Time for Big Business in Niger Delta -By Daniel Alabrah

Following a memorandum by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on the growth and industrialization of the oil producing states in Nigeria, the Federal Government recently approved 44 projects for the Niger Delta. According to the Information Minister, Labaran Maku, the projects include the construction of roads, bridges (and) environmental projects as part of the phased development of the region. The projects are expected to spur economic development of the region.

The move represents a welcome response to calls on the Federal Government to apply the resounding success of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) as a lever for the limitless economic, industrial and social changes in the Niger Delta. The argument is that if peace is the outcome of amnesty, there must be a progression that we must refer to as the fallout of peace. The process does not terminate at the point where we have drawn on amnesty to achieve a cessation of hostilities and attained calm in the region.

There must be a continuum where the new thesis of peace must also give birth to a new set of enterprises. We must relate amnesty to the rubric of dialectics. Only then can we understand the full potential and advantages of what the scheme has offered the country and its citizens.

If the pre-amnesty era produced in the Niger Delta a horde of armed lords and their acolytes that were protesting the hijack of their God-given resources and the resultant clashes between them and the state crippled the nation’s economy and scared local and foreign investors, it follows that a post-amnesty era must logically have its own soil (conditions) of productive (non-destructive) result. We must see the Federal Government’s move on these 44 projects in the Niger Delta in that dialectical light.

Amnesty’s peace is not peace for the sake of peace. It is a soil in which we must sow seeds of development and investment. It is a soil from which will arise “a strong manufacturing base… so that we could offer opportunities for employment, innovations and dignified living to all Nigerians,” according to the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Hon. Kingsley Kuku. The Niger Delta should now be the fulcrum of the country’s industrial development and partnership with foreign investors, thanks to amnesty.

To get an objective appreciation of what this piece is about, let us look at the pattern of Chinese economic intervention in Africa in recent years. China has been initiating apex-level contact with the continent lately. Recently, President Hu Jintao led economic-cum-diplomatic delegations to at least five African nations. He was in Nigeria, Tanzania, Mauritius, Senegal and Mali. A close check revealed that some of these were societies in transition, where after conflict resulting from challenges in nation-building, a definite path is now being chosen as an enduring foundation for progress.

The Chinese are a calculating lot. They engage in business in societies that have potential for growth; where there is peace and stability along with the generous provision of renewable resources and sustainable energy. Amnesty has the paved way for Nigeria to assume these magnets for investments. It is conceivable, therefore, that the Chinese, whose country has effectively emerged as the world’s second biggest economic player, would see Niger Delta’s bouquet of developmental invectives through the amnesty programme and the Federal Government’s initiative as a green light to invest in the area.

Of course, it is not only the Chinese that will be interested in doing business in the Niger Delta. I foresee the group of Asian Tigers stepping in also with their technological prowess and their investment. Looking ahead to that era, Kuku says there “will be increasing plurality and complexity in (the) society” of the big business amnesty’s peace is offering in the Niger Delta. The former agitators will then secure employment to exhibit the skills they have acquired under the amnesty programme. They won’t have to wait endlessly for jobs that are not forthcoming if 44 projects are on the way and there are conditions enticing foreign companies to come in with their capital.

These were not possibilities, even in the minds of the most incurable optimists among us! But the daring alternative view of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his successor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, in bringing on board the amnesty intervention has changed the situation radically. It has given us a new lease of life, offering hope that we can diversify our export portfolio as well as industrialize and engage in non-oil business.

The future of rapid transformation awaits the country with the starting blocks in the Niger Delta, courtesy the peace midwifed by amnesty. And as Kuku said, the program has achieved “what it was meant to do and the benefits accruing from it far outweigh its costs.”

  • · Alabrah is Head, Media and Communications, Presidential Amnesty Office, Abuja, Nigeria