This is a guest post by Dr. Deirdre LaPin, co-author of Securing Development and Peace in the Niger Delta (Woodrow Wilson Center, 2011) and a longstanding resident and development expert on Nigeria.
Home to Nigeria’s hugely profitable oil industry, the Niger Delta is one of the poorest places on earth. At the end of April 2013, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs unveiled a new five year Action Plan that envisions $10 billion in government and private resources to develop the beleaguered region. Persistent underdevelopment was a key driver of the Delta’s militant insurgency until a presidential amnesty for fighters brought calm in late 2009. Well-meaning donors–including the EU, the UK’s Department of Development, the World Bank, and UNDP–saw the amnesty as an opportunity for a common framework to guide provision of desperately needed services and infrastructure to the region. They also suggested marshaling resources through a Multi-Stakeholder Trust Fund.
It was an ambitious proposal. No fewer than eight prior regional development plans had achieved scant results. Still, the Delta’s profound poverty and the need to consolidate peace under the amnesty justified the risk. In spring of 2012, the UNDP overcame the tragic terrorist bombing of its headquarters in Abuja and assembled a team of Nigeria experts. They designed actions for social investment, infrastructure, and institution building and anchored them to three critical results: improved living standards, sustainable economic development, and a consolidated peace.
In May this year, they shared with government and donors a draft plan that incorporated the best collective thinking of regional stakeholders and development experts. Social investment, which spanned eight different sectors, was the most challenging. Several programs were designed for quick implementation to meet urgent human needs and the reintegration of ex-combatants. They included creating thousands of small and larger businesses; skills training and apprenticeship schemes; a Niger Delta “works” program employing thousands of youth; water supply, education, health, and IT for remote communities; and a “citizens’ report card,” for monitoring local development.
Astonishingly, it seems that the version of the Action Plan unveiled by the ministry in late April omits all of the planned strategies for social investment. In their place is an extensive agri-business program. This entrepreneurial initiative, however welcome, offers narrow benefits that cannot alone address the region’s huge deficits in jobs and basic human services. Press reports suggest that improvements to the Action Plan are still possible. One member of the amnesty team says the social investment plan should be restored to support peaceful reintegration. Otherwise, this latest in a long series of failed plans could once again miss its targets and leave the region’s thirty-five million people angry victims of a missed opportunity.