By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
One of the consequences of state capture is the predilection of a few power holders in the hierarchy to govern, no rule the polity with impunity, by subverting the very process or mechanism and instruments which placed them in office ab initio, by appropriating largesse to their constituencies in further consolidation of the same power. And because the power grab is not for the common good, it further negates the ends of progress and development of the polity, resulting in further alienation and discordance. Power itself, a notorious aphrodisiac often deludes powerholders into appropriating more and more power to a small group, flouting the rules, flaunting ‘the uselessness’ of the powerless before the world. This is worse in Third World countries where the power clique is usually, small, brutal, myopic, and self-serving. It is a recurring decimal in the power game, this capacity to use and abuse power despite extant literature which shows that ultimately the people are the real owners of power, and that power will take leave as it came, and that when the end comes it is not power that matters but what you do with it. Timeless lesson. Sadly, often lost on predators in the corridors of rotten power!
These thoughts dominated by mind recently after I read a newspaper report which stated that a Bill (A Bill for an Act to amend the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act No. 6, 2000 and for Matters Connected therewith, 2021), in the National Assembly, precisely the Senate which seeks to ‘amend the Niger Delta Development Commission Act to include Lagos, Ogun, Bauchi and others that had attained the status of oil-producing states into the Act’. The original members of the NDDC are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, and Ondo States. The offensive and vexatious Bill was sponsored by Senator Solomon Olamilekun Adeola (APC, Lagos), who argued that because crude oil has been discovered in Alkaleri, Badagry and Ipokia, the host states ‘are entitled to the 13 percent derivation that is due to oil-producing states according to the provision of Section 162 Sub-section 2 of the Nigerian Constitution’.
We need some foregrounding to establish a sense of history. The NDDC was created in response to strong agitations from people of the Niger Delta, the minorities whose God-given natural resources have economically sustained the Nigerian state from 1969 till date. In the 1990s the Ijaw and Ogoni people created different protest groups which confronted the federal government and the IOCs calling for the control of their resources because the region had been devastated by the many years of oil exploration. This agitation later became violent as militants took to the forests to force the government into negotiations. The people had little to show for the billions of petrodollars that had been extracted from their backyard. Indeed, one of the icons of that struggle, Ken Saro-Wiwa was martyred by the Abacha junta for his role in the agitation. To pacify the region the NDDC was created as an interventionist agency to ameliorate the sufferings of the people of the Niger Delta.
To be sure, patriotic senators from the region have declared the proposed Bill a taboo to the longsuffering, long oppressed and exploited people of the Niger Delta. They have pointed out that the NDDC was created for a specific reason both in terms of time and objectives. Against the background of state neglect and environmental degradation which the oil-bearing states have suffered for decades, the federal government under President Olusegun Obasanjo created the NDDC in 2000. It was mandated to concentrate on ‘formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area, conception, planning and implementation in accordance with set rules and regulations of projects and programmes for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area, surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development, and preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region’ and many more.
The context in which the NDDC was created is clear. What Senator Adeola is attempting to do is a clear case of subterfuge. Therefore, the proposed bill must be killed immediately. I expect all legislators from the region to stand for justice irrespective of party affiliation to do that which is right. The Deputy Senate President and other ranking Senators have already spoken against the Bill, describing the sponsor as ‘a classic meddlesome interloper’. Perhaps, the ruling party, the APC will muster all its forces to achieve this obnoxious agenda that will further reduce the funding that is available to the region as it did the PIB a few months ago. But let them know that such acts tend to pull the nation apart. The nation is fractured as it is. The dissension, trenchant call for secession in the southeast and the insurgency in the northeast has pummelled our self-belief. These have raised fears whether the nation can survive the 2023 general elections as a whole unit. Added to these is the general breakdown of security, demonstrated by kidnappings and assassinations of non-state actors.
If oil has been found in those states and such finds have added to the national purse, there is no harm whatever in giving them 13% derivation from oil. But to lump Bauchi, Ogun, and Lagos States with the NDDC is counterproductive. It is an act of impunity. The raison d’etre for the establishment of the NDDC should not be submerged by the greed and rapaciousness of powermongers. It will only add to the wounds in the country. Would Sokoto, Borno and Adamawa States, for example, be added to the NDDC if oil was found in commercial quantity in those areas? Let us not elevate greed and impunity to absurd and disgraceful national levels just because some of us have the power, leverage, and legislative muscle to impose acts of injustice on the people. All legislators from the region must rise to the occasion through negotiations, lobbying, threatening, cajoling and whatever ethical means available to kill that wicked Bill. They should let their counterparts know that the Niger Delta people are already aggrieved by the deprivations and reductions in the PIB that they cannot afford another let down for their people.
All power blocs and associations in the region should rise with one voice to reject the inclusion of those states in the NDDC. The legislators could introduce a counter Bill that makes provision for the newly discovered oil-bearing states. The focal point should be 13 percent derivation funds. The Niger Delta which has borne the brunt of decades of despoilation should continue to enjoy the grudging act of restitution which the current NDDC symbolizes. NO TO THIS SCANDALOUS ANOMALY.