By Sola Omoboyowa
After independence from the British Empire in 1960, insecurity has been a challenge facing the nation, Nigeria.
Escalating crises in different parts of the country have continued to make life insecure and the economy standstill.
In the Niger Delta area of the country, violence and agitations have been the order of the day with their attendant negative effects
The oil rich region has witnessed series of conflicts before the introduction of amnesty programme.
It was believed that youths took up arms in the region to show grievances and fight what they called injustice, as well as press home their demand for resource control. All efforts to resolve conflicts in the region failed until 2009 when amnesty was declared by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua/Jonathan administration and some level of uneasy peace prevailed.
Located in the Southern part of the country, the Niger Delta is the region that produces oil which hitherto has been the lifeline of Nigeria’s economy.
The discovery of oil in the region is supposed to have improved the lot of the people and host communities, but the reverse is the case as what could have been a blessing became a curse due to the impact of oil exploration activities on the environment such as air and water pollution and degradation
Oil exploration has affected the major source of livelihood of the people who are predominantly fishermen .
This led to the people demanding compensation and resource control.
The demands led to a confrontation between activists, Multinational Oil Companies operating in the region and the Federal Government.
The struggle which started as a pressure group and peaceful protest snowballed into armed conflict after the killing of some activists in the oil rich region.
The agitation which later took the form of abduction of foreign oil workers, bombing of oil installations, not only crippled the economy, but led to wanton destruction of lives and property.
In 2009, the Federal Government introduced amnesty programme under late President Musa Yar’adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan. The amnesty, which was aimed at bringing peace to the volatile region required that repentant militants who are willing to surrender their arms be given unconditional national pardon and empowerment added to discourage militancy.
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria comprises the nine oil producing states ; namely Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
Oil wealth has been instrumental to Nigeria’s emergence as a leading player in world and regional politics, as Nigeria is being referred to as the giant of Africa.
However, the hen that laid the golden egg was neglected and left to starve due to decades of negative impact of oil exploration.
Though relatively peaceful, Ondo State which ranked 5th highest producer of oil was not properly taken care of in the amnesty programme, this led to renewed militancy in the Niger Delta area of the state.
As part of his developmental programmes in the coastal areas of Ondo state, the Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, drew the attention of the Federal Government to the omission of repentant militants in Ondo state from the amnesty programme.
This led to the convocation of a town hall meeting, held at Igbokoda, headquarters of Ilaje Local Government area on 12th,September 2017 where the Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu declared that the current agitations appear intractable traceable to the long years of socio -economic dislocation experienced by the people of the Niger Delta Region.
“The long suffering masses have been left despondent and confused for quite some time now. The peasants have simply lost their peasantry.
“The whole society has been reduced to a pitiable beggarly existence. Fishermen have since abandoned that vocation, the fishes are gone and farmers can no longer depend on the sweat of their brows.
“The land has been laid waste by the exploratory and exploitative activities of those whose sole concern lies in the treasures beneath the land and not the people “.
The Governor pleaded with the Federal Government to absorb repentant militants into the amnesty programme so that peace could be guaranteed in the region.
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, lending his voice to the critical issue of the Niger Delta region, affirmed that, President Buhari’s Administration was more focused and determined to bring the region out of its economic quagmire urging youths to give peace a chance with an assurance that government is doing everything possible to make life better for the people of oil producing communities in the country.
His words: “Progress, peace and development can only be achieved through positive dialogue
and interaction between the people and government
“We must treat the oil producing areas as special.
“Projects of the substation and transmission line have been approved about a month ago through the NDDC.”
It would be recalled that Governor Akeredolu directed his deputy, Hon. Agboola Ajayi who hails from the oil producing area, to secure the release of six Senior Secondary School Students of Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe, who were abducted on May 25, 2017.
The students were rescued from Aboto creek, Ilaje Local Government Area of the state and were handed over by the Ondo State government to Lagos Government for onward reunion with their parents. For the young Pelumi Philips, Farouq Yusuf, Isiaq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi and Peter Jonah, it was an experience that will linger in their memories!
It is also a risky but sacrificial service for the Deputy Governor and his then Chief of Staff (now commissioner for Lands and Housing) Mr Donald Ojogo who staked their lives to secure the release of the students as they went into the creek to negotiate with the abductors without security presence. It was indeed a task that must be done.
History was made on 9th November, 2017, when over 400 militants pledged to lay down their arms and embrace peace, the exagitators will be incorporated into the amnesty programme of the Federal Government.
During a meeting organised for the repentant militants in Akure, the hardworking governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, commended the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at ensuring lasting peace in the Niger Delta areas and the county at large.
Militants in the creeks of Ondo state were lauded for the action taken by showing interest to drop their weapons, availing themselves the opportunity opened by the Federal Government to ensure peace in the region, frustration leads to desperation, no doubt. But that cannot be any justification for the brazen acts of criminality which further alienate the people from all that is good and noble.
