Okowa, DESOPADEC and vested interests


Nigeria, July 31, 2015, (Blank NEWS Online) – OFFICIAL PORTRAIT

It was Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the former Central Bank Governor (now Emir of Kano) who in January 2014 enriched our political lexicon with the coinage of the term Vested Interests. At a youth summit geared towards national rebirth and renewal, Mallam Sanusi declared that Nigeria can only become great when as a people we “overcome the fear of vested interests.”

And by that he meant that those entrusted with leadership and governance must muster the political will to do the right thing no matter whose ox gored. In a thought provoking message that went viral soon after the meeting, Sanusi averred that “we must recognize that at the heart of the problem of Nigeria, at the heart of ninety per cent of our issues – from Boko Haram, to religious crisis, to ethnic crisis to unemployment, to the lack of education, to the lack of health care – is that there are people who profit from the poverty and underdevelopment of this country.

‘’And these people are called Vested Interests. And so long as they remain entrenched, and so long as we do not overcome our fear of them and dislodge them, we are not going to find a solution to this problem and we are not going to reach true potentials.” Emir Sanusi’s narrative comes strongly to mind as I observe the heated and, sometimes confusing debate, over the proposed amendment to the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) Act by the Delta State Governor, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa.

Proposed amendment

The reactions to the proposed amendment have ranged from the ludicrous to the outrageous; ludicrous as in accusations that the proposed amendment is a ploy by the Governor to “control the DESOPADEC funds” and outrageous as in the Urhobo Youth Alliance for Equity and Justice threatening to “make Delta State ungovernable for Okowa,” if he went ahead with the proposed amendment.

As I observe the bluster, ethnic jingoism, and political demagoguery on display I have no doubt in my mind that Vested Interests are at work, and God help Governor Okowa. It was Arunma Oteh, the former Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission who observed that if you dare fight corruption in Nigeria, corruption will fight back.

First let us take a look at the proposed amendment. Addressing the state chapter of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas, HOSTCOM, led by Dr. Peter Egedegbe, Governor Okowa explained: “We are not repealing the old law; it is not a new bill.

The amendment we are proposing is to structure DESOPADEC in line with the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, model…I proposed that there should be a Managing Director and Executive Directors to run the day-to- day affairs of the Commission while there will be commissioners who will be on part time basis, representing different ethnic nationalities.

The Governor further assured members of HOSTCOM that the current practice of rotational leadership of DESOPADEC has not been tampered with in the proposed amendment, adding, “This is democracy and I am not expecting that the Amendment Bill will come out exactly as we proposed it. There will be public hearings where people will make their contributions. The final bill will be the one that comes out of the House of Assembly. I don’t believe in forcing the hands of legislators.”

I have never been able to understand our predilection for speaking without thinking, or reacting based on sentiments instead of facts. Until that clarification by the Governor, you would have thought that the Governor had sponsored a totally new bill to the House of Assembly judging by the spate of attacks, sponsored newspaper/online articles, and sundry groups condemning the bill and calling for his head.

Service delivery

What I expected after this explanation by the Governor was for opponents of the proposed amendment to dissect the new arrangement as envisaged by the governor and its relevance and suitability to our own situation. For instance, I expected them to ask questions like: Is the NDDC model the best we can have? How effective has it been in service delivery and in fulfilling its mandate to be a catalyst for infrastructural development and environmental renewal in the Niger Delta region? How many Executive Directors will be appointed under the new arrangement and how will they be appointed? How do we ensure that the Commission does not get bogged down by corporate politics and personality clashes?

These and many other pertinent questions should occupy the minds of those who truly mean well for the ethnic nationalities for whom the Commission was established. Instead I keep hearing mundane talk of some group being robbed of their chance to produce the next Chairman of the Commission or some other puerile argument. It is Vested Interests at work. And instead of taking advantage of the public hearing on the amendment these Vested Interests have been beating the drumbeats of war in their selfish and dubious attempts to becloud the issue. The real issue here is one of development of the oil producing communities in Delta State, which have continued to languish in abject poverty and deplorable environmental conditions despite the billions that DESOPADEC has received on their behalf.

According to information posted on its website, “the Board of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) was set up in July, 2007, to execute a clear and critical mandate; to rehabilitate, rejuvenate and resuscitate the peoples and communities of the oil producing areas of Delta State. This mandate is stated unequivocally in Section 13 (i) of the enabling law which set up DESOPADEC and states that the Commission shall “receive and administer exclusively the fifty per cent (50%) of the thirteen per cent (13%) Oil Derivation Fund accruing to the Delta State Government for: (a) The rehabilitation and development of Oil Producing Areas in the State, and (b) Other development projects as may be determined from time to time by the Commission.”

Environmental degradation

There is no doubt that the government had noble intentions in setting up DESOPADEC. After years of painful neglect and environmental degradation it was imperative for the government to have such a special intervention agency to redress the injustice that the oil producing communities had been subjected to. But after eight years, I doubt if we can thump our chests and say that DESOPADEC has performed creditably when compared with the huge allocation it has received. We are talking about an agency that receives 50% of the derivation money that accrues to the entire Delta State.

The Commission’s budgets for 2013 and 2014 were N37b and N39 respectively. If we estimate the budget for the Commission at a conservative figure of N30b annually, that puts the total money that accrued to it in the last eight years at N240b. That is more than the budget of states like Edo, Gombe, Anambra, and Jigawa. Yet can we really say that the welfare of the people in the oil producing communities has experienced significant improvement? Can we honestly say that the Commission has done a good job of rehabilitating, rejuvenating and resuscitating the peoples and communities of the oil producing areas of Delta State? I reside in the oil-rich city of Warri where DESOPADEC has its headquarters and there is no gainsaying the fact that the oil producing communities are still bedevilled with infrastructural decay, urban blight, environmental degeneration, acute healthcare challenges, failing educational institutions, and crushing poverty. This is exactly why the Vested Interests cannot tout the achievements of DESOPADEC as reasons why the law setting it up should not be amended?

They have instead been championing their own agenda – typically. For them it is always a question of who should get what and why contractors must be paid now as if our lives and that of the future generation depended on it. It would be a shame if Governor Okowa caves in to the Vested Interests and does not pursue the proposed amendment to its logical conclusion. My understanding from the proposed amendment is that it seeks to reposition the Commission for greater efficiency, best practices and responsive leadership.

Responsive leadership

The idea of having a managing director and executive directors may have its own challenges but I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. It will serve the Commission well to have a hands-on management as is being proposed in the amendment. And collective leadership with checks and balances is to be preferred any day over dictatorship in whatever guise. Before now, DESOPADEC was run by an Executive Chairman who, more or less, operated like a sole administrator.

The members of the Commission, known as Commissioners, hardly attended meetings when they were called, and which was rare. They were, it seemed, only interested in the distribution of the largesse from the big honey pot. As long as the Chairman kept them happy with their own share of the ‘oil cake’ he was free to run the Commission any how he wanted.

For whatever it is worth, it is my considered view that we should give the proposed amendment a chance to succeed. Any reservations we may have about it should be properly and- forcefully – canvassed at the public hearing. It is time we Deltans discard this penchant for feuding over every matter instead of engaging in constructive dialogue. Many of us glibly talk about change but we fail to realise that true, genuine change begins with each and every one of us.

*Fred Omanufeme, a project consultant, resides in Warri.

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