By Jerome-Mario Utomi

UNDOUBTEDLY, we live in a nation where public leadership scorns ideas from citizens and sees same 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. Such ill-considerations by the public office holders notwithstanding, there appears to be an end in sight to conflicting reactions raging in the minds of stakeholders, occasioned by the three per cent allocation provided in recently passed, and now signed Petroleum Industry Act, PIA,  and a possible sustainable development of crude oil host communities of Nigeria.

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 the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice, CEPEJ, Chief Sheriff Mulade. Mulade maintains that the three 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.

He, however, condemned the idea being mooted in some quarters that the minister of Niger Delta Affairs or the governors of oil and gas producing states should control and manage the three 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 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 three per cent PIA fund should be managed by the Host Community Trust Fund as stipulated by Section 2 of the PIA, as leaving it under the control of the minister or state governors might lead to its being mismanaged the same way the 13 per cent 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 three per cent fund, it might be mismanaged, indications are that Mulade is not alone in this line of argument. 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 was passed into law, the vocal Comrade Joseph Angodeme Evah, Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group, in a telephone chat spoke in a similar light. Evah said: On 13 per cent derivation, we are not saying 100 per cent as our expectation but because we are human beings, we will continue to talk to our leaders, let this thing be workable.

He suggested the application of General Ibrahim Babangida’s formula. Babangida used trade by barter to build Abuja. He started the 13 per cent with Julius Berger because Julius Berger could not be corrupted. Julius Berger built the Aso rock; Julius Berger built 90 per cent of all the facilities. It was Julius Berger that changed Abuja to London. So, if he gives part of that 13 per cent to Julius Berger Construction Company, you will see that Niger Delta will change to London. 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, practised 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 successive state governments made right from May 1999, when democracy re-emerged in the country, to improve the life chances of the people? Have 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? 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 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 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 in spite of successive governments efforts through the creation of various interventionist programmes and projects, it underlined that Buhari said that between 2001 and 2019, the Federal Government had 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. President 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, Programme Coordinator, Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos, wrote via:[email protected]

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