By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Aside from the recently passed Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) which took the country over seventeen years to pass, there is another Bill that, if passed, may help prioritize as extremely important the need to complete a process of socioeconomic rejuvenation of the coastal areas of the Niger Delta region particularly in Delta state which relevant authorities have spent far too long a time to do, assist the Delta state Government provide the needed care at the most fundamental level while enhancing the lives of the coastal dwellers in the state.
It is the Coastal Area Development Agency (CADA) Bill, recently scripted by the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), and forwarded to; the Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, Honourable Speaker, The Delta state House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori as well as other members of the Hose.
Before diving into the content/provisions of the Bill, it will be naive of this piece not to state that residents of coastal areas of Niger Delta daily suffer vicious circle of poverty. An economic condition which M. Jhingan explains keeps a country in a constant state of poverty by operating thus; low productivity leading to, reflected in low real income. Low level of real income means low saving. The low level of savings leads to a low investment and a deficiency of capital. The deficiency of capital in turn leads to a level of productivity and back to income. Thus the vicious circle is complete. Similarly, if there exists a location or region in the country that has suffered poverty in the means of plenty or what economists termed ‘high land poverty’, it is the coastal region areas of the Niger delta region. It is a location blessed with abundant mineral resource-crude oil to be precise, yet, the people live in abject poverty.
Now, to the proposed Bill, available records shows that if passed, it will not be mistaken for, or categorized as, or runs in conflict with the already ascribed responsibilities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and that of the Delta State Development Commission (DESOPADEC), as it is coastal dwellers-specific
SCHEDULE II, Section 4(5) of the Bill clarifies this argument as it painstakingly outlined the communities referred/described as coastal communities. These communities in question include; IJAW:Ogulagha, Egbema, Gbaramatu Kingdoms, Burutu, BomadiPatani and Okpokunou. ISOKO: IyedeAne, Onogboko and Ofagbe. ITSEKIRI: Omadino, Ugborodo, Ogidigben, Gbokoda and Bateren. NDOKWA: Ase, Aboh and Ashaka. URHOBO: Assah, Gbaregolo, Okwagbe, Esaba, Otutuama, Ophorigbala and Otor-Ewu.
Again, separate from the Bill being capped with capacity for strengthening state government’s focus on developing the area and serving the interest of the coastal dwellers, if passed, it will unite the three senatorial zones of the state. The reason for this assertion is not far fetched. A glance at the names of the communities to be included or captured by the Bill shows that they are well spread across the three senatorial zones of the state and includes the five major ethnic nationalities in the state; (1) Ijaw;(ii) Isoko; (iii) Itsekiri;iv) Ndokwa of Anioma nationality and (v) Urhobos. Under this form of arrangement and inclusiveness, the case of envy or inter tribal crisis is without doubt bound not to arise.
Another area of interest provided by the Bill that makes it welcoming is signposted in the Agency function/responsibilities captured in PART II. . (1).
It says: The Agency shall formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Coastal Area; conceive, plan and implement, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Coastal Area; prepare a master plan to tackle ecological and environmental problems of the Coastal Area; cause the Coastal Area to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures to promote its physical and socio-economic development; undertake such research as may be necessary for the performance of its functions;
Others are; develop and operate infrastructure services and facilities within the Coastal Area; liaise and collaborate with relevant Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies; attract and promote investments for the development of the Coastal Area; enter into contracts or partnerships with any person or body (whether corporate or unincorporated) which in the opinion of the Agency will facilitate the discharge of its functions under this Bill; and execute such other works and perform such other functions which in the opinion of the Agency, are required for the sustainable development of the Coastal Area and its people.
Indeed, while this piece notes with pleasure that the Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa’s led administration has achieved alot in the state particularly in the Niger Delta region, it will be necessary to say, as I always say that this is just the beginning.
There are reasons for this voiced opinion.
Principally, if the state government fails to provide this needed protection and save the area from infrastructural backwardness pollution and degradation, via enactment of this Bill, how will the state government expect the people to be treated with equal respect by the vast majority of International Oil Companies(OICs), operating in the locality, who already consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), as ‘a dangerous fiction created as an excuse to impose an unfair burden upon the wealthy and powerful.
Next, Governor Okowa and of course the state house of Assembly must accelerate this process because the communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are being violated.
Very instructive, another compelling reason why the state must act in favour of the Bill is that the coastal dweller/Oil bearing host communities, who initially hoped that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), will take care of their needs and offer the needed environmental protection have since realized that such may not be insight particularly with the paltry 3% allocation the Act allocated to the host communities. So having the CADA propositions come alive, will act as consolation to the people for the inadequacies of the Petroleum Industry Act.
The house needs to keep this fact in mind when considering this bill as the opportunity provided by the Bill can proffer broader solution to the challenges created by the Niger Delta Development Commissions (NDDC), and that of the Presidential Amnesty handlers. To explain this point, while the coastal dwellers have in recent times perceived and referred to NDDC as ‘a city boy’ that has nothing to do with coastal regions, the pronounced threat created by the Presidential Amnesty office inability to create jobs for the large army of professionally trained ex-militants have characterized the entire programme as a horse shaking off flies with its tails oblivious of the fact that as soon as it stops to flail its tail, the flies will come back more determined to snipe.
Most importantly, it is evident that this agitation for a better life and healthy environment in the coastal region of the state did not start today. This particular fact makes it more compelling for the members of the house and the Governor to respond to this bill.
Standing as a telling proof of neglect is an open letter dated May 20th, 2019 by the Riverine communities in Delta state forwarded to Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta state, where the group bemoaned the non-presence of government projects in the coastal areas, lamenting the Niger Delta Development Commissions’ (NDDC), choice of cities and towns for their projects, and advocated for the creation of Coastal Area development agency (CADA), as a way of ensuring a sustained development of the area.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.