Solving the Niger Delta Conundrum: the Federal Delta City Option, By Ebere Onwudiwe

The flood of corruption stories in Nigeria in the last week has worried many patriotic Nigerians. It was like a morbid Nollywood movie on a North-South competition in a real kleptocracy. In such a work of grand larceny fiction, Team Akpabio and Nunieh of the South were competing for our attention with the “open sesame” Ali Baba gatekeepers of the North, Team Magu and Malami. But I am not one to rush to judgment. What we have here is ‘he said, she said,’ versus ‘he said, he said’. So my problem is not about rumors of corruption. My interest is strictly in the Niger Delta.

In his column last week, Mr. Segun Adeniyi of ThisDay newspapers revealed that in the last twenty years, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has received approximately N4 trillion, or over $10.3 billion (at today’s exchange rates). My question is: What has the Commission got to show for that money, apart from the shameless conspicuous consumption of a few native thieves, and life of continuing squalor for the millions of poor people there?

Not to forget, a core mandate of the Commission is to build key infrastructure to improve the diversification and productivity of the region’s economy. Given the extent of the suffering in the region, the best way to achieve this must be revolutionary, not incremental. A quick and complete turn-around, not a conservative regime of small changes is called for. Conformist palliatives, such as scholarships to educate the restive youths of that brutally deprived region, may temporarily curb hostilities and militancy, but the problem makpus (remains) as the Igbo would say. This simply translates to the truism that palliatives are not curative, that the syndrome remains unshaken. That’s why twelve years ago I proposed that the leaders of the Niger Delta should demand that a brand new Federal Delta City (FDC), on territory, carved out of the Niger Delta states, should be built from scratch. My proposal, part of which I repeat here, was ‘the Abuja Option’.

I argued that the incredible success of Abuja shows that all we need is the political will to build a brand new city in the Niger Delta. Abuja was built because of the pressing need for administrative convenience. Congestion in Lagos demanded a creative solution, and that led to the investment in and determined implementation of a new Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The Niger Delta question is more serious than the Lagos traffic jams and overcrowding that led to the construction of the brand new city of Abuja. What we are faced with in the Delta borders on national survival. There is, therefore, a more cogent reason to build the FDC in the Niger Delta, than we had when we built the FCT in Abuja. I pointed out then, as I repeat now, that the key to estimating the seriousness of this country in the permanent resolution of the Niger Delta problem lies in the sincerity with which the leadership of this country considers such a concrete, visible and eminently measurable investment in the Niger Delta.

The more than $10.3 billion, most of which is now in the private pockets of NDDC high officials, their partner contractors, and business and media consultants, would have gone a long way towards constructing the early phases of the city. Among other things, this would have been an employment bonanza for many Nigerians and for the peoples of the Delta region, in a way that would have diminished militancy. Gainful employment is an effective antidote to militancy.

Saudi Arabia’s Jubail Industrial City was built only 30 years ago at the cost of $80 billion for infrastructure work. For us here, $10 billion in twenty years is comparatively small, but it is not an insignificant down payment for a city that oil built in the Niger Delta. Oil companies and petrochemical industries would all have chipped in to build the new FDC in the Niger Delta. The value of such a city goes beyond the provision of gainful employment. The psychological benefit should not be underestimated. I argued that the city will serve as substantive and incontrovertible proof that some of the enormous funds derived from the impoverished region are being reinvested at the source. That alone is bound to soothe the long-simmering anger that has frequently erupted into a potent insurgency. But alas, all we have got today is a tale of four husbands and a spicy slap in the face.

My proposal was made at a high powered 2008 Newswatch Magazine Colloquium on the Niger Delta, chaired by the erudite professor of political science, Nigeria’s former External Affairs minister, Bolaji Akinyemi. After my presentation, the senator from Adamawa then, Professor Jibril M. Aminu (a former Nigerian ambassador to the United States) said that this was one of the most brilliant proposals he had heard on the Niger Delta problem. At that, Akinyemi turned to me and quipped (semi-humorously) “Prof., that means that it will never see the light of day!” It never did.

About the Author: Ebere Onwudiwe is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja.

Source: Premium Times

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