Abuja responsible for NDDC’s failure —Enikuomehin
Dr Benson Enikuomehin, a legal practitioner and politician, represented Ondo State on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) during the Labour Party-led administration of Governor Olusegun Mimiko. He speaks with David Akinadewo on the politics of the commission and the future of Nigeria as a nation.
THE Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established to give the people in the oil bearing areas of the country a voice and meet their yearnings for development and sense of belonging in the country. Has the board been living up to the expectations of the Niger Delta people over the years?
Well, the answer is on the 50/50 side. At the initial stage when the commission began, it came out with a blueprint and a master plan, which if they had been followed, would have met the yearnings of the people in the Niger Delta. But over time, people began to dabble more in the affairs of the commission, with projects not being executed and those executed poorly done. Yet, you couldn’t do anything to arrest the situation, owing to instructions being regularly received from Abuja not to do much about it. I think the activities and the objectives set out in Section 7 of the NDDC Act is no longer being fulfilled. So, as of now, I will say the NDDC is going down the line. This is in sharp contrast to the hope it brought at the beginning.
Are you saying that activities and progress of the commission are being hampered by interference from Abuja?
Exactly! Serious interference my brother! Let me tell you, nothing can happen in Port Harcourt, if it’s not directed by the powers that be, powers that ought to be or powers that are willing to be in Abuja. Every chief executive officer goes to Abuja to get approval for everybody coming from all parts of the country to execute projects woefully or unsuccessfully. And when you intend to raise the alarm, people call in from Abuja that you should ‘leave the matter’ and that ends it.
So, NDDC is just there like a swollen pig that cannot do anything.
As a former member of the NDDC board, can you say Ondo State has been fairly treated in the constitution of the commission?
This is one area that is quite astonishing and it is very sad. We are seen in that commission as a parasite. They feel uncomfortable and are asking how a Yoruba state would be among the oil producing areas. And I’m sure the feeling is not borne out of sincerity. They should have gone back to God to ask, ‘why did you put oil in Ondo State?’ It is not our fault. Of the nine states that make up the NDDC, Ondo State is number five. Akwa Ibom is leading. I don’t know which state follows between Delta and Rivers. Then, Bayelsa; after that, we have Ondo, before we begin to talk of Edo. I don’t know who leads between Imo and Abia. But we are senior to Edo; we are senior to Abia; we are senior to Imo. In fact, Cross River produces nothing now. Where fairness, equity and justice are absent, what you will have is anarchy and disorderliness; and I think this government should think in that direction. They should be thinking about the legacy they are going to leave behind. Is it a legacy of destruction? Section 12 (1) of the NDDC Act provides that the managing director and the two executive directors shall be appointed from the oil producing areas starting with the member state that has the highest production, but rotating it amongst the states.
The people from the core Niger Delta coined for themselves what they call the big four. The NDDC Act has 31 sections, and there is nowhere the words ‘big four’ are mentioned.
Why is it so?
At the constitution of the first board, Delta was said to be the one that has the highest production. So, Godwin Omene was appointed MD. When he didn’t complete his tenure, Senator Emmanuel Agwarodo from Delta completed it.
After Delta left, Mr Timi Alaibe became MD. He is from Bayelsa; he completed his own tenure. The third governing board had Rivers State MD in person of Chibuzor Ogwuoha. That was the board on which I served. When our tenure was dissolved, Dr Christian Oboh, from Rivers, took over and completed it for Rivers.
During the fourth board, Mr Dan Abia, from Akwa Ibom State, became the MD. When his board was dissolved, Mr Nsima Ekere became MD.
So, the four states that are ahead of Ondo State have had their share, and now, you somersaulted from rotation, whereas, the Act says ‘there shall be for the commission a managing director and two executive directors who shall be indigenes of oil producing areas, starting with the member state of the commission with the higher production quantum of oil and shall rotate among member state in order of production.’
So, when Delta was said to be the highest in production, Delta produced the MD. Ditto Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom. Why taking it back to a state that had occupied the position again? It has to rotate for goodness sake. It is like running a relay race; you don’t take the baton and run all through. You will be disqualified. How did they come about choosing Bernard Okumaga from Delta to become MD again? It’s an anomaly. It is the turn of Ondo State and this is one of the things we are talking about. There must be equity; there must be fairness and there must be justice.
You know what they craftily did? Okay, let’s take a look at Section 4 of the Act, it says, ‘the office of the chairman of the commission shall rotate among member states of the commission in the following alphabetical order: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. This one is alphabetical. The other one is quantum of production. The first chairman came from Abia; his tenure was completed by Akwa Ibom. Bayelsa came, followed by Cross River. Then, after Cross River, it was the turn of Delta, but this government jumped ‘D’ and went to Edo. Imagine the anomaly again? They decided to jettison the rule, because they wanted to put somebody from Delta as MD. They didn’t have to do that; they should have chosen the person from Delta as MD and still follow the alphabetical order and chose the chairman from Delta also. Let us know you want to do it brazenly.
