The Pursuit Of Green Economy For The Niger Delta And Emerging Opportunities For Ex-Agitators
Niger Delta region, home to about thirty million people and popularly
acknowledged for its rich oil reserves that fetches over 70 per cent
of Nigeria’s export earnings, is also a rich producer of plantain.
Aside plantain being a widespread staple food, it is a unique delicacy
that can be prepared by frying, roasting or boiling. For commercial
purpose, it can be processed as plantain chips or into flour which has
become a preferred substitute for wheat flour given its high quality
Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) statistics show that Nigeria
is a major plantain-growing nation with more than half of its
estimated annual production capacity of 2.74 million tonnes coming
from the Niger Delta alone. Of the sixteen states classified as
plantain producers, nine are in the Niger Delta. These are Edo, Ondo,
Delta, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Bayelsa and Abia states.
Coincidentally, they are in the oil-producing region of Nigeria.
Given that plantain grows in abundance all-year round in the Niger
Delta, the expectation is that it would constitute a high income
generating source for farmers and those engaged in its post-harvest
production. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. That the Niger
Delta plantain potential has remained untapped for decades is an ugly
statement of fact that is overdue for remedy. This sad story of
unexploited wealth becomes very uncomfortable to digest especially
when it is tied to a people that have for decades sought fresh
narratives beyond reliance on federally-controlled statutory
allocations from oil earnings and have expressed resentment over
environmental degradation from oil exploration activities.
The huge percentage of plantain lost to post-harvest inadequacies is
regrettable. However, with the recent focus of the Federal Government
on green economy for the region through its overhauled Niger Delta
Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDR)
programme, a new dawn seems to have arrived. Specifically, with a
fresh economic vision of capturing ex-militants into agro-related
initiatives, it is obvious that the present leadership of the DDR
programme is offering an optimistic future and narrative that not only
gives a sense of real economic hope but demonstrates increased genuine
interest of the Federal government in the Niger Delta.
No doubt, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta,
Brigadier-General Boroh (rtd) has embraced the economic change agenda
of the federal government, especially in running a series of new
empowerment programmes focused on harnessing the potentials of Niger
Delta ex-agitators. What stands out is the newly-introduced tarter
pack plantain chip (a.k.a ‘kpekere’ or ‘hunger quencher’) production
scheme which it grants Ex Agitators with special equipments like
industrial plantain slicing machines, gas-powered commercial deep
fryers and sealers. Even though, it is difficult to apply a sweeping
narrative to all DDR agro projects, but there is sufficient evidence
to affirm that most of the agriculture projects are successful
especially the plantain chip production, a highly profitable venture.
The desire of the Office of the Special Adviser to the Presidency on
Amnesty to use ex-agitators for industrial production of plantain
chips to create value-added plantain products and income-generating
opportunities is a welcome development. Aside this DDR plantain chip
production initiative having the capacity to reduce both redundancy
and unemployment in the Niger Delta, it comes with huge economic
prospects for beneficiaries of the programme. Presently, the economic
transformation of ex-agitators involved in plantain chip production
seems to have just begun as the market is enormous. The Boroh-led DDR
programme envisages that these products will eventually be exported
across West Africa.
For now, the anticipated economic growth from the initiative may not
be very noticeable because of the limited scope of the scheme.
However, emerging signals indicate it is a good partners’ approach by
the President Buhari-led federal government as it is encouraging
entrepreneurship through small business support for ex-agitators.
Certainly, such a quick impact money-earning project will advance
peace and security in a region massively rocked by waves of
restiveness powered by idle youths before the introduction of Amnesty
aspect of the DDR in 2009.
On plantain chip production by Ex Agitators, the realistic forecast
should be that with better equipped new entrepreneurs, the Niger Delta
can become the biggest exporter of value-added and finished plantain
products in Africa. Indeed, if the plantain abundance in the region is
fully exploited and well managed, this hitherto hidden treasure may be
a major source of wealth that could catapult the region’s fortune as
the estimated annual economic gain for Niger Delta runs into hundreds
of millions of dollars. However, whether or not the initiative can
become Niger Delta’s new engine of economic growth will largely depend
on next steps taken.
At the moment, all the economic variables of some Niger Delta
ex-agitators becoming exporters are clear. The likelihood of the
initiative thrusting the region to the top of trade in value-added
plantain products rather than just suppliers of unprocessed raw
materials is very high. With such an initiative in place, the economy
of the Niger Delta will be driven mostly by agricultural production.
This will make the federal government’s dream of a Niger Delta green
economy accomplishable. Also, it would have positive multiplier effect
on employment of youths in the region and reverse the culture of
reliance on government handouts.
While the big infrastructure projects that drive overall economic
growth are being carried out by other intervention organisations like
the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta, it is vital to recognize
resentments expressed in Niger Delta that the benefits from such do
not trickle down immediately to the masses nor offer direct monetary
enhancement. The engagement of these agencies in plantain chips
production will also assist in offering instant gains for the Niger
Delta people and help dismiss the many misconceptions about the
present administration’s good intents. Realistically, if this
particular DDR programme can be replicated by other government
agencies and interest groups involved in developing the region, then
that might mean that a viable blueprint for the Niger Delta green
economy would have been discovered.
This unique initiative under President Buhari’s administration towards
harnessing the untapped potentials of the Niger Delta region’s
plantain resources is commendable as it has already indicated positive
results as being capable of introducing distinct gross financial gains
and freedom from poverty for some ex-agitators. However, the
leadership of the DDR programme should recognize that the work ahead
is much as only a minute population of the poor has been covered. As
such, the need to dedicate more resources to broaden the scope of this
winning initiative to accommodate more persons cannot be
overemphasised. It is really unfortunate that women are almost
completely excluded from the Niger Delta Developmental Action Plan but
this idea of granting starter packs for commercial plantain production
chip offers the leadership of the DDR programme an opportunity to
redress the disturbing gender imbalance in its empowerment schemes,
given that women are globally recognized as the veritable peace and
home-builders especially in such a post conflict region.
Telema Wilson, Ph.D
Co-ordinator, Activists for Niger Delta Advancement & Positive
Writes from Port Harcourt.