Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, has expressed optimism that the ongoing Technical Meeting of the second National Council on Niger Delta (NCND) holding in Akure, the state capital will engender the development of policies, programmes and strategies to tackle security challenges and provide the much needed framework for the development of the Niger Delta region.
He made the assertion on Friday in his keynote address while declaring open the NCND technical meeting at the International Culture and Event Centre, The Dome, Igbatoro Road, Akure.
Represented by his Deputy, Hon. Agboola Ajayi, the governor averred that since the meeting is premised on the reality of the socio-economic development of the Niger Delta region, otherwise called the oil producing states of Nigeria, its theme "Fast-tracking the Development and Peace of the Niger Delta Region: Options and Prospects" could not have been more apt given the slow pace at which past promises had been delivered and the urgent need to forestall any relapse of the Niger Delta region into the violence of the past.
Akeredolu averred that though genuine efforts at developing the Niger Delta region commenced in 1992 with the establishment of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), 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, a development he attributed to the slow pace at which the ship of development has been sailing in the region.
He therefore expressed hope that the delegates at the meeting will come up with innovative approaches that will instigate massive infrastructural development and ensure an atmosphere of peace in the Niger Delta.
His words: "The Development of the Niger Delta region 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 this 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," Akeredolu said.
The governor noted that the contributions of Ondo State to the Niger Delta region is not only with its unique and distinctive mud coast of close to a hundred kilometres, stretching from the western boundary with Ogun State to its eastern boundary with Delta State, and the wetlands of the Ilaje, Arogbo and Apoi people, but that the state has the deepest and longest coastline in the country.
Akeredolu posited that Ondo State is well engrained in the history of oil exploration and exploitation in Nigeria while it presently ranked as the fifth oil producing state in the country based on production quota.
He noted that his administration at inception came up with five cardinal programmes for the development of the entire state which are Job Creation, Massive Infrastructural Development, Provision of Functional Education, Provision of Accessible and Qualitative Healthcare and Rural Development (JMPPR).
Akeredolu added that his administration has equally embarked on massive infrastructural development in Ilaje and Ese-Odo Local Governemnt Areas while it recently 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.
He posited that when completed, the 52 kilometre road project will link Ondo State with Lagos, thereby impacting positively on the socio-economy of Ondo State coastal communities.
He expressed the 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.
Akeredolu highlighted other laudable achievements recorded by his administration in Ilaje and Ese-Odo Local Government Areas within just about six months in office to include payment of bursary and scholarship to students in tertiary institutions through OSOPADEC, clearing of water hyacinths from the water ways and efforts towards the commencement of drilling operation at Ororo Marginal Field (OML 95) to create more employments for youths and boost oil production.
Others include distribution of relief materials to Ajapa Community in Arogbo kingdom, construction of schools at Kiribo in Ese-Odo Local Governemnt Area and renovation of Aboto/Talita bridge that links Igbokoda, Mahin, Ugbo and Ugbonla among several others.
Also in his keynote address, the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee (LOC)of the NCND and Chairman of Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC) Hon. Olugbenga Edema appreciated Governor Akeredolu for providing the necessary support required for Ondo State to play host to the rest of the Niger Delta.
Edema noted that the belief of the governor in the unconditional development of the oil producing areas has come out clearly, not only in his policies, but also in all the practical steps he had taken since assuming office about six months ago.
He averred that the objective of the meeting is to evolve workable, implementable and sustainable approaches towards actualising physical and economic transformation of the Niger Delta region.
The Chairman of the Technical Committee of the NCND and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Moses Okpo also appreciated Governor Akeredolu for providing all the necessary logistics required for the success of the meeting.
Okpo averred that peace and security remain integral parts of the agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and that peace and security in the Niger Delta region will undoubtedly set the nation on the path of economic development.
He said the Ministry is resolved in its commitment to fulfil this mandate and therefore, repositioning itself as a foccal point for the fast-tracking of the development of the Niger Delta region.
Meanwhile, Akeredolu, has appealed to the Federal Government to expand the amnesty programme to accommodate more youths in the Niger Delta region to prevent restiveness and reduce agitations in the region.
He made the appeal, while receiving the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Major General Paul Boroh (Rtd), at the Government House in Akure at the weekend.
The Governor said expansion of the current amnesty programme would accommodate majority of the unemployed youths in the two oil producing Local Government Areas of Ilaje and Ese-Odo in the state.
He said the training of youths engaged under the amnesty programme could equally be better done at the Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa which now offers courses in Marine Technology and could acquire skills in boats construction.
"Instead of sending few people abroad to study and many a time they never returned. Even sometimes, when they return, they grabble with reintegration; why can't we make use of our own university, which already has the facilities and courses like Marine Technology, " the governor said.
Earlier, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, who is also the Coordinator Presidential Amnesty Programme, General Paul Boroh had said he was happy with the relative peace existing in the state, for which he commended the efforts of the State Government.
"I'm happy to be here. Ondo State is part of our mandate areas and our responsibility is to ensure that there is peace, " he said.
General Boroh said he was in the state because of the summit of Niger Delta National Council to see things for himself, which he said was initiated to bring lasting solution to the security situations in the region.
Also, The Hope has learnt that the State Government is set to commence the reticulation of the Aboto Water Scheme in llaje Local Government to proffer solution to the challenges of providing portable water for the riverine communities.The project when completed will provide water for the entire population of the local government.
Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN stated this in his address delivered while declaring open the technical meeting of the 2nd National Council on Niger Delta.