So, let Delta be chairman and MD at the same time. Why do we need to be lawless? All because of somebody’s ulterior motive! They just need to think about what happens tomorrow in the interest of this nation.
What step are you planning to take in addressing the situation?
I don’t need to reveal too much, but I do know that we will address this issue. I’m a lawyer and the only avenue I know is to approach the law court. We will do that in due course. Some people have already approached the law court, because the same anomaly also came up in Ondo State on the choice of the representative from the state.
As I said earlier, the oil we have today in Ondo State is solely and exclusively from Ugbo land in Ilaje Local Government Area. There are two state constituencies in Ilaje. Constituency Two is mainly Ugbo land. That is where we have the oil. That is the oil producing area. You then went to Mahin to pick somebody, a development that has never happened before. Why do you need to create crisis by going to Mahin to pick somebody from Ogogoro as representative of the state on the NDDC board? So, it is unacceptable and what is to be done must be done. Justice alone will prevail; anything contrary to it won’t work.
What is your take on the security situation in Nigeria which many stakeholders have described as reaching an alarming rate?
I can’t say anything less than that. It is [has reached] in an alarming and astronomically alarming rate. That is the situation.
What do you think is the way out?
I am glad you know that I’m a legal practitioner, not a security expert. When children are born into a family, all that they care for is that their father should provide food for them, clothing, shelter and so on. How the man does it, hardly will the children ask, because he brought them to the world. We voted for General Muhammadu Buhari, now President Buhari, looking at his background as a General in the Nigerian Army. We felt he might be able to address the security issue. Questions should be asked from him; he should tell us how far. If I ask now, they may say it is because I’m in the opposition. These miscreants that are killing people; is it only opposition they kill? When you train or habour a python in your compound, the python may not know the difference between your children and other persons’ children. When it strikes, it strikes. It’s high time the president sat down with his security chiefs in a serious discussion, and let’s stop all these blame game.
We voted you in because the people before you couldn’t do it. Then, do it now. That’s all we are interested in. And if you fail to do it, history will be there to judge you.
Do you foresee Nigeria experiencing peace again soon?
I am not a pessimistic person. I believe things should work, but if things are not working, then all hands must be on deck to make them work. But I say this, it is better to leave a marriage than to die in that marriage. If a marriage is going to take your life because you promised for better, for worse, it is better you quit when you can still be useful to your people. If we continue with this deception, with these lies, then I am afraid… Whoever thought the tribe of Israel could be divided? King Rehoboam had thought he was the all in all when the wise men, the elderly people who served his father advised him, but he turned it down saying those were pieces of advice from old cargoes. He didn’t listen to them. Here, the tale is: the North is going to rule for the next 400 years, the South should forget 2023. The people in the South are our slaves, who are the Ibos, what do they have to say? We conquered them before, we can conquer them again! If we just reel on in this deception, we may find out that things are no longer at ease, the centre can no longer hold. It is just mere anarchy that will let loose upon the face of the earth. What is required now is fairness, justice and equity; and not what you think you should do. No man is the ultimate source of violence and no man is the ultimate source of wisdom. We need each order to survive. And in surviving, you must be fair to me, I must be fair to you or else, things will fall apart.
You played a leading role during the last election in Ondo State which saw the incumbent governor winning. Now, you are in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). How prepared or positioned is the party for the 2020 election?
Well, the myth surrounding the power of incumbency has been broken a number of times in this country. Recently, the people of Oyo State removed the supposed trend of incumbency from the man that was there, though his term was winding up, but they stopped him from installing a successor from his political party. They did that. From the presidential angle in 2015, that myth was also broken.
Therefore, the choice of who leads the people resides in the people. Yes, a few manipulations exist, but where the people insist on what they want as it is the custom and tradition in Ondo State, their will, will prevail. In 2015 you will recall that presidential election was won by the opposition in this state, contrary to the fact that the incumbent Governor then, Dr Olusegun Mimiko was the South-West coordinator for the re-election of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The people of Ondo State made up their mind that they were not going to vote Jonathan, notwithstanding the stature of incumbent one and incumbent two; and that they did.
Conversely, in 2019, again, the people came out during the National Assembly elections to say ‘come, we’ve had enough. We are going to make a change.’ Notwithstanding that the president and the incumbent governor are in the same party with their power of incumbency, the people said we are voting the other way round and they did.
So, all we need to tell our people is simple; look at the atmosphere, look at the promises they made, look at their life-style, look at your own lifestyle, look at the resources in the state, look at how well they have been managing them and make your assessment. When the people are well sensitised and educated, they will determine where to go. The choice is that of the people. As for PDP, we are poised to telling the people how it was in the days of yore, how it is now and how it should look like tomorrow.
