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Okowa’s Promised Realisation Of A Better Dawn In The Niger Delta
Published Jan 24, 2023 IN Column, STRONGER DELTA,
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IN the words of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Vice Presidential flagbearer for next month’s election, Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa MON, “terrain is not an encumbrance to development of the Niger Delta region.” Seven years down the line, he has significantly demonstrated why he is called the ‘Ekwueme’, a leader who walks the talk, by his non-stop transformation of the natural architecture of the Niger Delta in the state, into visible physical and general infrastructural development. Under Governor Okowa’s S.M.A.R.T governance, he has extended his promised inclusive development to the oil and gas bearing communities, which underscores his declarative statement, on assumption of his democratic mandate, that the promised Prosperity is for All Deltans.

By all intents and purposes, what forms the centrepiece of Governor Okowa’s developmental leadership, is Prosperity creation across board, which translated to a new song in the riverine areas, at the dawn of his governorship mandate. He has conquered pre-existing perceptions against riverine areas’ development, such that the riverine dwellers, who once perched at the periphery of development planning, are now among the chief cornerstone of Okowa’s democratic dividends, with a harvest of roads, bridges, drainages, as well as the general yearnings of the people. It is the expected outcome where governance is carried out based on responsiveness to the yearnings of the people and balance of projects, that has allowed the creation of a Stronger Delta, including the turnaround of the monumental neglect and degradation of riverine areas/oil bearing communities, due to lack of federal presence and ineffectiveness of direct Federal spending.

On the recorded democratic dividends, Governor Okowa revealed: “We did a lot in terms of engagements and trying to re-educate our youths in the Niger Delta and trying to encourage the communities to ensure that we are able to have peace. It’s only in peace we can develop and the trust was there. Most communities, especially those in the oil bearing areas, did cooperate with us and they saw that there were some gains from it. Because if you made a promise and it was not kept, of course they will renege on their trust. But with the development that we have brought into the oil bearing areas, yes, it may not have got¬ten to all of them, but many of the communities in those areas are being turned around and they are beginning to see for themselves.

“If you pay a visit now to Burutu, it will not be the Burutu that you actually knew of six years ago because almost every single road, as of the last time I went, was paved. You go to Okerenkoko, you witness the same thing and then you begin to wonder where you are. People would ask ‘why do we do this? Do they have vehicles? Yes. Do they have roads linked directly to the place?’ No. But the people are able to use the barges to convey their vehicles to the place. They have beautiful homes with their vehicles parked there. Those that do not have money to buy motor cars, buy motorcycles. Even those who are trekking with their legs, don’t have to go through the very bad water-logged roads anymore. They are happy.

“When I went to Burutu and Okerenkoko, they were happy. You see the beautiful excitement on their faces. You go from Okerenkoko to Brass, the same thing is happening. In fact, one Chevron staff member had to call me one night that he overflew to Okerenkoko and they could not recognise it anymore because of the road network that we have been doing. Those are part of the things that we are doing due to relative security. We did something in Ug¬borodo. I went to the Benin River myself. That’s in Warri North. Through DESOPADEC (Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission), we actually rebuilt two new towns, Oboghoro and Utonlila.

“We went recently, the second time; I was told that I am the first governor to ever come into the Benin River; to see the floating market, which has gone very far seated on a concrete base of about 6,000 square meters. It’s a huge project, costing us a lot of money. But is it desirable? Yes. Going into the place, I saw about 18 different communities, only those I could count along the way. But there are many of them off the port. They will all come to the place and be able to enjoy com¬mon trade. So, we are impacting on the family economy of each of these families that make up these communities and that’s very key to us.

If you are impacting on people and taking them out of poverty, then you are actually trying to solve the prob-lem of insecurity; you are putting food on the table, you are improving the family life and such people are likely to think of what to do with their children and say, ‘let’s send them to school’. So, you see, it’s a holistic process that has a lot of gains to it. The peace process is there and development is coming to those riverine areas out there. The Ayakoromo bridge, we are going very far with it. It’s a whole gamut of programmes that are actually for communities to have access to one another, to take them fully out of poverty and to make the place more livable for the people.

