Let me begin by thanking the organizers of this lecture for finding me fit to deliver the keynote Address at this year’s event. It is an honour well appreciated and I hope that at the end of the day I would have been able to justify the honour you have reposed in me.
The topic I was given to speak on is, “Youth Restiveness And Militancy In The Niger Delta: The Impact On The Economy”, but I have slightly altered the it to read “Youth Restiveness, Militancy and the intractable problems of Niger Delta: The Need For A New Thinking and Enduring Problem Solving Approach”. I took the liberty of slightly adjusting the topic for the following reasons:
(i) The new topic fits even more with the Theme of this year’s lecture, which is, “Curtailing the Culture of Impunity in our National Life”.
(ii) The twin issues of Youth Restiveness and Militancy in the Niger Delta are not only well known to all, but are equally well documented. What is however required in solving this intractable problem is a new thinking and approach. Both on the side of the Federal and State Governments of the region as well as the Oil Corporations.
(iii) Again the effects of the Niger Delta crises on the Nation’s economy are not only also well documented but are better felt than explained.
So unless you are a highly gifted speaker, you will hardly find anything to say that will capture and sustain the attention of a critical audience. The effects of the crises on the economy are clear, present and vividly biting. To the extent that they have almost crippled the government of President Muhamadu Buhari. Understandably too, Nigerians are beginning to blame the harsh effects of the economy on the Buhari administration. The change mantra of the APC/Buhari Government is now associated with hardship even in our places of worship. My eleven-year-old son came home from Church the other Sunday and said the Pastor prayed that “Buhari should not be our portion in Jesus name” and the church chorused a thunderous “Amen!” Obviously, the effect of the crises occasioned by the disruption in oil production and the accompanying fall in the price of crude oil in the International Market has also taken its toll on tithes and offerings in the church.
I do not intend in this keynote address to rely on, or engage in high flying academic language or theories. My aim is to lay out the issues and tell them as they are in plain, simple language as possible. The convoluted language of the academics has been part of the problem. Their abstract and most times, selfish postulations have provided an avenue for unbridled corruption where billions of naira that should have gone into practical development of the region have been expended on frivolities. Emergency millionaires have been made of all manner of consultants, emergency conflict resolution and youth development experts, etc, etc.
DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS:
Permit me therefore to move into the subject of this Address proper by attempting a definition of the key words therein – “Youth Restiveness”, “Militancy” and the “Niger Delta Region”.
YOUTH RESTIVENESS: According to Peter Osalor in an article published in the December 24, 2012 edition of the Vanguard Newspaper, “a sustained protestation embarked upon to enforce a desired outcome from a constituted authority fits the label of youth restiveness. It could also be a combination of any action or conduct that constitutes unwholesome, unacceptable activities engaged in by the youths in any community.”
MILITANCY: The free Dictionary (Online) defines Militancy as “having a combative character, aggressive, especially in the service of a cause; a fighting warring, or aggressive person or party.” A ‘militant’ according to the Cambridge dictionary is “active determined and often willing to use force.”
THE NIGER DELTA REGION: According to John Vidal, (The Observer of May 20, 2010, what comes to mind when you mention the name “Niger Delta Region” in relation to any issue today, is “that Petroleum-rich region that has been at the centre of National and International controversy over issues of pollution, corruption and human rights violation.” Whereas we all know the Niger Delta to be a geographical location, the region is now more popularly defined by oil production, deprivation, violence, environmental pollution and lack of development and poverty rather than history and cartography to include the States of Akwa-Ibom, Edo, Imo, Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Anambra and Ondo. With the recent discovery of oil, Lagos state is on its way to being a Niger Delta State.
CAUSES OF YOUTH RESTIVENESS AND MILITANCY IN THE NIGER DELTA
The Niger Delta is Nigeria’s goose that lays the golden egg. While its egg is cherished and feasted upon, almost solely, to give and to sustain the life of the Nation, the goose itself is left unfed, malnourished and abandoned.
Years of oil exploration and pollution have totally destroyed the environment and can hardly sustain the means of livelihood of the people of the area whose main sources of subsistence is farming and fishing. The Niger Delta has given its all to the nation without any corresponding recompense in return. There is total death of basic infrastructure and social amenities such as, roads, schools, electricity, pipe born water and hospitals. The people’s sources of drinking water are polluted by constant oil spillages, their farm lands have been destroyed and rendered unfit for agricultural purposes. Even the air they breathe is unsafe due to gas flaring and emission of carbon monoxide and other noxious emissions that are daily released into the air due to oil and gas exploration activities. Coupled with this is the lack of job opportunities for employable and active youths from the area. The Niger Delta region and its inhabitants are therefore bombarded from the air, land and water. The region is said to be one of the most underdeveloped and poor oil producing regions in the world.
While the Human Development Index of the Niger Delta according to a 2013 United Nations Development Programme report is put at 0.433, other oil producing communities like Gabon, Libya and Malaysia stood at 0.668, 0.791 and 0.791 respectively. Even access to youth literacy in the Niger Delta is lower than that of non-oil producing communities within the Nigerian nation. Take for example the figure of 87.9 percent for the Niger Delta and 94.7 for the South West. The Niger Delta also has the highest rate of unemployment when compared to all the other regions in Nigeria. While the unemployment level of the region is put at 9.5 no other region except the South–East has a figure that is as high as 6.6 percent.