By Sheyi Money
Just like Nigeria, Delta State should have been a melting pot of diverse peoples, languages, religions and cultures. But what should have amounted to unique selling points have been turned into fault lines by unconscionable politicians in order to feather their nests. They pull the wool over the masses’ eyes in order to entrench themselves in power. Hence the nation has remained undeveloped for lamentable years. While our contemporaries have climbed to the top of the ladder of development, we remain at the lowest rung.
It is easy to forget that the Western Region, to which Delta State was an important and proud member until 1963, had hit the bull’s eye, even ahead of some first world countries. The Western Region, to which Delta was one of the major stakeholders, witnessed its golden years in the 50s and 60s. It was in the Western Region that Free Universal Primary Education and Free Health Services for children up to the age of 18 were first introduced in Nigeria.It was in the Western Region that agricultural settlements and institutes were first established. It was in this region that a minimum living wage was first introduced in the country, and paid to workers. The first industrial estate and housing estate in Nigeria were established in the Western Region. The first television service in the whole of Africa was established in the Western Region.
Economically, the Mid-Western Region (later carved out from the Western Region) was moving at a good pace. The NCNC leadership, headed by Chief Dennis Osadebay, set the Mid-Western Region (now Edo and Delta States) on the path of an accelerated development.
Delta, on a commercial scale, contributed timber, rubber and palm produce to the economic development of the Region. Delta also began to contribute to the crude oil proceeds to power the economy of the Nigerian nation. The Mid-West was a blossoming enclave before the military struck and reversed its march of progress.
Delta, on a commercial scale, contributed timber, rubber and palm produce to the economic development of the Region. Delta also began to contribute to the crude oil proceeds to power the economy of the Nigerian nation.
The oil windfall in the early 1970s was largely misapplied. Rather than strengthening the agriculture sector that was the chief support of the Nigerian economy, the terms of trade were turned in favour of the urban economy. The skyrocketing oil prices should have afforded the country the premium to open up the rural areas through provision of access roads, electricity, water and health care facilities as you have in developed societies. That might have titled migration in favour of the rural areas or at least ensured equilibrium in labour movement. However, projects construction at the city centres became the pre-occupation of the military government. With apparent lack of economic foresight to manage the oil windfall, money was thrown at everything by the military government, in the infamous era of money not being a Nigerian problem “but how to spend it!”
Compatriots may wish to recall the Udoji salary bonanza at the peak of the oil windfall in 1974, which later resulted in uncontrollable inflation as young Nigerians began to abandon farming for construction jobs in city centres with taste for imports. Exports in groundnuts, cocoa, palm produce, rubber etc., which had supported the economy, began to dwindle. Since we did not save for the rainy day, sadly the country had to resort to raising loans up to $2 billion by the turn of the 70s when oil prices began to plummet!
Economically, the Mid-Western Region was moving at a good pace. Chief Dennis Osadebay set the Mid-Western Region (now Edo and Delta States) on the path of an accelerated development. The Mid-West was blossoming before the military struck and reversed its march of progress.
At the height of the oil boom, investments should have been made to turn agricultural raw materials into finished products. Agro-processing industries should have been established to transform raw inputs into manufactured goods with massive investment in storage facilities. Alas, the country missed a huge opportunity. Since the military was not trained in the art of governance, the massive failure could be understood in spite of the illegal government having collaborators among the civil populace.
Like Nigeria, after the return of civil rule in 1999, the comatose economy of Delta State could not be bludgeoned to life despite the humongous resources accruing to the state from the Federation Account. The oil boom came once again and the proceeds went the way of the 70s. Rather than upgrade the rural economy, investments were made in a few cost centres – projects that essentially would benefit members of the upper class. The lives of Nigerians remain substantially unchanged while a few compatriots cornered the patrimony of the country.
At the height of the oil boom, investments should have been made to turn agricultural raw materials into finished products. Agro-processing industries should have been established to transform raw inputs into manufactured goods with massive investment in storage facilities.
The President-General of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) Worldwide, Olorogun Moses Taiga, recently declared that “There is too much suffering in Urhoboland. We see it in the eyes of the people in Urhoboland.”Olorogun had hit the nail on the head; it is the same story across the state and the country. This position would seem to be corroborated by an independent world agency. According to UNICEF Nutrition Expert and Programme Coordinator, Mrs NgoziOnuora, statistical records reveal that Delta has a high percentage of malnourished adolescents; this necessitates the introduction of the supplemental food programme meant to break “the generational cycle of malnourishment in the society” (Thisday, 27 February, 2021).
Tokenism, divide and rule appear to have become the hallmark of governance. While a number of the higher educational institutions in the nation can be likened to mere glorified secondary schools, the sudden decision to elevate some of these institutions into universities has opened up new fissures among Deltans. Ethnicity and primordial sentiments now dominate the polity more than ever before. However, what should interest objective analysts should be how the government can get the magic wand to suddenly nurture four universities in one fell swoop! What are the economies of scale to be obtained?
This is also the problem of Nigeria; proliferation of universities without the wherewithal or political will to nurture them into stardom. The existing varsity institutions are poorly funded with abysmally low capacity utilisation in terms of student enrolments. The vast majority of the Nigerian graduates are tutored to look for non-existent white-collar jobs rather than a functional and production-oriented education. For the record, no one is against conversion of colleges of education and polytechnics into universities. The spirit is in the right direction. However, should we multiply the cost centres? Why not expand the multi-campus system in order to maintain a minimum administrative cost?! Why not spread the campuses in order to mollify the ethnic agitations?! Delta, practically, has no industries to even engage in backward integration which would have employed additional graduates in thousands and added value to the economy of the state.
Currently, where are the factories to productively engage our teeming youths? Where are the agro-allied industries that could assist in bringing down the cost of living and reduce the poverty level in our dear state?
Just like Nigeria, Delta ranks abysmally in production economy. Pitiably, the concentration has been on consumption economy. One cannot but wonder if there is a political community that can develop without producing anything or without offering any large-scale services. Production is the way to go in order to maximize the potential of our teeming youths and ensure sustainable and all-round development.
Where do we go from here Deltans? Where do we go from here Nigerians? Where are the production infrastructural development projects that Delta State could point to in spite of its rich resources? Where are the factories to productively engage our teeming youths? Where are the agro-allied industries that could assist in bringing down the cost of living and reduce the poverty level in our dear state? Deltans cannot continue to trudge on this path. It is high time we halted ethnic politics that promotesfault lines and stifles development. Men of goodwill should coalesce and demand concrete progress. Our diversity should become a source of strength.
*Sheyi Money, Social Enterprise Development Consultant, writes from Ughelli, Delta State