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.topics from