Stakeholders at the sixth edition of the Niger Delta Development Forum have collectively proposed a regional action plan for the oil rich Niger Delta region.
This was the consensus of participants at the opening session of this year's forum holding in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.Speaker after speaker at the annual event which is put together by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) in collaboration with Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE) emphasized that the future of the Niger Delta region can only be secured through development planning that is designed at state-level and endorsed by its citizens.
Declaring the event open, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel called for increased participation of the region's citizens and state governments in planning for future economic development just as he urged for the implementation of "what has already been put on paper."
Represented by the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Dr. Nse Udo Essien, Governor Emmanuel said there was an urgent need for an integrated plan that would address the plight of the people in the light of fresh threats by Niger Delta Avengers.
Speaking in a similar vein, Executive Director of PIND, Dr. Dara Akala lamented the abandonment of the Niger Delta Master Plan that was put together in 2006 and urged stakeholders to take ownership of the document to ensure the development of the region.
"I am sure that it will not be contentious to say that the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan adopted in 2006 has suffered from a lack of ownership by key stakeholders at the State level," Dr. Dara Akala, said.
The Senior Special Adviser to Cross River State Government on Sustainable Development Goals, SDG, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, said "We need to allow the people take ownership of the process."
A professor of Agricultural Economics, who gave the first keynote address at the Forum, Adegboyega Oguntade, also averred that in any development plan, consultation with stakeholders - the citizens - is "very important and must be a continuous one. "
Addressing the importance of implementation, Technical Assistant on SDG's, Office of the Vice President of Nigeria, Hadiza Aminu, said, "Beyond having effective policies, we need to be able to implement. We need action plans."
The Forum, which is themed "The Future in Our Hands: A State-led Framework for Planning and Development in the Niger Delta", kicked off with a welcome address from PIND's ED, Dr. Akala, who reflected on the fruits of past NDDF editions.
"BRACED Commission, for example, moved forward on some of the agriculture and investment policy recommendations from a previous NDDF to work directly with the Commissioners of the six states they are mandated to work in," he said. "Following a recommendation from NDDF, USAID's MARKETS II project supplied equipment grants to women and youth for farming in Cross Rivers and Delta States as part of work to address the constraint of access to finance for women and youth."
Then there were short goodwill messages from the Forum's partners, which include the UK Department for International Development, DFID. Speaking on behalf of DFID was its Regional Coordinator in the South-East and South-South, Olachi Chuks, who called for a move towards more regional integration. "It is not a hard sell," she said. "The culmination of our comparative advantage, numbers, various intellectual capacities, can all help to make our regions move forward."
MADE, another of the Forum's partners, spoke through its Team Leader, Tunde Oderinde, who was represented in Uyo by MADE's Deputy Team Leader, Filippo Ghezzi.
"MADE is happy to work with PIND and other partners under the DEMAND alliance to explore solutions to the challenges of the Niger Delta region," Mr. Oderinde said. "The NDDF provides opportunity to leverage strategic thinking and actions which lead us in that direction."
Other NDDF partners include USAID's Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement Project, SACE, the European Union's Niger Delta Support Program, NDSP, and the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (CORDAID).
In his keynote paper, which was titled 'Framework and Tools for Implementable, Fundable and Sustained Growth and Development Planning', Professor Oguntade, using Cross River as a case study, noted that planning in most states is flawed because they do not pay attention to demographics.
"We did that in Cross River State and realised that a lot of infrastructure needs to be put in place within the next couple of years," the University don, who is also the Lead Consultant of the Cross River Growth and Development Strategy, GDS, said.
The Professor's presentation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ambassador Toyo, a reading of CSO statement from the Niger Delta Civic Engagement Forum (NDCEF), a musical performance by Dr. Omatshola Osheli (TeeMac) and the opening address of Governor Emmanuel, which was delivered by Akwa Ibom's Honourable Commissioner for Science and Technology, Dr. Nse Essien.