The Niger Delta Support Group (NIDSG) has lamented the state of underdevelopment of the region, stating that candidates and their political parties are paying "lip service" to the issue of restructuring in the wake of the 2019 elections.

While clamouring for a critical stakeholders' forum to address the issue of restructuring, the group called on the federal and state governments to declare a state of emergency on the economy in the Niger Delta region.

Leading a protest on Saturday round some major streets of Warri, Delta State, the convener of the group, Vincent Udume Odogbor, noted that the call for a critical stakeholders' forum to address the issue of restructuring and a call for the state of emergency became imperative "given that it is the fundamental ill upon which other ills such as marginalisation, corruption and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta rests".

Bearing placards with various inscriptions such as 'Niger Delta Support Group Demands for Justice, Equity and Fair Play'; 'We Demand True Fiscal Federalism'; 'Provide Jobs for our Graduates'; 'Corruption is Killing Nigeria'; Probe $2billion NLNG Missing Fund', among others, lamented the state of neglect and unemployment in the region.

In his address, Odogbor said: "The word restructuring has become a political slogan of those contesting for the office of the president. The truth is, we are not swayed by this rhetoric because restructuring does not mean privatisation or commercialisation. Handing resource control and management to the original owners of such resources is the truest definition of restructuring.

"We are all witnesses to never-ending news of stolen or missing oil and gas money without any proper accounting for the monies and without consequence as nobody has been sanctioned or prosecuted for these grave crimes against people’s future. We in the Niger Delta suffer more than anyone else in Nigeria — the brunt from the life-threatening environmental hazards from oil and gas exploration, but the oil wells are owned mostly by our neighbours from the North who have dominated Nigeria’s political landscape since 1960.

"The abnormalities in the political structure of Nigeria ranging from economic, political and security cannot continue to remain. The ethnic minorities of the Niger Delta have been taken for a ride for too long and it is now an act of provocation. We demand a fair share of the returns from our oil and gas resources and 13% is not the fair share we need. We demand a return to the principles of derivation and need as revenue sharing formula given the extreme despoliation of our environment and its effects on our livelihoods today and in decades to come. 

"We are convinced that if oil was produced in the Northern or Western regions of Nigeria, they will not be in the state the Niger Delta is today in terms of the environment, economic and political development. The bottom line is, if this present administration really desires to fight corruption, it should be willing to restructure Nigeria and grant resource control to the Niger Delta region, given its contributions to the national income and GDP of Nigeria.

"Corruption is also perpetuating social and economic injustice which is reflected in the oppression of the goose that lays the golden egg of Nigeria and in the nepotism of this government in terms of core appointments. And if the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate and other party candidates are sincere and serious about restructuring, they should as a matter of urgency put machinery in place to engage the stakeholders in the region and this is not limited to PANDEF and the Chief E.K. Clark dynasty."

Speaking on the peculiarities of the region, he continued: "Niger Delta is bigger than what one individual or group will decide for. We have tons of ethnic groups such as the Isokos, Urhobos, Ijaws, Itsekiri, Ikweres, Anioma, the Efiks, Calabar, Binis, Kalabari and the Igbos across Abia and Imo states. We also have civil society groups in the region, the NANS zonal body, youth organisations such as the Not Too Young To Run, women groups, traders union, civil servants, religious bodies, the oil and gas sector, professionals, entrepreneurs and, of course, the political class.

"If we truly desire change, there is an urgent need for a critical stakeholders meeting to re-strategise and change the way we have handled the issue of resource control and, by extension, fiscal federalism. Restructuring is not just a statement of convenience, but a deliberate move to ensure justice is served and the scale of inequality deposed.

"Any agenda short of this, will definitely make us become exasperated and to continue in our quest through every legal means to extinguish the mercantile rule of a kleptocratic political class who use ethnicity and religion to perpetuate their ignoble rule. We remain resolute to our earlier call for restructuring to a true fiscal federal state, as well as the creation and implementation of state police to ensure effective communal protection of lives and property.

"We want the country restructured so that true fiscal federalism can be implemented. We don't want lip service on the issue, so we are challenging all presidential aspirants and the federal government to a critical stakeholders' meeting to discuss the issues before 2019 elections. More region wide protests loom if no concrete arrangement is put in place for restructuring.

"The Federal Government does not waste time in declaring state of emergency whenever there is a threat to its national security in the region as we have in recent times seen in the securitisation actions such as Operation Crocodile Smile 1 and 2 and Operation Python Dance 1and 2. In the same vein, it should declare an economic state of emergency because from a human security perspective, poverty is the highest level of insecurity that threatens the people of the Niger Delta more than armed conflict and war.

"The  deplorable state of the region and its people ought to be the major concern of the Federal Government and the political elite, if they are sincere with the 'One Nigeria' project. What we see instead is a deliberate attempt to strangulate and snuff out the economic oxygen of the region by undermining the economic potentials of its ports for example.

"The NNPC and NLNG have become like bullion vans for transferring wealth from the region to unknown destinations outside it. This is evidenced in recent news of missing $1.05bn from NLNG a week after another $1.151bn was reported missing. Sadly, these corrupt practices are happening right under the watch of President Buhari who happens to be the Petroleum Minister, itself another evidence of the lopsided economic structure of the country."

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