About 17 aspirants have shown interest in contesting the gubernatorial election in Ondo State in 2020. Don’t you view this number as a threat to peaceful primaries?
Well, for anything good, it behoves on everyone to show interest. Interest is one, backing that interest up with other factors will be another thing. Aspiration is a good one, but the person who obtains the form is the serious aspirant. I’m told the form is about 28 million naira or thereabout. So whoever obtains the form would have shown to me that he or she is really serious about contesting. So it is one thing for somebody to jump up and say I want to contest it’s another thing for the person to really go ahead and do so. Let’s wait till the form are available for sale. Whoever, therefore, goes ahead and obtain it will be people whom we will be counting as aspirants. For now, it is just expression of interest. So it’s not an issue. Let the race begin, you will be surprised that when it is on, some people will just fizzle out along the line. So, in politics, if your strength cannot carry it, you pull out.
Even when it is pruned down, let’s say seven or eight, do you see the party managing the primaries without an implosion?
We have always managed it. What is required is fairness, equity and justice. We must be bold to tell ourselves some basic truth, and I cling on what the Holy Bible says, ‘you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’. One of the truths that we must know and we must tell ourselves if we are not going to fool ourselves is one: there are three senatorial districts in this state.
In the calculation of areas wherein the number one citizen had come from, our records are there. Our history has not been wiped out. One, our revered late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, a native of Owo, became governor in the then old Ondo State, but we narrow it down now to Ondo North senatorial district. He spent four years; the military truncated the remainder of the second term he would have spent in the Second Republic. When the Fourth Republic came, we had Chief Adebayo Adefarati from Akungba Akoko. He spent four years, making it a total of eight years the Northern senatorial district had. The wind of change that came in 2003 brought in Dr Olusegun Agagu from Ondo South who spent four years and additional two years at the court.
Invariably, he spent barely six years and his second tenure was cut short by the pronouncement of the court.
Thereafter, Dr Mimiko came on board and spent eight straight years. Agagu is from Ondo South. Dr Mimiko, from Ondo town in the central district, just left the office. So, by calculation, Ondo North has had eight years. Ondo South, six years and Ondo Central, eight years.
Then, Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, came again from Owo and he will spend four years, making 12 years for the North. The question to ask is this: if PDP is to make a choice, where should it pick its candidate from? That is a question that we must sincerely address. We must be bold and not hide behind one finger when these issues are to be canvassed. We must tell ourselves the blunt truth. Is it your turn yet? Can we say ‘let’s go and pick from the North?’ Will it be the turn of central? Will it be the turn of the South? When we have done that, we will also ask ourselves; ‘the people we are choosing, are they competent enough to be able to withstand whoever is coming, either as incumbent or another person that may be chosen from the other party?’
Therefore, some of us who are leaders in the party will trash out this issue at the appropriate time and speak out clean and clear. You will bring your reasons. If your reasons are cogent, compelling and convincing, we will follow them, but if your reasons are puerile, sterile and they have no water, then we will jettison them. For example, in 2011, I was a member of the Southern Forum when we were canvassing for the South-South to produce the president of Nigeria. I was the director of organisation, mobilization, strategy and legal services of the forum. And our argument was simple, the North had produced, the West had produced, the North-East, the North-West, and all that had produced, the South-South and the South-East have not had it, in particular the South-South and that was what convinced Nigerians and at that time Goodluck Ebele Jonathan from ‘the least populated state’ in Nigeria became the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Once equity, fairness and justice are available in any sector, the truth will be made known; and that we shall do in Ondo State.
This position of yours is in favour of your clan. Isn’t it because you are from the Southern part of the state that you are canvassing that the candidate should emerge from there?
I have not told you I am favouring the South now. What I said is that arguments will be brought forward. And if I’m from the South and something favours me, why would I not say it? When I canvassed for Akeredolu to contest and he eventually became the governor, was I not from the South? Was there no person from the South that contested? I know at least Chief Olusola Oke contested from the South and then, I felt it was the turn of the North to produce governor. Did I metamorphose from South to North then?
So, that’s not the issue. The issue is that if it is good, it is good. If it is your turn, it’s your turn. If it is not your turn, it is not your turn. These are facts on the table and facts are sacred. It is for us to examine, so where I come from is immaterial, it is the truth on ground that is important and constant.
What can we say has changed from two and a half years ago and now in respect of your position on this matter? Then, you supported a man from the North and at that time, the North had spent more years than the South. Why?
Now, the only thing that is constant in life is change. To remain obstinate when a boat is sinking and you don’t know how well to swim, you may as well go with the boat. I resigned from the government and left. So, if I resigned, it tells you that I am not satisfied with what is being done. We call a man a priest and all he does is that he sleeps with the members of the church. Do you still have confidence in that man to become your pastor? And your wife fell victim; your children fell victim; immediately, you would quit.