Analysis: What is the real significance of Osinbajo’s Niger Delta tour?

by Mark Amaza

For the past few weeks, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has been on a fact-finding tour of the Niger Delta region with the objective of obtaining first-hand information from the people on why the region is in constant conflict with the government.

He started with Oporoza, the hometown of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo in Delta State; in the past week, he has visited Yenagoa in Bayelsa State and Port-Harcourt, the economic capital of the region and the capital of Rivers State.

The tour by the Acting President is not the first visit by a high-ranking official of the Presidency to the region – the first visit to any state by President Muhammadu Buhari after being sworn in was to flag off the construction of the now controversial Cross River Superhighay in October 2015.

However, this has not stopped militants from resuming disruptive attacks on oil and gas facilities which have caused a drop in oil production and gas supply for power generation; or quelled anger in the region, especially after the defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 polls, which were inarguably Nigeria’s most divisive elections yet.

Sadly, President Buhari has not been seen making overtures to the region – statements such as his 97%-5% gaffe of June 2015 and bombing campaigns of crude oil bunkerers which worsens the already polluted environment of the Delta has bred intense suspicion of his government amongst the people.

In many ways, the tour by Acting President Osinbajo is long overdue as it deepens engagement and interaction between the disaffected region and the Federal Government. Not only that, the Acting President was hitting the right notes on the plans of the government for the region.

For example, he emphasized the renewal of the amnesty programme for militants in 2015 and how the region is benefiting heavily from social investment programs of the Federal Government (for example, Rivers State being the state with the second highest number of enrollees into N-Power, the youth entrepreneurship and skills acquisition of the government).

Another proposed policy of the Federal Government that was mentioned by the Acting President is their desire to have illegal refineries converted to modular refineries, which will increase local refining of crude in a legal and environmentally friendly manner.

This policy is in stark contrast to the previous approach of the Buhari administration and its predecessors to clamp down heavily on illegal refining, destroying the refineries and arresting its operators.

As the issue of crude oil is central to the politics of the region, this has deepened the hurt of the people who have always felt that they keep losing their waters and land to crude oil exploration without any commensurate returns.

The change in approach in engaging the region by the Buhari administration could go a long way in soothing frayed nerves if it is sustained and if the promises made by the government to the region are kept.

Like the Acting President said, this indeed is not the time for war but for peace. We hope that this is the start of a new lease of life in how the region and how the Federal Government approaches development there.

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