Deirdre LaPin is a development expert currently based in the US. She is an also Africanist scholar who has studied Nigeria for over 45 years. She lived in Nigeria for extended periods totalling 18 years and for ten years worked in and on the Niger Delta as a managing advisor on development to the oil industry and later for international agencies. Between 1997 and 2001, she helped Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, establish the first corporate community investment program in Africa, with 180 Nigerian staff. At the time, it represented the largest rural development program in Africa by either private sector or donor agencies. Dr. LaPin co-authored the widely-used report “Securing Development and Peace in the Niger Delta” published by the Smithsonian Institution’s Woodrow Wilson Centre. In 2012, she was a team leader helping the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and UNDP design a new multi-sectoral Niger Delta Action Plan, the first comprehensive blueprint for coordinating and delivering development results to the region. It is now being reviewed with fresh eyes by the Nigerian government and local stakeholders.
She talked to Ladi Olorunyomi about how key features of the Niger Delta Action Plan can help fast-track right now a comprehensive and sustainable development to improve the quality of life for men, women and youth in the region.
PT: Given your background, how did you get involved in a project sponsored by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA)?
Deirdre: Five years ago, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) and its partner, the United Nations Development Program, invited ten development experts to help design a comprehensive plan for intensive development of the region. When the MNDA was created in 2008 by President Yar’Adua, it was met with high expectations among people of the Niger Delta region, the nation, and by the oil industry and international donors. The ministry needed a blueprint for its work. The majority of the team members were Nigerian. As an American who considers Nigeria her second home, I was happy to serve because I had spent over 40 years in and out of the country and over ten years living, planning and managing development projects in the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta Action Plan (NDAP) was created in 2012 to guide and coordinate a range of development inputs by all stakeholders over a period of five years. They include the three tiers of government, international and private sector donors, civil society, and most important, Niger Delta communities. As the name suggests, the focus of the plan was on ACTION and on delivering RESULTS.
PT: You are aware of previous development plans or programs that have either failed or are stalled. The Niger Delta Master Plan of 2005 is on ice and the NDDC and the MNDA are struggling for their lives. Why are you confident that the Action Plan is any different?
Deirdre: When one speaks of “plans” most Nigerians recall the Niger Delta Master Plan of 2005. It was initiated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000. The plan is well remembered because it began with a highly participatory process involving hundreds of individuals and groups for several years. It became a movement. Dozens of teams were formed in all nine Niger Delta states to engage in research, consultation, and to propose recommendations. The weakness of that plan was that it offered little guidance on specific actions or a governance structure to enable NDDC to carry out its objectives. Slowly, the Master Plan was forgotten in all but name. It is now hard to find even a copy of the actual text.
Still, people in the region were waiting for action. President Yar’Adua proposed a Niger Delta Summit in 2007 to re-boot discussion on future prospects for peace and development in the region. But Niger Delta leaders preferred a hands-on approach which they could manage themselves through a technical committee of experienced local professionals. They elected Ledum Mitee, the respected Ogoni leader, as chairman. Committee members from all nine states combed through impressive body of studies, plans and commission reports already available on the Region. They selected the most viable recommendations on how to tackle the region’s yawning development deficit. They also solicited fresh inputs directly from interested parties or via a dedicated website created for the purpose. The passion and dedication of Mitee’s team, and the generous participation of government, international donors, industry, as well as men and women throughout the region was almost magical. Once again, the process raised great hope. In record time, the committee submitted a thoughtful and thorough report. It is truly regrettable that a promised government White Paper for putting the recommendations into practice was never issued.
In late 2009, following these disappointments, peace returned to the region under the amnesty programme. A group of major donors (DfiD, the EC, UNDP, USAID, the World Bank, and later PIND) and the new MNDA, saw a window of opportunity. The ministry encouraged the donors to collaborate on finding lasting solutions to the problems that plagued the region. The donors recognized that the key to sustainable peace and development was to harness the resilience and good will of all parties and convince them to work in concert. They proposed to the ministry that an overarching framework be created to coordinate the inputs of all public and private actors engaged in regional development. The MNDA issued a concept paper titled ‘Proposed Niger Delta Collaborative Development Framework’ which laid the rationale, principles, content, and mechanisms to guide a 5-year development plan that would pool $6.5-10 billion in financing from various sources within a coordinated structure.
