Can Niger Delta Institutions Ever Be Effective?
The Nigerian economy has for many years heavily depended on oil resource extracted from the Niger Delta region. Before the oil price shocks, about 80% of the nation's total revenue earnings and 90% of her export earnings come from this region. In the process, traditional livelihood of the people in the region based around agriculture and fishing has been severely affected due to environmental pollution occasioned by activities of oil and gas prospecting, production and distribution companies and lately, natural disaster typified by flooding also hit the region. Expectedly, there is high level of unemployment amidst plenty of natural resources which at some point gave rise to restiveness and insecurity before the amnesty programme was introduced by Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
Government effort to speed up the development of the region and in some specific cases – oil and gas producing communities led to the setting up of agencies, Commissions and a Ministry in response to growing agitation from citizens who for many years suffered deprivation, poverty and neglect. Thus, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Areas Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC) and Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOGPADEC) among others were established to play this role.
Many years after these institutions were established, the Africa Network of Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) worked with the Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment (LITE-Africa) in July 2015, while implementing the USAID Civil Society Activity, Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement (SACE) project, assessed these institutions to get a deeper understanding of the mandates, policies and activities they currently pursue.
Both organizations equally conducted a Citizen Report Card (CRC) survey on the institutions to get citizens perception regarding the activities of these institutions as well as allow the citizens to rate their performance. The assessment featured 96 focus group discussions and 44 Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) with 845 community residents in 24 communities across 9 Local Government Areas in 4 Niger Delta States of Edo, Delta, Cross River and Ondo.
The report from the assessment and CRC revealed among other issues that development interventions in the Niger Delta need to be re-focused to meet the needs of the people of the region. It revealed poor planning, in some cases failure to properly incorporate the interest of community residents in the project identification process and lack of coordination among the institutions leading to duplication, abandoned and sub-standard projects in some communities. The report also showed that Niger Delta residents have struggled to fully understand the mandate of each of these institutions and how to single out what each of them stand to deliver in terms of development in the region. Apart from the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the annual budget of the institutions remained a top secret and citizens do not have access to such vital document.
Arising from the findings presented above, it became necessary to recommend specific ways to improve the effectiveness of these institutions as the people of Niger Delta desire transparent, accountable and effective institutions working to develop the region. The institutions should make frantic effort to complete all abandoned projects that are currently visible in the region and initiate new ones that will have high impact on the lives of citizens. There should be synergy among these institutions in their effort to develop the region as such collaborative approach will check issues of project duplication such that where one of them cites a project in a particular community, then another agency or commission should have no business constructing the same project few metres away from there, especially, when there are hundreds of communities in serious need such project.
Strong legislative oversight from either the National Assembly or State Houses of Assembly as the case may be can also help to put these institutions in check. The relevant committees are thus encouraged to step up their level of oversight on Niger Delta Institutions as it will go a long way to improve the effectiveness of such institutions. Civil society intervention may also be needed in terms of project monitoring to provide external and independent reports on the state of projects being executed by the institutions. In this regard, a joint monitoring team comprising representatives of CSOs have been recommended.
The institutions should also be prepared to willingly share information with the public to improve public perception and reduce unnecessary speculation, suspicion, accusations and counter accusation as some of these institutions often spend huge resources to improve their image in both print and electronic media. What they just need to do is simply to design a good website and upload basic information such as annual budgets, annual report and other information that can properly inform the public without necessary coming to their offices to request for such information.
The NDDC has already made commitments in that regard as the Acting Managing Director, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, during a meeting with CSOs in the Niger Delta, made it clear that the Commission is committed to ensuring transparency and accountability through the publication of quarterly statement of income and expenditure of the Commission. The Commission also okayed the joint project monitoring team comprising representatives of civil society groups in the region. This is highly commendable and other institutions should emulate.
The Federal government should increase allocation to NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to enable them tackle critical infrastructures in the region and in view of current realities, the respective State Governments should as well consider increasing the percentage of the 13% derivation fund that goes to the oil and gas commissions. The share of the 13% derivation fund should be increased to at least 60% across board; this will require amendments to laws setting up the oil and gas commissions. While this is being proposed, the institutions themselves should be prepared to cut down on recurrent expenditure and devote a huge chunk of their budget to capital expenditure.
Written by Innocent Edemhanria.