FOR 60 decades, most parts of the South-South geo-political zone have remained the geese that lay the proverbial golden egg. The zone accounts for over 80 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign revenues because of its oil and gas resources. In spite of this humongous contributions to the nation’s economic well-being, the South-South has continued to suffer infrastructural deficit.
East-West road to hell
The East-West road which connects the six states in the region and Lagos, the commercial hub of the country, has been in a deplorable mess for decades. A trip from Warri in Delta State, to Benin City, the capital of Edo State, all in the same South-South region that should ordinarily not exceed an hour drive, takes as much as four hours on a rainy day because of the deplorable state of the road. It is a similar story from Warri to Calabar, the capital of Cross River State.
Effort to fix the road, transform it into a dual carriage way has dragged on for over 10 years due to epileptic funding on the part of the Federal Government.
Before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 that gave rise to Nigeria’s flag independence 61 years ago, the southern minorities had expressed strong worries over marginalisation in a Nigerian federation.
The cry culminated into what later became known as the Willink’s Commission, to address minority questions in a pluralistic federalism.
The Sir Henry Willink’s Commission was set up on November 23, 1957 and was wrapped up on June 12, 1958 with a recommendation among others that minority rights be protected by the constitution; their areas should have special councils and development boards be created to attend to issues of underdevelopment in the Niger-Delta areas.
Sadly, 61 years down the line, the region has continued to suffer gross political and economic marginalisation, underdevelopment, neglect, environmental degradation arising from exploration of her oil and gas resources largely for the gains of other areas.
Agitations for fiscal federalism by the region that would guarantee equity in a multi-ethnic federation, have continued to be ignored by the hegemonic Nigerian political leadership.
Painfully, some of the region’s brightest have been consumed, martyred in the struggle for a breath of fresh air in the Nigerian state. The judicial murder of the late Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa, founding president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP; brutal assassination of Pa Alfred Rewane, former chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, and several others, are a few of the long instances of orchestrated effort to coerce the region into quietism.
Although, some interventionist agencies had been set up to drive development in the region, Mr Charles Effiong, a social crusader, said the agencies were designed to fail from the beginning, citing cases of poor funding.
“From the staggering amounts owed contractors according to media extractions from the forensic audit of the NDDC so far, you will know that the commission was designed to fail. How can you owe contractors such amount and you expect them to deliver? “ he queried.
Some opinion leaders who bared their minds on the state of infrastructure in the region 61 years down the line as a sovereign nation, shared Effiiong’s views.
The Secretary, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, Mr Sunny Mene, called on the Federal Government to declare a Marshall plan to speed up development in the South-South region.
This plan expectedly should among other things, dust up the NDDC Master plan evolved by the Timi Alaibe-led board of the commission as its managing director, almost two decades ago.
The Master plan which was a product of critical interactions among stakeholders, civil society groups, governments at all levels, focussed among others, on taking modern day comfort and civilisation to coastal communities across the South-South, particularly linking them with roads and electricity.
Mene lamented that the Willink’s Commission’s recommendations had continued to gather dust in the archives, stressing that the content bordering on redressing minority fears in the region should be revisited.
“The state of infrastructure in the South-South zone of the country has remained very deplorable and unfortunate. The Willink’s report of 1958 recommended that the region should be given special attention. It recommended the creation of the Niger-Delta Development Board to tackle the neglect despite the abundant resources of the region. After 61 years of independence, we cannot travel between Benin and Sapele without spending four to five hours in traffic due to bad roads. The oil-producing areas still lack all critical infrastructure. This is the story of the South-South Region,” he said.
It would also be recalled that the Federal Government had constituted a Niger-Delta Technical Committee which was codenamed Ledum Mitte Committee, derived from the name of the Chairman of the body, Mr Ledum Mitte, to collate recommendations gathered over the years on the way forward for the South-South region.
Also, it is depressing to note that the final presentation of the committee to the Federal Government has not been acted on.
Chairman, Warri branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Emmanuel Uti, described the state of infrastructure in the region as simply appalling, blaming the three tiers of government for failing to live up to expectation.
Omare, literally wept over the level of underdevelopment in the region, saying it was a shame that for over six decades, the Federal Government was still battling to fix the East-West road.
“The South-South part of the country just like other parts of Nigeria, suffers from massive infrastructural deficit. However, what is peculiar about the South-South is that it is the region that lays the golden egg hence the region’s lack of infrastructure speaks loudly. Key infrastructure like the East-West Road is a shame to the nation. That after 61 years of independence, the East-West Road which connects all the six states of the zone is yet to be completed, shows the level of leadership failure in Nigeria,” he said.
Also, the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC, Mr Cleric Akaowei, said in 61 years of the nation’s independence, it had been a sad tale for the region.
“Nigeria’s 61 years of independence is a curse to the Niger-Delta region or better still, the South-South geo-political zone. The fears being expressed by Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye of blessed memory at the Lancaster House, London, in the 1957 pre-independence conference kept on manifesting till date. The South-South region is under a colony in the hands of the majority ethnic groups.
“The socio-political emasculation of the region by the oppressive Nigerian Government has occasioned infrastructural deficiencies over the years. If not that states were created through the recommendation of Harold Dappa-Biriye, no part of the entire South-South region would have hosted a single Federal Government project. State creations have really changed the fortune of this criminally marginalized region.”
Like Chief Uti, he also lashed out at governments in the region for poor utilisation of the 13 per cent derivation fund accruing to the area.
His words: “Even state governments in the region have not done enough as expected considering the resources spent in the Niger-Delta.
“The state of infrastructure in the South-South region compared to when Nigeria got her independence has improved. However, with the region being the area where oil is explored and the economic engine room of Nigeria, the infrastructural development is appalling.
“The federal, states and local governments in the region have failed the region, except Governor Wike who has shown leadership in recent times.
The failure to use the NDDC and other developmental agencies created for purposes of the derivations from oil to develop infrastructure in the region have failed the region,” he maintained.
Former President of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Mr Eric Omare, also flayed the underdevelopment in the region.
Delta in the past 61 years Only from 1999 to date alone, the South-South region supposed to be the African Dubai with the 13% derivation the state governments have been receiving, together with the interventions of the NDDC, Niger-Delta Ministry and lately, the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
“The truth is that the state governments and federal intervention agencies in the region lived far bellow expectation. The dearth of infrastructural development in the zone is a direct consequence of the growing malfeasance arising from the management of resources coming to this pauperised region. It’s an irony in the highest order that the Niger-Delta region is still swimming in abject poverty in the midst of abundance.”
He charged the people to demand good governance from the government if the narrative must change for good.
“Until the trustees in public governance are held to account, we will continue to experience corruption-induced underdevelopment. I, therefore suggest that the anti-graft agencies should buckle up to fight corruption in public offices.
There have also been cries over the recently legislated Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, particularly with emphasis on the three per cent equity fund for host communities, on the ground that it merely harped on the picture that the people are drawers of water and hewers of wood. How true this is, time will tell.
The demand as the nation rolls into another year is that the drivers of the social contract should take urgent steps to redress challenges of massive underdevelopment in the region to avert another round of militancy that will certainly not do our great country any good.
The PIA should also be revisited to address fears of the region particularly now that the presidency is seeking amendment of some portions.