Governor Okowa applies the lessons of history: As far back as 1995, apparently concerned about the declining security situation in the Niger Delta, arising from increased agitation from the oil producing communities and its consequent threat to the heart of the Nigerian economy, the 1995 Constitutional Conference recommended that in sharing the Federation Account Revenue, 13 per cent should be set aside as Derivation revenue to assist the development of oil-producing communities. In arriving at the 13 per cent compromise, rather than the more equitable 50 per cent that was bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, the conferees must have assumed that after taking into account all sectional interests, 13 per cent of the total oil revenue would put a reasonable amount of revenue in the hands of the oil-producing states to assist them in tackling the enormous problems of under development in the oil bearing communities. This recommendation was accepted, but never implemented. The percentage allocated to derivation remained at a mere 1 per cent of oil revenue. Thus, the neglect continued unabated. But apparently moved by the plight of the Niger Delta people, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was running for President in 1999, promised to redress the ugly situation through a process of enhanced funding and development. No one doubted him, especially as the 13 per cent derivation principle was fortunately enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

Section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution provided that “The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly, proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, the allocation principles, especially those of population, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain, as well as population density: Provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula, as being not less than thirteen per cent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources.”

As was reasoned, “In anticipation of a possible delay in the release of a new revenue allocation formula, the drafters of the constitution inserted S.313, which provides that “Pending any Act of the National Assembly for the provision of a system of revenue allocation between the Federation and the states, among the states, between the states and the local government councils and among the local government councils in the states, the system of revenue allocation in existence for the financial year beginning from 1st January, 1998 and ending on 31st December, 1998 shall be subject to the provisions of this Constitution and as from the date when this section comes into force, continue to apply” By subjecting the interim revenue formula determined by S.313 to the provision of the 1999 Constitution; the intention was that the minimum 13 per cent provision of S.162 (2) was overriding and should become operative from the day the Constitution came into effect. The prospect of its implementation brought relief and hope to the hitherto deprived and neglected Niger Delta people. They invested their hopes enthusiastically on the promise of democracy. They believed that the Nigerian nation had at last woken up to the grave injustice perpetrated against them for decades. They believed that the conscience of the Nigerian nation had been sufficiently pricked and that there was a new a spirit of justice prevailing in governance.

But “The first sign of betrayal of the Niger Delta people’s trust was the inexplicable delay in implementing the derivation principle. Despite two letters from the then Delta State Governor and attempts from similar quarters on the issue, the then President conveniently failed to seek legal advice on the critical constitutional issue until April 2000 -a clear ten months into the life of its civil administration. Belated as the agreement to obey the constitution was, the second betrayal became evident when the then President in his infinite wisdom arbitrarily chose January 2000 as the most convenient date to commence the implementation of the Constitutional provision that took effect from May 29, 1999.

Despite loud protest from the Niger Delta people, the then President failed to explain the non-payment of derivation revenue between May 29, 1999 and December 31, 1999. In the absence of any meaningful response, the crucial question at that moment was whether a sitting President has the right to choose when to obey or not to obey the Constitution. Governor Okowa’s stance had been that the Federation clearly owes the oil producing states the derivation related revenue and that there is no conceivable reason that can justify the delay in meeting such debts, whether in its actual/statutory rate or accrued arrears therefrom. Indeed, it is a debt that must be paid and the sooner, the better for our country.

It also means that the Federal Government should not attempt to reduce the amount of funds flowing to the oil-producing states, arising from the implementation of the minimum 13 per cent derivation principle. This manipulation is clearly unjust and an abuse of power. It is an attempt to subvert the spirit of the minimum 13 per cent derivation provision in the 1999 Constitution and an affront on the sensibilities of all the Niger Delta peoples.

