BEING AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE GOVERNOR OF ONDO STATE, ARAKUNRIN OLUWAROTIMI ODUNAYO AKEREDOLU, SAN AT THE OPENING OF THE 2ND NATIONAL COUNCIL ON NIGER DELTA MEETING HELD AT THE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR CULTURE AND EVENTS (THE DOME) ON TUESDAY, 12TH SEPTEMBER, 2017
I have the greatest honour to welcome you all to our dear State, on behalf of the Government and our good people. I am indeed elated to receive you as your host during the 2nd National Council on Niger Delta Meeting. We consider it a great opportunity for our state to be chosen as venue for this meeting. We shall avail ourselves of the opportunity which this occasion offers.
Let me hasten to express our profound gratitude to the President of this country and the Vice President for their sustained interest in the development of the region. I wish to use this special moment to welcome the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, to Ondo State, and thank him for the commitment which this Administration has demonstrated toward ensuring genuine transformation and sustainable peace building in the Niger Delta region. I also wish to welcome the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, the representatives of MDAs, development partners, civil society groups, oil companies and other delegates to this meeting.
This Meeting could not have come at a better time than now. It affords the National Council on Niger Delta the opportunity to reflect on our collective mandates and deliberate on problems that are of mutual interest to the states which constitute the Niger Delta region. Our State provides a suitable ambience to undertake a task of rigorous deliberation. You have the most peaceful and beautiful environment not only to conduct the business of this Council, but also to relax and enjoy the uncommon hospitality of our people. Participants at this event will be impelled to visit our State again after this unique experience.
I find it pleasing that the theme of this year’s meeting, “Fast-tracking the Development and Peace of the Niger Delta Region: Options and Prospects”, covers a wide range of subjects which challenge our collective abilities to evolve innovative and sustainable approaches to promoting socio-economic and infrastructural transformation of the Niger Delta region.
This gathering to deliberate on the strategies to develop the Niger Delta region is borne of a compelling need to mitigate the pervasive feeling of neglect. We owe both the present and generations yet unborn the obligation to put things right. As leaders and stakeholders, the existing conditions in our respective communities impose on us the necessity to think anew and act responsibly with a view to finding lasting solutions to environmental and human crises which threaten the continuity of the Niger Delta region.
We are not oblivious of the long history of development intervention in the oil producing areas. We are equally aware of the commendable efforts made by past administrations to transform the physical and economic landscape of the region. These engagements have yielded positive results, even if marginal. We must, however, not fail to mention the glaring facts of grinding and relentless poverty which has been the lot of the region. This is deplorable.
Issues of gross infrastructural deficit, security challenges and the general absence of social amenities expected in a modern society remain intractable. This region presents a cruel paradox; the entire country depends on it almost entirely for sustenance. It, however, lacks evidence of development depicting its status as the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.
We must seize the opportunity offered by this special meeting to ruminate on the methods adopted whose impact have been insignificant in bridging the infrastructural gap. It is also incumbent on us to set our priorities right. Embarking on any white elephant projects cannot be in their interest.
Consequently, it would appear reasonable that all those saddled with the responsibility of alleviating the suffering of those citizens residing in this region should have priorities reflective of the dire needs of the region. No doubt, our efforts to fast-track development and peace will depend on how well we are able to interpret existing outcomes against the expectations of our people.
In view of the extensive sub-themes which the meeting is expected to cover, and considering the competence of delegates at this meeting, I cannot but be optimistic about the outcomes and the capacity to generate fresh consensus on “what”, talking about the quality of development, “how”, the manner through which this objective will realised and “when”, the period, of the quest for development in the Niger Delta region. However, moving beyond the rhetoric of capacity building and development intervention, we owe it a duty to evolve a sustainable means of genuinely empowering the youth of the region through job creation and inclusion in decision-making processes. We must cater for the aged and other vulnerable groups and engender opportunity for wealth creation and redistribution through private sector driven investments. We must provide potable water and electricity for our people, provide them access to quality healthcare, safeguard their environment, and give them a sense of belonging in matters concerning them.
Above all, there is the need to strengthen the aspects of transparency and accountability in the different intervention measures we implement. This meeting will afford us with the opportunity to listen to experts on these, specifically, and other matters that are of importance to the well-being of our people. I am confident that the deliberations will advance existing efforts at finding workable and implementable solutions to the problems of the region.
At this juncture, I want to appreciate the Federal Government for awarding to Ondo State operational license for the development of Ilaje Free Trade Zone, as well as oil block license for bitumen exploration in the State bitumen belt. The Ilaje Free Trade Zone is exclusively for the State and will assist the bid to diversify the economy of the State via maritime activities.
We believe that opening our deep sea for economic activities will serve as a tremendous boost. We, like Oliver Twist, therefore, request from the Federal Government an approval of license for the establishment of a Deep Sea Mining Port in the Ilaje Free Trade Zone. The State coastline which is about 120km is the longest and the deepest in Nigeria and West Africa Sub- Region. The State is home to very beautiful beaches and aquatic resources like Sole Snapper, Croaker, Barracuda, Big Eye Grunter, Cat fish and other fish species. Ondo State is also endowed with abundant mineral deposits such as Limestone, coal, granite, kaolin, silica sand, bitumen among others.
The development of the deep sea mining port possesses the veritable potential to turn the Niger Delta areas of Ondo State into a hub of investment opportunities. It will assist, greatly, the quest to provide possibilities for infrastructural development of not only the area, but also the State and Nigeria at large. It will add value to agriculture and solid minerals development as evacuation of agricultural products and solid minerals (e.g. bitumen) can be easily done without stress.
The mining port, if approved, does not need any dredging and can allow passage of bigger vessels due to the high depth of the coastline. The establishment of the mining port will also create employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths, improve the socio-economic stance of the people of the State and stimulate the development of micro and small/medium enterprises. Countries with smaller coastlines, such as Singapore, depend almost entirely on their seaports for sustenance.
In conclusion, I am not unaware of the severe limitations imposed on the scope of deliberations at this meeting by time and other exigencies which compel prioritisation. I beseech you to spare serious thought for the afore-mentioned issues. The peoples of the Niger Delta Region will be grateful if the consequence of this meeting translates to remarkable improvement in their lives.
Once again, I welcome Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, to our State and wish the delegates at this meeting success in your deliberations and a pleasant and memorable stay in the Sunshine State.