(By Iheanyi Ezinwo) – The Niger Delta area of Nigeria is largely coastal and swampy in nature, and this situation makes development problematic. This concern was the reason for agitations by the fore fathers for special attention to be given to the development of the area, which initially covered the present day Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers States. At some point, the British colonialists responded by setting up the Willink’s Commission in 1958 which confirmed the fears of the people. Recommendations were made and the people were happy that, at last, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
As demands for specific performance were sustained by well meaning Niger Deltans, the Ibrahim Babangida military regime set up the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, and this later gave way for the Niger Delta Development Commission, established by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in the year 2000.
It is on record that, non- Niger Deltans, at different times have been favourably disposed to giving special attention to the development of the Niger Delta area. This is exemplified in the initiatives of the British, then that of Military President Babagida, from Niger State and that of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, from Ogun State.
Incidentally, Nigeria is a plural society with diverse interests, and one would have expected that any move to truncate the initiatives to give special attention to the development of the Niger Delta would come from out side, but alas, it was the sons and daughters of the area that have conspired to shortchange their own people. The fact that there is a conspiracy to frustrate development of the against the Niger Delta is evident in the claims and counter claims coming out fro the probes of the NDDC by the National Assembly, the heartless looting that prompted the on going forensic audit of the agency and lack of accountability and transparency in appointments and management of resources meant for the development of Niger Delta.
In the past, it was a rumoured that the NDDC is a cash cow to some persons, now the fear has been confirmed that sons and daughters of the region have betrayed the trust of their people. They have gone out of the way to loot the resources put in their care while their brothers and sisters wallow in poverty and hunger, with grave implications on the security of lives and property in the area. The NDDC that was established in the year 2000 to develop the oil rich Niger Delta region has failed to fulfill its mission and vision, as well as the legitimate expectations of the people for development.
While the Nigerians are still in shock over the emergent revelations, it will be important to call on friends of the region to come to the rescue again, and not allow the idea of special attention to the development of the area to die. One way this can be achieved is to ensure that all those who have soiled their hands one way or the other are brought to book, and all moneys stolen are recovered.
This line of action remains one of the most attractive optuon at the moment because it is in line with one of the three pillars of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which is to deal with the monster of corruption. The other two were to crush Boko Haram and to grow the economy. The Niger Delta people are crying for justice against the internal enemies of the region, and their collaborators. They do not only want them to be punished they want the sanctions to be proportional to the looting that has sent thousands of Niger Deltans to their early graves because of unfulfilled promises.
Be that as it may, the looting at the NDDC must stop because it is sending a wrong signal to the succeeding generations. We must teach them that there are sanctions for people who misappropriate the common wealth. Now that those entrusted with managing Niger Delta resources have decided to murder sleep by dealing unjustly with their people, they too should not be allowed to sleep. Justice should not just be done, it should be seen to have been done. That is the only way others with insatiable appetite to steal can be deterred from doing so. That is what Benjamine Disrael probably had in mind when he said that “ Justice is truth in action”.