Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Elections are possibly 4 months or so away. Naturally therefore the attention of all, especially decision makers and the political elite are now focused on 2011. This promises to be a defining election for a number of reasons; the imminence of an Ijaw President and the arguments by the Northern political elite of the need to maintain the terms of a supposed gentleman’s agreement to rotate the Presidency in favor of the North. Who could have scripted these circumstances leading up to 2011? Less than a year ago a northern President presided over the affairs of Nigeria. Of course there are those who would argue that this was former President Obasanjo’s game plan. To foist on us a terminally ill President and rule through controlling his man Jonathan whom it is said owes his political good fortunes to Obasanjo. We have been to the brink and back. We were never told the true state of Yar Adua’s ill health. We don’t know what has become of the cabal that once ruled in the dark corridors of a Saudi hospital and Aso Rock. But true to fashion we have stared at the precipice and in that uniquely Nigerian way we have pulled back and are in the midst of wrangling and angling for power and influence come 2011.

Lest we forget, somewhere in the background to the frenetic pace building up around the 2011 elections is the amnesty program for ex militants. The much touted success and high point of the Yar Adua Presidency of which President Jonathan was a very prominent part. Much has been made of the amnesty program and that for good reason. For a start kidnapping and the sabotage of oil exploration activities have for the time being become a thing of the past. But for how long we cannot tell.

Instead the kidnapping industry has relocated south easterly to the neighboring South Eastern States of Abia and Imo. The success of the amnesty program even led recently to a reported foreign investment drive involving the Ministers of Petroleum and Foreign Affairs and guess who? Boyloaf ex militant leader on the entourage to convince foreign investors that violence has truly become a thing of the past. Whoever thought of including an ex militant on the investment road show in Europe was surely looking to achieve a major psychological boost to the fortunes of the Niger Delta economy and by extension our national fortunes.

Beyond the lull in kidnapping and sabotage activities what are the expected long term benefits of the amnesty program? This might seem an obvious question to ask. For a start many have asked this question in different guises. Most poignant of all questioners is Ledum Mitee – the chairman of the Federal government sponsored Technical Committee on the Niger Delta. The committee whose remit it was to review all previous recommendations on the Niger Delta dating back to the colonial era and to use those recommendations as a backdrop to recommend a way forward for the much benighted region. Nevertheless the question needs to be asked repeatedly.

For a start no word has been heard on the Federal government’s view or plan for the Mitee report. The report was submitted over 18 months ago in 2008. Since then our focus has been on just one item on its list of recommendations – the amnesty program. Even at that many questions need to be asked regarding the amnesty program. First is the opacity surrounding the payments made to militant leaders and their followers. This has generated much interest and little by way of information clarifying what payments were made and to whom. Perhaps in the interest of 2011 this fact has been quietly forgotten.

Then there are questions surrounding the training program itself. What sorts of training programs are on offer? How were these programs determined? Who will provide the training? How were the trainers chosen? What are the expected outcomes in terms of skills acquisition or entrepreneurial abilities? Recent newspaper reports notably This Day of June 30th 2010 on page 7 reports that training will last 6 months. What happens at the end of the 6month period? In the same report the ex militants are reported to be unhappy with the training facilities in Cross River State. How are these grievances being handled? Interestingly the Mitee report envisaged a mechanism for quarterly public hearings involving the National Assembly to appraise and evaluate the success of any efforts at resolving the deep-rooted challenges of the Niger Delta.

Unfortunately, the impression created by the way and manner in which the amnesty program has been handled so far is one of form and little substance if at all. It is as though an elaborate effort is being made to gain dubious accolades out of a program hastily cobbled together without much thought for any meaningful outcome or benefit to the ex militants or the region for that matter. This portends very serious problems for the future. Especially in an era where cynicism reigns supreme concerning Government intentions at really resolving anything. This amnesty program runs the risk of being seen as another charade to allow for huge dispensation of government patronage. It is unlikely this was the intention of late President Yar Adua or the incumbent President Jonathan. So with little by way of accountability and transparency in the execution of the amnesty program and scant regard for international norms in the decommissioning of weapons and no provision to date for a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (DDR) the hopes of a successful outcome are slim. One major fall out of such cynicism will be a total collapse in confidence concerning government’s supposed good intentions and the structures put in place to achieve it. Sad to say but added to this will be the potential for a return to violence.