To fulfil this directive, our team worked for many months to design the Action Plan. The first big difference and the unique trait that sets the NDAP apart from all prior plans, is that it does not merely delineate the changes and projects that are needed, it also puts emphasis on action. During a tour of the region a few weeks ago, former MD of NDDC, Timi Alaibe, challenged leaders to “do what we have to do.” The NDAP provides an implementation architecture that shows “How to do what we have to do.” The plan continues the work of the Ledum Mitee committee by taking its salient points and setting them within a clear framework of goals, objectives and outcomes for delivering results. The framework provides clarity on actions for development and peace for everyone involved. Inputs of multiple stakeholders can be coordinated, tracked and measured. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo underscored this results-based approach earlier in the year during his visit to Port Harcourt when he called for a change in service delivery through government, ministries, or parastatals, that they should no longer be entities that ‘share money’ but organisations that delivers results.
The second big difference is that the Action Plan also strengthens the capacity of institutions to manage and deliver their proposals so that they do not languish. The NDAP itself was left on the shelf and ignored from 2013 until MNDA re-opened discussions on it a year ago. Earlier versions of the plan are now being reviewed and would be updated to match current conditions in the country. The MNDA, as initiator and owner of the Plan, is expected to provide the principal oversight for coordination and implementation with support from a dedicated technical team.
The third and biggest difference between NDAP and earlier plans is Nigeria’s parlous current socio-economic context. The nation-wide recession caused by drop in the price and production of oil and gas means that ending attacks on oil infrastructure and meeting the legitimate and development demands of the Niger Delta region are no longer an option. Peace and development are now urgent and obligatory. As Emmanuel Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, said recently, $40 billion has been spent in the Niger Delta region in the past four years with little to show for it. Government must act now, and the plan offers a clear framework for coordinated action.
PT: How would you describe the NDAP? Some call it an investment plan, some call it an intensified development plan.
Deirdre: The Action Plan is a conceptual framework for Niger Delta development that focuses on delivering results. It seeks to mobilise and coordinate investments from both the public sector (government and donors) and the private sector (industry and NGOs) to achieve one overarching goal for the people of the Niger Delta: improved quality of life. It should be noted that the Action Plan is a work in progress, it’s still undergoing update and review. In its original form, the plan envisioned that an investment of $6.5 billion-$10 billion could achieve three top results for the Niger Delta people in five years; namely: (1) improved living standards, (2) sustained economic growth, and (3) a consolidated, continuous peace.
The term ‘investment’ is not really important in this context since inputs to any development plan are typically viewed as an ‘investment’ of human and financial resources to benefit a target population. Development investment, like any other investment, should yield a return, whether in the form of improved public asset or sometimes (where local business development is emphasized) for private entrepreneurs. An ‘intensified plan’ maximises both investment and speed. Both are urgently needed in the Niger Delta.
All investment and activities under the plan support the top results through a hierarchy of outcomes that will change people’s lives for the better. It is clear that the outcomes will depend on three types of investment: social, infrastructural, and institutional. Social activities involve people, such as better basic services, skills and business training, or participation in governance. Infrastructure includes better housing and resource management, transport networks, and restored schools and health centres. Finally, all require better management or institutional capacity at all levels, from community groups to the custodian ministry to ensure strong financial planning, good technical knowledge and support, or better transparency and accountability through regular monitoring and evaluation.
An unusual feature of the plan is what we called ‘Levers of Change’. We asked stakeholders what practical and cost-effective inputs will have the highest impact on achieving results? The ‘Levers of Change’ they suggested include value-added agriculture, skills and enterprise development, sustainable energy, community-level interventions, transportation, ICT, and more. In the plan, all three types of investment will be working together in all projects, whether at community, local, state, or regional level.
