Econometrically, four major indexes have been found which have posed a very difficult challenge to reasons why Niger Delta has experienced within the last 10yrs of democratic dispensation, the shortfalls in overall development and investment. Such problems, which include, Economic, Environmental, Infrastructural and Socio-political Challenges, these albeit the certainty of the founding fathers, depicts disunity in diversity, and cumbersome nature of policy implementation and execution. Formulating the policies is not the thing, why there has been meagre development, rather, accountability and transparency has possessed serious threat, hence the devastated state of the region.
Economically, the region is doomed with resources under-allocation, and this is due to the following challenges:
High Unemployment: A major challenge is that of the very high unemployment in the region. About 73 per cent of the households in the Niger Delta have five or more dependants without a job and a majority of them are youths who present security concerns, as well as difficult economic and empowerment challenges. For instance, the failure to fundamentally address this issue has undermined efforts to promote inward investments and economic development.
High Population: An estimated 3.1 per cent of the population growth rate which continues to add pressure on development plans and projections. It is estimated that over 70 per cent live below poverty line (which is described as an absence of basic amenities).
A Mono-Cultural Economy: Apart from the oil and gas industry, the region has not been able to develop a complementary economic base, despite rich potentials in areas such as agriculture, solid minerals, tourism, etc. Dependence on the oil and gas industry weakens the other sectors and narrows the region’s economic base. Also, the oil and gas industry cannot provide all the jobs and opportunities needed for sustainable development and other neglected economic activities can fill enormous gaps in the region.
Non-Integrative Oil Sector: The local content in oil and gas sector is extremely low and heightens tension and animosity. At an average production cost of US$4 per barrel, the Local Content Participation Policy could translate to over US$3 billion per annum, with vast multiplier effects and substantial job creation.
Untapped Non-Oil Resources: The Region is endowed with various non-Oil resources of high economic value. These include agriculture, solid minerals, tourism etc. Some of the vast reserves of renewable mineral resources such as barites, granite, marble, limestone, feldspar etc., abound in the region. The Niger Delta also has a potentially vibrant tourism industry, in places like Obudu, and the stretching beaches of Agge and Okpoama/Brass in Bayelsa State.
Agriculture: also presents a potential billion-dollar industry waiting to be harnessed. It is, indeed, an irony that the Ogoni area used to be called the food basket of the Niger Delta. Through neglect, dwindling soil fertility and poor farming methods, the region can barely produce food to feed itself. Rice and cassava cultivation, as well as food processing present important options, due to of the terrain. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that the region can produce enough rice for the entire country and for export. Billions of dollars are, therefore, lost annually because they remain largely unexploited.
Exploitable Indigenous Technology: The Niger Delta is blessed with indigenous technologies that can be explored and utilized by industries in the Region. With standardization and quality control, exports are also possible. This includes carpentry, pottery, burnt brick making, weaving, etc.
Infrastructural Challenges: this is another spurious factor that nearly crumpled the economy prior to democratic dispensation 1999.
Epileptic/Non-Existent Power Supply: Power supply is very poor and remains a serious challenge within the region, despite existing generating power stations. For instance, Bayelsa State, a major oil producer, is not fully integrated to the National Grid while most of the coastal parts have no power supply at all. Even in major townships where power supply exists, it is so epileptic that most businesses depend on alternative and expensive sources of power generation. This severely constrains business activities and makes development expensive indeed.
A Detached Coastal Belt: The region’s coastal belt is detached from the rest of the country. There are no connecting roads, no electrification, no water supply, no communications and very rustic economic activities that are basically self-preserving and subsistent. Developing the coastal belt is very costly due to its challenging and rather difficult terrain and needs good planning and a clear, long-term vision. Ironically, it offers great possibilities for economic gain.
Socio-Political Challenges: Although this is talked about in light mood, but it has a devastating effect, which is affirmative on the realities of pressures in explaining the dialectics of peace and non-violence with regard to region’s socio-political paradigm. Lingo-Cultural Diversity and division: With over 40 ethnic groups and over 250 dialects, poverty has made division acute and communities have tended to degenerate into conflict in their separate pursuit of oil benefits.
Lack of Good Governance: This has affected service delivery by successive Governments in the Region at State and Local levels and is perhaps one of the major challenges in the region. It has, therefore, translated into:
. Lack of transparency and accountability.
. Mistrust of Government’s intentions.
. Impatience with agencies of development.