The agitation for emancipation of the people, the quest to end poverty, only be creative and collective, the kidnapping, robbery, vandalism and other social vices will not only hurt the region, these acts only compound the numerous problems facing the region.
No investor will like to put his or her money where there is anarchy .
The chairman of Ondo state amnesty programme and the Deputy Governor of the state, Honourable Agboola Ajayi echoed the need for peaceful co-existence in the riverine areas of the state.
The extension of amnesty for armed youths in the coastal areas of the state will social positive impacts on the social and economic life of the state, as the activities of the armed youths have hampered harmony, peaceful co-existence and friendly business.
Prior to the present situation of insecurity in the oil producing areas of Ondo State which comprise Ilaje and Ese-Odo, it will be recalled that the Ilaje/Ijaw crisis of the 90s created a situation of arms flow into the area, the youths who had taken part in the crisis turned themselves to ethnic war veterans whose activities suddenly became unbearable for the communities they took up arms to protect during the ethnic crisis.
Arms proliferation in the Niger Delta region was brought about by long years of neglect coupled with harsh environment caused by degradation.
Federal Government’s strategy to mop up arms after Ilaje and Ijaw crisis was not successfully carried out because of the method deployed and it was politicised as many of the armed youths were left out in the amnesty programme and this made some of them to go back to militancy.
Ondo State in the quest for peace in the oil rich region through dialogue, collaborated with the Federal Government and came up with a plan to clean up the riverine communities of arms.
Youths from Ilaje and Ese-Odo must use this window of opportunity opened for them to accept the offer in good faith, as this will enhance economic boom in the coastal communities.
Oil drilling activities will soon commence in Mahin and Ese Odo areas of the oil rich region, exploration of oil in these areas will translate to improved revenue base of the state and the host communities will benefit as economic activities will pick up in the areas.
With the several steps taken to ensure and consolidate peace in the coastal area of Ondo State, the stage is now set to harness the huge potentials of the area, in line with the dreams and yearnings of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN.
Ondo State has the largest bitumen deposit in Africa and second largest in the world after Canada.
Recently, the Federal Government granted license to the state government to begin exploration of bitumen. The Minister of Mines and Steels Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi at the 1st Ondo State Investment Forum held at the International Event Center (DOME), Akure, the state capital, said that the license was granted to the state as part of the efforts of the Federal Government to diversify the economy and boost the country’s foreign exchange.
Represented by the Director of Mining Licence in the Ministry, Mohammed Amate, the minister affirmed that the bitumen reserve in Ondo State can serve the whole of Africa; hence the federal government decision to explore the mineral resource towards economic development of the country at large.
Dr. Fayemi said, Nigeria currently imports over 600,000 tons of asphalt per annum and the nation spends billions of naira on importation of asphalt every year. The naira, according to him is weak due to much demand for the American dollar and less demand for the Nigerian naira plus the poor export policy in the country.
“With bitumen being produced in Ondo State, the Federal Government would ensure that none of its road contractors imports asphalt and I am sure that many state governments will prefer to buy from Ondo State because it will definitely be cheaper here than when imported from outside the country.
Governor Akeredolu’s giant strides in tapping the potentials in the coastal area of Ondo State are determined and dogged. An approval of license for the establishment of a Deep Sea Mining Port in the Free Trade Zone was a delightful development to the state helmsman who observed that the state coastline, about 120 kilometres and the longest and deepest in Nigeria and West African sub-region, possesses the veritable potential to turn the Niger Delta areas of Ondo State into a hub of investment opportunities.
He further noted that it would greatly assist the quest to bring about rapid infrastructural development of the riverine area, Ondo State and Nigeria at large.
According to him: “It would add value to agriculture and solid minerals development as evacuation of agricultural products and solid minerals like Bitumen, could be easily done without stress.
“The Mining Port, if approved, does not need any dredging and can allow passage of bigger vessels.
“It will also create employment opportunities for the teeming youths, improve socio-economic stance of the people and stimulate the development of micro and small/medium enterprises”.
The Olokola Free Trade Zone is another laudable project in Ondo State, which was initiated by the late former Governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, it was aimed at opening up the riverine area of the state. Arakunrin Akeredolu on assumption of office set up a nine-man technical committee to reactivate the abandoned FTZ project.
The multi billion naira project was abandoned after the exit from office of Dr.Agagu.
The committee was headed by Engr. Funso Kupolokun, a renowned Petroleum Engineer and former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation ( NNPC).
The Olokola Free Trade Zone Project will be jointly enjoyed by Ondo and Ogun States as both states will benefit from its establishment.
The committee was also mandated to look at the current legal and technical issues confronting both the Owena Oil and Gas Limited and Owena Energy Limited.
This was aimed at turning around the economic and social landscape of the state.
When the dream comes true, over 10,000 youths will be engaged directly or indirectly and this will curb criminality in the two States
Truly, the Sunshine State is witnessing a new dawn.
Omoboyowa, writes from office of the Deputy Governor of Ondo State