Governor Okowa comes across as a political messiah, given that in Delta State, we find it extremely frustrating that the Federal Government uses a multitude of accounting manipulations to expropriate revenues of other tiers of government to itself. Governor Okowa has consistently agitated for greater revenue and responsibilities for states, given that states are poorly funded and most can barely afford to pay the current minimum wage and still carry out any meaningful capital development project. Without any change in the revenue sharing formula to financially empower the states, the Federal Government unilaterally announced a new minimum wage for workers, thus creating the condition for labour unrest in virtually all the states. To further emphasise this intention, the FG was reported to have thrown a challenge to oil producing states to pay higher wages than the Federal Government from their ‘enhanced’ oil revenue, as if the intention of the payment of that oil revenue was to address the issue of poor wages for workers.

 Recall the recent derivation victory for Delta State, courtesy of the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/660/2012, which it filed through Chief Ken Njemanze, SAN, urging the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, to compel the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), to pay five per cent of $50 billion recovered as additional revenue that accrued to the Nigerian government. It prayed the court to, “direct the defendant (AGF) to pay the sum of $ 1,638,396,277.00, being the 13 per cent derivative sum due as arrears of revenue payable to Delta State, as assessed. “A consequential order of this court compelling the defendant to net off and pay five per cent of the said sum as per clause 3.0(v) of the defendant’s letter of engagement, dated 12 April, 2018 and clause 3.0(v); the defendant’s further letter of engagement dated 19 November, 2018, pursuant to clause lll(d) of the terms of settlement made the (consent) judgment by the Supreme Court. As well as, “10 per cent post judgment interest at court rate on the said $ 1,638,396,277.00 to the plaintiff until final liquidation thereof.”

On the alleged 13 per cent rip-off, governors of the South-South region, felt that the Federal authorities have been shortchanging oil producing states, over the years, in the payment of 13 per cent derivation, thus they resolved to take up the matter with the Federal Government. And who else to lead the fight than Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa. In his capacity as Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, confirmed at a meeting of South-South governors in Asaba, that they took a decision to address the matter with federal authorities. His words: “We also took other decisions concerning the issue of Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) allocations and the need to be able to stress very importantly that in every allocation that is being done, 13 per cent derivation must first be taken out from the funds that come from the oil economy before the rest of the money is shared at FAAC. The 13 per cent is meant for oil producing states. That has not been the situation for a very long time. We have agreed as governors to take up the matter at the appropriate levels.” That was how Governor Okowa added grease to the elbows of Southern governors, whom he leads, towards reversing a most fiscal injustice discovered to be perpetrated by the Federal authorities.

Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okowa, Mr. Olisa Ifejika, appraising his principal’s stance, held that, “The Federal Government is not paying 13 per cent derivation complete to oil producing states for some years now. It is not derivation paid to the letter. However, some kind of consultation and negotiation are going to be done to correct the figure. The logic is that it is not done as first charge, but after they have done other things; from what is left, they now bring out 13 per cent, but it ought to be 13 per cent of the entire bulk before they share. The state government is feeling that there is some short changing there, so, it is going to be addressed”, he stated. Ifejika clarified: “ I am not aware that oil states are not being paid derivation, but what I know is that here in Delta, the feeling is that we are not being paid 13 per cent derivation in real terms.” As noted, the aforementioned is a huge blow to the development process. It could slow down the development process critically, hence, the governors are pushing to make sure that it is brought back on board. It is the livewire of development in those coastal areas in the oil-bearing communities.

