First and foremost, I wish to express my gratitude to God Almighty for sparing our lives to witness the second edition of the National Council on the Niger Delta. I strongly believe that the success of the maiden edition would have motivated the organisation of this second edition. This event is very remarkable in the annals of this State, and I want to use this opportunity to welcome all our guests from the nine oil producing states and other parts of the country.
This meeting is premised on the reality of socio-economic development of the Niger Delta region, otherwise the oil producing states of Nigeria. Thus, the theme, “Fast tracking the development and peace of the Niger Delta Region: Options and Prospect” could not have been more apt given the slow pace at which past promises have been delivered and the urgent need to forestall any relapse of the Niger Delta region into the violence of the past.I have no doubt that this meeting will engender the development of policies, programmes and strategies to tackle security challenges and provide a much needed framework for the development of the Niger Delta region.
Genuine efforts at developing the Niger Delta region commenced in 1992 with the establishment of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). In 1999, OMPADEC was replaced with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and in 2008, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was created. The special intervention bodies also include agencies established by the respective oil producing states to implement development programmes in oil producing areas and communities. Twenty five years after the OMPADEC initiatives, thousands of the projects have been awarded and implemented in the Niger Delta region but the atmosphere of poverty, environmental degradation and infrastructural deficits has persisted. Definitely the ship of development has been sailing at a very slow pace! Development of the Niger Delta needs to be put on the fast lane.
A major dimension to the problem of development of the Niger Delta region is the prevailing instability, which in itself is associated with the many years of neglect the region has endured. Moreover, the level of commitment from state institutions is questionable. Over the years, the expectations of the people have been raised. While much has been done already, many more can yet be achieved.
It is my expectation that the delegates at this meeting will come up with innovative approaches that will instigate massive infrastructural development and ensure an atmosphere of peace in the Niger Delta. Judging from the quality of resource persons, I am convinced that the technical meeting will produce outcomes that will be of utmost benefit to the region. No doubt, I am looking forward to the recommendations of this meeting.
As a State, our contribution to the Niger Delta region is not only with our unique and distinctive mud coast of close to a hundred kilometres, stretching from the western boundary with Ogun State to our eastern boundary with Delta State, and the wetlands of the Ilaje, Arogbo and Apoi people. As a matter of fact, the state has the deepest and the longest coastline in the country and can boast of beautiful beaches and aquatic resources with capacity to drive tourism.
Ondo State is well engrained in the history of oil exploration and exploitation in Nigeria. Presently, it ranked as the fifth oil producing states in the country based on production quota and is worthy to note that the exploration of oil and gas actually started from Araromi in Ilaje Local Government Area in 1908 when the Nigerian Bitumen Corporation, a German Company first discovered oil. It was the initial exploration efforts at Araromi that led to discovery and subsequent exploitation of oil in commercial quantity at Oloibiri in present Bayelsa state in 1957.
Our administration at inception came up with five cardinal programmes for the development of the entire state. The programmes centre on Job Creation, Massive Infrastructural Development, Provision of Functional Education, Provision of Accessible and Qualitative Healthcare, and Rural Development (JMPPR). The present government has embarked on massive infrastructural development in Ilaje and Ese-odo Local Government Areas. Recently, the State Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for the construction of a multi-billion naira Araromi/Akodo/Ibeju-Lekki coastal road. When completed, the 52 kilometer road project will link Ondo State with Lagos, thereby impacting positively on the socio-economy of Ondo State coastal communities. The road will also serve as alternative route to the Ore-Lagos Expressway. The State Government has also began the construction of Iditala-Sabomi township road in Ese-Odo, and the road is 60% completed and will soon be delivered.
The State Government has as well set up a technical committee to reactivate the development of the Olokola Free Trade Zone (OKFTZ) and building of a sea port in Ilaje Local Government Area of the State. These projects when completed, will turn these areas into a hub of investment opportunities, create jobs to empower and improve the socio-economic stance of the people in the state, as well as stimulate the development of micro and small/medium enterprises.
In its bid to addressing the challenges of providing potable water for the riverine communities, the State Government is set to commence the reticulation of the Aboto Water Scheme in Ilaje LGA. The project when completed will provide water for the entire population of the local government. There is still need to extend similar schemes to Ese-Odo local government area.
Other achievements recorded by the Akeredolu administration in Ilaje and Ese-odo LGA’s within just about six months in office are as follows:
 Payment of bursary to students in tertiary institutions for 2014 & 2015 academic sessions through OSOPADEC;
 Clearing of water hyacinths from the water ways;
 Efforts towards commencement of drilling operations at Ororo Marginal Field (OML 95) to create more employments for youths and boost the oil production quota of the State through Owena Oil & Gas Company, owned by the State Government;
 Distribution of relief materials to Ajapa Community in Arogbo Kingdom;
 Construction of schools at Kiribo in Ese-Odo LGA;
 Renovation of Aboto/Talita bridge that link Igbokoda, Mahin, Ugbo and Ugbonla;
 Construction and completion of Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH) internal roads; OSUSTECH is the only University that is very close to the Niger Delta area of the State;
 Construction and rehabilitation of Ayeka-Irele road (on-going). This road links four Local Government Areas i.e. Okitipupa, Ilaje, Irele and Ese-Odo;
 Construction of Aboto-Atijere road (on-going);
 Construction of Kiribo, Ese-Odo LGA Township Network Roads (Road 1,2 & 3) from CAC Church Junction-beach-Ibugbe-Alafia-Chief Mene’s Camp Road (6km)- (Ongoing)
 Irele – Sabomi – Igbotu Road (Ongoing)
 Agadagba-obon – Arogbo Bridge (Ongoing)
 Dredging of Tebetebe Creek to Opotuo Lagoon (Kiribo River) (ongoing)
 Contruction of 9km Road from Gada – Opotuo Lagoon (Ongoing)
 Organizing regular peace meetings and community engagements to ensure peaceful co-existence in the area;
 The State Government has been organizing yearly Oil and the Environment Summit through the Ministry of Environment for students in Ilaje and Ese-Odo LGA’s;
 Government has also ordered for the purchase of dredging machine specially manufactured for the riverine terrain.
We have no doubt that this open forum will engender a transparent process and consequently give participants a sense of belonging in the development of the Niger Delta in line with the change agenda of the federal government. It is our fervent desire that all agencies of government involved with the development of the Niger Delta would also key into the change mantra to ensure equitable distribution and funding of developmental projects across the length and breadth of the region. Ondo State holds a very strong view that it has not been receiving its fare shares of projects and management positions in the Niger Delta intervention agencies.
At this juncture, let me reiterate the commitment of this administration to environmental sustainability and atmosphere of peaceful coexistence in the state, particularly in the oil producing communities. Adequate efforts are being made to ensure compliance of oil companies to environmental laws and regulations in their operations, as well as to assist them in ensuring cordial relationships with their host communities.
Recently, a team from the ecological fund office visited the state to assess areas with very critical ecological challenges. We applaud this initiative and sincerely hope it will translate to timely intervention. We requestthat the federal governmentgive urgent attention to the dredging of our canals and water ways,sand filling and land reclamation where possible,as well as protection of our shorelinesthat are consistently threatened by ocean surge.
Lastly, we have recently designed a development agenda that will drive rapid industrialisation of the state through public-private-partnership initiatives. Of particular interest is the plan of the State Government to develop the Olokola Free Trade Zone (OFTZ) and a deep sea port in the riverine communities of the State. These projects when implemented will form the Niger Delta areas into the economic hub of Ondo state.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all a resourceful and successful programme. God Bless you.