Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh is the founder, Progressive Alliance Movement, PAM, and the son of Nigeria’s first Finance Minister, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh. In this interview with newsmen, he speaks on how well Nigeria’s oil wealth could be used for the benefit of oil-producing communities among other issues.
THE Itsekiri nation as an oil producing ethnic nationality is faced with the problem of underdevelopment. How best can the challenge be addressed?
The Itsekiri nation no doubt is the highest producer of oil and gas in Delta State and should be the second highest producer of oil and gas in Nigeria, but what the Itsekiri nation has benefited from its God-given resources is grossly inadequate.
The leadership of the tribe must sit up and place the interest of the tribe on the front burner, all personal interest must be relegated to the background.
Our people should not play politics with our collective interest, we should not be self-centred. And the community leaders should create an enabling environment for development to come in where there is no peace development cannot thrive.
We need fair representation in government appointments, and in the oil sector. Our people know our pains better than an outsider.
We need the presence of the federal government in Iwere land. From 1999 till date not one single federal establishment, higher institutions, or infrastructural development is on the ground. The Koko-Oghene Road, the trans-ode-Itsekiri Road, and sea-shore protection among others are all abandoned. Let the government both at the state and federal level do the needful.
On projects in Iwere land
To the best of my knowledge, it is not correct for people to say that all the projects in Itsekiri land have no direct link with what the people desire. They have a direct link with the people. All we need is for these projects to be completed. Where the contractors are not having the capacities, fresh contractors can be brought in. We need more projects, I mean mega projects for Iwere land.
Are you not worried that the Warri and Koko ports have remained underutilized despite their potentialities of being a key catalyst for economic development?
I am very worried, the Federal Government has deliberately made the Warri and Koko ports underutilized. If the government of the day is serious, these ports can generate millions of jobs for the teeming youths of the Niger Delta region. Why the government decided to abandon those ports is still a mystery to me. These are revenue yielding establishments. Please for crying out loud, Apapa and Tincan Island ports are over congested.
The Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, and the relevant ministries should stop this unwarranted ethnic politics and allow Warri and Koko ports to function for the benefit of the country. I have no business going to Lagos to clear my goods when I have a port here in my backyard. The government should be alive to its responsibility to the people of the Niger-Delta.
On forthcoming local government election in Delta
Power belongs to God. He gives power to whoever He pleases. To my mind, I hope and pray that the local government election will be free and fair.
The case of former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a clear example of how the Lord God works. He moves in mysterious ways. Chief Obasanjo came out from the jaws of death to become President. The late Dr. Nelson Mandela is another example. Power truly belongs to God and gives it to whoever he so pleases.
Are you not concerned about the controversy over the tenure of the Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC?
I am very concerned about the controversy over the tenure of the chairman of the NDDC. First, I am a major stakeholder in the region, an opinion leader, and a true son the Niger Delta. Whatever happens in this region is of concern to me.
Second, this controversy is unwarranted. We are a people governed by a central government that prides itself as a respecter of the law. It came into power through the mantra of respect for the rule of law.
In the right of the above, let the law establishing the commission take its course. If the law establishing the commission states that tenure of the members shall be four years, then let four years be four years. Anything outside this is fraudulent. Section 4(1) of the Act establishing the commission states that the tenure of members of the board and the executive directors shall be four years.
Since the current board members are serving out the remaining period of the previous board, it, therefore, means the tenure of the present board has elapsed. This controversy is avoidable. Let the government do the needful by applying the law.
On bickering over the life-span
The bickering can be hinged on what the law states. In the Act establishing the commission, it is clearly stated that the 9 states making up the commission shall produce the chairman of the board on a rotational basis, based on alphabetical order. It, therefore, means that no state will want to be short-changed, every state needs to taste the juicy office because the law provides for it.
Our politicians are self-centred. When they occupy these exalted offices they tend to forget the people and start working for themselves and family members only. This attitude causes strong dissatisfaction among the people.
Developmental projects from the board are not evenly spread, while some areas are enjoying numerous projects from the board, others communities who are oil bearing too have nothing to boast of in terms of NDDC projects.
NDDC is now used for political patronage. These issues causing bickering are so so numerous. We have to grow above board and provide clear leadership to make the commission work optimally.
We should de-emphasis godfatherism in appointing people to the board of the commission. Politicisation of projects in the catchment area of the commission should stop. The commission should be all-embracing whether PDP, APC, ADP or APGA, it should be working for the people irrespective of tribe, party or religion.
The state offices or zonal offices should be saddled with more responsibilities. The head office should delegate more duties to the state for prompt delivery of services to the people. A visit to the head office in Portharcourt will show that it is overwhelmed mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The communities should have a say in projects meant for them. People should not sit in Portharcourt and think out projects for the people. The state governments and the NDDC board should not be competing. They should rather complement each other. The unhealthy rivalry in some states has deprived the people the benefit of the commission.
Though funding is a challenge, what have they done with funds given to them? We have numerous abandoned projects, contractors and consultants not paid, no tangible completed projects on the ground for the people to see. We need proper accountability, transparency in the administration of funds and proper budgeting system.