…Says community devt, youth training, empowerment‘re priorities
Chief Favour Izoukumor is the Executive Director, Social Services in the current board of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC. In this interview with GbaramatuVoice, he disclosed the efforts of the Commission, plans for oil producing communities for the next four years and among other issues. Excerpts:
What is all about the office of Social Services in DESOPADEC?
Well, as the name implies, social services are those services provided for the benefit of the community, such as healthcare, public education, housing, infrastructure and among others. DESOPADEC, as an intervention agency of the Delta State government, embarks on such services in oil producing communities of the state. Every issue as it relates to social services are under the purview of the Social Services Directorate of the Commission. Some examples of services the Commission provides for beneficiaries include internal roads in rural communities, classroom blocks, scholarships, bursaries, skills acquisition, rural electrification and so on and so forth.
Can you tell us how DESOPADEC has fared so far from the time of its establishment in 2006 under the leadership of Governor James Onanefe Ibori till date?
As an active participant in the oil and gas sector, even before the creation of DESOPADEC, I’m abreast with activities of the Commission from its creation to date. In fact, I was one of the young people that were part and parcel of the agitations that gave birth to the creation of the Commission. To the best of my knowledge, DESOPADEC is doing well in service delivery to the people.
To buttress my point, I would like to take you back to the time prior to creation of the Commission. As a creek boy then, there was no government presence, no capital projects nor human capital development activities and that prompted most of the youths within the region to agitate for fair treatment. I can categorically state here that most of the few capital projects we’re witnessing in oil producing communities in the state are linked to DESOPADEC. So, my emphasis is that DESOPADEC is really doing well in service delivery and our quest is to take development to oil producing communities in the creeks.
Having gone round some of the communities under the mandate areas, some people in their opinions believe that the Commission has no clear definitions to their problems and means to address/achieve set goals. What’s your response to these claims?
No, that’s not true. To put the facts straight, DESOPADEC has a crystal clear mandate which is to bring development to oil producing communities in the state, and I’m sure this blueprint is duly pursued and followed. As you can attest to, having gone round some of the communities, how the Commission is working assiduously with available resources. So, I will urge critical stakeholders to be patient and support government policies to achieve set goals of the Commission. More so, I have full confidence that DESPOADEC will do a lot, yes, the Commission will marvel oil producing communities with available resources.
There’s a seemingly abandoned school building project belonging to DESOPADEC at Opuama community, which is just one out of, maybe hundreds or a thousand projects littering communities in the creeks for over 10 to 15 years. What’s the Commission doing about those projects?
Yes, there could be possibilities of few abandoned projects, but if you’re saying a thousand, I want to believe that’s an exaggeration. What the current board intends to achieve is to mandate representatives of ethnic nationalities to go to their various areas to find out if there’s any abandoned project. It’s a decision we have given priority to, and which mandate has already been given to the representatives. We’re waiting for their reports and once we receive feedback from them, we will respond without delay. Our concentration would be to see how we can complete those abandoned projects if there’s any.
Again, there are some factors that lead to projects being abandoned. For example, assuming a contractor has been mobilized to site and the job done on ground and the contract sum paid the contractor do not correspond. In this case, you need to settle with the contractor and without doing that, it may lead to litigation. So, it’s part of our resolution that, if there is any abandoned project, we would look at it to know why the abandonment and the various factors that led to it.
Does DESOPADEC have any initiative for students, especially in the area of scholarship schemes?
Of course, scholarship for students is part of the needs of the mandate areas. As you know, the people of the mandate areas are educationally backward due to the difficult terrain. I could recall, during the Chief Wellington Okrika-led DESOPADEC Board, scholarships were given, both foreign and local scholarships were initiated and many students benefited it. But, when I was a commissioner in the board, we could not embark on scholarship schemes because of paucity of fund. Now, we are working towards making funds available and once that is achieved, scholarship schemes are part of our priorities.
Is there any plan by the current board in the area of skills acquisition schemes?
We are resolute in training our youths on various skills and as I’m speaking with you, the current batch, which is the 4th Batch comprising about 196 trainees on various skills such as welding, catering, hairdressing, computer training, safety and many others, who will graduate very soon and starter packs and cash will be given to them. A lot has being achieved on that direction and the essence of it is not just training them, we train them to become entrepreneurs.
Now, we are planning towards the 5th batch, as we all know this is part of human capital development, especially for those that could not go to school or discontinued educational pursuit for whatever reasons. All we do is to identify and train them, and some of them are already entrepreneurs as we are talking to you. So, in a short period of time we’re going to commence the 5th batch.
But, there are complaints in certain quarters that the training scheme does not get to people at the grassroot with the allegation that it has been highjacked by some top politicians. How true are these allegations?
Mr Jacob, of course you know this is a commission and its representation is premised on ethnic nationalities. I could recall that, in the immediate past board of this commission, two of our illustrious sons, Hon. Shedrack Agediga and Dr Paul Bebenimibo were members and there’s no way such opportunities will not get to the grassroots when such trusted sons are members of the board. As I said earlier, the programme is thriving but everybody cannot benefit at the same time and there’s nothing like hijacking of opportunities here, no, not at all.
The only thing is that the chances are not enough as expected by some people, there is no possibility of training all the youths in the mandate areas at once and that’s why we are doing it batch by batch. I call on those who have not benefited to be patient and wait for their turns. Maybe we will call the GbaramatuVoice media organization for coverage when we’re starting the 5th batch to enable the public witness the programme. I want to state clearly here that the 4th batch was not initiated by us, but it’s well organized and all-inclusive. However, it’s on record that a good number of youths from the Ijaw ethnic nationality in the state have benefitted in this training programme, a few of whom I know personally.
Can you give us an overview of the number of youths that have been trained by DESOPADEC?
I have just said that the current 4th batch has 196 trainees. However, I don’t have the data of trainees off hand from batches 1, 2 and 3. More so, we hope to commence the 5th batch between now and November.
Your final words
My message to the oil producing mandate areas of Delta state is that, there is need to give massive support to the current government ably led by Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori as well as create the enabling environment for development to thrive in the area. As we all know, when there is no peace in the communities, it’s difficult to attract development to such areas, hence, I urge them to maintain the prevailing peace in the communities. I also task them to give the needed encouragement to the efforts of the current board of DESOPADEC for the overall wellbeing of oil producing communities in the state.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the GbaramatuVoice media team for the time dedicated to carry out this interview on the activities of the Commission. It’s my believe that GbaramatuVoice will go places and will be celebrated nationally and internationally as an icon in reporting the Niger Delta.
By Jacob Abai, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief