[INTERVIEW] Former IYC president, Omare, sets agenda for new NDDC board, calls for audit of Niger Delta environment
...Says resources meant for Niger Delta must be used for the development of the region
…Calls on members of the board to learn from history
…Directs NGOs, CSOs, others to assist hold the board accountable
A Warri based Lawyer and former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Eric Omare, has set agenda for the recently inaugurated board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), calling on the board to urgently carry out environmental audit of the Niger Delta region to ascertain the level of degradation and ensure possible remediation in collaboration with other agencies and international organisations, adding that the Commission has deviated from its core mandate.
Omare made this remarks during an exclusive interview with GbaramatuVoice during the weekend at his office in Warri, Delta state.
He congratulated Niger Deltans and thanks President Muhammadu Buhari for inaugurating the new board of the NDDC after so many years of interim leadership, but accused the Commission of not living up to expectations with regards to the billions of Naira that has been allocated to it over the years.
While contending that it will not be fair to write off the new board without giving them the benefit of doubt, particularly as the new chairman has assured the people that it will not be business as usual, the Ijaw-born lawyer, called on the new board to urgently revisit the Niger Delta master plan and concentrate on bigger projects as against small scale contracts that only serves the interest of political class.
Read the details of the interview below:
My name is Eric Omare. I am a lawyer. A former president of Ijaw Youth Council (also a former spokesperson of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), a Niger Delta activist and environmental rights activist.
I want to congratulate Niger Deltans not necessarily those that were appointed but Niger Deltans for being able to prevail on President Buhari to finally inaugurate the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) after so many years of interim leadership.
During the period of agitation, a lot of things were brought to the fore and part of it is that NDDC have not lived up to expectations with regards to the billions and trillions of Naira that has been allocated to the commission over the years.
Sets new Agenda for the board
First is the fact that the NDDC has deviated from its core mandate. Part of the core mandate of NDDC is to embark on inter-state infrastructures that will have significant impact and not job that supposed to be done by local government or state government.
So, with all these put together, we expect that the present board of NDDC should focus on its mandate and part of the things that they must do while focusing on this mandate is not to allow itself to be politicized because in the past, the major problem with the NDDC is that it was used as cash bags by politicians where people who want to contest for elections go to NDDC to get bogus contract to sponsor their campaigns. We expect this time around that the present board of NDDC will avoid such mistakes. That is number one.
Two, the type of project that the board of NDDC must embark on should be projects that will have far reaching impact-inter-state Roads or major projects that ordinarily state governments cannot embark upon. All that means is that there is a need for close collaboration between the NDDC and the state government and other agencies of government that has something to do with the Niger Delta region.
Third and very important, in the light of recent development, if you look at the NDDC Act, part of the reason why NDDC was established is to address the environmental challenges affecting Niger Delta arising from the oil and gas explorations. But mind you, NDDC exists because there is oil and gas in the Niger Delta. So we expect the present board of NDDC to put some importance in environmental mandates. They haven’t done that over the years.
What we have been hearing is we cleared some water hyacinths. No, that’s too petty. That’s not the type of thing that we expect NDDC to handle. What we expect the NDDC to handle is something close to what we have as Ogoni clean up.
Praised Tompolo for providing effective pipeline surveillance while calling for Niger Delta Environmental Audit
For example, recently the federal government awarded a pipeline surveillance contract to our leader, High Chief Government Ekpomupolo and the company has been doing very well. So as a follow up to what they are doing, there is a need for an environmental audit of the Niger Delta to know the state of Niger Delta environment and we expect NDDC to take the lead. We want NDDC to set up a team to study the present state of the Niger Delta environment with a view to carry out a holistic Niger Delta environmental cleanup because it is not enough for the government to award a surveillance contract to protect oil. We Niger Deltans are more interested in our environment than the protection of the oil facilities.
Says NDDC should collaborate with other interventionist agencies
We expects the NDDC to do this because they have a statutory mandate to work towards protecting the Niger Delta environment and once they provide the lead, they can collaborate with other federal government agencies such as the Ministry of Environment and even international organizations such as the United Nation environment Programme (UNEP) so as holistically clean up the Niger Delta environment.
Urges NDDC to focus on bigger pictures
So the summary of my charge to the present board of NDDC is that they must be focused. Let them go back to the NDDC Act. They have a statutory responsibility. They should also go back to the master plan of the NDDC. They should update it looking at the bigger picture and not interim or small scale contracts to self-interest to their political allies.
