Ekiyor: If Osinbajo erodes our confidence, there will be backlash
• We Are On Road To Peace, Not Yet There
Dr Chris Ekiyor is an activist and former president of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC). In this interview with ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU, he urged the Federal Government to follow up its promises to Niger Delta people with actions that will address their plights.
What is your assessment of the acting President’s engagement with stakeholders in the Niger Delta?
Everything that is happening in the Niger Delta is happening because the people of Niger Delta on their own resolved to find solution to their problems. And the request from the Niger Delta was that the presidency should come and see for itself, and take appropriate action that is just and fair to our people. Luckily, the Acting President Osinbajo has stepped up the confidence through his visit. This is what was expected after winning the election, they should visit Port Harcourt or Warri and meet Niger Delta people and assure us that, yes our son was there, but they will not abandon the Niger Delta. That was what late President Yar’Adua did that made the people to support him. What we have in terms of cessation of hostility is that the people are hopeful that the government will look into their plight. If Osinbajo erodes that confidence, crisis will return.
I mentioned that before now, that we are on the road to peace. We have not achieved peace yet and the road to peace must be peaceful. We have provided that platform now, where they can do all the political touring, but in doing that, they should take note of these facts; that I have commended him for having the sagacity to say that the Maritime University should continue, the consideration of modular refineries and so on. Those are landmark pronouncements. I expect him to do one more, by ensuring compliance with his directive to all multinationals oil companies to relocate their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta and not Lagos.
People have continued to use Lagos as an example for us to emulate if we want to improve our internally generated revenue. If the taxes multinational companies are paying to Lagos are paid to any of the Niger Delta states, like Bayelsa or even Delta, they will compete very strongly with Lagos, because we have the same seaport. The seaport in Bayelsa is better than anyone elsewhere in Nigeria. If Bonga is paying its tax to the Niger Delta states instead of Lagos, all these will change. What Lagos has done is clearly to position itself to reap the benefit of Niger Delta and then we keep saying Lagos is working. Yes, it is working because all the multinationals pay corporate taxes to Lagos. Then, the workers who earn big salaries are based in Lagos, so they are able to buy properties in Lagos. The multinationals’ staff, some of them earn as much as two to four million naira per month, and with that they can buy property through cooperatives. They can even get bank facilities to buy properties in Lagos. The workers that are left here in Niger Delta are field workers that are paid N80, 000 per month. The capital flight of even airlifting people from Lagos to the fields in Niger Delta is enough to build roads.
I commend the presidential initiative and I think that Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) is also trying to do something that is wonderful, they are trying to create road to Escravos and open up that area, that will be a major landmark project for the NDDC and first of its kind. So, this for me is key, but what the Acting President does with the visit is what would determine whether the peace would last or not. It is one thing to visit and say I will do this or that, it is one thing to start, it is another thing to ensure that it is finished. For instance, when Yar’Adua gave us the Niger Delta Ministry, we thought that it would be the Ministry of Infrastructure, to massively develop the Niger Delta. Regrettably, it is still dragging itself with the East-West Road. After eight years of creation, there is nothing to write home about. Look at the East-West Road, ordinarily it is supposed to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Works under Mr Babatunde Fashola, while the Niger Delta Ministry build network of roads off the East-West Road to serve Niger Delta communities. But now, what they did was to carve out Niger Delta region, carve out all Niger Delta roads constructions and give it to the Niger Delta ministry. So, in all the 22 roads that the Federal Government is awarding now, none is in the Niger Delta.
Fashola has got over N130b for the construction of roads to the exclusion of the Niger Delta. These are the things creating confusion, yet the Niger Delta Ministry and the minister are just there not able to fund their projects, because there is no money in the ministry. The Ministry of Niger Delta shouldn’t get anything less than N200b for road infrastructure or N250b annually. The NDDC shouldn’t get anything less than the same amount, so that they can complement each other. With this, you have almost half a trillion naira. If that kind of money is spent in the Niger Delta and we are not getting the results, even the Niger Delta people will rise up against their leaders. Besides, people who appoint those to spend this money are the same people in Abuja, who appoint their cronies and their friends to be on the board of the NDDC, appoint their friends to be ministers. It is only now that NDDC is reporting to Ministry of the Niger Delta. This Ministry hitherto was reporting to the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) and every contractor who comes from Abuja, from SGF is considered. The same thing is playing out now in the Presidential Amnesty Office, where all sorts of people who are not from the Niger Delta have taken over the office and they are now the ones who call the shots.
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