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*Niger Delta: NDDC’s Wake-Up Call To Local Councils
( Article submitted April 13, 2011 )
By Ifeatu Agbu
Listening to the chairmen of local governments in the Niger Delta as they discuss the developmental challenges in their councils, one gets worried but in a way begins to understand why they have consistently failed to execute any meaningful projects in their domain. They are all lamenting what they called the huge burden of paying salaries to their staff, especially primary school teachers. It was disturbing, sitting in the midst of local government chairmen, who are supposedly controlling huge budgetary allocations, but were bellyaching over the strangle-hold of re-current expenditure on the resources available to the local governments.
It was an absurd situation as the issue of bloated salary bills was not the business of the day. The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, had invited the chairmen as key stakeholders in the development of Nigeria’s oil-rich region to work out a partnership arrangement that would spread development to all corners of the region. The commission had set aside N1.35 billion to kick start its proposed collaboration with the local government councils across the Niger Delta region on joint funding and management of projects.
Under the scheme, N150 million would be spent on five identified projects per state at 30 million per local government council. However, while the NDDC would provide the N30 million counterpart funding, the local governments were expected to contribute N15 million to bring the total to N45 million. Raising the N15 million became an issue for many of the local government chairmen. Dr. Omene Odafe, the chairman of Ethiope West Local Government Area in Delta State, lamented “that teachers’ salary alone takes over 50 per cent of the Federal Government allocation to the council and the salaries are deducted at source, such that at the end of the day, my council has virtually nothing left to pay for capital projects”. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
Going by his experience, he wondered whether many local governments would be able to benefit from the NDDC scheme. Another council chairman, Prince Timothy Nsirim, of Obio-Akpor Local Government in Port Harcourt metropolis lent his weight to the assertions of his Delta State counterpart. He said that the saving grace for local governments in Rivers State was that the government of Governor Rotimi Amaechi has taken the burden of teachers’ salary off their shoulders. Before then, he said, the council could not execute projects as small as boreholes. He therefore advised other state governments in the Niger Delta to assist their local governments in paying teachers’ salaries so that they would have money to spare for projects.
The position of the local government chairmen would certainly not sit well with most people but that is the reality. Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State confirmed this at an International Conference of the World Mayors Summit held in Osogbo recently. He said that some governors deliberately impoverish local governments through diversion of council funds for other purposes. “Councils have become cash cows as council funds are always within reach. State governments commit council funds for all kinds of projects and at the end of the day, there is little or nothing left for them to embark on anything tangible in their domain”, he said As one would expect, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, the Managing Director of NDDC, was taken aback by what the chairmen put on the table.
He said that it was worrisome that the local governments spend all their money to pay salaries and leave development projects unattended to. “This is very regrettable”. Perhaps, the collaboration the commission was offering would help them to at least contribute something for the wellbeing of their people. Mr. Ugwoha informed the chairmen that NDDC as an interventionist agency does not own projects, stressing that ownership of every development project embarked upon by the commission automatically reverts to the people. Thus, he stressed the need for the involvement of benefiting communities all through the life span of the projects. He said the commission was prepared to assist the local governments to deliver on their mandates. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing its 36 states and capital (Abuja or FCT)
He underlined the fact that NDDC gets only 7 per cent of the funds coming to the region. This point, which has been echoed by other leaders of the Niger Delta in the past, is important to bear in mind. The plain truth is that a sizeable chunk of the funds made available for the development of the region come through the states and local governments. For instance records show that between May 1999 and December 2006, the nine states making up the Niger Delta region received a total of N2.16 trillion, while local governments got a total of N671 billion. Over the same period, the NDDC received only N241.5 billion, representing eight percent of the total amount of N3.07 trillion from the federation Account. With this huge disparity in the distribution of funds, one would expect the two tiers of government to be in the forefront of development projects in the region.
Sadly, that is clearly not the case, as the NDDC with its meager resources is more visible on the ground than some of the states and local governments. Local governments in the Niger Delta cannot blame their poor performance in human and infrastructure development solely on the payment of primary school teachers’ salaries. In most local governments in the country, there are clear signs of poor financial management. Some LG chairmen treat the revenue accruing to their councils as their personal money. They appropriate whatever amount they like to themselves and share the remainder among the councilors. Worse still, some governors, as rightly stated by Gov Aregbosola, hold back LG funds for their personal aggrandizement.
This is most unfortunate. LGs should be held accountable for the money they receive and be compelled to embark on projects that positively impact the lives of their people. That is the only way their existence will be meaningful. What we have from the state and federal governments is more of abandoned projects. Recently, the Niger Delta Professionals for Development, a non-governmental organization, conducted a study with support from the European Union and the National Planning Commission. Its report, called the Citizen Report Card, shows that no fewer than 287 projects have been abandoned in 120 oil producing communities in six states in the Niger Delta region. The nagging question is: where have all the monthly allocations gone? Where are the roads, schools, clinics and hospitals? Where are the libraries and the science laboratories? Where are the waterworks, the bridges and the industries? Where are the social services these governments are supposed to provide their people? These are some of the questions begging for answers. Although some have argued that the current revenue allocation formula is unfair as it is not proportionate to the contribution of the region to the national purse, still the region continues to receive hefty amounts when compared to other regions. The truth is that some governments in the Niger Delta have not judiciously spent what they have been receiving since 1999.
Looking at the projects on ground, it would appear that a huge chunk of the monthly receipts have ended up in private pockets or used to finance poorly executed projects deliberately designed to short change the citizenry. While it may be easy to blame the failure on corruption, there are other critical elements that should also be looked at. For instance, there is evidence that planning and coordination of projects are inadequate. This is where partnership and collaboration come to play. Despite the myriad of financial problems confronting the local governments in the Niger delta, the chairmen should take the offer of partnership by the NDDC seriously, so that they can leave behind projects that people can see and cherish. There is no doubt that developmental agencies in the region need to properly coordinate their activities. It is, therefore, paramount that the various tiers of government, private companies and donor agencies synergize to stop unnecessary waste and duplication of projects in the region.
This was the problem that the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan was designed to solve. The core objective of the plan is to promote partnership and harmonize the activities of all development agencies in the oil-rich region. Keying into the plan is still the best option for the region’s rapid socio-economic transformation.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
*Tags: Nigerians, Deserve, Quality, Education, Abuja, Lagos, Africa, Masterweb
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