Niger Delta Development-"a Potpourri"

It was recently reported widely that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved N179.13 billion for the execution of 44 projects in nine states in the Niger Delta region as part of the Amnesty programme. This appears to be a welcome idea. However, my concern is the modus operandi of the Government. As I write, I am not sure what stakeholders of the region expect from the Government. The Government I believe is missing out on the opportunity to convince people this way. There has always been a habitual piecemeal approach to the developmental issues of the region again and again over the last fifty years. This we all know is one of the grievances that led us to where we are at the moment. The President has promised to implement the report of the TCND and the Niger Delta master plan. Don't tell me that what has been agreed in the FEC is what is contained in these reports and plan.

Nobody can be fooled again. Two hundred billion will not do anything. In fact methinks that this money is going to get into the hands of politicians for their preparation for the 2011 forth coming elections. A few years ago, 300 billion naira was budgeted for roads which included those in the Niger Delta. Nobody can explain what happened as of today. The roads are still in their sorry and suicidal states. To travel from Port Harcourt to Lagos through Warri and Benin is a suicide endeavour. It is now evident that driving on our inter state roads in the Niger Delta is like going to live in the battle front in Helmand Province of Afghanistan- "A total world of uncertainty and highly risky activity"

Let me ask. Will two hundred (200) billion Naira be enough to construct the East West Road that will last the test of time? That project is one project that has continued to be used as a cash cow. The Abuja Airport Express-way project embarked upon by the Federal Government is expected to cost N257 billion as was explained by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. The Government must therefore show commitment to providing infrastructure in line with the needs of a modern economy in the Niger Delta and not this piecemeal and "potpourri" development. This recent FEC pronouncement is like photo trick.

I understand the Niger Delta projects involve the construction of bridges, roads, drainages, hospitals and acquisition of hospital equipment, provision of potable waters, educational facilities and environmental impact assessment programmes in the nine states that make up the region. As reported a breakdown of the projects show that Abia has four projects worth about N9 billion, Akwa Ibom, four projects worth N10.2 billion, Bayelsa (six) totaling N29 billion and Cross River State (three) worth N6.1 billion while Delta has (six) valued at N50 billion, Edo (three) worth N7 billion, Imo (four) estimated at N6.5 billion, Ondo (three) worth (22.5 billion) and Rivers (11) totaling N35.6 billion.

How many roads and bridges can be built with the amount earmarked? Are these roads and bridges the ones the state governments have asked the Federal Government for help in building? Can we say that these projects that are being earmarked are priority for development in the region? It appears our politicians have lost touch with the people. We have been talking about Vision 2020 but Vision 2020 can not succeed without a consolidated development of the Niger Delta. The region does not need any piecemeal developments again.

This pattern of action by the Federal Government will continue to put doubts in the minds of the people of the region. Adequate explanations need to be given. How can people of the region hear that a road in Abuja will cost 257 billion Naira and projects in nine states will cost less that 200 billion Naira? Information is the key in managing anxiety and perceptions.

It may the true that the Abuja airport road may be funded through PPI while the Niger Delta projects are directly funded by the Federal Government through PTDF and other means. But who cares. All we need in the region is development whether through PPI or directly funded. The various states in the region are stake holders and I believe their Governors will be happy to partner the Federal Government in such PPI initiatives. After all some of the state governors have been going out of the country to see how they get partners for the development of their states.

To my mind, everything boils down to practical commitment, a sense of sincerity and the strong desire to leave a befitting and sustainable legacy while in governance. I will beg the President to avoid persons who want to use the development of the region as a political tool for their future. Something must be done now Mr President. Time is not on your side.

So what is my advice? Please bring out a plan of action with time specifications as soon as possible and publish it for all to see. There should be no more announcements of projects in the regions if we do not know what is next because we are tired of living in a piecemeal world. There are projects like the establishment a Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas in Ekowe and the development of the National College of Petroleum Studies, Kaduna which are to specialize in petroleum, oil and gas and environmental engineering studies and also train senior level manpower respectively. On face value this appears very melodious in our ears and may seem to have been based on very good intentions and I am not against such. However, my fears are that such projects may not be well grounded in plans for take off and sustainability. We all know that Nigerian Universities and Polytechnics have fields of studies in Oil and Gas, but are the products easily employed by the multinational oil and gas companies? Why can we not strengthen the courses we have already by way of adequate subventions to these faculties to stand the test of recognition when compared with the schools outside the country? How many of our big men and women's children will attend these institutions when they are most likely to be sent overseas for qualifications acceptable to the employing companies? How many of those trained in these institutions will be able to secure jobs in oil and gas industry outside the country? What is worth doing is worth doing well Mr President.

I believe the Federal Government is well placed in this peace time to take advantage of the faith which the advocators of consolidated Niger delta development have for now. Government needs to aid development in line with modernity. There should be no more politics in the development of the Niger Delta region. We do not need a Potpourri development!



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