Of the many human driven positive changes in the world today, the gradual shift from dependence on fossil fuels (oil gas and coal) may be the most important. The implication for Nigeria is severe, because of our unpreparedness to grapple with the change.
Our economy still depends heavily on revenue from oil and gas. Although much revenue has been generated over the six decades of oil exploitation, our national savings account still reads $1 billion, a paltry amount compared to Norway’s $1 trillion Sovereign Wealth Fund. Once a financially buoyant nation, Nigeria has fallen to one that borrows or seeks to borrow for almost any serious project or programme.
For the Niger Delta, the consequences of oil and gas exploration and exploitation have been dire. The level of ecological degradation is so high that we are not far from the truth when we say that some parts of the region are environmental dead zones.
Granted that the Niger Delta has dedicated agencies to tackle her challenges, we have not made much progress due partly to a lack of deep analysis of the very meaning of the concept of development as well as a lack of serious evaluation of the programmatic and project paths chosen and implemented. It is time for us to ask the inevitable questions: what is development? And, using current understanding, do we need development alternatives or is it that we actually need alternatives to development?
In undertaking the HOMEF project, Beyond Oil Dialogue – Re-imagining the Development of the Niger Delta, our objective has been to review/evaluate the development efforts of governments in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States. This has uncovered the fundamental reasons why programmes succeed or fail. In doing that, we have teased out possible pathways that would yield positive results.
The project has also afforded us the space to look at opportunities for building the socio-economic future of the region using the rich biodiversity base as a key starting point. In all scenarios, popular participation in inception, planning and execution of whatever schemes are to be embarked on is fundamental if such schemes are to succeed and be accepted by the people.
How can the Niger Delta economy be made greener, the environment safer and the rich biodiversity endowment enhanced and preserved? What can be done to prepare and insulate the region from the coming shocks of a global shift from a fossil fuel based economy and as oil and gas resources lose value and as energy transition to renewable sources gains speed?
What will become of the abandoned oil fields and will the massive pollution in the region be cleaned-up or abandoned?
These are some of the questions we grappled with in the report under review today. It was put together by a team of researchers, development practitioners as well as energy and biodiversity experts. We are happy that government representatives are here with us, because our objective is to go beyond oil dialogue and enter a phase of action on the basis of a preferred future agreed to by our peoples.
Uyo, 20 October 2017