Ogoni: Why We Created N’Delta Ministry
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua yesterday shed more light on the Ministry of Niger Delta, which he established two days ago, saying the ministry would serve as the primary vehicle for the delivery of his administration’s agenda for the rapid socio-economic development of the region.
“The Ministry will coordinate our efforts to tackle the challenges of infrastructural development, environment protection and youth empowerment in the region,” the President said.
However, reactions to the establishment of the new ministry have been divergent.
While the main militant group in the area, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), viewed the government’s action with scepticism, former Petroleum Resources Minister, Prof. Tam David-West, however, against nominating a Niger Deltan to head the new ministry.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser to the President on Communi-cations, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, the President said the new ministry would oversee the successful implementation of measures and policies evolved by his administration to resolve the peculiar problems of the Niger Delta.
Yar’Adua spoke while having an audience with the British Minister for Africa and Asia, Lord Malloch-Brown, at the Presidential Villa Abuja.
He assured Malloch-Brown that measures were being taken by the Federal Government to deal with security aspects of the problems in the Niger Delta.
The President also reiterated his administration’s appreciation of the offer by the British Government to assist Nigeria with the development of a greater institutional and human capacity to resolve some of the challenges in the region.
In its reaction, MEND said it received the news of the creation of the ministry with apprehension, advising the people of the region not to allow the over five decades of neglect to push them into embracing what would not be useful at the end of the day.
The militant group said its position stemmed from many moribund ministries which though in existence did not improve the fortunes of the Niger Delta.
In a statement signed by Jomo Gbomo, the group said: “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) receives with apprehension the announcement by the government to establish a Ministry of the Niger Delta.
“The people of the region should receive this latest dish with apprehension and not allow the over five decades of starvation to rule our emotions as this is not the first time such "palatable" offers have been served to the region from the late 50's to date.
“Creating a "Ministry" is not the coming of the much-awaited messiah. Nigeria has in existence, ministries over 40 years old which have not positively impacted on the people. It will be yet another avenue for corruption and political favoritism.
“Some examples of moribund ministries include Energy; with its epileptic power supply, Health; with hospitals that have turned to dispensing clinics such that even the president prefers to be treated in Saudi Arabia or Germany, Works and Transport; responsible for the untimely deaths and maiming of road users due to poorly maintained roads and bridges in spite of availability of funds, Education; with the elite losing confidence that their children study in foreign tertiary institutions, Special Duties; with a minister that has been made redundant that he spends his time in office watching television. The list is endless.
“MEND will know the government is sincere when it offers true federalism in all its ramifications which includes resource control. The unconditional release of all detained activists in its custody is another.”
David-West spoke with newsmen in Ibadan while reacting to the establishment of the new ministry, hinting that the creation of the new ministry might not put a final end to the crisis in the region.
He said he would prefer that a non-Niger Deltan head the ministry to guard against corrupt practices as witnessed, according to him, in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
David-West described the conversion of NDDC to a parastatal by the Yar’Adua administration as killing two birds with one stone, saying the commission was already bedeviled with corrupt practices with the disclosure that one of the directors used about N800 million on juju.
Former Minister of Information and prominent Ijaw Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, has commended the creation of the new ministry, describing it as a step in the right direction.
In a chat with THISDAY, Clark said: “It is a step in the right direction and evidence of political will and sagacity by the President. This was exactly what his father did when he was the Minister of Lagos Affaisrs and he worked to ensure that Victoria Island then a virgin island was fully developed to what it is now.
“The creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta is a step in the right direction. We expected it and we are happy that it has come to pass in our life time.
“Our prayers are that there should be the political will to vote enough funds to the new ministry for it to be able to achieve its desired goals of lifting the aspiration of the Niger Delta people for development and lift them out of the shackles of poverty.”
On how it will affect the increasing level of militancy in the area, Clark said: “Certainly, it will go a long way in reducing the rate of militancy in the zone. Our prayer is that the President should meet the creation with enough financial votes. Let it not be a ministry for the mere facts of talking. It should be a ministry in its entire ramification.”
Also, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), who also spoke in Ibadan, described the creation of the ministry as an excellent move in the right direction but, however, stated that the crucial test would be the content of the portfolio of the ministry.
“The quality and the standing of the person appointed to run such ministry will determine whether it will douse the tension in the Niger Delta,” he said.
In Port Harcourt, enthusiasm and commendation from different groups in the Niger Delta region dodged the creation of the ministry of Niger Delta and appointment of the Ogoni rights activist, Ledum Mittee, to head the Technical Committee on Niger Delta.
The commendation of the Federal Government over Mitee’s appointment came from a group called Club 401, which offered to give technical assistance to the committee especially on wealth creation over which the group is willing to appear before the committee.
Former NUPENG Secretary-General, Mr. Frank Kokori, described the creation of the new ministry as long overdue.
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), he said, however, that commitment was more important than creating a ministry.
“Let us give them a try, let them operate the ministry and let's see, after all the NDDC and Niger Delta state governments have all been receiving allocations for the development of the area.
“Although I am not being over- sceptical, what have they done with all the money they had received from the Federal Government?'' he queried.