By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South
Why is Niger Delta raising dust over moves to create development commissions in other regions?
History has taught us a bitter lesson and we don’t want a repeat of the past. This was how the then Supreme Military Council (SMC) under the chairmanship of General Olusegun Obasanjo exercised legislative powers at the federal level and made the greatest mockery of the Ijaws by promulgating River Basin Development Authorities Decree and the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority Decree. The former President established 10 other River Basin Development Authorities for every river, rivulet, creek, and brook in the rest of Nigeria.
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The Nigerian state using the barrel of the gun proliferated river basin authorities using the oil wealth derived from Ijaw land. It then went to categorise these development agencies from category A to D in order of importance for discriminatory funding. The Niger Delta Basin Development Authority, supposedly an offshoot of the defunct Niger Delta Development Board was placed in category D while Sokoto Rima Basin Development Authority was placed in category A.
Statistics of funding
I have to reproduce the statistics of the funding of the River Basin Development Authorities in Nigeria from 1970-1983. Sokoto River Basin Authority,N650,670,441; Chad River Basin Authority N296,557,606; Hadeija-Jamaara River Basin Authority, N286,810,966; Ogun-Osun River Basin Authority, N183,595,638; Upper Benue River Basin Authority. N139,524,063.
Others are Niger River Basin Authority, N131,115,438; Anambra Imo River Basin Authority, N118,307,366; Lower Benue River Basin Authority, N102,323,405; Benin-Owena Basin Authority N89,921,231; Niger Delta Basin Development Authority, N76,662,210, and Cross River Basin Authority, N60,631,023.
Our fear is that the regional development commission bills are another subtle move to deny Niger Delta of her right to development by diverting attention to the other regions as they did to the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority. I don’t think we will allow history to repeat itself. The National Assembly should make the funding aspects clearer. No oil revenue should be used to develop those agencies when the northern region is already getting a lion share of the government’s attention due to the flawed federal structure.
Don’t you think the failure of state governments to drive developments informed calls for zonal development commissions?
I won’t blame the state governors for their inability to adequately respond to the development needs of their respective states. Nigerian economy ought to be run as a competitive venture. States are becoming pauperised by the day due to lack of competition and self-sufficiency. The government needs to diversify the economy by giving the states more fiscal responsibilities. Let there be true federalism so that each of the states will explore the resources in their lands to run a competitive economy.
The reason state governments are clamouring for regional development commission is because of their inability to carry out effective development programmes. Instead of our states to strive to be viable by harnessing and exploring the resources in their lands, they are becoming beggars waiting for the meager federal allocations every month. All is not well with our federal system. We need to practice a truly federal system as obtainable in the USA. The component states need to have higher economic responsibilities than the centre so they can pay royalty to the federal government. It shouldn’t be the other way round. Our quasi-federal system is the bane of our economic growth.
Some of the regions contend that South South already has its own development agency, Niger Delta Development Commission, so they should have theirs too, don’t you think the reason is genuine?
That thinking is totally wrong. The Niger Delta case is a peculiar one. This is the only region that has zero government attention since the colonial era. This was the reason the British declared Niger Delta as a “special area” in 1957 when it set up the Henry Willinks Commission. In spite of the recommendations of the Commission to treat Niger Delta as a special area, successive governments since independence have not done anything to ameliorate the situation.
For the oil to keep flowing in the region when the youths revolted against the oil companies due to the criminal neglect and marginalisation by the government of Nigeria and her oil collaborators, the government had to set up palliative measures by establishing these latest commissions in order to resolve the age-long oil crisis. The establishments of Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs ,MNDA, and Presidential Amnesty Programme ,PAP, are just mere palliative measures to douse the tension in the region. If anybody thinks because we have gotten development commissions and so he should have similar gesture in his region, the person is not being fair to our plight.
In the first place, the so-called development commissions were only forced on us. What we asked for was 100 percent control of our resources. We don’t need any development commission that tends to give cosmetic solutions to our problem. When they were using the resources of groundnut pyramid, cocoa and coal to develop the North, East and the West none was given to Ijaw people. Now that oil becomes the mainstay of our economy, every region wants a development commission. Is that fair? I like I said before, oil money should not be used to fund those commissions.
Why does Niger Delta see the setting up of new commissions as an attempt to divert development from the region?
History has taught us a bitter lesson. They have done that before on several occasions and the possibility of history repeating itself cannot be ruled out. Take for instance in 2008 during the government of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, they wanted to scrap the Petroleum Institute (PTI), Effurun in Delta State by establishing a similar one in Kaduna. If not the response of the militants to cripple the economy should the government perfect its plan, today we may not have PTI in Delta State again.
The Buhari government also attempted the same thing by trying to scrap the Maritime University, Okerenkoko in Delta State. Take a look at this, the NDDC Board has representatives from all the geopolitical zones in the North as provided by the NDDC Act but the North East Development Commission has no similar provision in its enabling Act. Is this not dawn on you that they are ambushing us with these so-called regional development commissions?
NDDC has grossly underperformed in Niger Delta, is there any reason for the people to fight over establishment of such agency in other regions?
Granted that NDDC has not done much to save the situation in the region, one cannot outrightly say its impact is not felt at all. Even though corruption is the biggest problem confronting the commission, Niger Delta people will not allow anybody to thwart the existence of the agency.
People complain that NDDC is starved of funds, is that not how the new zonal development commissions will be denied money too?
NDDC is starved of funds simply because the federal government is owing trillions of naira. Our case is a different one. The commission is starved of funds not because it is having challenges of funding unlike the other regional development commissions, especially in the north.
While the oil companies contribute to the funding of the commission, we are asking that those commissions in the northern part should tell us how they’re going to be funded? We will not appreciate it if they’re still going to be funded proceeds from the black gold. That will be a slap on our face.
But Niger Delta is even over pampered by the country, besides NDDC, it also has Ministry of Niger Delta?
I have said it before. Our case is a peculiar one. We have not even gotten the attention we need. We will still ask for more development bodies as far as the criminal neglect of the region continues. Our next demand will be coastal areas development commission. In spite of the NDDC and MNDA, the coastal communities are still grossly underdeveloped. In fact, the original Niger Delta has been altered to accommodate all oil-producing states in the country. This arrangement has affected the beleaguered coastal communities who produce the bulk of wealth to the country and have hitherto suffered the worst criminal neglect and marginalisation.
Your organization recently said the Ministry of Niger Delta was administratively dead, what did it really mean?
Since this government came on board in 2015, MNDA has not been properly funded. The ministry’s budget each year since Buhari became President can barely pay staff salaries. It has now been merged with the NDDC. We don’t know if it is existing.
Why does Niger Delta not want oil money to be used to fund other regional development commissions since the component parts are all one?
During the era of groundnut pyramid, they used the proceeds to develop the north. The same thing applied to the West and the East
What is the way forward?
Let us practice true federalism. Let each region or state control the resources in its area terrain and pay royalty to the central government. The states should be given more economic powers than the centre.