Imagining a worst case scenario, a source, in support of Okowa’s stance, posited that, “They cannot stop the payment of 13 percent derivation. If they dare, then they have to quote what law and constitutional provisions that gives the Federal Government the power to do that, unless they are now obviously accepting that there is a complete breakdown of the Constitution in Nigeria. In that case, they can wait for the consequences.” The Federal Government started paying 13 per cent derivation to oil states under the PDP administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and did not allegedly default on payment until 2016 under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

In yet another vein, preceding the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, agitated for enacting of laws that’ll give oil communities justice; he charged the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill, to put in place, a legislation that would guarantee peace, fairness, equity and justice for host communities in the oil industry. Okowa, during a Town Hall meeting of the National Assembly Joint Committee on PIB and Host Communities in Delta State, noted that various host communities in the state endowed with abundant hydrocarbon and rich deposits of oil wells and gas, have been subjected to environmental degradation and challenges as a result of oil and gas exploration and exploitation. He said, “Aquatic lives and farm lands have been adversely affected. Natural gas is still being flared with a lot of health hazards visited on the host communities. To worsen the situation, some oil companies have not lived up to expectation, in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility and this has resulted in agitation, demands and protest against oil companies operating in the state.” The governor urged the people to take advantage of the opportunity to present their concerns to the committee, while he commended the committee for its visit and appealed to them to do justice to the demands of the people.

Unfortunately, the passed PIB into the PIA- Petroleum Industry Act, was not justice at last, having failed to douse the agitation of the people of the Niger Delta for a sense of belonging amidst their abundant oil wealth. In reaction to the unresolved problem, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa advanced the argument: “We are of the view that while we welcome the Host Community Trust Fund, we do believe that what is appropriated in that bill for the purpose of host community funding is inadequate. “We have discussed with our people and collectively as leaders of the people in our various states and as leaders standing in on behalf of our people; we urge the National Assembly to increase the provision in the host community fund to 10 per cent. This is in the best interest of our communities and the nation.’’ If satisfied with the provision of the trust fund, Okowa maintained that the host communities would serve as the watchdog of oil facilities on behalf of the Federal and state governments and oil companies. “A peaceful environment in the various oil communities would enable us have greater and seamless production, devoid of any form of disruption, going into the future.

Okowa, on behalf of the South South governors, urged President Muhammadu Buhari, that in the absence of a board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), funds for the commission, beyond the payment of salaries, should be put in an Escrow account until he constitutes the board.

Okowa stated: “We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and for that reason, the board has not been constituted. Our advice is that until a board is constituted, proper processes should be followed in the expenditure of money through visible accounting.’’ He described as worrisome, the running of the NDDC in over a year by an Interim Caretaker Committee, and now an Interim Administrator. According to him, this situation does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta, as the opportunity for all states to be represented on the board of the NDDC did not exist. “So, it means that the NDDC is being run in such a manner that it is not beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholder input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.

In retrospect, the passage into law of the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill did not go down well with the Niger Delta host communities, as the Senate gave host communities only three per cent equity holding in the Host Communities Trust Fund, as against the 10 per cent the people of the oil-producing areas demanded. The House of Representatives, could not save the day- on its part, it passed the long awaited PIB, granting the host communities’ same equity stake, seen in many quarters as insulting for the Senate and House of Representatives to cede only a paltry equity shareholding respectively to the oil and gas producing communities in the passed PIB. Another controversial area passed was the fund exploration of frontier basins, which the Senate left at 30 per cent, while stakeholders in the Niger Delta had demanded that it should be reduced to 10 per cent. Both the Senate and Reps agreed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), should become a limited liability company. This came as the Presidency described the passage of the complete version of the PIB, which had defied passage in previous legislatures over the last 20 years, as a jinx that was finally broken.

But not so fast! Okowa indicated that they is little to celebrate. It was noted that if allowed to fly, it is indeed proof that the entire Niger Delta, which has been at the receiving end of the activities of oil companies, sustaining the country economically, stands no chance of developing in this country. It was a decision that reinforced the agitation for resource control, self-determinism and true federalism. 10 per cent was considered good for a start, five per cent as manageable, but three per cent was a no-go area.

