*Host Communities not against 3% allocation in PIA
*Govs, NASS played with N-Delta’s rights
By Ochuko Akuopha
FORMER Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly and a leader of Ndokwa ethnic nationality in Delta State, Dr. Olisa Enebeli Imegwu, in this interview with Vanguard speaks on the controversy over Value Added Tax, VAT, open grazing, ecological funds, secessionist agenda and other burning issues.
Southern governors are insisting states should take over collection of VAT in their respective domains, are they justified?
What difference does it make who collects VAT? Whether the federal or state does the collection, what matters is if the revenue so collected is ploughed back into developmental projects that address the immediate needs of the impoverished, oppressed and overwhelmed suffering masses.
Someone should show me what the proceeds from VAT collected thus far by the federal or states were used for when we are on a regular basis enmeshed in loans from both external and internal sources.
These monies would be normally embezzled and guzzled by corruption.
The common or average poor Nigerian does not care who collects VAT provided it would be deployed to better his lot by creating job opportunities and infrastructural development.
On goings on in NDDC, particularly the revelations that 13, 777 projects have been abandoned despite the release of over N6 trillion so far to the interventionist agency?
That is my point in answering the first question. Who embezzled the N6 trillion and who got the contracts to execute 13,777 projects but did not do them?
Juxtapose this with the issue of the VAT monies collected so far and yet the federal and state governments are neck deep in loans. Where has the proceeds of VAT gone to?
Niger Delta stakeholders continue to kick against the 3 per cent fund allotted to host communities in the PIA. What is your take on this, particularly as 30 per cent is set aside for exploration in frontier basins?
It is not Niger Delta stakeholders that are kicking against three per cent allocation to host communities in the PIA, it is the governors.
In fact, after the passage, Host Communities Association of Nigeria headed by Dr. Kingsley Emu and Chief Wellington Okirika led the group to Abuja to thank the National Assembly, and implored President Buhari to sign the bill into law, which he did.
Where were the governors when the public hearing was on? Where were they when the bill was finally brought to the plenary, debated and passed?
They were busy haggling that the money that should be paid directly to the host communities should be paid through them.
In fact, as we speak, they are negotiating with the Federal Government to be given a leading role in the management of the fund.
I think the governors and NASS members whose duty it is to represent us in the case for 10 per cent or at a minimum five per cent and reduce the 30 per cent to 10 percent failed us.
While our governors and NASS members slept over our rights, the emirs, governors, NASS members and stakeholders of the North had meetings geared toward the result that manifested into the passage of the PIA in their favour.
It is not rocket science, it is simply public interest politics for the general good of the North.
Most communities in the Ndokwa nation where you hail from are currently facing the problem of gully erosion, are the state and federal governments doing enough to tackle the challenge?
No, enough is not being done by either the federal or state government in any substantive way to address the problem of gully erosion in Ndokwa Nation.
Now, the question is: Is the problem of erosion a matter in the exclusive legislative list? I should think so because each year the Federal Government puts huge sums of money in its budget for the purposes of addressing problems in this regard.
If that is the case, then the neglect and under-performance in this area is squarely on the door steps of Federal Government.
Specifically speaking, while I was in the House of Assembly, I got the NDDC to award the contract to construct a four-mile shore protection project at Okpai to check erosion problem besetting its shoreline. 15 years later, the project is yet to be completed, in fact, abandoned.
Where is the money? It is very possible that it may be one of the NDDC’s 13, 700 projects worth N6 trillion paid for but abandoned.
Indeed, Aballa Obodo/Aballa Uno/Inyi/Onu Aboh/Olpai Road which I got NDDC to award in this period remained abandoned 15 years after.
President Buhari will do Ndokwa people, particularly Ndokwa East Local Government Area, a typical Niger Delta area, a lot of good by ensuring that the contractors who got these jobs return to site to complete them.
May be in 2023, Ndokwa nation for this reason will reward him with our votes.
There is one good thing he is being praised and remembered today by Ndokwa people, particularly Ndokwa East, and that is the passage of the law to establish the University of Agriculture and Technology, Aboh and if he completes the abandoned projects just mentioned, that will go a long way to etch him in the hearts of the people of Ndokwa nation.
Having said this much on erosion problems, for the state, one would want to know if the yearly federal budget for ecological funds actually gets to it.
If it does, something urgently has to be done to tackle the perennial erosion problem in Ndokwa East which has been eating almost to extinction communities such as Onyia, Utchi, Aboh, Umuolu, Adiawai, Ibedeni, Ase, Asaba Ase, Aballa Oshimili and other communities.
We are the geese that lay the golden eggs but nothing to show for it. You cannot build a nation and then refuse to give them a place in it.
What is your view on FG’s insistence on open-grazing?
My view is that the insistence by the Federal Government to foist open grazing on the states without good socio- economic basis for that will give legitimacy to the claim that it is a fulanization of the South in disguise, and that will be seed for instability and the subtle disintegration of Nigeria at the seams.
Not all the state governors in Southern Nigeria complied with the September 1, 2021 deadline of Southern governors for passage of anti-open grazing law, but some later conformed, how do you see it?
They are cowards, selfish and not interested in the safety and economic well-being of their people but only concerned with the political permutations or calculations on how to actualize their avid personal and vaulting ambitions for 2023.
Some of them who want to curry favour from the feudalist Northern oligarchy will procrastinate and stall the passage of the Anti-Open Grazing Law in exchange for the North’s support of their selfish ambition for the office of Vice President.
Watch and see, they will renege on their deceitful declarations at Asaba, Lagos and recently, Enugu, that the Presidency be zoned to the South.
They will trade this declaration like they did in 2005 in Enugu, very ironic indeed, for the office of Vice President.
The country is facing serious security challenges, what is your take on the Federal Government’s handling of the situation?
If it is true that the North harbours the idea of fulanization of Nigeria agenda; that there are collaborators within some elements in top hierarchy of government;
And that the military has been infiltrated, the Federal Government would continue to fail in its effort to manage the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country.
What is your view on agitations by secessionist groups in the country?
The Northern establishment must pay attention to the demand these groups are putting forward and begin to address them urgently, otherwise we may not have a united Nigeria to live in.
The genuineness of their agitation can be seen in the response they get when they call out their people for protest.
For instance, all the sit-at-home calls made by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, were obeyed; same with the Yoruba group and it will not be any different if Niger Delta militants do the same.
So the agitation to concede Presidency to southern Nigeria, particularly South- East or South -South, is genuine and a good place to start.