Burdened by the glaring failure of leadership in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s habitat of ‘’Oil Curse’’, some concerned stakeholders have started pressing for a new code of ethics for public officials.
This is coming as 6.5 million local people whose livelihoods depend on fishing, and many others who survive on farming, have watched their futures drain away with oil pollution.
At a summit convened by former Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment, Iniruo Wills, serious concerns were expressed over issues of poor leadership and bad governance by public office holders in the environmentally degraded oil region over the years.
The concerned stakeholders are calling for a review of recruitment process for political leadership in order to make public office holders answerable and accountable to the people.
Wills however, specifically said his civic group was developing Ijaw nation code of ethics, which prospective political office-holders ‘’must’’ subscribed to.
Without the doubt, decades of oil spills and gas flaring have transformed the Niger Delta into one of the most polluted places on Earth with no less than 300 oil spills occurring each year. For instance, in 2011, a spill at the Bonga oil fields of the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, released 40,000 barrels.
Over 350 farming communities were affected, and 30,000 fishermen were forced to abandon their livelihoods.
Renowned environmental rights advocate, Nnimmo Bassey, painted this grim picture in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital at a summit with the theme: “Key Indices for Visionary Leadership, Good Governance and Sustainable Development in Bayelsa State”, organised by the G24 Embasara Foundation, an Ijaw group committed to new leadership and governance initiative in Bayelsa and Ijaw land.
Bassey who is the Director Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) highlighted that the debilitating impact of oil and gas exploration and production has distorted the bio-diversity of the region, pointing out that Niger Delta is suffering adverse degradation resulting in “ecocide” due to lack of leadership as well as weak regulatory environmental institutions.
While stressing the need for re-ordering of priorities and adoption of new approaches to environmental sustainability by political leaderships, he said ‘’oil production depletes environmental resources; for every barrel of oil, there is over 13 barrels of toxic effluents that come from the oil wells and nobody gives account of these wastes, which the oil firms discharge into the environment.
“We have about 6.5 million people involved in fishing-related activities threatened by the oil industry, which employs some 5,000 people. Our leaders should think of the jobs of the majority and channel resources to developing renewable energy.”
He rationalised that there is no future for fossil fuels which will be depleted in a few decades since the world has advanced with cars that run without oil, and called on the Niger Delta people to change their attitude and refrain from pipeline vandalism, oil theft and illegal oil refining which further pollute and degrade their environment.
Chairman of the occasion, Amba Ambaiowei, said the group is worried about the under-development in Ijaw land resulting to lack of access to basic social amenities.
Ambaiowei, a former Commissioner for Education and Labour in the old Rivers State, said the group will scrutinise the competences of Ijaw people seeking public offices.
Sadly, though local people are supposed to be compensated for oil spills caused by technical failures, this rarely happens because of a flawed process for determining the cause of spills
Disturbingly, local leaders are maintaining their domination over young people in an oil region characterised by abject poverty by portraying young people as lazy, unwise and deviant. By such crude profiling, they succeed in preserving their political, economic and social power.
The worrisome consequence is that Niger Delta youths are the main perpetrators of violence in the region because many of them feel that Nigeria does not work for them.
Drawing from our experience of conflict in the oil region, the aggrieved youths are using violence to get by in life. Unfortunately, by using violence, they also undermine the very development they yearn to have.
Violence in the Niger Delta has been leading to loss of lives and destruction of valuable assets, which slows down development. To therefore, address youth violence in the environmentally despoiled oil region, it is indeed, necessary to demand accountability from institutions and to challenge the common ideas used to exclude youths from the development process.
Volumes of reports by researchers tend to show that local leaders undermine young people’s well-being through political corruption by concealing their complicity, and maintaining inequality, through the way they explain youth violence.
For scholars in the field of sociology, these explanations are called ‘’doxa’’, meaning assumptions about people and explanations about reality which are popular, but not always true, and which reproduce exclusion.
While direct violence in the form of deaths and bodily harm appeared to have declined in the disturbed area because of the Amnesty programme of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, indirect violence in the form of exclusion is festering.
Weakly, local leaders explained that young people embrace violence because they are lazy and unwilling to work. ‘’These youths are lazy, they think they have oil so if you give them job they don’t want it, just militancy’’, an official of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) once said
This presents local leaders as hardworking people deserving of their wealth, while portraying young people as the lazy, undeserving poor. Attributing youth violence to laziness tends to ignore the high unemployment rate in the Niger Delta. It also absolves the local leaders from failing to create jobs.
NDDC was however, created to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the area into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.
While that is not yet happening, local leaders are also saying that youth violence occurs because young people are deviants and always ready to fight. ‘’After taking Igbo (weed) and alcohol they want to fight everybody. They are yahoo-yahoo (cyber fraud) boys, always clubbing.’’ These are some of the common portrayals of young people by institutional leaders.
