The clamour for direct control of the 13% derivation fund by the oil-producing areas seems to be increasing in tempo as notable Niger Delta elder statesmen are expressing their support for the agitation, calling on the federal government to urgently approve it and stop the governors from converting what is meant to develop the communities, as pocket money.
This is coming on the heel of the call by Niger Delta ex-agitators on the federal government to stop further payment of the 13% derivation fund to the Niger Delta governors, but rather to send it directly to the oil-producing communities for their development.
Notable elder statesmen from the Niger Delta including Chief Barr. Isaac Jemide, Chief W.O. Okrika, Chief (Lt. Col.) Satchie Etoromi, Chief J.G.B. Ari among others have spoken in support of the agitation, saying that it was time to stop the state governors from collecting the derivation fund and converting it to their pockets money.
The elder statesmen, who spoke to our correspondent at separate interviews, were of the view that the struggle for the inclusion of the 13% derivation fund in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, was carried out by the communities and their representatives, but not the governors.
They also recalled that there was a precedent on the host communities’ demand, adding that when the derivation fund was just 1.5%, the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, was set up by the then military government to manage the fund and they did very well.
Speaking to our correspondents, Chief Barr. Isaac Jemide noted that the agitation for the oil-producing area’s control of the 13% fund has been on even before the advent of the present political dispensation.
According to him, the then military administration which set up OMPADEC to manage the fund also set up a board to manage the fund. The octogenarian recalled that he was a member of that Committee, adding that he represented the South-South in the Board.
Pa. Jemide further recalled that the Board of OMPADEC in which he was a member, recruited staff for the Commission, adding that they interviewed former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was employed as a staff of the Commission.
He said: “I was a member of OMPADEC and I represented the South-South. We started it and we employed our first staff. We advertised for people to be employed as the first set of staff. And the former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was among the first staff of the Commission whom we interviewed and employed.
“Money was given to us to manage and we managed it well. We went round and identified projects that were necessary that were needed by the communities. Some of the projects we did are still there today. We constructed water projects, roads, and bridges. And once in a while, we reported to the President.”
On whether the oil-producing communities have the capacity to manage the 13% derivation fund if the federal government eventually approved the demand, Chief Jemide agreed that they have the capacity, provided the members of the Committees that will be set up are credible men and women who are well selected.
“Capacity exists if you select the members of the committee well. The federal government can still monitor them, it can still audit them. So, the capacity for the communities to manage the funds exists, if you select the people properly based on qualification, based on experience, and based on capacity. The people are there in abundance in the communities.”
On how to address the myriads of challenges which are presently confronting the Nigerian nation, Pa Jemide suggested that only recourse to the 2014 national confab organized by former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan will provide a lasting credible solution. According to him, the payment of 13% derivation fund to the oil-producing communities was one of the recommendations of the 2014 national confab.
“The answer to your question is that if they go back to our report of the 2014 national confab and implement it, all these problems will not arise. This is because we did a recommendation in that report that the 13% derivation should be paid directly to the oil-producing communities”, he said.
Also speaking in a similar vein, a retired Nigerian Army, Lt. Col. Satchie Etoromi who is a multiple chieftaincy titleholder from Itsekiri and Ijaw nationalities, disclosed that the struggle for the recognition of the 13% derivation fund was fought by the communities and not the present crop of governors who are now enjoying it.
According to him, as a senior military officer based in Sokoto then, he worked underground to convince those in position to ensure that the 13% derivation found its way into the 1999 Constitution.
As a member of the Host Communities of Nigeria, oil and gas, HOSTCON, Chief Etoromi recalled that the actualization of the 13% derivation fund was made possible by the agitation of the oil-producing communities and not the state governors.
He accused the state governors of collecting the 13% derivation fund meant for the development of the oil-producing communities and converting it to their pockets money. He reminded the governors that the derivation fund is not part of the state government revenue, even as he urged the federal government to hearken to the current agitation of the people of the Niger Delta to commence giving the money directly to the communities.
