National Publicity Secretary of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), High Chief Sara-Igbe has asked politicians from the North and the South-west not to vie for the presidency in 2023 in the interest of unity and stability of the country. He spoke with Onyebuchi Ezigbo. Excerpts:
What is your take on the forensic audit proposed by the minister of Niger Delta?
First of all, the probe of the NDDC, the region took a decision in our year retreat that the Niger Delta region as represented by the Niger Delta Forum supported holistically the forensic probe of NDDC. We also said there shouldn’t just be a probe, all the contractors that where involved from inception to date must be listed and published.
The abandoned projects should also be probed so that we know what is wrong with the commission. We are also of the view that this probe should be extended to other establishments so that it won’t be seen as witch-hunting like PDF and other commissions and so the region is happy that the forensic audit will take place but we don’t want something that will make a lot of noise and thereafter it will be swept under the carpet. We need a holistic probe, because that would give us insight as to why we are where we are.
A lot of people see it as a vote of no confidence in the previous management of the NDDC. Is that correct?
Well, it is not a vote-of-no-confidence. When there are allegations and counter-allegations, you can’t know where to stand until you have a true picture and the forensic audit will be able to expose the true state of activities and actions of the NDDC. At least, to the extent everyone will know where the problem lies and why do we have so much abandoned property in the region.
We expected that the NDDC would have turned the region around but you can see what happened to over 25 communities – communities that produce oil are still living in shambles. You can see the roads in the South-south; they are all in very bad condition including the East West in which previously the NDDC used to give palliative support.
All those are no longer there and we are not seeing what NDDC is doing for some time now with the huge resources allocated to them.
All we are saying is let us know what is happening. We can’t go to the NDDC and say we want to see your books but this is an opportunity for the government to look at the books and publish for everyone to see.
We are indeed in support of it but we are saying it should not be swept under the carpet after a while and as you are doing that, we are saying other institutions should be probed so we know where the country is heading.
Does stopping the inauguration of the NDDC board mean someone is being targeted?
Who nominated the board? Mr. President nominated the board. So, who approved the audit? Still Mr. President. The NDDC act empowers the president to appoint whoever he wants to be on the board and in this country, we have seen where Mr. President stayed more than six months before he appointed ministers and even when ministers were cleared, it took three months before they were sworn in. It is not new.
If he had appointed the board and the list has been sent to the National Assembly and in his wisdom, he wants to get a clean slate for the new board, what is wrong with that? If the new board wants to dabble into the probe that is going on, since they are not party to the probe and they want to clean the house, it is like you want to occupy a new house and the landlord says I want to clean the house for you, I want to paint the house for you; why the hurry?
You see, the National Assembly has been the one regulating the NDDC and they are also involved in contracting in the NDDC, so they shouldn’t hurry anybody. Since their hands are stained or purportedly stained in the NDDC, let them be patient for the region to know to what extent is each of us involved?
What role has each of us played? So, it is not witch-hunting, let everyone know so we will be on a clean slate and the new board can now work on a clean slate so they won’t have cause to point fingers on the past if they can come and see a new beginning. So, if a committee is set up to look at those things and that is what will give us what we desire. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
As a stakeholder in the Niger Delta, how will you assess the level of development in the region?
If you look at the squalor in which the Niger Delta communities are living despite the creation of NDDC, the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry and the 13% derivation, you will shed tears. You can see that the region had been raped by some individuals, and that is why we are asking that the NDDC should be probed for us to know what is going on.
On my own, I will also call the various state Houses of Assemblies, Mr. President and the presidential agencies to look into the 13% derivation.
The 13% derivation is not the money of the governors, it is meant for the development of the oil-bearing communities. Let us see to what extent they had invested in the oil-bearing communities.Is it based on allocation?
If they are getting the money based on their production, are they also spending these monies based on production and so what have they done for the oil-bearing communities? The various State Houses of Assemblies even though some of them are lame dock, the federal agencies and Mr. President should help the region to find out what has been done with the 13% derivation.
Maybe when they have finished with the NDDC, we want to know what has been done with the 13% derivation. We have discussed at a level and condemned it but we haven’t taken a full stand. As an individual, I feel the time has come for us to take a stand. It is time for governments of the region to take a stand on the 13% derivation.
Is it wise to pay these monies to the government or pay through a vessel to develop the oil-bearing communities? You can see that there is a lot of insecurity within the region, where this oil is being produced. These communities are not being developed, tyrants have taken over the place and the governors are not even helping matters, the security agencies are not helping matters either.
So what do we do in the face of this? I think the time has come for us as indigenes of Niger Delta, and for the state Houses of Assembly, our representatives in the various agencies and the federal government to at least intervene. The National Assembly should also make a law either to amend that section or take that 13% from the governors and place it in another vehicle so as to develop the place.
The setting up of the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta was to address these concerns you have raised. Are you saying they are not living up to their mandate?
The problem as we can see is that the governors see this money as their personal money and they use it as their personal money. They are not seeing themselves as custodians of this money and that is causing a lot of problems in the region. That is why we are saying, call it any name, it is the federal government that can set up a body to look into it.
Well, let’s see the probe of NDDC to know why they are not effective, what is their problem and by the time we look at the situation, it will tell us but that doesn’t mean that the NDDC hasn’t done some good projects within the region. There are good projects that have been done, the intentions were very good but there are contractors, who are deliberately frustrating the entire system and some of them are indigenes, some are powerful people in the country.
