Published On: Fri, Jan 4th, 2013

Frittering away Trillions in Niger-Delta

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Communities without light, water, good housing are found in Niger Delta region despite the huge federal allocation

A frontline Niger Delta politician and proponent of the region’s cause, Chief Edwin Clark, turned the critic when he took potshots at the governors of the region last week for achieving so little despite the enormous resources put at their disposal in the past 13 years. Clark’s unusual belligerence towards his “kinsmen” came after he learnt that not less than N7.282 trillion of derivation money had been squandered by the governors since the 13 per cent policy became operational. The amount of money wasted is quite staggering. It is time for the people to know that good governance will not just come until they fight for it. They must start showing more than a passing interest in how their tremendous wealth is being utilised.
Clark, a prominent Ijaw leader, recalled that the minimum 13 per cent derivation policy was enshrined in the 1999 Constitution “by the Federal Government to address the infrastructure deficit and neglect of the oil and gas producing communities.” But rather than bring faster development to the people of the host communities, they have continued to wallow in abject poverty while politicians from the area, especially the governors, bask in obscene affluence. In 2008, the Rivers State Government’s N377 billion annual budget alone far exceeded the entire central government budgets of most West African nations. In place of life-changing projects that could bring succour to the people, the governors have embarked on projects to promote vain self-aggrandisement. A good example is the recent purchase of private jets by the Rivers and Akwa Ibom state governors.
Some governors in the region are incurably corrupt. Unfortunately, the people themselves appear to be comfortable with the level of corruption that has deprived them the basic comforts of life, which their position as oil-producing communities rightly confers on them. While they lack the will to hold political office holders to account, feeble attempts by federal institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission to check corruption have always been met with stiff resistance, even by the people. Governors accused of presiding over the theft and mismanagement of several billion dollars are venerated by them.
When, for instance, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepriye Alamieyeseigha, was arrested in London for money laundering, the people came out to protest and asked for his release. When eventually he outfoxed the London Metropolitan Police and found his way back to Nigeria, reportedly disguised as an Ijaw maiden, he was received by his people with pomp and circumstance. The same goes for James Ibori of Delta State. Armed youths once successfully fought off EFCC officials who had gone to his home town, Oghara, to effect his arrest, while elderly women reportedly took to the streets, naked, to protest and warn that their “son” be left alone. Ibori would later secure a questionable court judgement, exonerating him from any corruption charges, only for him to be jailed for the same offences by a London court, which described him as “a common thief.” The $15 million with which he allegedly attempted to bribe the former EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu –an allegation he vehemently denied – is now a subject of litigation, with Delta State trying to claim ownership of the money. To escape prosecution, a former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, obtained a perpetual injunction at a high court.
Developmental reports on Niger Delta have been shockingly awful. In 2006 the United Nations Human Development Index Report described the Niger Delta as “a region suffering from administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict.” The report went on to say that “for most people of the Delta, progress and hope, much less prosperity, remain out of reach. If unaddressed, these do not bode well for the future of Nigeria or an oil hungry world.”
As of 2009, it was estimated that oil had generated about $600 billion revenue since the 1960s. But not much has changed since then, as attested to by the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group. In its Analyses of the 2013 Budget Proposal of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Related Matters, the group said, “The decline in the HDI has been steeper for the Niger Delta than the rest of Nigeria. In addition, the high earnings of some oil industry workers lead to localised price distortions, driving up prices and so constraining the purchasing power of ordinary people and making it difficult for many to meet the cost of basic needs such as housing, health care, transport, and goods, making poverty more pervasive than conventional figures reveal.”
Agreed that some governors say they are now attempting to reverse the ugly trend, the speed is still slow and the priorities awkward. Complaints about having to deal with a difficult terrain have become trite amid unending reports of fraudulent diversion of public funds. What, for instance, has difficult terrain got to do with a governor that was caught with raw cash of up to 100 million pounds in a London street or one that was convicted and whose mansions dot different parts of the world?
Clark has hit the nail on the head. But then, there may not be any remarkable change until the people themselves genuinely demand revenue transparency, diversified investment for long-term goals and public accountability from their governments. Latching on ethnic solidarity to defend and rationalise bare-faced theft by public officials is uncivilised and backward. Niger Delta states should learn good lessons from Norway by developing prudent strategies and institutions to avoid injecting oil revenue directly into governance and white elephants.
Source: Punch Editorial Board

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