The Royal Father of Idjerhe kingdom in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State, HRM King Obukowho Monday Whiskey, has rejected the call by the South South Governors Forum, who in their meetings in Port Harcourt recently, proposed to the Federal Government to amend the Petroleum Industry Act, to grant them power to appoint trustees for the Host Communities Trust Fund Commission.
It would be recalled that, while reeling out the content of their communique at the Port Harcourt meeting recently, the national chairman of the forum and Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa requested, inter alia, that the federal government should amend the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, which was signed into law recently, to empower the Niger Delta governors to appoint the trustees for the Host Communities Trust Commission that will be set up to manage the 3% equity fund provided for by the Act.
However, while fielding questions from newsmen during an interview in his palace at Jesse, on Sunday October 10, the royal father of the Idjerhe kingdom, HRM King Whiskey, kicked against the position of the Niger Delta governors who called on the President to amend the PIA and include in it the power for them (governors) to appoint the trustees for the Host Communities Trust Fund Commission.
The royal father stated that the experience which the Niger Delta people have been going through in hands of the governors whom the former President of the Country, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, gave the power to manage the 13% Derivation Fund for the Host Communities, has not been a palatable one.
According to him, there is nothing on ground to show for the long years in which the governors have been collecting and managing the 13% Derivation Fund, adding that the Host Communities producing oil and gas in the Niger Delta have rejected the governors’ call to corner and mismanage the 3% equity fund provided by the PIA.
He however submitted that the Host Communities that will be affected by the provisions of the Act have experienced and knowledgeable sons and daughters whose capability to manage the Trust Fund Commission is not in doubt, adding that the people do not require the governors to lord it over the Communities in the same way they are currently doing to the 13% Derivation Fund.
HRM Whiskey however expressed agreement with the South South governors in their call for President Muhammadu Buhari to amend the Act and increase the Host Communities equity fund from the current 3% provided for in the Act to, at least, 5%, adding that this will provide sufficient funds for the rapid development of the region.
“My take on that is that their advocacy for increment of Host Communities Trust Fund in the PIA from 3% to 5% is a welcome development. It has been the position of the Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCOM, who are now very enlightened, who are now very exposed, who are now very concerned about the developmental indices in their respective communities, and who are also very concerned that crude oil is a vanishable commodity, which when exhausted cannot be replaced and therefore, nobody will relate with you any more as an oil producing community.
“We are living witnesses to what is happening in Oloibiri, the first commercially viable oil well in Nigeria. The oil dried up and Shell is no longer doing anything there. So, we believed that an increment of the Host Community Equity Fund from 3% to 5% will bring enough money to address the age-long neglect of oil producing communities; the huge devastation that has been visited on the host communities and the huge environmental challenges that have been visited on the host communities.
“But, going further to say that they be given power to administer or to appoint trustees for the Commission, that will be asking for too much. We now have people from the oil producing Communities who are administrators of notable government institutions. So, they do not lack the manpower nor the knowledge to run such a Commission.
“The people from oil producing communities who have fought tooth and nail to ensure the passage of PIA, who spent their money and took the risk to do that, should be allowed for once, to enjoy the fruit of their labour.
“The oil producing communities are really suffering. There are communities in the Niger Delta today where children still start primary school at the age of twelve because that is when they can paddle canoes.
“So, our governors and other administrative institutions of the South South should show more concern about such things. But if the PIA will bring enough money to connect Ijaw communities, Itsekiri communities, Urhobo communities and so on, all of which are on water, to modern communities with good roads, I think the governors should be applauding the federal government for that bold step of the PIA.
“The advocacy for the 3% to be increased, we welcome it. But for them to agitate to come and manage it, we say no. And we are saying NO emphatically”, the royal father said.
Stressing futher, the Idjerhe monarch referred to the happenings in the management of similar institutions in the Niger Delta, adding that there is nothing on ground to justify the management of the 13% derivation fund for the communities and the NDDC.
He said: “We are all living witnesses to the happenings in this region as far as funding of institutions are concerned. Our governors are here and the NDDC is dying in their presence; our governors are here and oil producing communities who are producing so much, have nothing to show for the 13% derivation fund; our governors are here and the people who have the resources of this country, have no access to modern medical facilities; our governors are here and our people have no access to good education.
“It is just of recent that the federal government established the Federal Marine University in Okerenkoko. That is the only higher institution of learning in the Ijaw land from Arogbo to Bakassi, in Cross River State, a distance of over 300 kilometres.
“So, I don’t think any person who knows about what has been happening to our resources, will want to clap and agree that the 3% Communities Trust fund will go the way of the 13% Derivation Fund again. We want to do thing ourselves, we have enough manpower and skill to manage it ourselves. So, I think we have enough reason to tell the federal government not to accede to the proposal of the South South governors as far as the appointment of trustees for the Commission is concerned.”
On his reaction to the call by the South South governors on the federal government to inaugurate the substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, after the submission of the forensic audit to the President, HRM Whiskey noted that the maladministration and inadequacies evidenced in the Commission has been of great concern to the Host Community of Nigeria, oil and gas, HOSCON, a body in which he served as the National Director of Media and Publicity before ascending to the throne of Idjerhe kingdom.
According to him, he knew that the NDDC was doomed from the day the Commission was transferred from the Presidency to the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs under Godswill Akpabio. He accused the minister of being a major contributor to the present sorry state of the NDDC.
While expressing support with the South South governors’ call for Buhari to inaugurate the board of the Commission without further delay, the royal father suggested that, to demonstrate their concern on the delayed inauguration, the governor should pay a visit to the President to impress it on him the urgency of the need for a substantive board for the Commission. He recalled that it was the visit of the South South governors to Aso Villa two years ago where they complained about the seeming decay of the Commission, that prompted the President to order a forensic audit of the interventionist agency.