PT: The Niger Delta Action Plan is sponsored by Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and its development was supported by UNDP, DfID, the EU, Norwegian government, and other traditional development actors, but it seems a good part of the implementation looks to the private sector. This is a departure from previous trends. What is the rationale for this?
There are two very good reasons for giving the private sector a role in the Niger Delta Action Plan. First, the Plan is conceived as a multi-stakeholder initiative that invites all tiers of government, donors, civil society, and communities – along with private entrepreneurs and above all, the oil and gas industry – to join a coordinated framework for Niger Delta development. Since the 1990s, International Oil Companies’ (IOCs) input into development in the region has grown substantially. Each year, IOCs commit several hundred million dollars to support projects in education, agriculture, health, water supply, and business development. Before states were awarded the 13 per cent derivation payments on oil production, IOCs and oil service companies were the major development donors in the region. Since their operations depend on peace and a “social license to operate,” they have always assisted communities in their areas of operations and partnered with states, civil society, the NDDC and others to foster innovative, community-driven development strategies. For these reasons, the private sector brings to the table not only financial inputs but a history of experimentation in cost-effective, value-driven development. These models are welcome to other players in the NDAP.
The second reason for engaging the private sector is that sustained economic growth and development in all sectors is a key result targeted by the Action Plan. Business skills training and entrepreneurial development are expected outputs of the plan and could result in several thousand new or improved micro, small, and medium enterprises for individual entrepreneurs. Historically, the oil and gas industry has been a main business driver in the region through its value chain. Industry’s business knowledge can help all sectors. Expanded agricultural production and transformation and marketing of products is an important project strategy highlighted in the Action Plan. Under current economic diversification policies, non-oil sectors are receiving more technical and financial support.
Also, the private sector development strategies proposed by the Action Plan benefits from private sector donors who have direct expertise in business and management.
PT: How, specifically, will the NDAP address the deep-seated distrust between oil companies and host communities? The perception of multinational companies failing in their CSR commitments could detract from public support of the NDAP.
Deirdre: The people of the Niger Delta are right to hold both industry and government to the highest standards. Both have acknowledged that they have made real errors in the past. All parties to a multi-stakeholder Action Plan would quite probably see an uptick in their reputations if men and women see improvement in their quality of life.
Under the present recession, IOC programs for scholarships and health care, together with their ongoing remittance to Community Trusts, are welcome in struggling communities. In addition, the Partnership Initiative for the Niger Delta (PIND) created by Chevron supports skills training and entrepreneurship. Such IOC-funded programs are likely to continue under the framework of the Action Plan.
During our field visits we met a number of truly innovative projects supported by IOCs. SPDC gave the Trust in one community additional technical support to create a very successful community health insurance scheme. This initiative, driven entirely by community members, catalysed improvements through the surrounding area in most government and private health facilities. We also visited the Songhai model farm in Tai/Ogoni, a partnership between industry and the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency which offered training in innovative agricultural technologies for hundreds of local youth and women.
PT: From just reading the Action Plan, one might get the feeling that it is a top-down initiative that assumes a design team can articulate the needs and concerns of Niger Deltans better than they can do themselves. How do you respond to that?
Deirdre: A great deal of consultation with local stakeholders was undertaken before, during, and after the Action Plan design phase. Because a state-of-the-art approach was adopted by the team, it reflected best development planning practices for Africa. It is unfortunate that this methodology was not spelled out in the text, so I will explain the steps in the process involved. The steps include (1) an extensive review of all past regional studies and plans with a thorough distillation of key issues, opportunities, and recommendations; (2) an email survey sent to over 100 key stakeholders (including members of the Ledum Mitee Technical Team) soliciting their views on what activities or approaches should be continued, discontinued, or improved; (3) a 3-week field trip to all nine Niger Delta states involving observation visits to 67 projects and over 50 semi-structured interviews; (4) After the plan was drafted, two verification meetings were held with stakeholders in the region.
