THE crisis of underdevelopment of the Niger-Delta amidst a huge resource contribution came into razor-sharp focus, last week, in Warri, Delta State, where Professor of Comparative Politics and Public Policy, University of Benin, Professor Augustine Ikelegbe, declared that poverty, which is at the bottom of the grievances/ marginality of the youth/citizens of the region, has not been alleviated.
His words, "Past and existing development interventions, such as Niger-Delta Development Board (1961), OMPADEC (1962) and NDDC (2000) failed or are failing on the altar of top- down approach, hijack by elites, corruption, huge operational costs, elephant, unsustainable and abandoned projects and performance deficits".
According to the adjutant Professor of Conflict and Peace Studies, Centre for Population and Development, Benin City, "The big agency development has been a jamboree of political contractors and has been a museum for elephant, whitewashed, uncompleted, abandoned and high cost projects that have had little bearing on the peoples' livelihoods".
Even with the Federal Government under the leadership of a Niger-Deltan, he observed, "The situation of scant developmental attention has not considerably changed. Federal Government efforts remain trickle, poorly funded, centralized and poorly performing interventions".
Ikelegbe said there was need for massive educational and health care interventions to strengthen human capital in the region, particularly in the terribly under-developed riverine and coastal communities, adding that this would not be government alone, but from eminent Niger-Deltans.
"The results from the transnational oil companies and international organizations thus far, have not made much difference to the overall picture of inadequacy, lack of access and poor quality of social services and infrastructure to the generality of the region's population.," he added.
Ikelegbe, who spoke at the launching of the Tompolo Foundation, a non-governmental organization, NGO, set up by ex-militant leader and founder of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, to provide access to education and healthcare to the less privileged, said the freedom fighter has blazed the trail.
Pointing out that Tompolo, a hero of the struggle for the emancipation and development of the Niger-Delta, had sought massive development intervention from government for over a decade and personally intervened in the development of his native Gbaramatu Kingdom, he noted, "Now, the chief wants to contribute directly to the development fortunes and welfare of the people of the Niger-Delta.
"He (Tompolo) is moving beyond physical development of Gbaramatu to the entire Niger-Delta region. He wants to deploy his funds to facilitate access to the critical services of education and healthcare".
"In doing this," he remarked, "he has turned full circle as a development activist. He is thus not just a freedom fighter for development, but a facilitator, catalyst and agent of development and welfare".
Minister of State for Education, Barrister Ezenwo Nyeson Wike, who represented the Vice President, Architect Namadi Sambo, Commissioner for Special Duties (DESOPADEC) and Mr. Timi Tonye, who represented Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, attended the launch.
Also in Warri for the event was the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, Hon. Kingsley Kuku, traditional rulers of Gbaramatu, Uvwie and Ogulagha kingdoms, HRM, Ogeh-Gbaran III, HRM, Abe I and HRM, Agbonu I respectively, amongst others.
The foundation, which had been busy donating to victims of the flood disaster before the formal launch, rolled out instructional materials: charts, maps, school uniforms, foot wears; recreational equipment: slides, seesaws, merry-go-rounds and swings; and medical equipment for distribution to students, schools and hospitals.
Sambo, Uduaghan, Kuku laud Tompolo
Speaking at the occasion, Sambo described as unacceptable the fact that more than 10 million Nigerian children, who are of school age, are not in school, roaming the streets with many of them subjected to different forms of abuse.
He said government was displeased by state governors' seeming acts of sabotage of the Federal Government's well-intentioned Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme, noting that many of them have failed "to access the funds lying idle in commercial banks across the country."
While commending the Tompolo Foundation initiative, which is primarily aimed at promoting effective education and quality health delivery for the less privileged especially in the Niger-Delta, the vice-president said government was always willing to support any venture geared towards the promotion of the transformation agenda of the present administration.
Uduaghan also commended Ekpemupolo for establishing the foundation, noting that the ex-militant leader's resolve at "giving back to the society" was complementary to his government's human capital development programme.
Kuku recalled the leadership qualities of Tompolo, saying he (Kuku) is a product of Tompolo's shared beliefs on the Niger-Delta struggle and was proud to be associated with the aid organization for the less privileged.
He donated his November salary and N2 million on behalf of 26,158 ex-agitators, who, he said, agreed to part with the money from their allowances to support Tompolo's efforts to reach out to the less privileged.
Kuku told reporters after the launch, "The country owes Tompolo support as he gives back to the society; his acceptance of amnesty has brought peace to the region, we all should support him.
"Tompolo is our Obama, he is our Nelson mandela, he gave hope to many who never had hope. With this Foundation, students can now have quality education."
Why Foundation was established
Earlier in his address, the Executive Secretary of the Tompolo Foundation, Comrade Paul Bebenimibo, said that the ex-fighter had been passionate about the people and, less privileged, hence he decided to float the Foundation to help his people.
He said Tompolo had particularly been worried about the plight of the indigent pupils in coastal communities in the region and deemed necessary to contribute his quota.
He explained that in fulfillment of his promise to support victims of the recent flooding, Tompolo had moved round some of the camps set up for internally displaced persons in Delta State, and making tons of donations.