February 23, 2016 - 5:14 PM EST
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Niger Delta Ministry - Re-Focusing for Development

There is no gain saying that that the birth of the Niger Delta Ministry was a quintessential necessity aimed at redressing deficits of infrastructure and resolving vexing issues of economic justice in

oil producing region. As late President Musa Yar'Adua probably intended at inception in September 2008: the ministry will coordinate efforts to tackle the challenges of development, environmental protection and youth empowerment in the Niger Delta, it was equally expected that the establishment would serve as the primary vehicle for delivery of the administration's agenda for the rapid development of the restive region.

So it was envisaged that the states ( Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Ondo ) comprising the Niger Delta would witness the desired stimulus of economic development consequent on the birth of the new ministry; that some concrete gains will be recorded to substantially justify the nearly 60 years of oil exploration in the region. Hefty budgetary allocations flowed to the ministry particularly under ex- President Goodluck Jonathan who ' promoted' Peter Godsday Orubebe from being minister of state to the helm of the vital bureaucracy in 2010. On direct budgetary records, as there could be other special allocations, the ministry got N 86.2 billion in 2010, N 55.2 billion in 2011,N 59.7 billion in 2012 and N 63.4 billion in 2013, an aggregate of about N280 billion in four years under Minister Orubebe.

While the affairs of

oil producing region has always been characterised by a litany of broken promises and disappointed expectations, the era of the likes of Orubebe however epitomised the unconscionable conversion of the ministry to a mere pipeline for re-channeling funds to other purposes. Every credible metrics studied during Orubebe's tenure showed under performance ratings, below thirty-five percent ; the lofty ideals of poverty alleviation , the agenda of rapid development, the vision of youths empowerment and employment were all reduced to hollow political mantras.

As a consequence of the many failed promises and unfulfilled declarations, the bridge of trust between the people of the oil-producing region and the federal government has suffered fatal damages. The level of cynicism for the government and such agencies as the Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is sharply profound. Indeed, situation has now deteriorated to the point where a handful of vehement critics allege that previous administrations never really intended to deliver on the various programmes of economic development that was promised to some Niger Delta communities.

The festering of such feelings and the reality has in some instances produced a psychology of frustration, mistrust and even hostile resistance. Regrettably, the economic history of the Niger Delta does posses some indelible and mournful lessons of wanton neglect and unpardonable betrayal of trust by the Nigerian political elite; those who are inclined to examine the narrative of the region from this sad perspective will conclude that the potentials of an economic boom from oil exploration has turned into doom for the affected communities.

Unfortunately , the chronology from Oloibiri ( in Bayelsa State) where

oil exploration began in 1956 to the 2016 unresolved 'puzzles' over the completion of the East-West road project tend to legitimise the position of the critics and activists. ( The road which was planned to connect Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River States was started by the Federal Ministry of Works in 2006, then transferred to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in 2008 to catalyze the actualisation. With N270 billion now expended, questions are being raised whether the funds can be justified on this ten year -long ' political drama'). Oloibiri, the cradle of Shell operations in
remains till date a classic study in the simultaneity and contradictions of sorrowful poverty in the opulent ocean of 'black gold'.

It is indeed assaulting to the imagination that the Niger Delta communities which fueled our nation's journey to the prestigious international energy club could be subjected to their current economic fate; that these areas will still be defined by shanty town-like dwellings, rickety canoes ferrying passengers across polluted and precarious waters; of landscapes devoid of elementary facilities such as rural health clinics, portable water , accessible roads alongside the perpetual nightmare of environmental pollution. Thus, if the Niger Delta area is going to witness change of direction in the lives of the constituent communities, there must be a credible leadership to inspire such a momentum; the Niger Delta Ministry today stands before the jury of history, the agency cannot continue in the mode of ' business as usual' with a derogatory public perception of political arrogance and an unresponsive bureaucracy .

President Muhammad Buhari must have been acutely cognizant of the historical background from which the Niger Delta people are viewing the federal government as brilliantly reflected in his policies around NNPC and other agencies linked with petroleum matters. As a leader who places premium on trust, the president has acted with the insight of a statesman in selecting Pastor Usani Uguru Usani as the minister for Niger Delta Affairs; Pastor Usani is a dependable patriot with profound familiarity of the Niger Delta terrain and enviable commitment to the development of the Niger Delta region in particular and the nation as whole.

The minister does not only understand geography as part of his academic discipline , but he is also well studied in business administration as well as globalisation and development issues. He arrives at the Niger Delta Affairs ministry with the vital pedigree of a seasoned private sector executive and a tried and tested grassroots politician and leader. Indeed, it is remarkable that the minister's recent schedule of inspection of projects under his purview included series of consultative meetings with relevant stakeholders in those communities. He equally struck a commendable commencement signal by ordering a comprehensive audit of the ' mysterious' East-West road project which had constituted an indelible blemish on both the profile of the Federal Ministry of Works and the Niger Delta Affairs ministry.

More than anything else, the minister is innately endowed with the organisational capacity and understanding of how to effectively offset the crucial deficit of credibility and transparency in the affairs of the Niger Delta ministry. Pastor Usani's pronouncements on resuming office are indicative of a new paradigm of policy implementation ; a strict adherence and focus on the people-oriented mandate of the ministry as well as strategic allocation of budgetary resources to maximise benefits for the Niger Delta communities.

The obligations ahead of the minister are unarguably formidable. However, in every action and initiatives taken so far , Usani seems irreversibly poised to alter the odious factors that have previously afflicted the ministry and, may well be on the path of engendering new equations of ' change' for rapid development of the oil-producing region.

*Mr. Oteghe Adams, Political Strategist, wrote from

city, Edo State.

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Source: Equities.com News (February 23, 2016 - 5:14 PM EST)

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