Talking of the Mitee report, this report comes in the wake of a long line of reports dating back to the Willinks report of 1958. Will this report go the way of others? It would be shame if it does. As shameful as this will be, the signs are that it will. Ledum Mitee is on record in the press calling on government to implement its report. No response has been heard from government regarding what it would do with the Mitee report. I have read the main recommendations of the report and they appear well thought out.

The report has been broken down into 2 parts. The first part being the Compact with Stakeholders on the Niger Delta, which focuses on immediate steps the government can take to rebuild trust and end the violence. To the credit of the government the commencement of the amnesty program is borne out of this recommendation. It is unclear though what the government’s view is of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process. DDR formed an integral part of the recommendation on amnesty and ending the violence in the region. It also forms a major part of most international efforts of ending militancy and violence of this sought. Part 2 focuses on the broad themes of governance, rule of law including an end to militancy, regional development and human development.

Now whilst it is understandable that President Jonathan became President in very trying circumstances and so soon after has been more or less forced onto the campaign trail for the 2011 elections, it would be tragic that these unique circumstances will deny the much needed momentum and political will that is necessary to bring lasting peace, goodwill, human and infrastructural development to the Niger Delta region. Adaka Boro started the first armed insurrection in 1966. We have just doused the flames of the second resort to violence. Will we be so fortunate third time round? Whilst I do not seek to sound like a doomsday prophet; the fact remains that if we do not address the underlying issues in a serious and resolute manner the little trust that has been engendered will be lost.

To quote the Mitee report “The importance of the region to the country makes the resolution to its problems a national issue with international implications, and as such, its solution ought to be addressed as a matter of national interest.” I would add ought to be addressed as a matter of urgent national interest.



My earliest thoughts about politics and government I would link to the Civil rights movement in America, the anti apartheid struggle in South Africa and the general condition of the black man on the African continent. My early heroes naturally were the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, WEB Dubois, Paul Robeson, Amilcar Cabral and others who for me embodied the spirit of the emancipation of the black man. In other words my formative views of politics were intrinsically tied to the lot of the black man. Growing up and reading of the slave trade brought deep pain to me at the plight of millions of black people sold into slavery. Added to this was the struggle through secondary school and university to accept a history of Africa as a backward continent in every sense of the word whether in terms of its economy, technological advancement and the strength of its political and social institutions. What made this worse was living as a student in the United Kingdom from the age of 18. My worldview from this time was naturally filled with aspirations for a radical transformation of the African condition.

The second republic in Nigeria and the re-emergence of Awolowo with UPN, Zik with NPP and the old Northern order predominantly in NPN were the backdrop nearer home to my exit from secondary school in 1979 and entry as a prelim student into the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Those were heady days as I tried to get a grip on the political landscape of Nigeria. Most of what I heard was a rehash of the pre and post independence political aspirations. Many would say Awo was the best President Nigeria never had. And when I enquired as to why he never became President the reply would be he was too sectional and so despite his brilliance and development minded orientation he had little appeal it seemed beyond the Yoruba populace. Zik was eloquent but seemed not to have anything new for Nigeria in 1979. With the British gone it seemed Zik’s best days were also gone. As for Shehu Shagari I recall listening to a debate, which a maternal Uncle of mine had with him on the principle of revenue allocation based on derivation. My Uncle was timid and unimpressive whilst Shagari was dour and boring.

This was 1979 and I was 17 years old at the time and perhaps youthful naïveté was behind my lofty expectations. I had hoped to see some political actors in the mould of an Nkrumah inspiring a vision of an African renaissance with inspiring oratory but alas. Where was the Nigerian equivalent of an Abdel Nasser or Leopold Senghor? In vain it seemed, I had hoped that with the intervening years of military rule our debate would have moved on to something more panoramic; something more fundamental about the holistic development of Nigeria and by implication Africa. I had always seen Nigeria’s unique size and population both a product of British happenstance rather than cultural homogeneity as a veritable tool for turning the tide of the black man. Nigeria I had always believed was God’s redeeming tool to change our story. You can therefore imagine how disappointed I was with the tone and texture of the national debate. Even now, many years later I still find it baffling that we have not had one President whose inspirational words have moved the nation onto a new paradigm of development.

