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Pro, Anti-Sylva groups at war in Bayelsa

Source: africanexaminer.com

SIGNS of things to come have started to play out in Bayelsa State, one of the key oil and

gas producing states in Nigeria's Niger Delta, reports AkanimoReports. Already,

opposing civil society groups are locked in a seeming pro and anti-Governor Timipre

Sylva tusscle.
An obviously pro-Sylva group, the Patriotic Front of Bayelsa State (PFBS), which claims

to be concern with promoting good governance in the predominantly Ijaw state, has

taken on the Niger Delta Development Monitoring and Corporate Watch (NIDDEMCOW)

which has been vociferous in accusing the Sylva administration of inefficiency, lack of

transparency and accountabilkity.
The NIDDEMCOW which has Mr. Nengi James as its Executive Director, has persistently

demanded accountability from Governor Sylva and has been calling on the

Commissioner of Finance and Budget, Opuala-Charles Silva, to make public the financial

position of the state.
According to the Nengi James-led group, ''the people of Bayelsa are being kept in the

dark on the allocations and revenues accruing to the state government vis-à-vis loans

and government expenditure. This scenario has bred suspicion and contempt by a cross

section of the people''.
Other issues thrown up by the group include the indebtedness of the state, the

monetization of the Opolo Housing Estate and the use of consultants by the Ministry of

Finance and Budget, the Capital City Development among others parastatals.

Leaders of the pro-Sylva group Messrs James Ofoni and Oweifa Thaddaeus on

Thursday, returned fire to the Nengi group starting by saying, ''we are delighted that one

of the ingredients of democracy is the freedom of expression and the press. However, it

amounts to naivety on the part of the NIDDEMCOW to display ignorance on some of the

issues raised. Some of these misconceptions need to be clarified, in order that

government's intention may not be misconstrued.''
According to them, ''on the issue of calling on Governor Sylva to deliver on his promises,

the governor has since created a Forum known as “Relax with Governor Sylva”. This

forum provides a platform for concerned people of Bayelsa state to interact with the

governor on a huge range of issues.
''Besides, there is an official website, which serves as a means of communication

between the people and government functionaries. This avenue can be exploited.

Beyond this, any reasonable organization could engage the leadership of the state in a

pro-active manner for purposes of curiosity and clarification of public policies''.

They are not yet done: ''With respect to the financial allocations to states, every Nigerian

knows that the Federal Executive Council publishes such financial allocations are

published on monthly basis. To put the records straight, because of the drastic reduction

in the quota of oil production occasioned by militant activities, and the low Internally

Generated Revenue profile of the state, the state was in deep financial distress, as

monthly allocations in some months could not cover even the recurrent component of

expenditure. These were the circumstances that made the state to resort to taking loans

and this was approved by the state House of Assembly.

On whether the Finance and Budget Commissioner should make public the present

financial position of the state, the pro-Sylva group said, ''we believe that this has already

been accomplished. The Bond Committee not also examined the financial position of the

State but also recommended that the N50 Billion Bond was necessary to re-position the

economy of Bayelsa State. These facts are on the Bayelsa official website for everybody

to see. No patriotic Bayelsan would feign ignorance of the Bond Committee Report, which

was made available to the public. Anyone who claims ignorance of the aforementioned

facts can only be a paid agent to malign the personalities involved or blackmail the

Government of Bayelsa state''.
''It is cheer ignorance'', they went on, ''for any the person or group of persons to assert

that the Opolo Housing Estate was privatized or commercialized. It is a conventional

practice for top government functionaries, including commissioners to live in official

residences. However, as a matter of official policy, government decided to monetize the

houses to the Commissioners at a very high market value.

''This is also the practice at the national level. The essence was for government to use

the monies to build other housing estates in line with the housing policy of government

and to spread the dividends of democracy. It is therefore a misnomer for anyone to say

the Opolo Housing Estate was privatized or commercialized; the Houses were only

monetized in the interest of the state. The on-going privatization and commercialization

Bill being debated in the Bayelsa state House of Assembly has no relationship

whatsoever and howsoever with the monetization policy of government.''

Adding, they said the allegation that ministries like Finance and Budget, Capital City

Development Authority (CCDA) and others are allegedly engaging the services of private

consultants in carrying out their activities is uncalled for. In international best practice,

consultants are believed to be more efficient in matters that require expertise, where the

Ministry, Department or Agency in question cannot provide the requisite in-house

manpower to execute a job.
'For example, the CCDA is saddled with the responsibility of implementing the Yenagoa

City Development Master Plan and that involves the development of Geographical

Information System Infrastructure – which only expert consultants can provide outside of

the Authority or the Ministry of Transport and Urban Development. Even transnational

corporations and the Federal Government of Nigeria hire consultants to carry out highly

specialized services.''
They claimed that it was most unpatriotic for the executive director of the anti-Sylva

group, to claim that nothing like privatization and commercialization was taking place in

the oil and gas rich state, ''when we all know that the existing legal regime such as the

Land Use Act and the Petroleum Act forbids states from managing their oil and gas

resources. This is the crux of the struggle for equitable fiscal federalism or resource

control.''
We of the Patriotic Front of Bayelsa State believe that, in the present circumstances,

government needs encouragement to cope with the expanding responsibilities amidst

dwindling resources. Even when criticism are made, people expect responsible civil

society organizations to proffer solutions to the development challenges facing the state.

Already, government is coming up with a stimulus package to address some of the

problems created by the biometric exercises that precipitated job loses in the state'', they

said.
Adding, they said, ''the Sylva administration places premium on transparency and

accountability as pre-requisites of good governance. This was why the institutional

mechanisms such as the Bayelsa Expenditure Income and Transparency Initiative (BEITI)

and the Due Process Bureau were established. We therefore, enjoin NIDDEMCOW, their

sponsorsand other well-meaning pressure groups to embrace the people-oriented

policies and programmes of the Sylva administration and lay more emphasis on what

they can contribute to good governance. The Sylva administration is determined to fast-

track the development of Bayelsa state, and government cannot afford the luxury of any

distractions''.