Governors differ over alleged diversion of 13% oil derivation funds

 
Sun Nov 15th, 2020 - Abia
 

Amid mounting allegations of diversion of 13 per cent oil derivation funds levelled against oil-producing states, some governors have refused to give detailed accounts of how the money has been spent over the years, while others simply maintained sealed lips.

Interestingly, even those that responded provided terse statement that did not reflect tangible projects executed with the accrued funds, which is said to be in the region of N9t since 1999.

The Federal Government was forced to concede 13 per cent of the revenue accruing from oil to Niger Delta states following agitations that the zone, which produces oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, was being denied development. The money is geared towards checking poverty, unemployment and violence, among others in the region. Other states that are benefitting from it are Ondo, Imo, Abia, Anambra and of late, Lagos.

In September, the Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, sought an amendment to the Niger Delta Development Commission Act to ensure that the 13 per cent oil derivation fund is paid directly to host communities instead of state governors, as majority of the communities have been accusing the governors of diverting the money, thereby denying their people the basic necessities of life.

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Enang, alongside Speaker, House of Representative, Femi Gbajabiamila, and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Essien Ayi, who spoke at a webinar organised by OrderPaper Nigeria on “Resolving the Host Community Question”, decried growing poverty in the Niger Delta, and called for an urgent overhaul of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a review of the 13 per cent extra revenue being voted for oil producing states as well as a consideration of the ecological fund.

Two weeks ago, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, also lamented the alleged diversion of the derivation funds by oil-producing states.

He expressed regrets that the fund’s utilisation has become a political tool in the hands of benefitting state governors, stressing that the fund’s diversion has contributed to blatant underdevelopment of the region.

“It is fair that the 13 per cent derivation is meant to ameliorate the conditions of the people who are most impacted by oil exploration and exploitation. That is the only reason this fund was set aside as a consequence of your agitation, which you led for so many years.

“These funds are not meant for the state governments. The state governments are meant to be purveyors to host communities. Even in states that have development commissions, they only earmark 50 percent of the funds to the commission to manage on behalf of the host communities. So what happens to the other 50 per cent?”

As these allegations mount, some groups in the Niger Delta, including Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) said the people do not need Omo-Agege’s comment to know that the derivation funds were not spent judiciously.

WHEN the Edo State government was contacted, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, promised to make the state’s position known shortly. One week after, he was again reached on phone, but failed to pick up, neither did he reply to text messages on the issue.

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THE Rivers State government also kept mum on the issue when contacted as the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, failed to respond to several calls, neither did he respond to text messages sent to him on the subject.

Also contacted on the issue, the state Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Dr. Peter Medee, declined comment and directed The Guardian to speak with Nsirim, the Information Commissioner.

WHEN the Lagos State Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Olalere Odusote was contacted on the development, especially the latest allegation by Omo-Agege, he responded: “I do not understand the question, I am a bit confused because the allegation is not specific, even at that, it is not enough to say Lagos has been mismanaging its derivation funds.”

He continued: “I am not aware of his statement and how to respond to it. If there is a specific allegation, I can look into it and answer. But for now, there is none, somebody has just made a general statement, which may, or may not be properly quoted. So, it is difficult to respond to, as nobody can say all the states have been doing that. There is nothing to defend because there is no specificity to the allegation. I cannot respond to something that is not clear. Let him back up his allegation with evidence.”

THE Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, while reacting to the allegation said that governors of oil-producing states are doing well with the funds, despite persistent accusations by stakeholders in the region.

Speaking in Asaba, Okowa said agitation for the money to be paid directly to affected communities was untenable since it would be impossible for all oil-bearing communities to control their resources.He asked: “If they are agitating for 13 per cent to be paid to them directly what then happens to the remaining percentage?

“If every community wants to control the resources, then we are heading towards being a Banana Republic, but if any governor mismanages the money, he should be voted out. Again, if they want the 13 per cent, why not the entire percentage?” He asked.

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Okowa, who maintained that governors in the South South were doing well in managing the derivation fund added: “The kind of money we spend, especially on road construction in the Niger Delta is very huge compared to what other states spend, and we also spend lots of money securing oil facilities and keeping peace in the region.

“We have our DESOPADEC managing the derivation funds here, and I am convinced that they are doing their best to make life better for the oil-producing communities.

“We have been short-changed severally because we are not in control of how the funds are distributed. There is a lot of money being owed us on derivation, and we are working very hard to get the Federal Government to pay us because it will help so much in providing more for oil-producing communities. If every community rises up to control their resources, then there would be chaos and anarchy,” he said.

IN Ondo State, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo, failed to answer calls placed to his telephone line, while he also failed to reply to a WhatsApp message sent to him.

Several attempts to speak to the Chairman of Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC), Mr. Gbenga Edema were also in vain.

FOLLOWING the loss of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, Cross River State lost its oil producing status, and 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State. It is now branded a non-littoral state.

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Even though it enjoyed the 13 per cent derivation in the past, the oil-producing communities did not get the 50 per cent share of the money.

Worried by its lean resources, loss of Bakassi, removal from states benefitting for the 13 per cent oil derivation funds and others, the state government has been calling for special incentives and interventions from the Federal Government.