Thankfully there have been major shifts forward in the black man’s condition globally. Not only was Nelson Mandela released from prison he went on to be the first post apartheid president of South Africa and today stands as statesman per excellence on the world stage. I can still recall that day on the 11th February 1990 when he walked out of jail hand in hand with Winnie Mandela. America today has a first generation Kenyan as President. However, much of Africa is still very much in a limbo of sorts. Can these conditions likewise change? Does Nigeria have a role in this much hoped for African renaissance? It had better! Otherwise our story would continue being one of great expectations but disappointing results.

Of course by 1983 our democratic experiment came to an abrupt end. By this time I was a law student in the United Kingdom. Very soon Nigeria was in the British news with the attempt by the Buhari government to get Umaru Dikko home in a crate. I can still remember the shock and consternation in the United Kingdom at the crude, insensitive, politically naïve, and inept and ill thought audacious attempt. It seemed as a nation it was our lot to bumble our way from one problem to another totally insensitive to international norms of decency and the Rule of Law. From then on for the next 16 years we went on a democratic hiatus. I became a lawyer and went on my own hiatus in search of wealth and fame as a lawyer.

So come 1999 and as Nigeria was making its third attempt at democratic rule I was in the UK trying to find my feet after a 5year stint as a missionary. You might wonder what happened to the lawyer in search of wealth and fame, but that’s a story for another day. I would return to Nigeria in 2001 and still find myself fired by this zeal for a transformed Nigeria with a radically different persona as a leading nation on the world stage. From 2001 – to date I had hoped that by some divine sleight of hand, God would providentially place me in the political space just as He did with Daniel and Joseph. Nine years later, I think different. I realize that those sorts of divine interventions are the exception. I believe God would rather empower any man or woman who stands up to be counted.

So I have come to realize (not too late in the day I hope) that I must leave the spectator stand of commentary and get involved in the arduous task of nation building. The task is so arduous and multifaceted with opportunities everywhere such that we are spoilt for choice as to where to make a difference.

What would my focus be? People of course! Every nation’s greatest asset is its people. Some may think natural resources. But every nation that has attempted transformational development based on its abundance of natural resources has had limited success. The greatest nations on earth have thrived in spite of a lack of or limited natural resources. People are the currency for true greatness. It is in this context that it is easy to see that the 21st century Nigerian is in dire need of help. The Nigerian of the 21st century is fundamentally ill equipped to face the challenge of life, talk less of thriving and adding value to the national output. The ingenuity of God in creating man in His image and likeness makes a people centered development paradigm a given for true national transformation. Recently I read a report titled the Singapore Competitiveness Report 2009. In the introduction to this report the author of the report wrote about Singapore’s transition from an investment driven economy to an innovation driven economy. What struck me reading the report is the centrality of human capital development for this kind of transition to take place. Innovation was always and will always remain the product of human ingenuity. Therefore this transition is premised on Singapore continuing to build on its solid foundation of investment in human capital development. By the same token another report I read prepared by the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta highlights the fact that only 13% of young people in the Niger Delta make it to University. By the way Singapore’s listed natural resources are a deep-sea port and fisheries. Now juxtapose Singapore and Nigeria with vast reserves of Oil and Gas. Singapore boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world whilst Nigeria boasts one of the lowest. In other words for all the natural resources our people are poor and impoverished.

To put the challenge in context I will quote from the last known research effort of Claude Ake, possibly one of the brightest Social Scientists Nigeria ever had. “The assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development”. On this note I return to my central theme - the emancipation of the African and the woeful state of political discourse nearer home in Nigeria. Recently Babangida was quoted as saying he would appoint a team of experts when asked what his plans for Nigeria were. If Nigeria’s emancipation were dependent on a team of experts, how come in his 8 years of military rule from 1985 – 1993 this did not happen? What bankruptcy of vision! Can you imagine Obama’s response to the same question?