Encourages stakeholders to give the new board time to prove self
Well it wouldn’t be fair for me to write off the new board without giving them the benefit of doubt. I have read the statement made by the Chairman of the board, Mrs Loretta Onoshe to the effect that this present board of NDDC will not be business as usual. I also read that my friend and Brother, Dr. Samuel Ungbuku says that the new NDDC board will redirect the focus of the agency. I do hope that they will not deviate from what they have said. I will prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt rather than writing them off. And for some of us who are stakeholders, we are ready to give them relevant support if they are ready to develop the Niger Delta region.
Insists that FG must obey the rule of law for NDDC to succeed
I think part of the problem of NDDC is lack of respect for the rule of law. What I mean is that the NDDC has an act that establishes the board, the act of the NDDC expects the board to stay for four years. So what I mean is that irrespective of who is in power, a board of the NDDC should stay up to stay for a statutory period.
The issue of incessant dissolution of leadership of statutory agencies is the wider Nigeria problem. So, I will call on whomever that will take over from president Buhari to have respect for the rule of law. Statutory agencies must be allowed to stay according to the provision of the status.
Calls for resource ownership and control
Well to resolve the Niger Delta Question, there are different layouts. The larger Niger Delta problem is that of the question of resource ownership and management which has not been addressed. Resource ownership and management means that the people who own the resource must be at the forefront of managing that resource and until that question is addressed, we will continue to see agitations. But as a palliative and interim, major interventionist agencies like the NDDC and some other agencies must work according to their mandate. Resources meant for Niger delta must be used for the development of the Niger Delta.
Preaches judicious use of resource
In other word, there must be judicious use of resource met for the development of Niger Delta and that is the only way we can address some of the development actually in this world but the bigger picture is that the question of resource ownership and management which put the people in Niger Delta the people who produce the oil at the forefront must be address for us to have a permanent peace and sustainable development in Niger Delta region.
Recommends Ogoni cleanup as template for Niger Delta clean up
I learned that in 2007 or 2009 or so, the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) came up with what is today popularly known as the Ogoni cleanup report. Now that the study was carried out by the United Nation environment program and It deals with a detailed study as to the level of damage of the Ogoni environment as a result of oil spillage in Ogoni land over the years and recommended cleanup of Ogoni land.
We recommend that Ogoni cleanup should be use as template to clean up other part of the Niger Delta because what you have in Ogoni if you go to some parts of Niger Delta, is a tip of the iceberg. What that simply means is that the entire Niger Delta environment has been destroyed by the activities of multinationals over the years and in recent times by the unguided activities of people who sabotage oil facilities for different reasons.
Therefore, moving forward since government has taken a definite position to stop Incessant destruction of oil facilities and stop the activities of those who siphon our oil both internal and external collaborators, it must be followed by an environmental audit by which you will know the level of degradation that has be done to the Niger Delta environment and what step can be taken to clean up the Niger Delta environment so that the environment will return the way it was before
Today, people that are in different villages, different communities in the Niger Delta who are supposed to be supplying fish to different parts of the country are now buying frozen fish to survive. People can no longer drink the natural water that most of us use to rely on. Today, people come to cities to buy Sachet water to survive.
So for us to go back to where we were, there must be an environmental audit to ascertain the level of degradation and what can be done to clean up the environment and I expect the present board of NDDC to take that as part of its Cardinal responsibilities collaborating with the other agencies like the federal ministry of environment which as a primary responsibility to protect the Niger Delta environment.
Calls on members of the board to learn from history
My last word for the board is that they should learn from history. What that simply means is that those who have mismanaged the opportunity given to them generally in public Administration and most particularly in Niger Delta region, have not ended well, What that mean is that they don’t command respect and followership in the region.
Good governance is a collective responsibility
So today, they are facing history, history in other way will call them on good side or the bad side. So they have the golden opportunity to make history by judiciously using the resources that are in NDDC for the betterment of the region. If they decide to use it judiciously, they will be on the good side of history. But if they decide to mismanage it, they will be on the bad side of history. Then, for the Niger Delta, experience has shown that good Governance is not when you put people in position of authority and go to sleep. Rather, it is a collective responsibility.
Directs NGOs, CSOs, others to assist hold the board accountable
The people must ask questions about what and how their resources have been used. Also, Civil Society Organizations should put a close watch on the activities of the present NDDC board. Moving forward, they must take more active interest on how their resources are managed and that is the only way we can ensure that resources of Niger Delta especially the NDDC are use for the development of the People.
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