Concerns and agitations for a planned development of the Niger Delta Region are not recent issues, as many not conversant with the historical antecedents of this region are wont to think. These issues predate the discovery and production of oil in the region and also earlier than the much publicised resource control posturing.
By Jonas Odocha
Whichever way you may want to look at these recurring concerns and agitations, it is indeed a sad commentary on a country that development would be predicated on levels of agitations and confrontation. It even gets messier and more worrisome when one considers the fact that the region in question is, to all intents and purposes, the cash cow of a nation solely dependent on oil for revenue generation and foreign exchange earnings. As the chicken has now finally come home to roost with the sharp drop in oil prices and the concomitant erosion of the national reserves, there must be a rethink of our prioritisation of development in this region in particular and other areas of the country in general.
Prior to Nigeria gaining independence in 1960, the colonial office in London in September 1957, commissioned Sir Henry Willinks, QC; to carry out a detailed study on the concerns and fears expressed by the minorities. The recommendations emanating from this study culminated in what is known as the Willinks Commission Report (1958). In the main, it highlighted the peculiar problems of the Niger Delta Region associated with the difficulties of their terrain, prompting a strong decision that the Region should be regarded as a special area. To facilitate implementation, this was followed by the setting up of a federal board to fast-track the development of this area. This was the genesis of the Niger Delta Development Board, NDDB, which was eventually inserted into the 1963 Constitution.
It is pertinent to note that these recommendations were made for the region before the escalation of oil discovery and production and the associated negative environmental and socio-economic impacts in this region. It should also interest you to observe that since the efforts of the colonial masters towards a planned development of the Niger Delta Region, there have been numerous other reports and recommendations by successive governments, both military and civilian. Permit me to just highlight some of them:
The Belgore Report, 1992
The Etiebet report, 1994
The Vision 2010 Report, 1996
The Report of The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation In Nigeria, 1997
The Popoola Report,1998
The Ogbemudia Report, 2001
White Paper Report of The Presidential Panel on National Security, 2003
Report on First International Conference on Sustainable Development of The Niger Delta, NDDC/UNDP; 2003
The Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, 2004
The National Political Reform Conference Report (NPRC); 2005.
UNDP: Niger Delta Human Development Report (UNHDR); 2006
Report of The Presidential Council of The Social and Economic Development of The Coastal States of The Niger Delta, 2006.
Is it not instructive and highly lamentable that with all these reports and recommendations all these years, spanning over half a century, the Niger Delta Region is still bedeviled with glaring under development. Where did we then go wrong there? We must begin to tell ourselves the home truth and do a re-think in order to accord this region its deserved development and pride of place.
But again there are even more serious questions to ask, when you dispassionately follow this next development effort. In September 2008, a committee, TECHNICAL COMMITTEE ON THE NIGER DELTA, was inaugurated by the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, which committee was tasked to collate and review all past reports on the Niger Delta Region, the Willinks