Also relevant is that the ten-member design team came with deep development experience in the region. All of them were either indigenes or long-time residents in the area. One member was a principal team leader for the 2005 Master Plan; another had helped design and build model health centres and schools for Rivers State; I had previously created a large multi-sector social investment program for the oil industry; and there were others.
In addition, the priorities expressed by the Niger Deltans were central to our final design. Respondents to our surveys and interviews vigorously insisted on inclusive community participation in both planning and implementation. They strongly favoured an increase in both social and infrastructure projects, especially job creation, local enterprise development (e.g. agri-business, ICT) and rural infrastructure (e.g. power and water). They urged better governance and transparency for all projects, including strict monitoring and evaluation. From these consultations, the team identified the “levers of change” mentioned previously as critical interventions for rapid development.
Finally, we had many meetings with civil servants and elected officials at all levels. Department heads in the MNDA were keenly interested, as were staff in the presidency, committee chairmen for the Niger Delta in the National Assembly, many governors and ministers in the relevant states, and selected LGA chairmen.
PT: The Action Plan was completed in 2012 about three years after militia groups laid down arms under the terms of the Amnesty Program. Were militants invited to contribute to the plan given the cordial relationship they had with the government then?
During our field trip and community visits, we spoke with a wide range of men, women and youth from all walks of life. Some youth may have been former agitators. All youth expressed similar priorities, and all were bullish about more jobs and development. In one case, a former militant and his LGA chairman were interviewed together about the progress of the Amnesty Programme and jobs-related training.
PT: Job creation and enterprise development is one of the ‘Levers of Change’ in the social investment portion of the plan. What strategies are proposed?
Jobs, jobs, jobs are, not surprisingly, the development output most keenly sought by Niger Delta stakeholders. The design team originally suggested two approaches to creating jobs. Both of these approaches could figure in an exit strategy for the Amnesty Program by ensuring the economic re-integration of former fighters.
One approach is to put the ‘Niger Delta in Business.’ This program would provide business and skills training for new and existing micro, small, and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) and expand or launch several thousand agro-technology businesses. Micro-credit or larger revolving loans could be provided. An apprenticeship strategy supported by local mentor business proprietors is also suggested. Mentors will help train young people in new technical and business skills until they can start enterprises of their own. Similarly, contractors in large infrastructure projects could be encouraged through a small financial incentive to hire and professionally train local youth in construction skills. In this way, these local contract staff may find employment when the project is completed.
We called the second approach the ‘Niger Delta Works.’ This exciting program creates employment while at the same time builds infrastructure and provides basic services. The concept is to create a Niger Delta Development Corps of eligible youth supported by modest stipends. The Corps members would be deployed to communities to help build or refurbish basic infrastructure, teach in primary or secondary schools, provide ICT support, help local residents with enterprise development, and fulfil among other local development tasks. Similar to other job corps programs piloted in Nigeria, the development corps can teach young Niger Deltans useful skills, familiarize them with the region, and give them a sense of pride in contributing to its growth and development.
PT: What infrastructural needs of Niger Delta communities should get immediate attention under the NDAP?
Given its limited budget, the Action Plan would not include big projects such as the East-West or Coastal Roads, an East-West Railroad, or grid-based power supply. Such major infrastructure serving urban economic hubs is included in the existing development plans and budgets of ministries or parastatals. Infrastructure under the Action Plan focuses mainly on rural and remote communities. Under this plan, communities would set their own priorities for infrastructure. Typically, they choose to build or rehabilitate schools, health facilities, water supply systems, or housing. They may also install rural power supply using solar or bio-gas (e.g. from water hyacinth) as local sources of energy.
A clever and rapid approach for implementing infrastructure projects is proposed in the Action Plan. This is called ‘Projects in a Box.’ It would establish a small projects pipeline that standardises material requirements for each project type. The inputs would be manufactured and/or assembled at a nearby urban centre and shipped in a container to the community. On arrival, the community will set up the project, perhaps with assistance from members of the Niger Delta Development Corps. ‘Projects in a Box’ could create jobs at both ends of the project pipeline while at the same time meeting basic needs for local infrastructure.
