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South-South Leaders Failed on PIB — Ndoma Egba

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The people of the Niger Delta are crying foul over the content of the PIB Bill signed into an Act by President Muhammadu Buhari. Last week, Gov Ben Ayade lamented that the Act has shortchanged Cross River State. However, in this interview with select Journalists in Calabar, former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, opined that South-South leaders should be blamed for not playing their roles well before the president’s assent. Our Correspondent, JOSEPH KINGSTON, brings excerpts of the interview.

Sir, the host Communities are not happy with the President’s assent on Petroleum Industrial Act (PIA). What’s your reaction to this?

Ndoma Egba:

For me, the issue is what should be our final destination in our federalism and that is fiscal federalism in which every state should be in a position to control its resources. That should be our ultimate decision. But before we get there, we are looking at incremental improvement in our situation. Have heard the arguments, some say it should have been three, five or 10 per cent. I am saying that if the host communities wanted a figure higher than three per cent, there should have been some stakeholders’ engagement before the passage of the bill between stakeholders of the region and their legislators in the National Assembly. 

If the stakeholders are now dissatisfied with the three per cent that has been provided for in the bill, then it is clear evidence of the failure of politics in the region because, for a sensitive issue like that, they’re usually ought to have been high-level stakeholders engagement where governours, the National Assembly members, traditional rulers, the major players in the region, the experts from that region come together on how to proceed.

I saw no evidence of that kind of engagement, so it is just the question of the failure of politics. The people of the region are crying after spilt milk. Steps ought to have been taken long before now to engage one another to ensure that their interest was protected but I did not see such engagement 

People blame lawmakers from South-South that they did not represent the interests of the region well. What’s your take on this?

Ndoma Egba:

You can’t just make a scapegoat of the National Assembly; every leader of the region should share the blame. For example, during my stay in the senate when the NDDC bill was passed, the then president Olusegun Obasanjo withheld his assent to the bill but the National Assembly overrode the president and passed it into law but that could happen because the lawmakers engaged stakeholders from every part of the country and that is how politics is played. The governors then were involved but I did not see that kind of serious engagement by stakeholders of the region this time around

The governors of the region are saying what has happened is a recipe for disaster in the region. Do you agree with them?

Ndoma Egba:

For me, I would have wished the host communities got more but from what I know of the region, it is not just having enough but the mechanism for the transparency and accountability of whatever you get. We have the NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta and Amnesty for how many years, have there been any changes in the fortune of the Niger Delta region?

All these organizations I have mentioned have been run by sons and daughters of the region but have there been any change? So you added another five or 10 per cent without ensuring that there are mechanisms for accountability and transparency in the use of these funds. Without a master plan for the region, without serious stakeholders committed to the implementation of a predetermined master plan for the region, you will just be getting more money to fritter away.

At this point, it will make more sense if we could have a mechanism to ensure that the three per cent that has been provided for is transparently and judiciously used to develop the region and that is what has been lacking in the region. We had watertight stakeholders developed a master plan for the region but it was abandoned as soon as it was passed. So the issue is not how much money you have but what will come out of that money. 

We have seen quite a lot but what have we seen to reflect the amount of money we received in the region in the last 20 years? So if you do not have any strategy, methodology, any mechanism for transparency and accountability you will be just be getting more money to waste.

So who is to ensure that this money is used for what it is meant for?

Ndoma Egba:

First let me say that from when the Ministry of Niger Delta was created, all the Ministers have been the indigenes of the region. The Chairmen and Managing Directors of NDDC, operators of the Amnesty programme have been sons and daughters of the region. Between the Minister and the NDDC, they could develop a master plan for the region that integrates the economies of the member states of the region and leave these pitiable projects that are done in competitions with local governments or building classroom blocks. I think they can do better than that.

By now there should have been coastal roads linking all the NDDC states, by now we could have had an aviation hub in the state, specialists hospitals in the region, develop sports to a level it would have become a major industry to engage our young men and women. By now we would have improved the fibre optic of the region to increase internet penetration and challenge the creativity of our young men and women but what do we see? It is the NDDC building a borehole on one side of the street and the state government raise a borehole on the other side of the street and at the end of the day, you have two boreholes that are not working because there is no ownership of the projects.

So we ought to develop a master plan by the Ministry and the NDDC that was set up by law with a very clear mandate and specific provisions on how the place should be run. But in the past one and half years the NDDC has been moribund and no board under the flimsy excuse of a forensic audit. Under the law establishing the NDDC, it is the board of the NDDC that should commission the forensic audit. So we have all sorts of excuses to make sure that the place does not function.

My position is that we should not put the cart before the horse. How do you develop a region without having a plan? For me, whether it’s three per cent or five per cent, it’s premature. The ultimate goal is we get to a point where we have true federalism that every region, every state controls its resources. That is the ultimate goal.  But before we get to that position, we should establish systems that will guarantee transparency and every year we measure where we are in terms of development. 

Why the failure in NDDC that is not doing what it should do. Remember you were there at a time.

Ndoma Egba:

There are several reasons and the first is that the master plan was abandoned by the people who should implement it. The master plan was driven by the NDDC and it was the stakeholders master plan which they generated and the government and host communities. Development partners made their inputs before that plan was presented to President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006. Yes, I was there for a worthwhile. My letter of appointment said I was going to be there for four years as Chairman but I was Chairman for less than two years. The point is this, not because I am affected, I am not aware if there is any board of NDDC that has served out its term.

So if you don’t have a guaranteed tenure, how do you plan? It is in your tenure that you say in the first, second, third and fourth year I will do this. So the law setting up the NDDC has been observed more in the breach than in compliance. Since the law has been observed more in the breach than in compliance, you do not have plans.

We tried to set up a Niger Development Bank when I was there and the reason was simple, oil is a terminal resource and one day it will finish and the funding of NDDC comes from the federal allocation and the oil companies so there was a need to begin to look beyond oil on how to fund development projects and make them survive boards and management of the NDDC. So we thought that if we have a regional development bank, that will handle those megaprojects, it was not a matter of who was chairman or Managing Director, the mega projects would go on.

We also had plans to ring the region with fibre optic and that took us to Sao Tome since they had surplus to get the excess, had programme to develop sports but since we left I have not heard a word of any of these programmes and all what we hear is forensic audit. You take the East West road which has been on since President Obasanjo and he left many years ago yet we are still on it.

For me, it is not the amount of money but making sure that every Kobo has its value and the people see the value of that Kobo in their lives but so long as we still have these baskets and we keep pouring water into this basket, it does not matter the quantity of water you pour in, it will lick.

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