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*Task Before Niger Delta Stakeholders
By Ifeatu Agbu
The Amnesty Programme, introduced by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in more ways than one thawed the ice of tension in the oil-rich region of Nigeria. However, it remains a prelude to a comprehensive resolution of the Niger Delta problem, which is lack of development. So, the bottom-line is getting all stakeholders to join in the efforts to rapidly and significantly transform the oil-bearing communities.
The way forward, therefore, is to sustain the gains of the amnesty programme by embarking on tangible development projects that would positively change the lives of the people. That would also enlist them as vanguards for the protection of oil installations and vulnerable pipelines crisscrossing the Niger Delta. Even now, the oil industry is being threatened by the activities of criminals who seem to have taken over from where the militants left off.
According to Engineer Austen Oniwon, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), thieves are stealing about 180,000 barrels worth of crude oil every day from pipelines and through illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta. So, as it is, high-profile criminals have taken over illegal oil trading activities from militants who hitherto engaged in such acts.
Counting the cost in monetary terms, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, the Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, said that the country is losing $5bn (N780bn) annually to the oil thieves. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing its composite 8 states.
Thanks to the amnesty programme, the oil thieves can now be distinguished from the militants, who were genuinely agitating for a fair deal from the Federal Government. This is why no effort should be spared in ensuring that the fruits of the official pardon are fully enjoyed by the people who bear the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation.
In order to make things happen as quickly as expected, the development agencies, such as the oil companies, the federal, state, local governments, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, must collaborate at different levels and key into the regional development Master Plan already approved by the central government. The NDDC which facilitated the production of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan is well placed to drive the process of its implementation. So far, the commission has been making efforts to build enduring partnerships and embarking on targeted engagements with strategic stakeholders.
Recently, the Presidential Monitoring Committee on NDDC held an interactive session with stakeholders in the region where it was agreed that the commission would focus more on completing all on-going projects awarded since its inception. The commission has commenced an audit of ongoing projects across the region to enable it identify the status of such projects in order to prioritize their completion based on available resources. Dr Christian Oboh, the Managing Director of the NDDC, said the commission had reviewed its budgetary system to put all existing projects on the top priority list. “A lot of projects have been awarded since the establishment of the NDDC; we intend to focus on the completion of the projects. Partnership is the new road map that the commission has adopted in project implementation across the states of the Niger Delta”, he said.
Dr. Oboh said that with the re-activation of the Advisory Committee of the NDDC, which comprises the governors of oil-bearing states and the principal officers of the commission, it would now be easier for them to interface directly on project planning and implementation. This is the driving force behind the joint effort of the NDDC, Akwa Ibom State Government and Mobil Producing Nigeria Ltd in the quest to complete the Eket-Ibeno Road. The 18 kilometre dual carriage way, with two bridges, is being constructed at the cost of N8.2 billion.
Obviously, pleased by the team effort, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio eagerly joined the chief executive officers of NDDC and Mobil to inspect the road project to work out the best way to deliver it on schedule. The governor said that the road was strategic to the operations of Mobil and as such was very important to the state. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
He was confident that the NDDC, having teamed up with the state government and Mobil, would deliver quality projects. “With the interaction we have had, there is hope for the Niger Delta. The MD of NDDC has shown focus, passion and commitment. For me, this is a turning point”, he said.
Such high profile partnership is the way forward for a region that is yearning for rapid development. The NDDC had always joined forces with key stakeholders in confronting the enormous challenge of making a difference in the lives of the people in the remote communities of the Niger Delta. One of such collaborations is in the construction of the 29 kilometre Ogbia-Nembe road, which it is undertaking in partnership with the Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC].
The N9.6 billion project illustrates the kind of challenges confronting the Niger Delta. It cuts through the swamps with ten bridges and 99 culverts. The terrain is such that four metres of clay soil has to be dug out and then sand-filled to provide a base for the road. It shouldn’t surprise anyone therefore to learn that constructing a road in this tough environment costs twice or thrice of what is required in other parts of the country. This is a project several previous administrations thought was impossible. Now work on the road is progressing appreciably.
This is just one of the many mega projects being executed by the interventionist agency with the limited funds at its disposal. Without doubt, the NDDC needs to be adequately funded to enable it deliver on its mandate. All the key stakeholders, which include the Niger Delta Ministry, three tiers of government and the oil companies, have a responsibility to collaborate with the NDDC as the agency driving the implementation of the Regional Development Master Plan.
The master plan, which has been generally applauded as a worthy compass for the development of the region, needs to be adequately funded and meticulously implemented in order to translate the lofty plans into tangible projects and programmes. The big ticket projects articulated in the plan require enormous resources to execute.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government which is supposed to lead the way in ensuring adequate funding for the commission for many years under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration failed to meet the statutory obligations to the commission. For many years, the interventionist agency was getting only 10 per cent from it instead of the statutory 15 per cent. This resulted in the much-talked about N500 billion debt that the Federal Government is owing the commission.
The NDDC Act states clearly how the commission shall be funded. Section 14 provides that “there shall be paid and credited to the fund established pursuant to subsection  of this section; [a] from the Federal Government the equivalent of 15 per cent of the total monthly allocation due to the member states of the commission from the federation account, this being the contribution of the Federal Government to the commission; [b] three per cent of the total annual budget of any oil-producing company operating onshore and offshore in the Niger Delta area, including gas processing companies; [c] 50 per cent of monies due to member states of the commission from the ecological fund...” and other sources such as grants and loans.
Apart from the Federal Government which did not comply with the provisions of the Act during the Obasanjo years, some of the oil companies have also not been paying the three per cent of their annual budget as required by law. Records show that they deduct first charges before calculating the three per cent from the balance. It is more like cutting the nose to spite the face, given that what they spend for the development of the Niger Delta is for their own good at the end of the day.
Given the enormous impact of their activities on the environment, the oil companies are expected to be at the forefront in the critical task of remediating, and indeed the comprehensive development of the oil basin that has suffered so much neglect in the past. It is, in fact, in their interest to develop the region where they operate in order to guarantee peace, which is very necessary for them to continue with their business.
Recently, the Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, blamed International Oil Companies (IOCs) for the underdevelopment of Nigeria's economy. She said that some decisions taken by the oil firms had resulted in a loss of over $300 billion to government coffers. The minister alleged various acts by foreign oil firms that showed intent to “generate their own revenue without paying attention to actions that add value to the over all Nigerian economy.”
The oil companies should embrace global best practices in the execution of their business in the Niger Delta. Ultimately, this will enhance their profile and expedite the development process of our country.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
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