Delta Environmental Survey (NDES), similar in scope and pretext to the glamourized Ogoni Clean-Up, was launched as an impulsive response to the a World Bank report on the area. But it was a shaky and unsatisfactory palliative to mounting pressure from concerned advocates within and without the area.
By this time, the effects of deterioration in ecological, social and economic conditions that resulted in pandemic communal tension had become increasingly obvious and undeniable. Not even one major road project traversing the Niger Delta, like the latter hopes the abandoned East-West will generate, could have been pointed as evidence of the mandate given OMPADEC. Yet billions had disappeared, as was alleged.
Having been part of both the problem and transient solutions, former President Obasanjo, on the benefit of hindsight on assumption –or resumption of office – as Civilian President of the Country, therefore wasted no time in forwarding a Bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). That was part of his signature tunes on his second journey on the throne, straight from prison, this time as a civilian.
Arguably, more than any other Nigerian President, past and present, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had more genuinely been at the core of sustained initiatives for the development of the Niger Delta Region, although such could still have been seen as half-hearted because it always came on the crest of vehement agitation and pressure that seared consciences and shook the seat of government. The Niger Deltans must by now be tired of cunning political experiments for cheap political points.
By and large, the hard truth boldly told, the Niger Delta Master Plan by today still remains more of a popular document than the developmental purposes it was meant to serve had there been real commitment by successive Nigerian governments and stakeholders from the region who have had great opportunities to make a difference by virtue of their critical engagements as ministers of the Niger Delta or Members on the board of the NDDC. Interestingly, the motto of the NDDC reads: “Determined to make a difference”.
The earlier quoted Punch’s editorial ended with this piece of advisory: “It is, therefore, in the enlightened self-interest of the region’s elite not to continue to see the agency as a honey pot. It should be clear to all the stakeholders that the NDDC was not set up to create emergency contractors or billionaires, but to foster development in the region”.

From the Archives
* Land Area of Niger Delta States (Sq.Kms.)
Abia – 4, 877; Akwa Ibom – 6, 806; Bayelsa – 11, 007; Cross River – 21, 930; Delta – 17, 163; Edo – 19, 698; Imo – 5, 165; Ondo – 15, 086; Rivers – 10, 378

* “Essentially, the funding of NDDC activities is not its biggest challenge, but lack of committed management before now to oversee its realization of government’s objectives. It had watched the pillaging of its resources through contract inflation and abandonment…However, it is the Federal Government that should be given the hardest hit for failing in its responsibility: strict control and supervision as espoused in Section 7, (3) of the NDDC Act have been lacking”, Editorial, Rediscovering the NDDC Master Plan, Punch Newspaper, May 23, 2017.

* “It is, therefore, in the enlightened self-interest of the region’s elite not to continue to see the agency as a honey pot. It should be clear to all the stakeholders that the NDDC was not set up to create emergency contracytros or billionaires, but to foster development in the region” – Editorial, Rediscovering the NDDC Master Plan, Punch Newspaper, May 23, 2017.

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