By ETIM ETIM
In the midst of immense security challenges across the nation, it was so reassuring to see the Niger Delta Minister climb into a speed boat and travel miles into the creeks of the delta region to meet with elders, leaders, militants and other critical stakeholders of the region last Thursday. Senator Godswill Akpabio had only one mission in mind as he braved the high tides and possible confrontation with those battle-hardened swamp fighters. He is seeking peace in a region known for ages for its volatility and acrimony. In a moment of national turmoil, courageous leaders rise above fear and diffidence to speak and fight for their country. Great leaders are known in times of crises.
In the three-day visit to the various communities in the creeks of Delta State, the Minister met with the King of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty William Ogoba and other critical stakeholders, including former warlords like Tompolo and Ateke Tom, just to seek their cooperation in maintaining peace in the Delta. At each stop, Akpabio announced that his visit to the area was to hold frank conversations with the people on how best to meet their expectations, noting that the current peace being enjoyed in the region should be maintained for the development of the region. At the Palace of the new soon-to-be-crowned Olu of Warri, the Minister stated that the region has experienced so much divestment in the last 25 years because of violence, restiveness and volatility. Akpabio painted a gory picture of the Niger Delta region and explained the socioeconomic costs of the hostilities that have destroyed the area. ‘’If you drive along the Lekki axis of Lagos, from Mobil Headquarters; the area used to be called Maroko, down to Chevron Headquarters and down to where they have the Dangote Petrochemical Complex, you will agree with me that the loss of the Niger Delta is the gain of Lagos’’, the minister said in his speech. The audience agreed with a loud ‘’yes’’ and an applause, as if they were listening to a gospel preacher.
Akpabio is 100 percent correct in his analysis of the situation. I know the Lekki axis very well. I saw it grow from a desolate swampy area into one of Africa’s most valuable real estate in 20 years. During the years of maddening militancy and chaos in the Niger Delta region during which oil pipelines were blown up, soldiers were killed and oil workers and ordinary citizens taken hostage, the oil companies responded by moving their personnel and operational bases to Lagos from the region. For years, these personnel were housed in Eko Hotel and flown in helicopters every morning into their oil platforms and rigs. Agip responded by renting a 15-storey building in the premises of Eko Hotel for its relocated oil workers. New beautiful estates built for or by the oil workers sprang up along the Lekki corridor. These explain why crude oil production in Nigeria comes with one of the highest costs per barrel, compared with other OPEC countries. It is also part of the reasons analysts rated us with the highest country risks.
The reason Aliko Dangote did not locate his petrochemical complex in Akwa Ibom or any of the other five states in the Niger Delta is fear of violence and militancy. Instead, Dangote is piping huge volumes of crude oil from the region in under-ocean pipes that run over 600 km to his complex in Epe area of Lagos; and to welcome him, Lagos is offering eye-popping incentives to Dangote, including a free zone status! The complex alone will employ over 30,000 engineers and other workers! The Dangote complex will create a secondary economy in Lagos, bigger in size than what telecommunications did about 20 years ago. Think of the IGR going to Lagos government; think of jobs created; think of the huge loss to the Niger Delta region. While Lagos and the South West region are growing, the same people who created militancy and violence in the delta region and drove away oil-industry investments are still going about as warlords in the creeks, issuing threats and closing down government offices. How do you define stupidity?
I commend Minister Akpabio for showing uncommon courage in going into the creeks. The willingness of a government or government official to stoop low and conquer is a sign of valour. When Akpabio was governor of Akwa Ibom state, kidnappers invaded the state and wrecked havoc, kidnapping innocent people for ransom, just as we are witnessing in many states today. There was helplessness in the land. But Chief Akpabio rose to the occasion. The governor worked with security agencies, acquired tracking and listening devices and with that, kidnappers were steadily eliminated from the state. Today, governors are throwing up their arms in the air, in total resignation and helplessness, while kidnappers reign supreme in their states. A true leader must rise to the challenge of the moment. Any governor who does not know how to confront kidnappers in his state should refund his security votes to the treasury!
I will like to thank Gov Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State for supporting Akpabio’s visits to the creeks. The Minister and his entourage were received by the deputy governor of Delta State, Kingsley Burutu Otuaro, who also joined the delegation to the creeks. Others on the trip were the Interim Administrator of NDDC & Chief Executive of NDDC, Mr Efiong Akwa; the Joint Task Force Commander (Operations), Rear Admiral Aminu Hassan, the Minister’s Chief of Staff, Mr Etekamba Umoren and Alhaji Nasiru, Director, General Services, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
I can only hope that the delta warlords, politicians and kingpins will see reason and allow peace to reign in our region.
Etim Writes From Uyo, Akwa Ibom State