Okowa, DESOPADEC and vested interests

By Fred Omanufeme
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.

Omanufeme, a project consultant, resides in Warri.

 

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