The state governor, Senator Ben Ayade, has severally called for a special status to be accorded the state. According to him, “this special status and special challenge requires special attention. As a government…in the kind of federal structure that we run, consideration beyond this comes into play.”

When the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, visited the state recently, Ayade said: “Indeed the NDDC took us away from the 13 per cent derivation, and under NDDC, the quantum of work done, or budget allocated to your state is a factor of the amount of oil produced and now that we have been manually taken away from oil-producing states, we therefore also suffer the incidental damage associated with the loss of the oil wells.

“So the NDDC funding to Cross River State is the lowest among the NDDC states. Thirteen percent derivation is gone, oil wells gone, Bakassi gone. It has also been impossible for all our militants who also surrendered under the instruction of the Federal Government to be taken into amnesty. While every other state is under the amnesty programme, Cross River State is not. I say this in melancholy just to give you a background of the circumstance of our state.”

RATHER than react to the diversion claim outright, the Bayelsa State government wax differently, saying people who ordinarily should know better just criticise without knowing what the states were going through simply because they are on the other side of the divide.

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The State Commissioner of Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr. Ayibaina Duba, who said all the eight local council areas were oil-bearing said: “The governor had earlier responded to these people who just wake up and begin to criticise people just because they are on the other side of the divide.

“Let me ask you, in Bayelsa State, when we remove the 13% oil derivation from the federal allocation, what is left of their allocation? People don’t sit down and critically analyse some of these things even after they have spoilt our environment.

“Because we are running a skewed federal system of government (which we sometimes do not understand whether it is a military system or not), people just wake up and talk because they are in the opposition. All these are happening even when they have not attended to all that they have to at the federal level.

“In Bayelsa State, we don’t have the kind of problems that they are talking about, but generally speaking, people are being unfair to the Niger Delta, particularly the oil-producing states. Some of the issues that we are battling with have been here for sometime, but we are doing all we can for the benefit of our people. Or is the 13% derivation meant for the Federal Government? Let the Federal Government, the Deputy President of the Senate tell us what the money is meant for? Let them tell the South South and the Niger Delta governors what the 13% is meant for?”

IN Imo State, the Special Assistant to the Managing Director of the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC), Damian Oparah, said since Governor Hope Uzodimma, took over from Emeka Ihedioha, on January 15 this year, he has not tampered with, or diverted what has accrued to the state. All what comes in is being used for development of the oil-bearing communities, including taking care of the ecological problems in the state, especially in the affected communities.

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Oparah added: “Under this government, the money is meant for the development of the affected communities. Anywhere there is disaster, the government intervenes. ISOPADEC is working in conjunction with NEMA and the governor is giving in full, any amount that is due to the ISOPADEC,” Oparah, said.

THE Akwa Ibom State government, in reacting to Omo-Agege’s diversion claim said it would be beneficial if the lawmaker channels such energies to making laws that would make Nigeria to practice true federation, as against dissipating it on unsubstantiated allegations.

The State Commissioner for Information, Comrade Ini Ememobong, told The Guardian in Uyo, that, “the allegation is diversionary in the first instance. Omo-Agege should, as the deputy senate president, alongside his 108 colleagues make laws that will make Nigeria a true federation. He should ensure that the sanctity of the Senate and lawmaking is respected, so that he would be taken seriously. He must stop being diversionary. He must be able to prove his allegations beyond reasonable doubt, which is the position of law. In other words, he cannot be alleging what he cannot prove.

“In Akwa Ibom State, evidence of judicious use of the 13 per cent derivation funds (from the days of Obong Victor Attah, as governor till date) obvious; they are manifest. This shows that there is equitable distribution of resources and projects across the state.”

THE Director of Programmes of CEHRD, and the Zonal Director, CLO, South South Zone, Styvn Obodoekwe, who said that South South people do not need Omo-Agege’s comment to know that the 13 per cent fund is not being spent judiciously added: “If the fund is being well spent, the region would have been lifted out of poverty. The oil-bearing communities still epitomise poverty, despite the trillions that have accrued to the region from derivation.

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“Hunger, joblessness, hardship are getting out of hand. These are all evidence of the wastage of the funds meant for development…”

On their part, the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA), a militant group operating in the Niger Delta described as “provocative, insulting and deceitful,” Okowa’s position on the issue.

The RNDA said Okowa’s defence does not reflect the situation on ground, but an attempt by the Niger Delta governors to continue the alleged diversion of funds meant to develop oil-producing communities.

The RNDA, in a statement signed by its leader, Johnmark Ezonebi, and made available to newsmen in Asaba, yesterday, lampooned Okowa and his colleagues for allegedly frittering the peoples’ commonwealth.

“Okowa’s position is also an insult to agitating militant groups in the creeks, the oil-producing communities and traditional rulers from the region. These Niger Delta governors like Governor Okowa cannot continue to enslave and mortgage the future of our youths and that of our unborn children in the creeks.”

“In our years of agitation, we have observed the damages and the devastating effects caused by these greedy self-centered state governors from the region. The oil and gas producing communities are saying enough is enough…”
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source: Guardian