The challenge for Nigeria is about changing our story. We can script a new paradigm of development centered on the inestimable value of every Nigerian regardless of tribe, religion or social status. We must script a new development paradigm where we recognize that every Nigerian is invaluable in the development process and has quantifiable, measureable innate value that must be unlocked, refined and tapped for the common good not just of society but in fulfillment of every God ordained desire for self actualization. This is the Nigeria I yearn for, will work for and I pray see achieved before I die. So emancipation is still at the heart of the Nigerian condition. This time the colonialists are not some Caucasians from far way Europe but our kith and kin who having found that the institution of government can very well function without you and I. Of course having discovered this they are bent on ensuring we don’t have a say in what affects our common destiny. But we are determined to change our story as we leave the spectator stands and join the fray. This is our only hope for changing our story.

Niger Delta - Time To Change Focus

Niger Delta – Time To Change Focus

Recently I have been reflecting on the need for a paradigm shift regarding the development debate of the Niger Delta from one centered around resource control to one based on the more enduring platform of human capital development. Somehow the injustice (at least from the Niger Delta viewpoint) of our current derivation formula for revenue sharing and a lack of fiscal federalism have blurred our vision of the more enduring human capital development paradigm. This HCD agenda needs to be centerpiece for an aggressive transformation of the Niger Delta region to happen. There is no other way! Addressing the human condition effectively is the best transformative tool for the human condition. It has been proven time and again in different parts of the world. Naturally the resource control debate coupled with grinding poverty, environmental degradation and poor infrastructure have taken centre stage for very good reason. Much of the debate has centered around the historic and continuing injustice of low revenue allocation based on the principle of derivation. These conditions singularly contributed to the emergence and continuing threat of militancy.

Thankfully the recent amnesty programme has dramatically reduced all this. But for how long no one can tell. However 2 factors present a unique opportunity to change the story of the Niger Delta. The first is the welcome lull in militant activity and the second is the prospect of an elected President Jonathan in 2011. The twin challenge of depending on 95% of government revenues from an impoverished region and the clamor of the region for a greater share in revenues and now a greater say in governance require a paradigm shift in the development debate of the Niger Delta.

The main hurdle to cross in shifting our thinking is that it gets in the way of the game of politics! For the average politician the niceties of a development agenda don’t win elections. What wins elections is the ability to identify mutual interests, a keen pursuit of power and the flexibility and pragmatism required when the chips are down. The fear is that while you are busy pontificating about the need for development others who understand the game of politics are busy positioning themselves to rule. The late Claude Ake in his final work titled “Development and Democracy in Africa bluntly says that development was never part of the political agenda of the African political elite. Now that is a very provocative position to take! Ake posits that the political elites were simply after the privileges enjoyed by the departing colonial authorities! In the thinking of the emergent African political elite, education and westernization had given them access to the power once exclusively enjoyed by the colonialists. The question of the needs and aspirations of the “natives” was quite another matter.

During this reflection I was very happy when I stumbled on a report titled the Singapore Competitiveness Report. One aspect of the report that struck a cord was the plan for Singapore to make a transition from being an investor friendly economy to an innovation friendly economy and that the current status of the economy and the transition they sought to make were both fundamentally hinged on Singapore’s highly skilled workforce.

I have been an on and off student of Singapore’s development trajectory over the years. This for many reasons, Singapore is a small country. It is an ex British colony with little if any resources. The first time Singapore caught my attention was as a student at the Inns of Court School of Law, London which being the premier training centre for intending British trained Barristers had people from all over the Commonwealth including a fair sprinkling of bright forward looking students from Singapore of Chinese and Indian extraction. In the same period I had also read an interview in the Times of London with a Singaporean Minister who when asked how Singapore intended to remain ahead of emergent China succinctly said “by staying ahead of the learning curve”. Those words never left me. I had also avidly ploughed my way through Lee Kuan Yew’s voluminous account of his stewardship of Singapore’s development titled “From Third To First World In 35 years”. This book is a must read for everyone with a passion for national transformation. Naturally therefore stumbling on the Singapore Competitiveness Report tellingly undertaken by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the Asia Competitiveness Institute said it all.

