Interview

February 24, 2024

Nigerians getting renewed poverty, not renewed hope — Ekerefe

Nigerians getting renewed poverty, not renewed hope — Ekerefe

•Tinubu’s 2024 budget not fair to Niger Delta, Nigeria’s cash cow

By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa

Former National Spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC)( worldwide and Leader of the Niger Delta Advocacy group, New Era Movement, Comrade Ebilade Ekerefe, in this interview bared his minds on sundry issues including the outcome of the November 11th Governorship election in Bayelsa State, the political crisis in Rivers State, the recent national budget presented by President Bola Tinubu as it affects the Niger Delta region interventionist agencies, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP among others. Excerpt:

Bayelsa governorship election has come and gone and the people are looking forward to the inauguration of a new tenure for the incumbent, Douye Diri, what do you have to say?

 Though the much-anticipated Bayelsa gubernatorial elections have come and gone the people have spoken decisively with their votes by re-electing the incumbent governor, His Excellency, Senator Douye Diri of the PDP. However, we must learn from the lessons thrown up by the election; amongst which is the issue of open display of animosity amongst the political class and threat to lives. 

While two persons were murdered, on or after the elections, there is the need for a review of the Electoral Act to include sanctions for those involved in electoral violence or threats that will hamper the participation of electorates in the democratic process.

 It has also shown that many youths in the state have learned lessons and have embraced peaceful and non-violent conduct during elections. It is commendable that the message to political actors is loud and clear, “Youths are no longer available for carnage and killings.”

Looking at Rivers State, all is not well between Gov. Fubura and the Minister of the FCT, Wike.  In your opinion, what is the way forward?

 I have been keenly following the ugly political drama in Rivers State since it started unfolding. What appears to be an issue that could be resolved quickly and amicably has taken a dangerous dimension, exacerbated by tribal jingoism and chauvinism. While I find it difficult to join the bandwagon in casting aspersions, I will rather appeal for restraint. 

I call on those making incendiary remarks and promoting tribal sentiments to have a rethink. This will add more salt to injury. I appeal they make remarks that will promote peace, and unity as one Rivers people.

Some Niger Delta stakeholders have faulted Mr. President on the 2024 budget,  insisting that issues of regional development and proper funding for intervention agencies for the Niger Delta region were not adequately captured. 

 (Cuts in) Yes, President Bola Tinubu presented the 2024 budget of N27.5 trillion to the National Assembly. Despite the huge expectations attached to the budget, I think that the six states of the Niger Delta region, which have become the cash cow to fund it, have not been considered adequately. Take a closer look at the infrastructural decay littering the region. The East-West Road is deteriorating daily. The expected development plans submitted to successive administrations have not been actualized.

 Gratefully to our Senator, Konbowei Benson, President Bola Tinubu merely allocated the meager sum of N1.5 billion for the construction of the East-West Road. He (Konbowei) expressed outrage at the lack of consultation with key stakeholders, foreseeing a ten-year delay if the allocation stands.

 Also, the Otuoke Road project was allocated a paltry N10 million. The senator questioned the feasibility of meaningful projects in Otuoke with a meager N10 million budget. We frown at this development and as Niger Deltans, we are worried that the President may have zero idea of the infrastructural challenges facing the region. We call for the upward review of the East-West road budget proposal and that of the Otuoke road.

 On the poor state of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) performance, what is your take?

 Aside from the open display of ignorance by the Tinubu administration, the interventionist agencies, particularly the NDDC, should go beyond rhetoric and grandstanding awards of solar lights as a new idea of development in the region.

While the management of the NDDC under Dr. Samuel Ogbuku seems to be sorting out the enormous administrative problems and grappling with huge debt owed the commission by the Federal Government, we call for a proactive engagement of stakeholders and implementation of comparative projects allocation to communities and states. 

Also, the Federal Government should pay up the over N2 trillion owed to the NDDC since the year 2000. The amount is the accumulation of 15 percent of the allocation of the nine states that make up the commission. This is despite the passage of the agency’s annual budget in 2021, 2022, and 2023; the funds were yet to be remitted to the Commission’s account.

Are you saying poor funding is responsible for the non-execution of new projects by the NDDC?

 For me, I have confidence in the capacity of the management of the commission to probably revisit some of the projects earmarked in the Niger Delta Master plan. But we need the Federal Government to pay up the huge money owed to the commission.

What about the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP)?

 PAP which is a security and human capacity development program for ex-agitators in the Niger Delta region should be re-invigorated with increased funding. I commend the Interim Administrator of PAP, Maj Gen Barry Ndiomu (retd) for his laudable initiatives, first, in stabilizing the program and secondly, providing low-interest loans to beneficiaries through the Presidential Amnesty Programme Cooperative Society Limited” (PAPCOSOL). 

This initiative is already empowering about 1,000 ex-agitators across the Niger Delta in the first batch of its single-digit interest loan scheme. Skills acquisition is a better alternative for ex-agitators in an economy where N65,000 monthly stipends are infinitesimal.

 We appeal to the Federal Government to make additional funds available to capture more youths in the Niger Delta, who are not part of the PAP program in the loan scheme.

But would you say the removal of fuel subsidies has affected the living standard of Nigerians positively?

 This is why I said resources accruing from the oil subsidy removal have not been effectively utilized for the good of the people. Over a trillion naira entered the Federation Account after the fuel subsidy regime,  but nothing to show. The poverty and hardship of Nigerians are on the rise because of the high cost of living and there is still no hope in sight. 

Instead of Renewed Hope, what the people are getting in return is Renewed Poverty. If steps are not urgently taken to ameliorate the sufferings of the citizens, anarchy may brew. President Tinubu should rise to the occasion and do what is necessary to turn around the situation.