By Jacinta Nwachukwu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria comprises nine states -Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
No fewer than 31 million people live in the region touted to be the 10 most important wetland and ecosystems in the world.
In the past years, there had been several militant groups and ethnic nationals in the oil-rich region agitating for the restoration of the environment degraded by oil exploration and seeking more developments in the region.
However, some stakeholders said that in recent past, their activities and protests had not been focused on the real issues.
They said rather their agitations had impacted negatively on the economy, lives of inhabitants of the Niger Delta region in particular and the nation at large.
Concerned about this unsavoury development, the Federal Government created the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to formulate and implement policies for the development of the region.
Also within the ministry, some intervention agencies including Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were created to assist in the development of the region.
In 2021, some ex-militants underwent various forms of skills acquisition and training programme or formal education including marine, heavy duty operations, welding, agriculture, boat building.
Others were in oil and gas techniques, entrepreneurship, automobile technology and aviation, etc. in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
On infrastructure development, the Minister of Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr Godswill Akpabio said plans had been concluded to inaugurate 122KVA sub-station in Ondo State to provide electricity to about five local government areas, which had been in darkness for 14 years.
He however noted that many projects in the Niger Delta region had been completed.
For instance, he said that the East-West road also ongoing with about 41 bridges had been moved from 76 per cent to over 82 per cent when he came into office.
“We are making an impact with the little resources we have; we have over 109 internal roads and 37 intra-states roads ongoing; we are also doing land reclamation in areas of much polluted conditions.
“The Federal Government in collaboration with the oil companies is handling the major clean-up – the Ogoni clean-up.’’
In 2021, the ministry also inaugurated 1,050-bed space hostel at the University of Uyo, to address accommodation challenges in the school.
Akpabio announced this at an interaction with newsmen, adding that out of the 1,050-bed space, 50-bed space would be for people living with disabilities.
He said that the project would be replicated in all the Niger Delta states.
He noted that the 1,050-bed space hostel had been completed with 24,000 gallons of water per day, 22 standby 1,200KV generating set and 5,000 vehicular parking spaces among others.
He said that going forward, among 13,777 projects, the ministry would select the ones that would impact positively on the communities and ensure they were completed.
In the area of agriculture, Akpabio said that the ministry would get assistance from the Central Bank of Nigeria to harness the opportunities in the area.
“We are working on it so that the nine states of Niger Delta can go into areas of comparative advantage.
“For instance; if my place has a land that is very good in cassava production, then we should be able to produce enough for the pharmaceutical industry, and feed people in terms of starch and garri.
“There is a lot of hope once we can channel our energies toward the right direction in the agro-allied area.
“We are also involved in skills training. We have built skills acquisition centres in all the nine states of Niger Delta and many of them have been completed and handed over to schools.’’
Akpabio said that a lot of changes were taking place in the region outside human capital development and assured the people that 2022 would be bright for them.
“I see more completed projects in 2022, more people being empowered and a more peaceful region as we go forward.’’
On the ministry’s challenges, the minister gave assurance that the Federal Government would tackle oil, gas infrastructure vandalism with skills acquisition in the coming years.
He explained that the Federal Government was currently meeting with stakeholders, traditional rulers, youth groups and all others from one state to the other.
The minister said region’s amnesty the programme was aimed at developing the right orientation within them and ultimately, leading to the desired peace and progress in the region.
He said that the project was a broad-based approach that would guarantee lasting peace and development of the Niger Delta region through an active orientation of the youths approach.
He, however, underscored the need for stakeholders in the oil and gas sector to create an enabling environment toward forestalling damage to oil and gas infrastructure.
He, therefore, said that there would be accelerated progress and sustainable development in the Niger Delta region come 2022.
The Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) also assured in 2012 that there were plans to set up eight Songhai farms in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta respectively aimed at curbing youth unemployment.
The Managing Director of NDBDA, Mr Mark Derefaka, disclosed this during the closing of a youth empowerment scheme training programme in Songhai farm in Kpong community in the Khana Local Government Area of Rivers.
Derefaka explained that the goal was to have a Songhai farm in each of the senatorial districts in the country, adding that this would reduce over dependence on oil.
He said that each senatorial district would have a Songhai farm.
“Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta are our catchment areas, so the plan is to have three in Rivers, three in Bayelsa and two in Delta.
“A Songhai farm is a new model of farming where there is no waste, as every waste goes back into the farm as manure and also recycled to produce electricity.
According to him, 50 trainees have completed the scheme and the authority has four farms already.
On the same issue, the NDBDA Executive Director, Agricultural Services, Dr Summerset Embiowei said the Songhai farm in Kpong had 250 piggery capacities, 10,000 capacity poultry, 36,000 capacity fish farms, a plantation for oil palm, citrus, mango and plantain, among others.
“The scheme is a flagship initiative of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to respond to economic diversification from oil and to ensure food security, employment opportunities, enhance revenue for NDBDA and the training and retraining of youths in agriculture,” he said.
Similarly, Sen. Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta, said that the Federal Government would be partnering with the Republic of Greece on the training of Nigerian youths on ship building and deep blue sea among others.
Enang said that partnering with the Republic of Greece on the sea economy and other agricultural value chains would promote mutual benefits for both countries.
According to him, the aim of the programme is to ensure that the citizens of Niger Delta are trained in high seas fishing and potential ship building.
“We want to ensure that we harvest the fish in the deep ocean, high seas and the streams.
“Part of my mandates is to work on economic diversification, especially as it affects the Niger Delta and to reverse the situation in which we depend on foreign imported goods.
“And the partnership on the agricultural value chain is expected to explore the opportunity of the ocean deep blue sea economy,’’ Enang said.
He said that the programme would also provide the platform to process them within Nigeria, send some for export and consume some in Nigeria.
“This will prevent the use of foreign exchange in food importation,’’ he added.