One of the things which has been a source of worry to most Nigerians is that even with the great wealth that comes from the Niger Delta, it is home to Nigeria poorest. And poverty the kind I refer in this discourse is not physical or poverty of the material kind. Rather, it is poverty of the wealth-being, a kind of holistic poverty and the preponderance is usually intellectual and psychological. Take for an example a typical Niger Deltan who through solid personal effort attains some kind of nirvana. After Nirvana, a typical Niger Deltan wouldn’t deign pick up another Niger Deltan seeking to attain that nirvananess. As a result, we would have to contrast this standoffish demeanour of our people with the chaps up North who do all they can for the uplift of their kind. The average northerner or the Nigerians whom we derogatorily refer to as aboki, and who through happenstance or otherwise become somebody tomorrow would quickly erect a mosque right by his home. That mosque becomes a point of convergence wherein the rich and poor seek the face of their God, articulate their challenges and potentials and seek to forge relationships and partnerships beyond the calls from the minaret at sunrise and sunset. The owner of the mosque would usually fete brethren who come to mosque to perform ablutions and to pray. Therefore when these archetypes on both divides find their way around the corridors of power or have the ability to wield some sort of national influence, you find concomitant levels of commitment from the observable patterns you find at the nucleus of these patterns of sociological idiosyncrasies.
Since writing about the BRACED commission published here and with The Punch newspaper about a month ago, I received three responses which to my mind captured the mood and anxieties of our region and about the BRACED. In that article, I wanted newly elected governors to dump the wrangling of their predecessors and come together to once again try to harness the immense human and material resources for the development of our region. The first response was from my colleague, who was adamant that the braced commission and its theme cannot survive since several institutions like the DESOPADEC, MND, NDDC have been put in place to stem the several agitations which prompted the setting up of the BRACED commission. He also cited the fact that even though the BRACED commission would somehow bounce back to relevance, political differences would still the birth of development in this region of ours. I didn’t think so however. Issues of funding and the opacity of the budgets of these institutions have been the bane of development in our region.
The second response was much more positive however. Because the engine room of the BRACED was a Niger Deltan who was in the vanguard of the setting up of the BRACED, this responder believed that getting in touch with him would give wind to the sail of our campaign to get the BRACED back again. So we got in touch with the personality, an esteemed former presidential candidate. Initially, the response of this esteemed personality was encouraging, but it began to wane only when we suggested a media makeover involving a strong articulation of the issues of economic poverty and underdevelopment in the Niger Delta. And If I tell you that I’m not disappointed with this very auspicious son of the Niger Delta, I would be taking you for granted. For over three weeks, our son the esteemed Niger Delta has taken me on a chase and on an unmerry-go-round, and I would have appreciated and respected him more if he declined to participate in our BRACED makeover plan from the onset.
Therefore this week as I pondered on the theme and content for this discussion, and based on my frustrations on the first and second paragraphs, I settled on this title as the driver of my thoughts: Who will take the Niger Delta Out of Self Imposed Minority? But before I began to put thought to paper, this third responder, Bright Ekpomebe, came at me with an idea which was difficult to ignore. Therefore, I had to jettison my own title, and settle with the idea embedded in his mail to me. According to him, and in exactly his own words, ‘the south-south region can come together to float a Regional Investment & Development Corporation aka South-South Investment & Development Corporation (SSIDEC).’
I didn’t need too convincing. In detail, the SSIDEC as proposed by my reader would not be managed by the governors, and understandably so. For a start, my smart reader said that the SSIDEC should be capitalized through contributions from each state, floating of bonds, selling of shares, diaspora funding, and consortium of banks. He said it would then invest in ''revenue generating infrastructures'' across the region (in line with a master-plan) together with infrastructures such as tolled super highways & rail tracks, parks & recreational facilities. The SSIEDC would be private-sector driven, and managed by technocrats drawn from the entire region.
After oil prices dipped this year, it still is not clear to us that we must begin to do something as quickly as possible on our source of income as a nation. What Nigeria gets from us in the Niger Delta is greatly compromised with the reality of climate change. The European Union is spending billions of dollars to cut off from using oil as an energy source. The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are coming together to develop clean energy mechanisms. Future world economy will push forward without that commodity which makes our region tick. Certain very learned fellows like Joe Igbokwe have begun to insult our relevance to Nigeria, saying that the Niger Delta has nothing to offer Nigeria anymore (Independent Thursday May 26 2016). From the way our brethren in high places have carried on, the BRACED looks dead. Therefore, to snap out of the grinding poverty which still pervades our landscape in spite of our great wealth from oil, let us embrace a plan B as captured in Ekpomebe’s SSIEDC.