So, when we know the people and what they have done, then, the law can take its course, at least, that will set a precedent for others that are coming to know that government money sent to agencies are not for personal use rather they are meant for development in the region. There would be sanity once this probe is concluded but the question is while we are going on with the NDDC, something should be done about the 13% derivation.
Then, the Niger Delta Ministry isn’t being funded, as it should be. What we agreed with President Yar’dua was to get a development ministry but what we are seeing is that the ministry is now becoming a coordinating ministry rather than a developmental ministry. So, we need to restructure all this to reflect the reason why they were formed so that they can be well funded.
You spoke about OML 25, what is the controversy all about?
The controversy was that for the past 15 years, the community and Shell Petroleum Development Company have been at loggerheads. Shell has feasted in that kingdom for 60 years but over OML 25 they have spent 90 years and there is no sign of Shell’s presence in terms of development.
Shell has been involved in ‘divide and rule’ in the community, which led to the death of over 200 persons and the communities were not seeing anything so they felt Shell should go and they shouldn’t come back again and they have one of their sons, Belema Oil who operates OML 55 and in less than three years, Belema Oil has done so much in that community with the exception of the kingdom.
The people are saying if Belema Oil can do this for us, we will also want him to take over from Shell that has spent so many years but rather than Shell doing that, they sold off most of the facilities to outsiders, non-indigenes and they managed to sell OML 25 to another non-indigene and the community said ‘no’ which led to the shutdown of the facility for two years and two months.
So PANDEF came into the matter and at the end of the day, we raised various points with the presidency, NNPC, NAPIL, DPR, and at each of these meetings, it was discovered that Shell that claimed to have spend 300 million couldn’t go to verify what they have done. Anytime they claimed of going to verify, they will run away. So at the end of the day, the new management of NNPC, the new Minister of State came in to resolve the matter.
They saw things for themselves when they visited the community, they saw women who sat down for two years and two months without destroying any facility and they were able to come to terms. PANDEF was highly involved, made sure peace was there and at the end of the day, there was a meeting and we agreed that Shell should leave the place for the indigene.
Shell can manage the license. The facility is owned by NNPC, Shell, Agip, Total and Belema Oil, so, let Belema Oil be the face of the masquerade while they can still work behind the masquerade, which was accepted by other partners. NNPC, Total and Agip agreed that Belema Oil should run it so Shell had no other option than to agree which they have done.
But while that was going on, they ran to the governor and the governor took sides, with Shell trying to oppress the community, which has even given them ultimatum to vacate the facility or they see their wrath. The community dared him and PANDEF stood with the community and at the end of the day, after that visit, the matter was resolved. Everything will be all right!
The president has signed into law, a new PSC agreement. What does that mean for the region?
You see, the PSC agreement has been overdue but the problem we have at the region is that they don’t carry the region along. The PSC should also include the cost of developing the region before declaring profit, because if all the oil companies will put the cost into the PSC agreement before sharing, what happens to the people who are suffering the hazards of the production; the oil bearing communities, what happens to them?
So, there must be a certain percentage aside in law for the oil-bearing communities. Yes, the Niger Delta states went to court first for the interpretation of the law and it is based on that law and the Supreme Court judgment that Mr. President has passed the bill to the National Assembly, which will be passed into law and even that hasn’t taken care of region.
What is your take on 2023 presidency? Do you foresee the position going to the Southeast?
What is obvious is that with the president coming from the north, the zone may not have any legitimate claim to the presidency again if they want the unity and peace of this country and we believe that we are not likely to get third term for Buhari. Buhari has done the eight years for the North, so, it is expected that this time, it will come to the south.
As far as we are concerned, we, the South-south believe that if it is coming to the south, only two regions are eligible which are the Southeast and the South-south. The Southeast hasn’t produced a president in this dispensation so they are qualified to contest it. The South-south has produced a president but only one term and we would be looking for a second term, so we are also qualified to contest.
We, the South-south, have no problem with the Southeast going and we believe that if the Southeast is being marginalised or oppressed, because of the issue of IPOB, then, we can say give it to us. The Southwest shouldn’t have any claim to the presidency come 2023. It is the Southeast and the South-south; any of them that come up the Southeast will support, the South-south will support because they are the same.
Having said that, if we hadn’t played that role, it would have been seen that we are only one sided; it would have become difficult for the Southeast or the South-south to aspire. For the interest of peace in this country, we will appeal to every part of Nigeria; let us be fair to ourselves so that everyone will be committed and involved in the peace of this country and that is why we were involved in that politics.
Secondly, we can see that there is peace in Nigeria. This agitation of ‘oh, I will go for another term’ is no longer there. Maybe if another person had ruled, the person would want a second term and will want to bring bad blood so the North. So what we have done is to ensure that there is equity, fairness in Nigeria and that everyone respects the other party, which is the only way we can work together as one party.
Are you saying all those in the Southwest that are rooting to contest for presidency shouldn’t contest?
–––Is it fair for them, who spent eight years as president, eight years as vice president; will it be fair for them to via for president? What happens to the East that hasn’t produced at all? What happens to the South-south that has produced only one term? We need to be frank with ourselves. If we want unity in this country, we should give the Igbo a chance.
We should also give the South-south a chance so we must be fair to ourselves. See, you acquire our public funds doesn’t mean that money is everything. You come to this world with nothing and willgo with nothing. I have seen presidents die and go with nothing, rich men die and the go with nothing. All we need is fairness. Let’s treat everyone equally in this country so that there would be unity and progress.