This insensitive position was therefore, yet another crack on the already failing Nigerian project that can only be cured by the adoption of true federalism and resource control. A source whose views were similar to that of Governor Okowa further read: “We still maintain our stand that we cannot accept three per cent. We reject it and we are calling on the President to reverse it. We cannot be in one country and have two different provisions applicable under one law. When you are dealing with the solid minerals sector, you are developing it in a way that communities have effective participation in that industry; Niger Deltans will continue to press because crude oil and gas from the peaceful region are being used to develop other regions of Nigeria. It is unfair. True federalism is the answer to Nigeria’s problems, especially for each region to develop at its pace and use the resources to develop their areas, with tax paid to the centre.”

It is noteworthy that Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, posited that there is an urgent need to review the existing revenue allocation formula in favour of states and local government councils in the country. When the National Executive Council (NEC) of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) led by its President, Mr. Kolade Alabi, had visited him in Asaba, Okowa explained that the review would stabilise the financial status of states and meet the yearnings of the people. According to the governor, the local councils’ administration is growing and needs financial stability to impact on people’s lives.

Governor Okowa’s interrogation of the national question is founded on national equity, fairness and balanced development? For instance, he talks about the over concentration of both revenue and responsibilities at the centre, thus birthing an over bloated Federal Government, with an illusion of legality given by the Exclusive List. Hence, why concentrate so much powers and responsibilities on a tier of government remote to the citizenry? But why not end the disturbing imbroglio of a lopsided system by giving more powers and responsibilities to the states and local governments- the country cannot continue to shy away from the all important discourse bordering on national restructuring, particularly, in respect to power sharing among the component units; viz: Federal and states, Federal, states and local governments, then states and local governments; there is the revenue sharing formula; in this case, the federating states have often accused the government at the centre of holding greater percentage of Federal revenue, while depriving them of funds, for instance, the 13 per cent oil derivation fund to the oil producing states and more recently, the scandalous allocation of a paltry three per cent to oil producing host communities, by the APC-controlled Federal Government, under the newly-signed Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).

His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, in pursuit of a national restructuring, had reiterated the need for the proper structuring of the country, where the federating units could truly operate on the basis of equity, fairness and justice. A case in point was when he received leaders of the South-South and Middle Belt Forum, comprising the Pan- Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ohaneze Ndigbo, Afenifere and others, in Asaba, Delta State capital. He maintained that the agitation became imperative, as restructuring is key to the promotion of true fiscal federalism. His words: “We should remind the nation and the Federal Government that there is need for restructuring, as the constitution of the country was not given to the nation by Nigerians. The National Assembly had made attempts to amend it (the constitution), but due to divergence of views, it has not been easy to amend it.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of things are sacrificed on the altar of politics and political parties, which is a major problem in this country.” Okowa lauded the visitors for their sustained advocacy for restructuring and true federalism, noting: “I believe that you people are doing a good job. You need the support of all, but on my part, the little I can do, I will do to support you to the best of my ability.”

This support is predicated on the Governor’s avowed determination to ensure that the country is restructured. Indeed, the subject is not a new political philosophy, but has a lot to do with true federalism. As it was noted, anyone opposed to the restructuring idea is an enemy of the country, while Governor Okowa was commended for his “passionate commitment towards a myriad of national issues at stake.

Okowa also held: “we need a national dialogue; restructuring must be discussed. In a past interview with select journalists, he spoke on the state of the nation, among other issues. “First, let me thank God that we were able to meet as a people across party lines because sometimes, we must put politics aside and think about the people and thanks to all my colleagues.

I believe our meetings are in the best interest of this nation and not just the Southern part of the country, because the voices of our people have continued to ring loud and ours was just further voice to what we first proclaimed as a people and as governors who run the various states in Southern Nigeria – that we believe in the federation and unity of this country, because there have been a lot of voices on secession here and there.

So, I actually thought that the voices who tend to criticise our meetings failed to have an understanding. People should learn to approach issues after very deep thought, rather than just looking at the surface, picking one thing and speaking about it.

 (To be continued)

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