DESOPADEC Law: The real issues -By Steve Agwudagwu

Filed under: National Issues |


The unfolding drama since Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Executive Governor of Delta State, sent an Amendment Bill on Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, to the Delta State House of Assembly, DSHA, is to say the least unfortunate. Governor Okowa’s DESOPADEC Amendment Bill seeks to restructure the management of the commission by scraping the office of the Executive Chairman to be replaced with the position of Managing Director, who will be assisted by Executive Directors, with the-day-to-day management of the commission. Under the proposed amendment, the role of part-time Commissioners representing the various ethnic nationalities would be to propose projects and ensure that they were executed. Additionally, the bill seeks to substitute “oil producing areas” with “oil producing ethnic nationalities,” ostensibly to allow excluded parts of the state to benefit from DESOPADEC.

Since the amendment Bill was submitted to the house, pressure groups in the oil producing areas of the state have descended on him like a ton of bricks. There has been no name under the sun that they have not called the governor. They have accused him of many imagined wrong doings, even when he had spent less than a month in the saddle. They said he wanted to abolish the institutions in their communities that were set up by his predecessors. Up in arms had been the Delta Oil Collectives, Delta Solidarity Group, HOSTCOM, Urhobo Youths and organisations ostensibly representing the interests of Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhrobo, Isoko, and Ndokwa ethnic nationalities, who want to maintain the status quo while accusing the governor of ulterior motives.

For example, the Delta Solidarity Group in a newspaper advertorial accused the barely one-month old administration of Governor Okowa of trying to replicate DESOPADEC in Delta north and redistribute the resources of oil bearing communities in State. Though Governor Okowa’s cabinet represented all interests in the state, the group dismissed it as representing no interest or tendency. On its part, the Delta Oil Collectives argues that the governor wants to cheat the Urhobos by giving them a “carcass of the office of the Chairman” now that it had reached their turn to occupy the post. Their accusations were legion, but the summary of it all was that it appeared to them that the governor wanted to use money meant for “actual oil producing communities to develop phantom gas producing communities in Delta north.”

To get to the root of the crises, an understanding of the ethnic configuration of Delta State would be helpful. Delta State is made up of the following ethnic nationalities: Aniocha, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ika, Ndokwa, Oshimili and Uhrobo, (Aniocha, Oshimili and Ika usually are collectively called Anioma). The Ijaw, Itsekiri, Uhrobo, Isoko and Ndokwa are the oil producing nationalities while North comprising the Anioma people has proven huge reserves of Gas. The principal law of DESOPADEC was passed into law in August 2007 under Chief James Ibori and section 13(1) of the act stated that the function of the Commission shall be to secure 50% of the 13% Oil Derivation fund accruing to Delta State government, and apply it in the rehabilitation and development of oil producing areas of the state as well as carry out other development projects as may be determined from time to time. It is this law which has divided the state into two: oil producing and non-oil producing areas, setting the stage for the current acrimony.

An amicable formula should have been found, ab initio, by the architects of this law to ensure that the entire state was a beneficiary of DESOPADEC, with the actual oil producing communities, perhaps, taking a larger share of the revenue. However, the interest groups against the amendment argue that the state government has already taken 50% of the 13% of the allocation upfront for the development of the state, and therefore, the balance should come to them untouched. Nevertheless, Dr Uduaghan apparently identified that there was a mistake in the Act and sought to amend the principal law of DESOPADEC but it was too late in the day. His proposal passed the first reading in the House. However, the second reading couldn’t happen due to the massive protest by HOSTCOM. On June 2015, his amendment bill was dumped sin dieafter he had stepped down as governor of the state. Governor Okowa slightly amended the proposal and represented it to the House.

To critically analyse the proposed amendment, some questions are begging for answers and the first one is: Eight years after its establishment, has DESOPADEC lived up to its billing? Has its activities uplifted the lives or impacted positively on the lives of the average Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko and Ndokwa men and women on the streets or in the Diaspora? Anioma people are out of this because so far, not even a dime of DESOPADEC resources had gone to that area. The way it appears, the bill did not recognise them as Deltans. Put in another form, has DESOPADEC as currently constituted, lifted the economic wellbeing of oil bearing communities? The oil bearing communities are in a better position to find answers to these questions.

In finding the answers to these questions, it is important to note the huge resources that have passed through the hands of the commission to the host communities so far. For example, the commission’s budget for 2013 and 2014 were N37 billion and N39 billion, respectively. Imagine then the resources that might have been channelled through the commission since 2007. Assuming conservatively that based on the above budgets for two years that N30 billion went to DESOPADEC annually for the development of oil bearing communities; it means that in eight years, at least N240 billion has passed through the commission since inception. Are there concrete achievements on ground to point at to justify the investment of such huge resources in the area?

Not many people can readily give DESOPADEC a pass mark. People like Mr Oghenejabor Ikimi, Executive Director, Centre for the Vulnerable and Under Privileged, for example, believe that the commission has failed woefully and should be probed. Though he saw nothing wrong with the enabling law, he said that the level of corruption in the institution was too high, and its projects did not often meet the needs of oil bearing communities because their needs were not assessed beforehand and the projects were hurriedly sited and executed at prohibitive costs. He believes DESOPADEC was a drain pipe through which public funds were siphoned away into private pockets by government officials and its board members. He opined that the commission’s workforce was bloated and the board members were entitled to unspecified number of aides and bogus salaries (Credits: Vanguard16/06/ 2015).

Everything put together, DESOPADEC requires a surgical operation and Governor Okowa’s bill might just provide the magic wand to bring this about. His proposed management structure is lean enough and would be less expensive to maintain. The chairman and other board members, being part time, may be entitled to sitting allowances only, and therefore more cost effective if well monitored. The commissioners seem like watch dogs on the entire commission to ensure that projects approved for their respective constituencies were carried out. With the pluralistic nature of the state, the Governor most likely would make the appointments cut across the ethnic divides in the state and everybody’s interest would be better served and protected. The governor has also indicated that the rotation of offices in the commission will continue and indications are that all will come out of all this new arrangement smiling.

To buttress this point, the governor has assured his critics that he did not dissolve or intend to dissolve DESOPADEC. He dissolved only the existing board which had overstayed its tenure. He also assured that contractors are not being owed because he, on assumption of office, released two billion naira to the commission, this being in addition to the three and half billion naira which had gone to the commission between January and May this year. Furthermore, in section 2 of the principal law of DESOPADEC, oil producing areas was defined as oil and gas producing communities in the state.

Fortunately, a public hearing has been conducted by the DSHA and useful suggestions have been taken from all parties by the nine-man Ad Hoc Committee, set up by the House with Mr Dennis Omovie as its chairman. When it submits its findings on August 7, 2015, it will be left to the house to fashion a DESOPADEC law that guarantees that Deltans don’t bend their elbows, thus repairing the bad blood being generated by this agency of government. Deltans have always been at peace with themselves from time immemorial. Therefore, DESOPADEC must not and should not put them asunder.