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.