By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Undoubtedly, we live in a nation where public leadership scorns ideas from citizens and sees it as a form of distraction to public policies. Again, ours is a country where grit, tenacity, perseverance coming from far sighted citizens is considered divisive.
The above ill-considerations by the public office holders notwithstanding, there appear an end in sight to conflicting reactions raging in the minds of stakeholders, occasioned by the 3 per cent allocation provided in recently passed, and now signed Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), and a possible sustainable development of Crude Oil host communities in the region.
That is if the Federal Government could heed the calls by development professionals particularly, a recent position canvassed by Niger Delta based activist and National Coordinator of Center for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ) Chief Sheriff Mulade.
In a chat with Journalists recently, Mulade maintained that the 3 per cent fund, if properly managed by HCTF, will address environmental and infrastructural issues affecting the oil and gas Producing host communities in the country. But condemned the idea being muted in some quarters that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs or the Governors of oil and gas producing States should control and manage the 3 per cent allocation provided for in the PIA, based on the oil and gas resources derived from, and the degradation effects of oil activities in the host communities.
While appreciating President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Assembly and all those who worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of the PIB, Chief Mulade argued that the 13 percent oil derivation fund, and the PIA fund are meant to address the environmental, ecological and infrastructural development issues of oil communities insisting that the 3 per cent PIA fund should be managed by the Host Community Trust Fund as stipulated by Section 2 of the PIA, as leaving it in the hands of Ministers or State Governors control might lead to its being mismanaged the same way the 13% derivation fund allocated to oil and gas producing States for the development of oil and gas host communities was misappropriated.
Indeed, there exists an ingrained reason that qualifies Mulade’s latest position as apt, timely and a right step taken in the right direction.
Fundamentally, separate from his warning that if the Minister or State Governors control the 3 per cent fund, it might be mismanaged the same way the 13% derivation fund allocated to oil and gas producing States for the development of oil and gas host communities, was misappropriated, indications that Mulade is not alone in this line of argument have since emerged. Rather, he has just spoken but in a different way what has been on the minds/lips of the Niger Deltans, development professionals and other stakeholders.
To illustrate this fact, a few days after the controversial Bill were passed into law, the vocal Comrade Joseph Angodeme Evah, Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group; in a telephone talk with this author spoke in a similar light.
On that day, at that time and in that place, Evah, said in parts; On 13%derivation, we are not saying 100% as our expectation but because we are human beings, we will continue to talk to our leaders, let this thing be workable. In 1999, I made a submission to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I remember telling him that the 13%derivation should be changed, and should not be given to the Governor because the governors see the 13% as a Christmas party.
Instead, let us apply what Babangida did. Babangida used trade by barter to build Abuja. He started the 13% with Julius Berger because Julius Berger could not be corrupted. Julius Berger built the Aso rock; Julius Berger built 90% of all the facilities. It was Julius Berger that changed Abuja to London. So, if he gives part of that 13% to Julius Berger Construction Company, you will see that Niger Delta will change to London. He concluded.
Away from Eva’s positions, further qualifying Mulade’s fears as founded is another analysis delivered a few months ago by a prominent son of the region during a focused group discussion in Lagos.
Among other remarks, he queried; if the governors elected by the people of the region right from May 1999, were authentic leaders, if they had demonstrated a passion for their purpose, practiced leadership values consistently, led with their hearts as well as their heads, established long term, meaningful relationships and have the self discipline to get result, by now, the region will not be waiting for the Federal Government to provide solutions to real and imagined woes of the people of the area.
What step or effort had the successive state government made right from May 1999, when democracy re-emerged in the country, to improve the life chances of the people? Has the billions of naira collected by these governors reflected in the infrastructural availability in the region or that of the human capital development of the people of the region? Who should be blamed more-State or the Federal Government? I know the argument about this. I could give you a lecture about this. I could talk at length about it. And I could go on and on talking about what is happening in the Niger Delta. It is not the Federal Government but state governors in the region that are the real enemies of the people of Niger Delta, He submitted.
However, even if the above claims by these commentators are for whatever reason(s), considered to be wrong , there exists yet, a very recent account that did so well to establish that leaders of the Niger Delta region are the problem.
The report in question is the recently released holistic forensic audit of the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from inception to August 2019 in response to the yearnings of the people of the Niger Delta region to reposition it for the effective service delivery.
The report which was submitted to the President through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN in Abuja, showed that there are over 13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.
While lamenting that the region had remained backward since 1958 inspite of successive governments efforts through the creation of various interventionist programmes and projects, it underlined that Buhari disclosed that It is on record that between 2001 and 2019, the federal government has approved three trillion, three Hundred and Seventy-five billion, seven hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and ninety ninety-four naira, ninety-three kobo as budgetary and two trillion, four hundred and twenty billion, nine hundred and forty million, and, eight hundred and ninety-four thousand, one hundred and ninety-one naira as income from Statutory and non Statutory Sources, which brings the total sum to six trillion naira given to the Niger Delta Development Commission.
He said it was also on record that the execution of over 13, 777 projects in the oil-rich region was substantially compromised. Buhari noted that the Federal government is also concerned about multitudes of Niger Delta development commission’s bank accounts amounting to 362 and lack of proper reconciliation of accounts.
From the above catalogue and particulars, I hold the opinion that these are ‘hopeful signs’ and the Federal Government must not ignore Mulade’s latest calls.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via email@example.com