Singapore is perhaps fortunate you might say to have limited if any natural resources. When I did a Google search on Singapore’s natural resources I discovered them to be fisheries and a deep-sea port. As an Ijaw man this resonated with me. I wondered what life would have been like without Oil and Gas. But perhaps what resonated the most was the fact that Singapore’s success story and its decision to make yet another leap into the future were hinged on its highly skilled workforce.

Poring through another report, this time the Mitee report on the Niger Delta brought into focus the unresolved issue of the desperate need for a shift in paradigm about the future of the Niger Delta. Talking of this report it is easy to forget that a committee was set up with great fanfare in 2008 under the Yar’ Adua government. The committee has since presented a report and nothing much has been heard from government about the report or what they intend doing with the report. But perhaps I forget we are now in the business of electioneering with 2011 very much in view.

Nevertheless some statistics from the report need recalling. Of a total population of 31m in the Niger Delta region, 62% of this population is made up of youths. However out of this potentially great reservoir of human capital only 43.3% make it through primary school. At secondary school level only 43.2% make it through secondary school. In other words only 43.2% of the 43.3% who attended primary school make it through secondary school. The net effect is that of the entire youth population only an abysmal 13.5% make it to University. In terms of literacy only 25.8% are literate in the region. In terms of employment only 1 in 7 of these youths is gainfully employed.

In the same period estimated oil revenues lost to bunkering activities was put at US$1.9b in 2006 and rose by over 800% to US$18.8b in 2007. For the period 1999 – 2007 pipeline vandalization rose dramatically from 497 incidents in 1999 to 3,224 incidents in 2007. Small wonder therefore that militancy provided a very compelling alternative for many.

Though most militants have embraced the Federal Government Amnesty Programme, the enormity of the economic and social challenges of the Niger Delta region present a difficult road ahead that cannot be solely addressed by an amnesty programme and its attendant re-integration efforts. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in addressing the tragic economic conditions of the Niger Delta. The glaring reality is that with 15,000 militants signing up according to government figures and 7,000 – 10,000 signing up according to organizations on ground, whichever figure we accept still represents a very small % of Niger Delta youth.

Therefore for every militant embracing the amnesty programme, many times that number are waiting in the wings to embark on the same road if the underlying root causes of the poverty and deprivation of the Niger Delta are not addressed. Added to this is the fact that for the average youth no other viable employment or entrepreneurship options exist.

The concept of human capital as a critical component of economic development is not new. It is traceable to Adam Smith’s classification of capital into 4 categories, machinery, land, buildings and labor in the context of its division into different segments of labor. However the term human capital has more recent origins through the writing and scholarship of Mincer and Becker of the Chicago School of Economics in the 1960s. Jacob Mincer first wrote of human capital in his scholarly work “Investment in Human Capital and Personal Income Distribution”. Gary Becker further brought the concept into major focus through his 1964 book “Human Capital”. From the writings of Gary Becker who incidentally was the 1992 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics it can be said to be the stock of education, skills, health, training and I might add experience that are embodied in a person which is then defined as capital.

Flowing from this it is a well-established fact that economic empowerment is closely tied to the quantum of a person’s human capital i.e. the stock of a person’s education, health, skills and experience. Therefore the higher a person’s education the knock on effect invariably is one that results in a higher quantum of skills. And of course the higher the skill set the greater the chances to get highly prized experience in the workplace or the pursuit of entrepreneurial endeavors. This is the glaring reality of modern societies today.

A number of options are naturally open to us in the Niger Delta going forward. We can continue fighting for a greater share in revenue and leave it at that as we have largely done. That would be tragic because it entrenches a “victim” and “entitlement” mentality which itself cannot address the poverty and marginalization we face. We can also make a few feeble attempts through State governments, the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission at addressing our huge human capital deficit, this is itself would be equally tragic because our problems require an urgent, holistic and transformative approach. My hope is that we would use this great window of opportunity for a long lasting paradigm shift in our development focus.