President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday reiterated the federal government's determination to deliver the East-West road in the Niger Delta as soon as possible and ensure the infrastructural transformation of the region in the life of his administration.
The President's commitment came on a day the Senate President, David Mark, stated the resolve of the Senate to come up with a stringent law on oil spillage in the region.
The President, who spoke in Lagos at the public presentation of the book, "Remaking the Niger Delta: Challenges and Opportunities," written by his Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, said government would take advantage of the peace currently prevailing in the region to transform it.
According to him, the transformation of the region will help to sustain the peace engendered through the amnesty programme of the federal government.
He noted the strategic importance of the East-West road for the South South zone of the country, as it links the region with other parts of the country, adding that government was also committed to delivering on the rail project in the region.
President Jonathan, who was represented by his vice, Arc. Namadi Sambo, noted that no less than N3 trillion was lost to the restiveness against oil production in the region in 2008 alone, and stressed the need to sustain the amnesty programme to ensure enduring peace in the Niger Delta."Government will be committed to all phases of the Niger Delta amnesty programme and will use the opportunity of the peace in the region to diversify the nation's economy which had been oil-dependent.
"Whatever security challenges we have in the country today will soon become a thing of the past," the President said.
Speaking on the occasion, Senate President, David Mark, spoke of the Senate's resolve to legislate stringent laws against oil spillage and degradation of the Niger Delta.Mark,who was represented by Chairman, Senate Committee on the Niger Delta, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, said the region would continue to witness oil spillage with no remediation or clean up as there was currently no law to enforce them.
He noted that the current N1 million fine against degradation informed the impunity with which oil exploration companies degrade the environment in the Niger Delta.
"In Brazil, billions of Dollars was imposed as fine for a relatively small area that was degraded by two exploration companies in the country. Therefore, N1million fine cannot achieve any result in Nigeria," Mark said.
He stressed the need for enthronement of the Pollute-Pay Principle in the country to stave off spillages by oil companies.
He said: " Pollute-Pay Principle is not available in Nigeria to bring those who degrade the environment in the Niger Delta to book. This is simply because the law is not there."
Mark noted that no less than 40,000 barrels of crude oil,worth billions of Naira,were spilled in the region last December.
Helamented also that of the 19,000 operators in Bonny Island, over 16,000 were foreigners brought into the country to do the jobs Nigerians could do, and attributed that to the high rate of unemployment in the region.
One of the reviewers of the book, Prof. Godina .G. Darah, described the 250-paged the subject matter of the book as a manifestation of "Nigeria's ability to make peace, even at the brink of war."
He noted that June 25, 2009, the date amnesty was proclaimed by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua represented an epoch in the country's history.
"That programme (amnesty) compares with the end of the American civil war in 1865 and Apartheid in South Africa,which is a moral courage demonstrated by the Yar' Adua/Jonathan government," Prof. Darah said.
He said also that the book highlighted the need to diversify the nation's economy from oil, with a view to broadening it.
He warned that unless issues relating to Niger Delta's development were fully addressed, youths in the region might go back to arms.
He said: "If there is no Niger Delta oil, there is no Nigeria and it will not be business as usual, if the problem of infrastructure is not resolved."
Author of the book and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Matters, Mr. Kingsley Kuku,urged other stakeholders in the region to assist government sustain the amnesty programme so the peace in the region could be sustained to make way for its development.
He said current peace in the region made possible increase of oil production from 700,000 to 2.5 million barrels per day.