“The governors collect this money and treat them as pocket money for themselves. Look at DESOPADEC in Delta State. Is there anything on the ground in any of the oil-producing communities to justify the Commission? The governor collects the money and releases whatever he feels to the Commission and the management of the Commission shares same among themselves and go their homes to enjoy what belongs to all of us”, he said.
Another elder statesman from the Niger Delta region who has expressed support for the clamour for the derivation fund to be paid directly to the oil-producing communities is a retired civil servant octogenarian and a community leader. He is Chief J.G.B Ari.
Speaking with our correspondent in his home in Effurun, Delta State recently, Chief Ari expressed support for the clamour for the payment of the 13% derivation fund to communities that are producing oil in the Niger Delta.
He decried the poor state of development of the oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta, arguing that the federal government should set up a committee made of credible leaders to manage the fund on behalf of the communities.
Chief Ari agreed that the oil-producing communities have the capacity to control and manage the 13% derivation fund if the federal government releases it to them, stating that eminent personalities such as Chief Wellington Okrika who has been in the forefront of the implementation of the 13% derivation fund and others like him have successfully done that before.
Chief W.O. Okrika, (aka Mr.13% derivation fund) had earlier condemned the continuous payment of the 13% derivation fund to the Niger Delta governors whom, he argued, were nowhere to be found when the various communities and their representatives were agitating for the fund to be actualized.
He said: “It is necessary to recall that the advocacy and agitation for the actualization of 13% derivation fund were carried out solely by the oil and gas producing communities under the leadership of Chief W.O. Okrika, Mr. 13% Derivation Fund and others at the 1995 Constitutional Conference during the regime of Gen. Sanni Abacha.
“There was no state governor or any other person that assisted the oil and gas producing communities. That is very important. Gen. Sanni Abacha regime promulgated and gazetted the principle of increase of federal allocation to oil and gas producing communities as 13% derivation fund.”
Two, it is also important to recall that during the making of the 1999 Constitution, oil and gas communities still under the leadership of Chief W.O. Okrika, CON, piled up the pressure to ensure that the 13% derivation fund which was gazzeted was enshrined as Section 162(2) of the 1999 Constitution as we see today.
“Therefore, 13% derivation fund is no mana from heaven. Oil and gas communities fought for it. During the 1999 and 1995 Constitutional Conference where were the governors? Some of them were in school at that time or somewhere else, the governors of today. Therefore, the oil and gas communities must benefit from the 13% derivation fund because they fought for it. So, that is the origin.”
In a related development, a coalition of the Niger Delta ex-agitators has called on the federal government to stop the payment of 13% derivation fund to the state governors, adding that the federal government should make the governors account for over N50 trillion 13% derivation fund they have collected since the year 2,000 when they commenced receipt of the fund.
The ex-agitators group which goes by the name Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA), coordinated by John Mark Ezonebi, called on the federal government to stand firm on the proposal to pay directly the derivation fund to oil-producing communities.
While rejecting the seven-point demands of the South-South governors, at the Port Harcourt consultative meeting with the federal government, the RNDA said that the demands and restructuring template do not represent the oil and gas producing communities’ interests.
The group said stressed that the governors should account for the over N50 trillion 13% derivation fund collected by the South-South governors in the past two decades with nothing on the ground to show for it.
The group said: “We, therefore, call on the Federal Government’s delegation headed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari not to take the seven-point demands seriously.
“The governors of the region have lost the support and sympathy of the people. The demands do not represent the general interest of the long-suffering people of the oil and gas producing communities ravaged by environmental pollution and the hazards of oil exploration and exploitation caused by the multinational oil companies in the creeks of the region.
“The suffering of the people of the oil-producing communities is due to the governors’ failure to properly utilize the 13 percent derivation funds accruing to the region.
“The oil and gas producing communities demand that the Federal Government should henceforth stop paying the 13 percent derivation funds to the governors anymore.”