PT: We seem to be at a historic moment where the administration is well-positioned to persuade Niger Delta advocates, including militias and activist groups, to implement an Action Plan. It also seems to have the goodwill of international donors and transnational corporations that can play role in its implementation. How should supporters of the Action Plan go about urging the Buhari administration to act now and act fast?
Deirdre: Indeed. The recent series of interactive engagements by the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has opened a fresh window of opportunity to fill the enormous development gap in the region. In his excellent speech in Port Harcourt, he has reminded us that we have no time to waste. For the Niger Delta, he says “The Future is Now.” He noted that palliative measures such as amnesty stipends cannot permanently resolve the cycle of discontent in the region which often leads to violence and military response. Instead, he observed, the underlying causes must be forcefully and readily addressed – among them poverty, poor infrastructure and environmental damage. This is precisely the purpose of the Action Plan.
By now, everyone agrees that reducing this huge development deficit in the Niger Delta is no longer an option; it is an immediate imperative. The Acting President himself affirmed this imperative:
“It is no doubt at all that a new vision is required for the Niger Delta. But not only new vision, but a fresh commitment, a renewed spirit by all stakeholders including the states, federal agencies and the oil bearing communities. The federal government is committed in going into a partnership with the oil producing states, local governments and the private sector as well as civil society organisations for the rapid development of these communities. There is no way that this new vision will be aborted because it does not depend for execution on the federal government alone. Every stakeholder has a part to play.
This commitment by the federal government is huge and assures the political will needed to implement the Action Plan. Over the past year, a re-launch of the Action Plan has been underway in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. These discussions included donor representatives, IOC managers, governors of the Niger Delta states, technical consultants, and other stakeholders.
In his speech, the Acting. President also promised in Port Harcourt an intervention meeting planned for the oil communities to [in his words] ‘work out what can be done in the short to medium term together with the long-term possibilities.’ This offers the MNDA an opportunity to extend its meetings to regional consultations with stakeholders in all nine states.
Conditions have of course changed since the NDAP was first shared in 2012-2013. Reorganisation of the NNDC and MNDA and a commitment to review and tackle uncompleted projects are making these institutions stronger. Dialogues between the government and regional stakeholders are already in progress. In November PANDEF – the Pan Niger Delta Development Forum — proposed a 16-point agenda. A series of Niger Delta dialogues have since June reviewed issues such as the Amnesty and its reorientation from stipends to employment. Meanwhile, Minister of State Emmanuel Kachikwu has elaborated a 20-point blueprint for NNPC that also includes development targets.
Acting President Osinbajo’s vision resonates perfectly with the coordinated multi-stakeholder development approach proposed in the Niger Delta Action Plan. Stakeholders committed to regional development can urge that meetings be organised with government representatives in each of the nine states. In those meetings, the development framework proposed by the Action Plan can be shared and discussed.
Ideally, from these local meetings, a common vision for the way forward will emerge, guided by the Results Framework and its principles. To move forward the Plan will need (1) commitment by all parties to its goals and primary outcomes; (2) a governance system for flexible implementation with good coordination; and (3) strong oversight, monitoring and evaluation.
PT: What are the urgent steps you would recommend that the Buhari administration take on the NDAP in the short run and what should its long-term strategy be?
Deirdre: Step One, continued consultation with a range of local stakeholders from the Niger Delta is the critical first step to achieve a broad consensus on the expected results of the Action Plan. Step Two, defining the governance framework for the new Niger Delta Development Program. Step Three, prioritizing the most urgent interventions proposed by stakeholders in each state. Throughout, government must work with local stakeholders to mobilise regional support and good will continuously.