Interestingly, it is common to see young people in joints and clubs laughing, dancing, sharing liquor and discussing plans on how ‘’to leave this nonsense country’’. The reality however is, in a governance system where young people are left behind, social drinking has become their way of escaping boredom and the many frustrations of their daily life.
A Director at NDDC said young people are incapable of good leadership while older people are wiser and therefore better leaders. He was responding to a question about what he thinks of young people’s complaints that old people dominate leadership positions within development agencies, and this was a typical response. The idea that older people are better leaders legitimises the political domination of the older generation.
Now, the continued exclusion of young people in the affairs of Nigeria has resulted in the country being ranked 161st on the 2020 Global Youth Development Index. The index measures the status of young people in 181 countries around the world.
The Commonwealth Secretariat released its triennial rankings of youth development in 181 countries, with 156 of them recording at least slight improvements in their scores.
Singapore ranked top for the first time followed by Slovenia, Norway, Malta and Denmark. Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Niger came last respectively.
The index further reveals that the conditions of young people have improved around the world by 3.1 per cent between 2010 and 2018, but progress remains slow. While the data used in the index pre-dates COVID-19, the report highlights the positive trajectory of youth development which the virus could reverse for the first time unless urgent action is taken to secure the pre-pandemic gains.
Key highlights show the index ranks countries between 0.00 (lowest) and 1.00 (highest) according to the developments in youth education, employment, health, equality and inclusion, peace and security, and political and civic participation. It looks at 27 indicators including literacy and voting to showcase the state of the world’s 1.8 billion people between the age of 15 and 29.
Afghanistan, India, Russia, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso were the top five improvers, advancing their score, on average, by 15.74 per cent. On the other hand, Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Jordan and Lebanon showed the greatest decline in youth development between 2010 and 2018.
Overall, the index shows advances in youth’s participation in peace processes and their education, employment, inclusion and health care since 2010, and with health making the largest gains of 4.39 per cent driven by a 1.6 per cent decline in global youth mortality rates and a 2 per cent drop in each HIV, self-harm, alcohol abuse and tobacco use. Sub-Saharan Africa made the greatest strides in improving the health of young people.
Levels of underemployed youth and those, not in school, training or work remained constant. Advances in equality and inclusion are led by improved gender parity in literacy as well as fewer child marriage cases and pregnancies in girls under 20. Yet no progress occurred in women’s safety.
While the global education score increased by 3 per cent, with South Asia making the largest improvement of 16 per cent followed by sub-Saharan Africa with 10 per cent, peace and security improved by 3.41 per cent, resulting from fewer young people dying from direct violence. Somalia recorded the largest gains in the peace and security of young people, followed by Colombia, Sri Lanka, Eritrea and Russia.
Youth participation in politics is the only domain to record a decline in most parts of the world, reporting deterioration in 102 countries. However, sub-Saharan Africa recorded a 5 per cent improvement in the average regional score.
Globally, Sweden leads on education, Luxembourg on equality and inclusion, Indonesia on political and civic participation while Singapore tops the employment, health, and peace and security domains.
Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland QC, speaking before the release, said: “Young people are indispensable to delivering a future that is more just, inclusive, sustainable and resilient. By measuring their contributions and needs with hard data, our advocacy for their development becomes more powerful, and we are then able incrementally to increase the positive impact and benefits youth are able to add towards building a better future for us all.
“Our Youth Development Index is a vital tool which has already significantly enhanced our capacity to assess the extent to which youth are engaged to contribute beneficially in their societies, and empowered by enabling policies and tools.”
“While the data used to compile the index was gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings indicate where progress was being achieved and where it was not, and that urgent action is now needed so that pre-pandemic gains are not lost but sustained and developed further, more broadly and more inclusively.
“As we work to recover and rebuild from the many consequences of the pandemic, we need to draw as fully as possible on the energy and idealism of youth so that fresh opportunities for social, economic and political development are opened up with the present and future generations of young people equipped and empowered to fulfil their potential”, she adds.Recommendations
Among its recommendations, the index calls for more investment in lifelong digital skilling of young people, mental health services, apprenticeships, road safety and youth participation in decision-making to reverse trends that adversely impact them.
It further urges governments to improve data collection on education and diversify how they measure digital skills and online engagement of youth.
In a pre-recorded message, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Hon Gaston Browne, said: “It is an important index which offers empirical evidence as to the level of youth development within the Commonwealth. It establishes a baseline so that youth development can be monitored regularly and we can see how we are closing the identified gaps.”
The index, which draws on multiple data sources, was to be released at the now-postponed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020. However, with CHOGM being postponed again until 2022, it was decided to release the index this year.