. Government business appearing to be secretive.
. Exclusion of Civil Society, communities and ordinary citizens in the governance process (decision making and implementation).
Lack of Cooperation and Partnership: Due to long years of neglect, the challenge of development is quite enormous. There are so many things that require urgent attention, yet funding is limited. As a result, many major projects cannot be undertaken by any one state or LGA without collaboration among stakeholders. Over the years, there has been unnecessary wastage through duplications and lack of needed cooperation. This has depleted available funds and made efforts at development inadequate over the years.
Poor Educational system: One of the sad realities of education in the region is that even today, in 2007, there are many children who study under trees and on floors. Infrastructure which is vital for qualitative education is grossly lacking. In public schools, it is even more dire. There are few functional school buildings, poor inadequate furniture, very limited and poorly equipped science labs, no computer training and other aids. The net result: high dropout rates, low skills or capacity and unemployment. The schools, therefore, become factories and breeding grounds for restive youths.
Agitation and unrest: Agitation is a major challenge in the region. It is a well known fact that development can best occur in an environment of peace, harmony and security. Unfortunately, in some areas of the Niger Delta even development programmes have been disrupted and project sites abandoned. This creates diverse economic, investment, security, political and cultural problems for the region, slowing the pace of service delivery and other values that it engenders.
Sadly, also the game has changed! Today, the militants are.
. Well Educated
. Armed with sophisticated weapons!
. Self Funding from huge proceeds of oil bunkering
. Have sophisticated intelligence on oil companies and even security agencies
. Recruiting across the region and running multiple camps
. Enjoy substantial community sympathy, despite condemnations.
. Containing them has become more challenging.
Parallel issues on board discussion in other areas include HIV/AIDS, malaria and poor sanitar
y habits that come from overcrowding and urban drift.
Areas of focus include:
Erosion: As stated earlier, the Niger Delta suffers from coastal erosion and rising sea level, due mainly to a reduction in sediment loads caused by upstream dams. Rising sea level due to global warming also causes flooding in the coastal areas of the region.
Oil and Gas Pollution: There is also pervasive pollution, due to the large-scale oil and gas activities in the region. This manifests in the:
. Air, through gas flaring;
. Water and farmlands, including ground water, through spillage and disposal of toxic materials used during oil & gas extraction.
Acid rain, resulting from gas flaring is also a major concern. Yet, in the face of all these, there are still very poor impact assessment procedures, widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as poor control of refuse, sewage and municipal solid wastes.
The Obasanjo’s Administration on 27th March 2007, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP) was formally launched. It is a development initiative primarily designed to offer an integrated roadmap for sustainable development in the Niger Delta Region and provides a pathway for building a rapidly growing economy which will eliminate prevailing extreme poverty and foster prosperity in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner throughout the region. Other governmental organisation is the UNDP, whose master plan will be enumerated in the econometric and analytic annex.
The future of the Niger Delta region depends on the faithful implementation of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP), the NDRDMP will succeed however if they are ready to accept the technical support of the UNDP, who is well equipped with the available resources to ensure lasting results in the area.
The NDRDMP was lunched for a reason, and they were simple:
. It was developed with the active participation of all stakeholders of the region. Sector consultants interviewed the people in every political ward in the Niger Delta and their hopes, aspirations, expectations and goals have been distilled and mobilized into the document.
. It followed scientific processes, employing internationally recognized processes and technologies to capture baseline data across every area in the region.
. An Implementation Guideline has also been developed with the active participation of stakeholders, at very high levels, under the Partners for Sustainable Development Forum. This Forum recognizes that no single stakeholder can undertake the development of the region and improve quality of life and has established the platform for collaboration.
. Areas of immediate work have also been outlined in the Guideline and the Niger
Delta Development Commission has already begun working with the Master Plan.
Certain Quick Impact Projects were designed amongst others by the NDRDMP to address some very urgent development gaps in the following areas:
. HIV/AIDS and malaria
. Small business development initiative development
. Social and physical infrastructure
. Governance and sustainable development
. Sports development
. Agriculture and aquaculture
. Regional power supply (energy).
The Master Plan appears to provide the most honest, practical and comprehensive platform for sustainable development. Consequently, it is imperative and realistic to conclude that if the vital and needed political will is applied to the Master Plan, with adequate funding, what the region has at the moment can be called a Marshall Plan (after the very successful initiative that transformed a devastated Europe after World War II).