Past experience with plans for the Niger Delta has shown that any successful development program requires the following ingredients, and the presidency can work to put them in place:
- A committed champion at the highest level – ideally, the Presidency itself
- Commitment or a “compact” by investors and stakeholders
- Strong political will from all tiers of government
- An institutional home to manage coordination, finance and administration, and monitoring and evaluation – the MNDA
- An Internationally recognised and professional Program Coordinator – acceptable to all parties and with a mandate for independent decision-making
- A competent technical team
- A Board or Oversight Council – Council for the Niger Delta
- Above all, consultation, buy-in and participation among the beneficiaries in the Region – via a Stakeholder Forum
A deep engagement with beneficiaries representing all ethnic and socio-economic groups should thus begin at the time the plan is being refined and should continue throughout the implementation.
Communities and local governments should be involved in regular monitoring of planned outputs and they should give feedback on speed and quality of implementation. A monitoring website should be developed. These local views should be channelled into a Stakeholder Forum, which holds meetings with the Project Coordinator and ministry staff as well as donors at least once every year.
Governance is the most critical success factor for the plan. The Action Plan touches on so many development sectors – including basic services, peace building, economic growth, and infrastructure — it has many moving parts. An integrated development program covering nine states requires a governance structure that is extremely robust, similar to the one proposed for the Ogoni Clean-up. That project, housed in the Environment Ministry, has a Governing Council, Board of Trustees, Project Coordination Office led by a specially recruited expert, assisted by a cadre of staff specialists and consultants as required.
The Action Plan proposes reinforcing the institutional capacity of the MNDA to manage the governance structure for coordination, monitoring, and evaluation. Coordination does not mean control. Each donor or state government or oil industry player who invests in Niger Delta Development can be at liberty to execute their projects with guidance from the plan’s general results framework and its principles of execution. Their activities would create a synergy that multiplies their value, and reduces duplication, when executed together. The stakeholder forum will review and advise progress on the Action Plan. In addition, the plan proposed creating a Multi-Stakeholder Trust Fund with independent management in which traditional donors, industry, even states could pool their funds for the execution of certain complex or innovative projects.
While consultations and building the governance structure are underway, it is meanwhile possible for the government to implement a number of quick win projects to build the confidence and trust of local men and women. The vast number of projects uncompleted by the NDDC and the MNDA are being reviewed. Projects that can be completed in 6 to 12 months should be prioritised and fast-tracked in consultation with regional stakeholders. In addition, as a show of commitment and good will, ongoing federal programs can also prioritise the region in the short term, e.g. micro-credit and business loans, household solar electricity kits, conditional cash transfers to the poor, or the N-Power program for job creation among youth, and so on.
PT: Finally, what should Nigerians in communities outside the Niger Delta, across the country and in the diaspora, do to support the Action Plan?
Deirdre: Over the years public statements of support from outside the region for Niger Delta Development have been impressive. But too often the political will has been missing in State or National Assemblies. Resistance seems to be softening in the current economic crisis. Budgets for the MNDA, NDDC, and the Amnesty Program increased partly as a result of strong advocacy from political constituents throughout Nigeria and abroad. Close attention to institutional reforms and budget performance is needed. More lobbying and advocacy by constituents will help press for adoption of the Action Plan for Niger Delta Development.
Diaspora groups can also become involved in directly developing the region. Many already assist their home town communities by making significant financial contributions. They can help their home towns plan projects under the Action Plan and support their execution. Some diaspora groups even undertake regular direct development or medical missions to the Niger Delta states. Engagement on these visits with the official management of the MNDA, local or state political leaders, or with key donors and stakeholders in the Niger Delta could be valuable support.
I want to say finally that all of us in the international community who have worked in the Niger Delta region have been deeply impressed by the energy, intelligence, and tenacity of its men, women, and especially youth. Inspired by the right leadership, and guided by a plan focused on delivering results, they have proven to be great achievers, willing and able to take the future in their own hands.
As the Acting President reminded us, for the Niger Delta, “The Future is Now.” Indeed, now is the time for everyone to seize the moment to develop the Niger Delta. This opportunity must not be squandered.