Former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba in this interview speaks on the controversy trailing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) signed into an Act by President Muhammadu Buhari . He also shares his thoughts on developments in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Excerpts:
The host communities are not happy with the President’s assent on Petroleum Industrial Act (PIA). What’s your reaction to this?
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 position to control her resources. That should be our ultimate decision. But before we get there we are looking at incremental improvement in our situation. I have heard the arguments. Some say it should have been five or 10 per cent may be. I am saying that if the host communities actually wanted a figure higher than three per cent, there should have been some stakeholders’ engagement prior to the passage of the bill between stakeholders of the region and their legislators in the National Assembly.
If the stakeholders are dissatisfied with the three per cent that has been provided for in the bill, then it is a clear evidence of the failure of politics in the region because for a sensitive issue like that, there usually ought to have been a high level stakeholders’ engagement where the governors, the National Assembly members, the traditional rulers, the major players in the region, the experts from that region 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 spilled milk. Steps ought have been taken long before now to engage one another to ensure that their interest were protected but I did not see such engagement.
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, they then President, Chief 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
But the governors of the region are saying what has happened is a recipe for disaster in the region. Do you share this position?
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 Progamme for how many years, have there been any change in the fortune of the Niger Delta region and all these organizations I have mentioned have been run by sons and daughters of the region. Has there been any change? So you added another five or 10 per cent without ensuring that there are mechanism for accountability and transparency in the use of these funds, without a master plan for the region, without serious stakeholders commitment to the implementation of a predetermined master plan for the region, you will just be getting more money to fritter away.
So for me at this point in time it will make more sense to me if we 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 a water tight stakeholders developed 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 or strategy put in place is used for what it is meant for?
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, specialist 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 raises 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 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. If you have a plot of land you cannot develop first without having a survey plan and then a building plan not to talk of a region. 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 her 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 on the part of the NDDC, especially since it’s not doing what it should do? Remember you were there at a time?
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, host communities, development partners made their inputs before that plan was presented to President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006.
Yes I was there for a while. 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 breach than in compliance. Since the law has been observed more in 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 the 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 mega projects, it does not matter who was Chairman or Managing Director, the mega projects will go on.