Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has unwittingly set in motion a tirade in the Niger Delta which is pitting stakeholders in the region against the state governors over the utilization of the oil revenue (Derivation fund) accruing to the states.
Wike had spoken with aplomb at one of the numerous ceremonies to commission roads and bridges his administration constructed across the state, and in the process, applauded the gesture of President Muhammadu Buhari for approving payment of the derivation fund due for the Niger Delta states which had been withheld by Federal Government. He stressed that the array of projects his government had done couldn’t have been possible without the refund approved by Buhari.
Wike’s remarks became like an electric shock that induced consciousness in stakeholders across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta who began to wonder and interrogate how the derivation and the resources accruing to the states are being spent by the governors.
From Bayelsa to Delta, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom and all the other benefitting states, concerned groups and individuals began to raise their voices in different fora to demand accountability from the State Chief Executives.
While some states were decent enough to offer some explanations on how the funds were being expended, some became rather pugnacious and started attacking Governor Wike for ‘letting the cat out of the bag’.
In Bayelsa, the initial reaction was ‘the money is being judiciously used to provide services to the people with copious references to the Transparency Briefing of the government’. Bayelsa was said to have received a whopping sum of N87 billion from the refund.
But agitation for accountability was not abating and so receiving the Interim Administrator, Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP), Maj. Gen. Barry Ndiomu (retd), in Government House, Yenagoa, Governor Douye Diri seized the opportunity to speak on the burning issue of the refund.
The governor had insisted that his administration had nothing to hide and that the state’s monthly allocations from the Federation Account had always been made public through its monthly transparency briefings.
Diri maintained that proceeds from the 13% derivation to the state were being prudently spent, mostly on infrastructure development.
He however explained that what the state received as 13% derivation refund from the time of the previous administration was being paid in instalments after it had been discounted.
According to the governor, the amount did not make much impact in terms of development.
He further stated that the cost of construction in difficult terrain like Bayelsa was three or more times than elsewhere, adding that the cost of constructing a road project in the state was more than three or four flyovers in some other states even in the Niger Delta.
“For people who are talking about the 13% derivation funds due the state, I want to state that for one reason or the other, we were underpaid. When we discovered that, we followed due process from the state executive council to the state House of Assembly.
“Approvals were given and the funds were discounted. I do not play politics with this kind of thing. For anybody who wants to see how we use our money, our monthly transparency briefing on our financial income and expenditure is available.
“One-kilometre road we build in Yenagoa is more than three or four-kilometer road built elsewhere”, he maintained.
In another breath, the 2022 Financial Responsibility report on the sustainability of the 36 States of the Federation by BudgiT Group was damning on the state, scoring Bayelsa very poor on all indices.
This forced a reaction from the government. In a statement by the Commissioner for Finance, Mr Maxwell Ebibai, he said the report was a mere rehash of what the group had said concerning the state in previous years.
“Our reaction then as now is that not only is this report faulty but relies on tangential parameters inconsistent with economic fundamentals.
“As before, the current report erroneously depended on opaque data and criteria bordering largely on the ability of a state to meet its operating expenses (recurrent expenditure) with only its Internally Generated Revenue.
“The very notion of creating a dichotomy between “Federal Allocations” and “Internally Generated Revenue” is a misnomer that is adding insult to painful injury as, over the years, we have protested the absence of true fiscal federalism and inequity of the revenue-sharing formula that robs states like Bayelsa in favour of the collective.
“It is incomprehensible not to appreciate that oil and gas are produced at a significant opportunity cost to states and that the derivation revenue compensates for such brutal environmental degradation.
The commissioner added, “As a government, we protested the 2021 ranking as being defective for excluding key revenue sources such as mineral oil derivation funds in the analysis, a position the BudgiT team acquiesced to. We are again bewildered that they returned to this cynical profiling”
The commissioner contended that it should be worrisome to BudgiT that the huge revenue that should accrue to Bayelsa State from taxes of oil multinationals operating in the state were being paid to states where the companies have their offices domiciled.
Notwithstanding the disequilibrium, the commissioner maintained that the financial standing and sustainability of Bayelsa State are sound and not in any jeopardy as the government can comfortably meet its obligations, including regular payment of salaries and pensions.
He expressed disapproval that a state with a low debt profile that is effectively managing its financial liabilities would be ranked low against states with a higher debt profile.
