Niger Delta renews agitation for 13% derivation, direct payment to communities

DENNIS NAKU looks back as the Niger Delta perceived marginalisation and examines the report of a survey by an online newspaper, the New Diplomat, on why the 13 per cent derivation should be paid directly to the host communities and not states

In the last decade, there has been growing agitation by various groups in the Niger Delta for a better deal for the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.

The Niger Delta region despite producing oil, the mainstay of the nation’s economy, has suffered neglect, environmental degradation such as pollution of rivers and farmlands.

The continued silence of the Federal Government to the plight of the region and the perceived marginalisation of the people gave rise to the emergence of various groups in the region, including the dreaded militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, and more recently, the Niger Delta Avengers.

Prominent activists from the area such as the late Isaac Adaka Boro was part of the struggle and later the Ogoni author and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, took the agitation to another level and brought it to the limelight of the international community with his native Ogoni as metaphor for the Niger Delta agitation, and ended up paying the supreme price on November 10, 1995, when he and eight of his compatriots were found guilty by a military tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging.

The death of Boro and Saro-Wiwa has not silenced the clamour for improved conditions of the people and their environment, as the late writer put it, “You can kill the messenger, but you cannot kill the message.”

For instance the 13 per cent oil derivation payment has been described as grossly inadequate, with many stakeholders’ in the South-South geo-political zone faulting the continued payment of the derivation to states, saying such funds should be disbursed directly to the oil producing communities.

A recent survey conducted by an online newspaper, the New Diplomat in the six states of the South-South namely, Akwa  Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers made some revelations.

According to the survey, people of the geo-political zone said the derivation funds should rather be paid directly to the host communities, which suffer the brunt of environmental devastation, as a first line charge as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

The findings revealed that “81 per cent of South-South people demand a situation where the existing 13 per cent derivation is released directly to the host oil-producing communities as first line charge.”

“While 10 per cent of the people believe that it is better to maintain the existing structure, nine per cent were somewhat reserved, wanting more clarity by demanding that the National Assembly should be encouraged to legislate a direct disbursement legal protocol for the host oil-producing communities,” the report stated.

It also re-echoed calls by the Host Oil Producing Communities of Nigeria for a direct disbursement of 13 per cent derivation fund to oil bearing communities as a first line charge as it got the buy in of majority (81 per cent) of the people in the zone.

The survey named the first military governor of the old Rivers State and now the Amayanabo of Twon-Brass in Bayelsa State, Alfred Diete-Spiff, as well as the pioneer Chairman of the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission and the Bolowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Wellington Okrika, among top leaders in the zone, who advocated “equity, development and fairness for host oil communities, which lend credence to the direct release of the derivation fund to oil producing communities rather than to states governments in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Federal Government gazette on the subject matter.

It further stated that most South-South elders and leaders of the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers opined that the current practice whereby a wholesome 13 per cent was being released to various states governments was “flawed with severe set-backs and unmitigated inequity,” which have repeatedly thrown up crisis, violence and escalating tension in the various oil-bearing communities.

According to the elders and members of the RNDA, some states in the South-South create very unclear vehicles supposedly to deliver the funds to the host communities, but sadly, the funds end up being deployed inappropriately for goals that are ethically different from those of the oil-producing communities.

At another level, some state governments, according to the RNDA, have not been able to establish a transparent demarcation between the host communities’ 13 per cent derivation funds and state allocations.

The consequence is that there are no clearly defined and transparent state government vehicles to deliver on the 13 per cent derivation that is legally meant for oil-producing communities.

“This has consequently triggered a plethora of unresolved questions, crises, inter and intra-ethnic wars and bickering escalated by mounting tension over the 13 per cent derivation across the entire South-South zone over the years,” the body stated.

According to the RNDA, the practice of channelling the 13 per cent derivation through the states to host communities has produced an unacceptable regime of inappropriate deployment of the fund for purposes totally different from that which it is legally, constitutionally and ethically meant for.

The survey notes that the militants are saying releasing the 13 per cent derivation to the state governments amounts to stabbing the Constitution in its head and escalating an unacceptable and illegal reign of leaving the oil-producing communities to bleed endlessly.

The survey further referred to the RNDA’s recent disapproval of the payment process, stating, “More importantly, we call for an emergency review of the Revenue Allocation Act in order to give proper interpretation of the 13 per cent derivation funds that will not be deposited in the hands of Niger Delta governors that have been pocketing the billions of naira on a monthly basis from the Federation Account without getting to the oil producing communities in the creeks of the Niger Delta and without any accountability to the long neglected oil-producing communities that are the original owners of the 13 per cent derivation funds, according to Section 162 subsection 2 of the 1991 Constitution as amended.”

