By Tunde Uchegbuo
The need for a change in the approach to development in the Niger Delta region because of the federal government’s lack of genuine commitment in the development of the area over the years again came to the front burnerat the February 2018 edition of the Niger Delta Dialogue in Port Harcourt.
The meeting which was convened by Academic Associates Peace Works with support from the European Union brought together stakeholders in the Niger Delta project.
Former representative, Calabar/Udukpanifederal constituency in the House of Representatives, Honourable Nkoyo Toyo, noted that the region needs a new development model because that which is presently employed by the federal government cannot bring the needed comfort to the area.
She therefore suggested a model where all the budgets for the area would be handed over to a body that would be set up by the people of the Niger Delta to drive their affairs.
The former Ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the African Union observed that the Presidential Amnesty Programme, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as well as other interventionist agencies that were set up by the federal government have not made genuine and conscious efforts to change the ugly narrative about the area, even as the economic recovery development plan of the country is anchored on the region.
She also lamented the black soot situation in Rivers State, saying that it is posing serious health and environmental challenges to the people, and condemned the federal government’s insensitivity to the situation.
Ambassador Toyo however, sued for strategic engagement, as she pointed out that dialogue remained the best option in tackling issues confronting the region.
Meanwhile, the Omu of Anioma kingdom in Delta State, Her Royal Majesty, Obi Martha Dunkwu has berated leadersfrom the Niger Delta region, and asked them to apologize to the people and take responsibility for the failure of the region.
She agreed that although the federal government has not been sincere with policies and programmes that would develop the place, but that successive political leaders from the region have failed the people more.
The failure of the Nigerian child, she observed, is attributable to the failure of womanhood, as she urged mothers to inculcate sound societal values in their children.
The monarch noted that the desire to be associated with flamboyant display of wealth has weakened women from cautioning their husbands in their quest for power.
Women, she advised, should go for political positions and not wait for when such opportunities would be given to them by their male counterparts, just as she appealed to civil society organizations to channel funds given to them to right uses, tasked the media to be unbiased and do more of advocacy journalism, while religious and traditional rulers should live up to their statutory responsibilities.
Earlier in her welcome address, the convener, Dr Judith BurdinAsuni listed some of the successes recorded by the Niger Delta Dialogue (NDD) to include interface with the leadership of militant groups, especially the Niger Delta Avengers in 2016 which led to cease-fire and resumption of oil production in the area.
The body has equally set up a strategic implementation work plan to engage governments on budget implementation, as well as to analyse the elements of every budget, and disclosed that NDD is also tracking the 2018 budget to monitor how what is budgeted to the region is funded.
She expressed sadness over the reluctance of most oil companies in the region to interface with civil society groups, attributing such to fears that CSOs are only interested in the dark side of their activities in the region.
Dr Asuni disclosed that NDD is not an implementing agency, but an advocacy platform that creates space where different bodies could safely share ideas and come up with a consensus.
She noted that the body is more interested in how to resolve conflicts in the region and involve more youths to become change agents rather than agents of violence by redirecting their attention to profitable ventures, adding that it would also engage the media to regularly bring up issues about the region to the government.