The unfolding events that heralded the announcement of the creation of a ministry for the development of the Niger Delta region could best be described as the manifestation of the existing tattered alliance among the various ethnic nationalities of the region. When President Umauru Yar’Adua recently announced the creation of a new Ministry of Niger Delta he must have expected seven gbozaas for the initiative. However, the reactions that have thus far greeted the decision had been as diverse as the issues in the hydra-headed Niger Delta question itself. The President believes that the Ministry of Niger Delta will serve as the primary vehicle for the delivery of his agenda for the rapid socio-economic development of the region. But that is just mere believe. His words: “The Ministry will coordinate our efforts to tackle the challenges of infrastructural development, environmental protection and youth empowerment in the region.” He also stressed that government was taking measures to isolate the security aspect of the Niger Delta problem while tackling the neglect of the region. While announcing the creation of the Ministry the Federal Government indicated that it will be headed by two Ministers, each focusing on a strategic assignment. The substantive Minister will deal with the provision of needed infrastructure in the Niger Delta: roads, transportation, electricity etc, while the Minister of State will address the issue of youth development and empowerment. No doubt, the biggest issue in the new Niger Delta Ministry is the definition of its structure and composition. Various shades of opinions have been given on the matter, however, majority, if not all, especially those proffered by people from the region were myopic and very selfish. Regrettably, to a selfish person, the world begins and ends at his myopic stand point. Every other opinion is either secondary to him or does not account at all. Those canvassing for an indigene of the region to head the ministry, argued that only a person, who appreciates the urgent development needs of the various parts of the region, could easily work to produce meaningful and tangible results as minister (s). The argument is that if the minister(s) is from the region, he is bound to be more responsive to the yearnings of the people because he understands and appreciates the issues that have spurred agitations in the areas. This viewpoint is ten percent true and ninety percent false going by the performance records of indigenes of the region that have headed the few intervention measures the federal government mustered enough will power to put in place. No matter what anybody may think or feel, the OMPADEC and NDDC as intervention agencies could best be described as big -time failures either by design or implementation. This is the outright truth. Agreed that knowledge of the problems of the region and the mindset to urgently show acknowledgeable results are highly needed for anybody to head the new ministry, the question that has tore the region into pieces along ethnic lines is: which state or more importantly, ethnic nationality should produce the first two ministers and other key appointments into the new ministry? More importantly, who determines the nominees- state governors, party loyalists, traditional rulers, women groups, youths- militants and non-militants? It is an unarguable fact that any person to be picked from the region as the minister must prove some level of competence in the enormous task ahead. The question is: Who defines what competence means in this case- the select -few politicians, civil society, militants, self –acclaimed ethnic war lords (elders) or the general public? And what would be the yardsticks to score the competence or otherwise of those canvassing for the office and other appointments in the new ministry? From the plethora of views on the appropriate candidate to head the new ministry and also occupy key positions for effective service delivery, one fact is obvious; some ethnic nationalities believe they are more important than others. This is a very big miscalculation that if not managed very well could spark unprecedented armed uprising across the region. It may work to undermine the collective agitation for justice by the people of the region. It is very wrong for any ethnic group to claim to be the pivot of every thing Niger Delta simply because the existing militant structures are domiciled in their area. What makes anybody think that other ethnic nationalities even those taken to be inconsequential or very peaceful does not have the capacity in their various areas to institute militant structures that can inconvenience the entire nation. Even the statement signed by representatives of four major militant groups in the Watchdog of Niger Delta coalition, Damiete Davies (MEND), Tarike Peters (IYC), Gen Okara (NDPVF) and Sam Ebiye (GRAND), had this wrong mantra that it has to be me or no other person. Commendably, the coalition strongly advised President Yar’Adua to acknowledge the fact that for the program he has for Niger Delta to succeed he must look into the issue of corrupt public office holders and politicians in the region. “He should avoid the temptation of giving preference to any individual from the Niger Delta region to recommend somebody for the post of the Minister to The Ministry of Niger Delta. Niger Delta Governors should not also be given the chance of making recommendations for appointments to the Ministry, because they have failed to perform. “Rather than nominating credible individuals, they will nominate their likes whom at the end of the day, because of their corrupt tendencies would jeopardize the effort of Mr President while also killing the expectations of the Niger Delta people. “Mr. President should scout for good representation through any means but not through any past or present political office holder. We don’t need any past or present commissioner, Chairman, Ministers, senators, House of Reps member, House of Assembly member, Governors. They are all involved in making our region the way it is. “We also strongly advise Mr. President to consider representation of various militant groups in the constitution of the Ministry’s executives. For one to fight for his right implies that he is pained and could know how to solve his problems; it is highly irrational that we talk of peace without involving the various bodies that represent the voices of the people.” However, there is a very disturbing aspect of this submission by the four militant groups. First these are not the only militant groups “fighting” for the course in the region, so why narrow the coalition for appointment to only four groups? Also, are the members of the coalition now interested in politics and political offices rather than remaining as the watchdogs of any government intervention initiative to develop the region to ensure such programmes produce the desired results for our people? Haba bros, which levels now? Another vexed issue is the location of the ministry. Naturally, all Federal Ministries are headquartered in Abuja, The view by some indigenes of the Niger Delta that the new ministry be located in the heart of the region is another contentious issue. Beyond the normal practice of locating the headquarters of all federal ministries in Abuja, which state in the region should the headquarter of the new ministry be located? And even within one state which town (ethnic nationality) should it be sited and who is going to do the site selection? This is because one ethnic group either because of their numerical strength or connection to the centre in Abjua cannot have everything and we expect to have the kind of envisaged peaceful co-existence. Part of the objectives, and may be the major one, for announcing the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta by the Yar’Adua administration seems to be to decimate the collective strength of the people of the region and this is already beginning to show. The Abuja mindset may have been ‘Let’s give them things to fight among themselves while we take time to fashion out how to effectively deal with them on the long run.’ This may be wrong but supposing it is true? Will my people continue to die for lack of knowledge? God forbid! IFEANYI IZEZE IS AN ABUJA-BASED CONSULTANT ON POLITICAL STRATEGY AND GRASSROOT CONSULTATION ([email protected])



The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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