By Yisa Omoluwabi.
When President Muhammadu Buhari took over the reins of power on May 29, 2015, the Niger Delta region was best described at that time as a troubling paradox for Nigeria.
Niger Delta States at that time had no other option, except to cope with a wave of attacks on oil facilities in the region, hostilities, militancy as well as challenges of environmental degradation. About 240,000 barrels of crude oil was spilt in the region per year. These spillages had serious consequences on the livelihoods of those living in the area, particularly those who make a living from fishing and crop farming. The reason for insecurity is not far fetched because although the region is the Nation’s main source of public revenue as it holds the largest oil and gas reserves in the country yet, it has the highest number of people live in abject poverty alongside enormous wealth flowing through pipelines.
Buhari’s New Vision For The Niger Delta:
Following series of engagements with leaders and representatives of the Niger Delta, under the aegis of the Pan Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF), President Muhammadu Buhari, who was barely a year old in office as the Commander-in-Chief, launched what he termed ‘The New Vision For The Niger Delta Region’. The timeous setting in motion an agenda for the massive development of the region clearly showed the political will by Mr. President to address the ills in the war-torn region. The Buhari administration’s New Vision for the Niger Delta brought together a robust set of promises, solutions, targets and initiatives aimed at ensuring that the people of the Niger Delta benefit maximally from the region’s oil wealth.
Tangible Results Of The New Vision:
A good leadership is known by integrity, credibility and the will-power to fulfill a promise. As such, President Buhari deserves applause for fulfilling his campaign promises to the Niger Delta region. The following are tangible proofs to show that his New Vision for the region is genuine.
(i) Presidential Amnesty Programme:
To ensure continuous rehabilitation and sustainable re-integration of ex-agitators of the Niger-Delta region, the Buhari-led administration approved an additional N35 billion for the 2016 budget of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
Checks reveal that the 2018 budgetary allocation for the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme was a whooping N65 billion. So far, about 21,615 beneficiaries have been trained in the region, out of which 4,079 have been empowered.
Also, the Presidential Amnesty Programme has empowered 4,079 ex-militants through the establishment of businesses such as agriculture (cluster farms). 3,237 ex-militants are in various stages of Vocational Training and University Scholarship Programmes. The Amnesty Office has initiated the training of 10,000 beneficiaries in modern agriculture and established them into 10,000-hectare cluster farms in the nine (9) Niger Delta States. The Presidential Amnesty Programme modern agricultural schemes are projected to create 80,000 new jobs in three years.
(ii) Maritime University, Delta State:
President Buhari initiated the take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State. The University was granted approval in January 2018 by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to commence undergraduate degree programmes effective 2017/18 session, and commenced academic activities on April 12, 2018.
President Muhammadu Buhari approved an increase in the take-off grant allocated to the Maritime University from the N2 billion to N5 billion. Similarly, in November 2017, the President also approved an additional N1 billion to support essential infrastructure works and staff recruitment in the University.
(iii) Ogoni Clean-Up:
The Ogoni clean-up project described as the biggest clean-up project in the world is a project that continues to attract both national and global attention. Which is why it is not surprising that from time to time, envoys from countries like the Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, and the U.S, pay fact-finding visits to remediation sites. Local and International Non-Governmental Organizations and other interest groups are not left out.
In June 2016, the Buhari administration started the implementation of the 2011 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoniland devastated by decades of oil spills. An Inter-Ministerial committee on Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) (now under the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs) was established. HYPREP had since commenced the clean-up and restoration of the region devastated by oil spills.
President Buhari has shown in action that his administration is determined to make a difference in Ogoni land. Even the traducers of the Buhari led government have agreed that the clean up exercise in Ogoni land is a priority project of President Buhari as they have seen stronger institutions being put in place to fasten the project.
It must be stated here that, the recent transfer of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs by the Federal Government, is a welcome development, as it will among other benefits, hasten the slow pace of work on the Ogoni clean-up.
(iv) Modular Refineries:
Until 2016, there was only one functioning Modular Refinery in the Niger Delta, with a capacity to refine only 1,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Today, spurred by the Buhari Administration’s New Vision for the Niger Delta, there are several Modular Refinery construction projects ongoing across the Niger Delta, all led by the private sector.
One of the biggest investments Niger Deltans have seen in a while is the Train 7 of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited, in Bonny, Rivers State. More than a decade after Train 6 was completed and launched, President Buhari had in 2021 flagged off construction of Train 7. Until he became President, the project had stalled, the victim of lack of political will from the previous administration. The Train 7 project has attracted at least $10 billion dollars of domestic and foreign investment, while creating several thousand jobs, and asserting Nigeria’s place on the global map of gas producing countries.
The administration of President Buhari has improved the living conditions of the people of Niger Delta region particularly in the area of infrastructure and economic development. For instance, the soon-to-be inaugurated 338km East-West Road, running across four States of the Niger Delta region namely Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom, is now almost ready for handing over to the people, more than a decade after the contract was first awarded.
Apart from the East West Road, the 39km Bodo-Bonny Bridges and Road project is another landmark infrastructure project being delivered by the Buhari Administration for the people of the Niger Delta. Comprising several bridges, as well as a road network, it will connect Bonny Island, Nigeria’s gas hub, to Ogoniland on the Rivers Mainland, opening up several once-isolated communities for commerce, investment and development.
It must be stated emphatically that this project was first conceived in the late 1970s, but all the contracts awarded prior to the Buhari Administration were aborted. President Buhari has finally broken the jinx. Construction started on the project in 2017 and it is now set for completion in 2022.
Again, The very first Water Supply project to be completed by the Buhari Administration, in 2016, was the Central Ogbia Water Supply Scheme, in Bayelsa State.
That’s not all. Now, after close to two decades of false starts, the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) has seen the light of day, with the signing of the historic PIB into law by President Buhari on August 16, 2021. This is yet another jinx broken by President Buhari. The PIA will make available an estimated $500 million annually for host communities to deploy for developmental projects – this is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. Never before has any administration dedicated fund specifically to serve host communities who live with the devastating effects of oil exploitation.
What else is there to say, available record show that that no previous administration has paid more attention to the plight of the Niger Delta region like that of President Muhammadu Buhari. Without doubt, Mr. President has done his part. The ball is now in the court of the Niger Deltans to utilize opportunities available to build a sustainable economy for ourselves and other Nigerians. Generations yet unborn will definitely not forgive this generation if we waste our commonwealth through corruption and betray them. Accordingly, our people in the entire Nine States should set aside narrow, sectional and divisive tendencies and adopt a common front for collective development of the region. What is important at the moment is unity of purpose and support of the President’s New Vision for our region.
Omoluwabi is a Historian from the Akure Kingdom in Ondo State.