Cleric E. Alaowei is the National President of the Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (CHURAC) based in the Niger Delta. He speaks in this interview by EBENEZER ADUROKIYA on the NDDC debacle and how it affects the ordinary rural dwellers.
What aspect of the life of the people irritates you most in the creeks and why?
Life in the creeks of the Niger Delta is a hell. As someone who didn’t just come from those pauperised and economically dejected communities but also born and raised in that infernal riverine terrain, I can say no aspect of life in those squalid communities is good to commend for human habitation.
The creeks in the Niger Delta is a Stygian terrain due to lack of government presence. The communities therein are seasonally submerged by flood every year. Ninety per cent of them has no social amenities to boast governments’ presence; with road network virtually absent almost in all the riverine communities.
The coastal dwellers are the worst. They’re like people living in another hellish planet with no hope of government intervention to cushion the suffering therein. In the developed world, these are the territories that attract development more than the upland terrains.
Our suffering in the creeks is not chiefly caused by the Federal Government of Nigeria but by our own people who are in public places of trust to manage the resources meant to develop this economically bastardized region.
How about the life of the ordinary citizens in the oil-producing communities?
When I see the oil bearing communities living in the pangs of underdevelopment in the midst of abundant wealth, I cry. You can’t blame the creek dwellers from revolting against the government of Nigeria over the years of neglect and marginalisation. Life expectancy in the oil producing communities is 50 because there are no social amenities to give a secured life to those people living in the creeks, while they inhale the dangerous hydrocarbon gas being flared on a daily basis by the oil companies. They only live with the mercy of God.
In the entire coastal region of Nigeria from Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers down to Akwa-Ibom state, there is no single modern health facility in those communities in spite of the crude oil deposits coming from those areas. The same thing applies to electricity and other social amenities.
Most of these communities like Agge, Ogulagha, Ogidigben, Aiyetoro, Ezetu, Bilabiri, Furupagha, Akassa, Brass, Bonny, etc are facing ocean surge, while all the communities in the fresh water terrains, especially in Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Rivers States are seasonally submerged by flood every year. However, monies allocated to the interventionist agencies to develop the region are being frittered away by political opportunists from the Niger Delta.
What’s your view about the leaders’ attitude in relation to the ongoing revelations in the NDDC?
NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) are now a conduit pipe to looters in public office. They don’t care what happens to the people. Some of these thieves even in those beleaguered communities. When they come and enjoy air-conditioning in those interventionist agencies, they forget their roots.
What you see them do is to amass stupendous wealth at the detriment of the region they come from. They start globetrotting, investing in foreign countries with the stolen wealth, while their communities languish in darkness, ocean surge, seasonal flood, lack of health facilities, no treated, pipe borne water, etc .
To me, the best way to handle them is to make corruption a capital offence in Nigeria with no option for plea bargain. I think that will deter them from looting public funds.
How should the ordinary people take their destinies in their hands?
Honestly, I don’t know what to say. The people had deveral times, taken their destinies in their arms by destroying crude oil facilities just to register their grievances. They drew global attention to their debilitating plight. Successive governments of the federation have also listened to their complaints for development.
In consequence of the above, Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), 13% Derivation, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) and Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) were established at various times to address our plights. However, we are still where we were since independent despite trillions of naira spent on those institutions.
Of course, we cannot say the Federal Government has not given attention to the Niger Delta people. Our leaders in public places of trust are the enemies of the region.
What other suggestions can you proffer to make NDDC achieve its mandate for the region and its people?
I think that the FG should adopt the measure it used to develop Abuja on Niger Delta region. We have the Niger Delta Development Master plan. Give it to foreign companies like Julius Berger. The management of NDDC should do what Abuja Development Authority did by awarding all the contracts to one company. FG can even enter into, maybe 20 years concessionary agreement with it to develop the region.
No individual contractors should be given contract no matter your connection. Anybody looking for subcontract should go to the company. The commission’s scope of responsibilities should also be clearly defined in order to address the issues of overlapping. Some of the projects it has carried out were mere duplications of state and local governments’ responsibilities.
NDDC should not be handling primary/secondary schools buildings, street light of any nature, clearing of water weeds and other intervention works. These are the breeding grounds for corruption to fester in the commission. Only major capital projects should be given out such as: roads, hospitals, land reclamation amongst others. If these projects are given to Julius Berger, I am sure by 10 years time, Niger Delta will be a Dubai in Africa.
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