The monarch noted that now that the Forensic Audit of the Commission as ordered by the President nearly two years ago has been completed and submitted to him, there seems to be no more excuses why the board that was already screened and confirmed by the Senate should not be inaugurated.
“First and foremost, the group where I was the National Director of Media and Publicity before my ascension to the throne, the Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCON, has been very vocal about the NDDC and its inadequacies and maladministration. From the day NDDC was removed from the Presidency and handed over to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, I knew that nothing good will come out of that venture.
“And when the governors said that the federal government should inaugurate the board that has already been screened and confirmed, they were saying the right thing because the NDDC Act 2000 which set up the Commission does not provide for sole-administrator or interim management committee.
“The President is the father of the nation and the governors are the mini-fathers at the state level and this is an agency that represent the interest of their areas. I also think that the governors should go further – they should take a trip to visit the President and ensure that the right thing is done because refusing to inaugurate the board of NDDC for well over two years, you are not just denying this area of development, you are also denying the area of participation in the benefit of democratic dividends.
“An NDDC fully inaugurated board has nine state representatives, an Executive Director of Projects, Executive Director of Finance and Administration, chairman of board and of course, the Managing Director. If each of these officers has 1,000 followers that will over 13.000 persons engaged in the Commission apart from the multiplier effect of these engagements.
“For one individual to sit down and begin to lord it for two years is unacceptable. The other time a Professor fainted away N78 billion and the money went like that. After fainting, you should have brought the man back to cough out the money. The budget of the Commission for 2021, I understand is N468 billion. At the end of the day, somebody will come and faint and the money will go again.
“So, I think the governors should go a step further to visit Mr. President and impress it on him that he is not doing our region any good and that it is making the governance of their respective states difficult for them.
“It should be noted that a sister agency, the North East Development Commission is still resident in the Presidency till today. Why did you remove the NDDC from the Presidency and hand it over to one of the destroyers of the region?”, he noted.
As to whether the President has any justification for further delay of the inauguration of the NDDC board since the report of the forensic audit has been submitted to him, Whiskey said that “Mr. President or the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari no longer the justification to delay the inauguration of the already-screened and confirmed board of the NDDC if we are to operate within the confines of the law.
“So, I want to urge the President to, as a matter of urgency, listen to the governors of the South South region and also listen to the traditional rulers who are shouting now and inaugurate the already screened and confirmed board of the Commission. This is because, if the effects of the non-inauguration come through crisis, some of us will not be ready to go to Abuja. We are here telling the government about what we are seeing, we are the people on ground. The President is far away in Abuja but as natural rulers, we represent the government in our respective kingdoms.
“My governor is in Asaba, a two hour journey from here, the President is in Abuja, an eleven hours journey from where I’m. But I’m physically here on ground. I should be able to give the President an unbiased report.
“Mr. President, please inaugurate the board of the NDDC as screened and confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No more stories, the report of the forensic audit has been submitted. Inaugurating them will kick-start action and development will come up. Money being diverted now will stop. This money you release to them and they dollarlize them and take them away, I know that a day is coming when they will give account of the money and the wealth of the people of the South South of Nigeria.
Commenting on the increasing threat by militants group from the Niger Delta to visit mayhem on the region if the government continue to delay the inauguration of the board of the NDDC, the royal father noted that he has been hearing about such threats, but however called on “the federal government to stop encouraging lawlessness or resort to self-help. If I have my way, I will tell the federal government to do everything within its power to avoid anything that will trigger off crisis in the Niger Delta region. This is because, crisis in the Niger Delta region today, will be one trouble too many for the federal government.”
Responding to arguments as to which part of the country should produce the next President, the natural ruler stated that although he is not a politician by virtue of his position, but suffice to say that as a country, whether North or South, everybody needs everybody to stay together as an indivisible country.
He further emphasized that there is nobody in the North who being so popular that does not need a Southerner for him to become President neither is there a Southern politician who is so popular that does not need a Northerner to become a President.
According to him, everybody needs each other, adding that what is required is the assurance of equity, justice and fairness for a united Nigeria.
He also advocates a constitutional duty for royal fathers in the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution, adding that in the past, natural rulers were constitutionally empowered to use the instrumentation of the leadership of their various kingdoms to promote peace and unity.
“As a natural ruler, I would not want to talk about politics but let me tell you emphatically, that Nigerians are always in the habit of saying what they cannot achieve. There is nobody in Northern Nigeria that is so popular that will not need a Southerner to become President. Also, there is nobody in the Southern Nigeria that is so popular that will not need the a Northerner to become President. I think we need ourselves. I think that politicians should talk with some level of reasonable reasoning because you are just heating up the polity.
“So, I think I want to advice that we need each other. We need a united indivisible Nigeria as a country that is based on equity, justice and fairness. And once that is done, it doesn’t really matter where the President comes from, provided there is equity, justice and fairness. This issue of ethnic profiling will not take us anywhere.
“As natural rulers, we preach unity and peace because it is only where there is peace there can be meaningful development. Taking Nigeria into context, in the time of old the natural ruler had constitutional duty. When there are serious issues in the country, they start with the kingdom, from kingdoms to Local Government, from Local Government to State and from State to federal. So, if the kingdom is quiet and peaceful, it means the local government is quiet and peaceful and if all the local government areas are quiet and peaceful, it means the State is quiet and peaceful. Likewise, if all the states are quiet and peaceful, it means the federation is quiet and peaceful.
“Unfortunately, they took away the royal fathers’ constitutional roles and left them with nothing. But when there is trouble they still come to us to ask what do we do. So, if there is going to be constitutional amendment, I think that there should be a constitutional role provided for the royal fathers.”