By Peter Igbifa
On the Ist of October, 1960 the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag was flown at full mast with pride, signaling the commencement of a new era. Expectations were high that the new country would represent the continent of Africa as a beacon of hope, prosperity and effective leadership.
However, after many years of leadership mishap, occasioned by tribalism, nepotism, incompetence, greed, corruption and clannishness. The hope of this proverbial giant of Africa to rise on its feet would require a deliberate and concerted effort of all the major actors and their external collaborators. Who knows the huge potentials of the country,
but are glad to see the nation on its knee.
After the 1963 constitution that established Nigerian as a federation. There were huge projections of a rising nation with the component parts of the federation all competing to develop their respective regions. Then came military incursion and interregnum in the Nigerian body polity. This completely wiped out any form of democratization by the imposition of a unitary system, which has remained one of the major challenges confronting Nigeria’s quest of becoming a true democratic nation. What the nation have as a 1999 constitution is the product of a people that reasons regimentally with a quota system mentality.
Prior to Indepence, there were Minority right questions that led to the 1958 Willinks Minorities Commission Report. Detailing the fears of the people of Niger Delta and chronicling the infastructural challenges of minorities. Ironically, to demonstrate that the Nigerian State has not taken any major step forward, those challenges mentioned in Willinks Minorities report before Indepence are still relevant post Indepence. Unfortunately, in our 60 years of nationhood with enormous financial resources through petroleum resources from the same region, underdevelopment, Infrastructural decay, exclusion from mainstream political activities, poverty and non – access to quality education, etc are still prevalent.
As the Nation marks her 60 years of nationhood, what the people of Niger Delta desire is not a piecemeal approach to constitutional or Infrastructural development. After over five decades of oil exploitation that has generated trillions of dollars to the nation’s coffers, the region is still in a sorry and pitiable state. What the region requires is a fundamental change in terms of constitutional and governance structure of the country.
Areas the Council is more concerned about presently; are: deliberate destruction of Wetlands, Gas Flaring, the Incessant and unprovoked attack by the Nigerian Military on our communities; particularly the Ijaw territories.
The Niger Delta in Nigeria is the largest Wetland in Africa and the third largest Mangrove Forest in the world. Unarguably, the region is reputed for its richness in biodiversity as well as its oil and gas resources. Wetland ecosystem play a critical role in supporting the livelihood of millions of people. At the same time they are being degraded by unsustainable practices and a legacy of pollution and oil spill.
Wetlands perform a wide variety of functions that include flood control, ground water recharge, shoreline stabilization, storm protection and climate moderation. Despite the significance of the wetland to the Niger Delta, environmental improvement programmes aimed at restoring it to natural form by the key players in the petroleum Industry is lacking. Without an awareness of the links between wetlands and livelihood, development initiatives geared towards tackling the challenges faced by communities may not be successful.
According to the UN, Wetlands play a vital role in guarding against natural disasters. Well – managed wetlands can protect countries, populations, and local economies from unpredictable weather patterns and extreme climate events. The wise and sustainable use of wetland would serve as a protection for communities against natural disaster, flood, storms, land degradation, tsunamis, and other related incidents. There is need to integrate responsible management of wetlands in national strategies for environmental protection and sustainable development. In this vein, the Council is urging key players in all sectors of the region’s economy to come together for a regional summit to address this fundamental environmental issue.
Gas flaring is one of the world worst climate challenges due to the massive amount of CO2 emissions. The Niger Delta region of Nigerian has suffered all forms of pollution and degradation arising from oil and gas exploitation. These include decrease in agricultural yields, deformities in children, cancer, and untimely deaths.
The Nigerian government has set several deadlines to end gas flaring but what is lacking is the political will. Associated Gas Re-injection (Continued Flaring Of Gas) Regulations make it mandatory for every company producing oil and gas in Nigeria to submit to the Minister responsible for petroleum matters a preliminary programme for gas re-injection. This law is not in consonance with the reality and myriads of problems the people of the Niger Delta region faces. It creates room for oil majors to exploit weak provisions and escape with inconsequential punitive measures.
Incessant Attack By Nigerian Military
Our communities witness commando like operations every day, by the Nigerian Military and their sister security agencies. Coastal communities in the Niger Delta region are no longer safe for locals and inhabitants. These communities are being razed down at will by the Nigerian occupational forces.
They connive with multinationals, and their willing partners in the region to burn and raze down towns at the slightest provocation. Professionalism and detailed intelligence information gathering which is the hall mark of 21st Century policing and to nip in the bud, criminal and diabolic activities; has been jettison for brute, barbaric, crude and uncivilized way of carrying out security operations in the region.We are sending a strong warming to the military top brass and the nation’s security agencies that this most stop, otherwise; the youths of the region may resort to self help.
Also, in order to ensure that the region is empowered economically, contractors handling various projects with the NDDC should be paid. When contractors are owed money after finishing their jobs, it affects the economic well – being of the region. After due – deligence have been carried out and the interventionist agency is satisfied with their work, they should be paid because it will have a multiplier effect on the economy of the region and the country in general. Therefore the Council is advocating for the quick and expeditious payment of contractors doing business with the NDDC.
Conclusion, while the council wishes to congratulate Nigerians for attaining 60 years of nationhood, and for the celebration of the nation’s Diamond Jubilee. The world is awaiting the true manifestation of the greatness of Nigeria. For the Niger Delta, one of the ways the country can attain its greatness is to discard this present fraudulent and unproductive constitution . It is time for us to have a constitution that will unleash the spirit of enterprise, productivity and harness our diversity into productive ventures. By so doing, the nation will rise and attain its prime position in the comity of nations.
A contribution from the President of the Ijaw Youth Council ( IYC) Worldwide, Deacon ( Comr.) Peter Timothy Igbifa on the occasion of Nigeria’s 60 years Independence Anniversary