As the federal government sets up an interim committee to run the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over claims that the people of the region are yet feel the positive impact of activities of the Commission and other similar initiatives, civil societies organizations are calling on the government to pay greater attention to the results on ground in the region.
The call was made during a dialogue organized by the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC) in partnership with We The People with other critical stakeholders to determine solutions and advocacy points on how best to ensure transfer of benefits to host communities in the Niger Delta region.
The event which had in attendance, the Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Edobor Iyamu and representatives from the Office of the Vice President, also had the NNRC’s Expert Advisory Panel member Dr. Ukoha Ukiwo, Dr. Dauda Garuba, Representative of the Executive Secretary of NEITI, Chris Onosede of Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), Faith Nwadishi of Women in Extractives (WiE) Peter Egbule OF Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Bassey Udo of Media Initiative on Transparencyin Extractive Industries (MITEI Dr. Sam Kabari of Centre for Environmental, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Abel Akeni of BudgIT and Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri of Spaces for Change among many other nongovernmental and civil society organizations such as Order Paper Advocacy Initiative (OAI), Policy Alert, Centre for Development Support Initiative(CEDSI) West African NGO Network (WANGONET) among others.
Participants unanimously called on the federal government to implement the Niger Delta Regional Development Plan targeted at transferring benefits to the host communities and follow through the programs initiated to ensure a holistic development of the region, in terms of infrastructure and facilities. They also noted that Niger Delta’s issues including environmental pollution, development, livelihoods should be prioritized by the government and funded to demonstrate its commitment to transferring benefits and not just addressing the negative impacts of resource extraction to the Niger Delta people.
On the raging issue of environmental pollution in the area, the federal government was called upon to meet its obligations to Nigeria to reduce environmental pollution in the Niger Delta and stop postponing its targets to detriment of the health and survival of those living in the Niger Delta.
Participants acknowledged that while there has been a plethora of initiatives by the government and multinational companies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, all designed to transfer the benefits of oil revenues to resource-rich communities, evidence of benefits could not be traced, thus the need for government to ensure greater interagency coordination and focus to enhance synergies and progress tracking to ensure the people benefit from such initiatives. Moreso, they called for the approval of the Strategic Implementation Work Plan (SIWP) by the Federal Executive Council and subsequent funding of all projects therein.
On the oil producing states, the participants called for greater accountability as there is little to show for the derivations they have been receiving over the years. They thus called on both the citizens, civil society organizations, and the media to help in demanding that oil producing states account for their resource revenue expenditures to the citizens by frequently publishing budgets as a matter of course, while Lagos state should be required to reveal its accruals as an oil producing states and disclose its plans for those revenues. To ensure greater monitoring and compliance, participants called for the leveraging of technology to increase transparency in the processes and systems of dispersal of resource revenues to the Niger Delta region.
Still on transparency and accountability, participants demanded that Nigerians deserve to know who owns what, so as to be able to track the possibility of conflict of interests, to this end, they demanded that Beneficial Ownership process should be made a non-negotiable prerequisite for any third party engagement with any benefit organs in the Niger Delta while all contracts and projects approved, commissioned, funded and executed by Niger Delta development agencies must be transparent. They equally called for the strengthening of the local governments so they can manage the revenues made available through the NFIU policies.
The group condemned the non-inclusion of the communities from participating in taking decisions on issues directly affecting them, calling for frameworks designed for inclusive community participation while more efforts must be made in sensitizing communities; citizens and accountability actors including community media to hold state and local governments to accounts in the management of funds to improve livelihoods and lives of the citizenry.
They also called for the strengthening of more oversight institutions such as relevant National Assembly Committees and State Legislatures to aid in increasing accountability of the state and local governments in oil producing states in Nigeria. Even as the Petroleum Host and Impacted Community Development Bill should be revised, expanded and debated to provide more inclusive arrangements and opportunities for both transferring benefits to local communities and deepening community participation in the development of the region.