EFFORTS TO ACHIEVE PEACE IN THE NIGER DELTA SINCE 2015

By EmeOffiong

The peace and tranquillity that now reign in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta region would not have been possible but for the political will and various interventions put in place by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration since 2015.

Over the years, successive governments have adopted various initiatives in a bid to restore peace and security to the troubled Niger-Delta area but without much success.

The Niger-Delta region made up of six of Nigeria’s 36 states is endowed with abundant oil resource which accounts for over ninety-five percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

But the region, has, over the years been bedevilled by violent agitations, militancy, pipeline vandalism, piracy, kidnapping, oil theft, sea robbery, illegal bunkering and illegal refineries scattered across the region.The youths of region took to militancy in protest environmental degradation occasioned by decades of oil spillage and neglect by successive Nigerian governments and oil companies who operate in the area.

However, since the inception of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on May 29th, 2015, efforts have been intensified to ensure that lasting peace returns to the region.

Government’s efforts can be classified into three main areas: political will, infrastructure development and security of life and property.

President Buhari demonstrated the political will to ending the years of neglect and squalor in the oil-rich region when just a few weeks after coming to office, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the Ogoni Clean-up Exercise at Bodo community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State. This is a demonstration of the commitment of the present government to fully implement the 2011 report of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland. Professor Osinbajo has visited states in the Niger Delta region as part of efforts in ensuring a smooth implementation of the UNEP report.

Government has continued to engage stakeholders in the oil producing states in consultative and town hall meetings to enlist their support on the need to end attacks on the nation’s oil pipelines and other critical infrastructure, to enable the exploration companies boost production, which would in turn increase the country’s revenue.

These interventions have yielded positive results as bombings, kidnapping and other forms of agitations have ceased and oil production has risen from 600,000 barrels per day to about two million barrels per day. It is noteworthy that the increase in oil production has impacted positively on the Nigerian economy providing the window for Nigeria’s early exit from economic recession.

Government has also demonstrated its commitment to continue with the Presidential Amnesty Programme an initiative of late President Umaru Yar’Adua. The programme, which has been extended to December 2017, now engages over thirty thousand ex-militants.

The Presidential Amnesty Programme provides a platform for ex-militants to acquire various kinds of entrepreneurial skills and academic training, both at home and abroad. This is part of efforts to ensure that ex-militants are positively engaged thereby shunning militancy and other forms of criminality.

Government recently announced a 20 billion Naira special grand for the programme and another thirty billion Naira with plans for additional five billion Naira as part of efforts to raise the monthly allowance of the former militants as well as their proper integration upon graduation.

Apart from these, the government, through the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has commenced several road projects, like the East-West Road, which stretches from Warri in Delta State through Bayelsa, Rivers and AkwaIbom States to link Calabar, the Cross River State capital.

Also, work has commenced on the construction of the second Niger bridge to connect the Niger-Delta area to the South eastern part of Nigeria, while the country is in the final stages of negotiations with China for the construction of a standard gauge rail line from Lagos in the Southwest to Calabar in the Niger-Delta area. These projects would not only increase economic activities in the Southwest, Southeast and Niger-Delta area of the country, it would also strengthen social and political interaction amongst them.

Other vital community-centred projects like the rehabilitation of hospitals, schools, markets have been completed while many others are ongoing. Skills acquisition centres have been established and medical outreaches to several communities within the region have been conducted, thereby endearing the government to the affected communities in the region.

Government’s resolve and directive for the take-off of Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State is an indication of its willingness to build the capacity of the youths of the region.

There is also the plan to establish a Niger Delta Development Bank to generate funds for an extended infrastructure growth for the sustainable development of the oil-rich region.

As a way of steering the youths of the area away from illegal refinery and provide legitimate means of livelihood for them, government is currently in the process of issuing operational licenses to the operators of illegal refineries with a view to converting them to modular refineries.

In the area of security, government has launched several initiatives to reduce the incidence of pipeline vandalism, piracy, kidnapping, oil theft, sea robbery and illegal bunkering. The security interventions code named:Crocodile Smile and Operation Delta Safe have substantially restored peace in the area. Also, the acquisition of modern military platforms, gunboats and intensified surveillance of the Gulf of Guinea with the flag off of Falcon Eye, a joint military venture contributed in no small measures towards the restoration of peace which has significantly raised the confidence of the people of the Niger Deltain the government.

It is expedient that all stakeholders work together to ensure that the peace and development achieved so far in the region is not only sustained but also deepened for the good of the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta in particular and Nigeria in general.