The survey re-echoes the views of a certain school that describes the positions canvassed by the RNDA, HOSTCON and South-South leaders, including Diete-Spiff and Okrika, as most desirable, but notes that this needs the National Assembly backing to legalise it.

It further said going by the population figures and the demographics of each of the six South-South states as captured by the National Bureau of Statistics and the National Population Commission, the dynamics as well as preponderance of agitation for a more equitable and direct disbursement of 13 per cent derivation to oil-producing communities appeared to resonate well with the locals and stakeholders, who feel terribly short-changed by state government officials, who allegedly sit in the comfort of their offices and totally oblivious, unaware and blind to the  environmental ruin, plundering,  pollution and degradation that reign in the oil-producing communities.

It explained that from field questionnaires administered randomly on stakeholders, comprising  locals, residents and inhabitants across the six states over the last one month, field data tracked, telephone calls made, interviews conducted, focus group discussions held by its team of data analysts, and data aggregators,  81 per cent of South-South people prefer a situation where the 13 per cent derivation funds were released directly to the oil-producing communities, while 10 per cent believed that it was better to maintain the existing structure, and nine per cent were simply indifferent to the subject matter.

The indifferent group wanted some clarity, but were emphatic that the state governments were short-changing the oil-producing communities.

Field reports also indicate that there are pent-up upset, worries, disconcertment and militant agitation snaking in the creeks of the Niger Delta on account of rising discontent over what stakeholders called inappropriate management vehicle for the 13 per cent derivation by South-South states since the return to constitutional government in 1999.

Akwa Ibom State projected 79 per cent of sampled respondents want the 13 per cent derivation taken away from the direct control of the state government and disbursed directly to the oil-producing communities’ development vehicle as first line charge, while nine per cent want the prevailing status quo should be maintained, and 12 per cent  are insistent on a proper definition of the community channel of disbursement to avoid a repeat of what they call “the current woes of oil-bearing communities of the South-South occasioned by reckless attitudes of the state government.”

In Bayelsa State, the survey reveals that 81 per cent of respondents say they are totally opposed to the state government as the vehicle of disbursement, insisting in unambiguous terms that the 13 per cent derivation should be released to the oil-producing communities by the Federal Government as a first line charge. And nine per cent of respondents hold a different opinion, and 10 per cent are of the view that the status should be upheld.

While in Cross River State, the situation is not significantly different as about 81 per cent of respondents insist that the 13 per cent derivation should be disbursed as a first line charge to a vehicle created for the oil-producing communities and completely independent of the state government control.

Most of the sampled respondents accused some state government officials of “perpetuating internal colonialism” by allegedly hijacking parts of the derivation fund and deploying the same inappropriately. About 12 per cent, however, believe that the state government, especially under previous administrations, performed satisfactorily, while seven per cent think otherwise.

In Delta State, the scenario is similar as 81 per cent of respondents align perfectly with the position of HOSTCON to the effect that the 13 per cent derivation fund should be released directly to oil-producing communities’ vehicles as a first line charge. However, 10 per cent of sampled respondents are of the view that the prevailing status quo should be maintained, while nine per cent assert that the oil-bearing community-driven channel of direct disbursement should be properly determined “to avoid a repeat of the current opaque institutional setting.”

In Edo State, it said the bulk of stakeholders, about 78 per cent, prefer direct disbursement to the oil-producing communities. While some aver that the current state government has accomplished some positive feats in the oil-producing communities; majority of the people insist that the issues have to do with justice, equity, fairness and parity “as oil-producing communities, which bear the plaque of environmental pollution and devastation, need equity and fairness in the distribution of their resources.”

Twelve per cent are of the opinion that direct disbursement to oil-producing communities should be well delineated to avoid a repeat of “past mistakes,” just as 10 per cent believe in the prevailing arrangement.

In Rivers State, the vast majority of respondents want a total break from what they considered as the state government’s internal colonialism against oil-producing communities, as 81 per cent voted for a direct disbursement of the 13 per cent derivation to oil-producing communities as a first line charge.

However, 10 per cent assert that the current scenario be upheld, while nine per cent want greater clarity, arguing that the National Assembly should be requested to legislate on it to make it a binding legal protocol in revenue allocation from the Federation Account.

According to the finding, the situation is quite telling in Rivers with projected huge oil revenue receipts from the Federation Account, as she recently won a case ceding some oil wells previously adjudged as belonging to Bayelsa State, to her.

PUNCH

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