“The government continues to invest in human capital development and empowerment programmes, without neglecting critical financially demanding infrastructure projects such as the Yenagoa-Oporoma Road and Bridges, the Sagbama-Ekeremor Road with seven bridges and the Nembe-Brass Road with 10 bridges as well as other critical big-tickets projects across the state that will stir its economic life.
“It should be noted that states with limited federal presence are inherently disadvantaged with the ranking methodology where facilities like ports give a clear edge to some states.
“For a fair analysis and a more comparable measure of fiscal sustainability, BudgiT should expand its indices to cover derivation revenue as IGR in future profiling.
“We are, therefore, in strong disagreement with the ranking as released by BudgiT, and wish to state categorically that Bayelsa State Government rejects the report as it failed to rely on key financial instruments that are legitimate, equitable and sustainable”
To further defend the utilization of resources accruing to the state, the commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Ayiba Duba issued a statement to deflate the allegations of opacity in running state affairs by a chieftain of APC, Chief Kpodo.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Daniel Alabra took his turn when he was featured in a live radio program on a local radio station in the state talking about the 13 percent derivation fund and other sundry issues.
But it was the Director, New Media to Governor Douye Diri, Dr Kola Oredipe who adopted a more pragmatic approach when he took journalists on assessment tours of ongoing projects, especially road infrastructure.
Among the road projects inspected were the Bayelsa West and Bayelsa Central Senatorial roads aimed at linking communities in Sagbama and Ekeremor as well as Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas with the State capital.
Also visited were the 21-kilometre Igbogene-AIT/Elebele outer ring road that connects Yenagoa to Ogbia valued at over N54.56 billion and the 10.2km dual carriageway Glory Drive road from the Ecumenical Centre at Igbogene to the Tombia-Amassoma road.
Oredipe who had traversed the length and breadth of the Niger Delta as a professional journalist gave the cost of each project and the timeline for the completion. At the 22.2 kilometres, Bayelsa Central Senatorial Road being handled by a Chinese company, CCEC designed to connect Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government, stretching further to Ukubie and linking other adjoining communities, Oredipe said the project would gulp N31.4 billion.
Also addressing journalists at Angiama where a 620-meter-long bridge is being constructed to cross the River Nun to Oporoma, Oredipe said the project which Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo performed the groundbreaking ceremony earlier this year is expected to be completed in two years’ time as the pillars for the bridge were being mounted just as the Governor had directed the award of contracts for road projects to neighbouring communities such as Eniwari, Ondewari and Otuan.
According to Oredipe, “While other States have their priorities, for us in Bayelsa, our aim is to open up several communities that are locked up in the rivers and creeks. The Yenagoa-Oporoma-Ukubie Road is the one that is opening up the entire Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. This is the headquarters of the Council area but for such a long time, Oporoma is not connected by road and it is this government that is taking this road there across the River Nun. It is about 22km. This administration took it over from Ikebiri community and it has gone up to Aguobiri, where we have a bridge that is standing.
“From that bridge over the Silver River, we have been able to access Angiama community. People here have been waiting for this road for over forty years. They are very excited that finally the road has reached Angiama, and we are taking it further. As you can see for yourself, the pillars for the bridge to cross the River Nun to Oporoma are being constructed, and thereafter roads would be constructed inside Oporoma as the Governor has directed for contracts to be awarded for Otuan, Eniwari and Ondewari communities”
Oredipe told journalists that clearing works had been completed on first phase of the Nembe-Brass road with sand filling to commence soon on the project conceived to have 10 bridges at a cost of N54 billion.
On the 42km Sagbama-Ekeremor road, valued at a cost of N34.4 billion the Director, New Media explained that five bridges were built by the current administration in addition to two others done by the previous government, stressing that the people of Ekeremor Town and other communities in Bayelsa West Senatorial District can now drive to their areas.
“You could see the stretch of the Ekeremor road, it has opened up communities from Toru-Orua to Angalabiri, Ofoni up to Ayamasa, Aleibiri, Isampou. You can just imagine the number of communities and people who used to travel by water. But today, they can travel by road to their communities. So, it has opened up a lot of communities in the area. We are taking it further to Agge and I am sure at the appropriate time, the government will take that decision.
“That is the story we are telling Nigerians that this government is giving hope to Bayelsans. We mean business when we say it is massive infrastructure everywhere. And you can see that we are also trying to expand the State capital, Yenagoa City through the Glory Drive and Outer Ring Roads. By the time those two roads are completed, you can be sure that we will have new development areas in Yenagoa. So, the Prosperity Administration of Governor Douye Diri is committed to completing all the ongoing projects in the State’, he asserted.
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