State governors from the South-South have demanded an upward review of the 2.5 percent Host Community Trust Fund in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to 10 percent in the best interest of oil communities and the nation.
The governors also advised President Muhammadu Buhari that, in the absence of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), funds for the commission beyond the payment of salaries should be put in an escrow account until he constitutes the board.
Chairman of the South- South Governors’ Forum (SSGF) and governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, stated this at the end of the forum’s meeting which was held at the Government House, Port Harcourt, on Monday night.
“We took up the issue of the PIB (the Petroleum Industry Bill) which is already before the House and, having compared notes among ourselves, we are of the view that while we welcome the Host Community Trust Fund, we do believe that the 2.5 percent that is appropriated in that bill for the purpose of host community fund is inadequate.
“We have discussed with our people and collectively as leaders of the people in our various states and as leaders standing in on behalf of our people, we urge that the National Assembly increase the provision in the host community fund from 2.5 percent to 10 percent in the best interest of our communities, in the best interest of our nation,” he said.
The governors maintained that the communities have a role to play in the surveillance of the nation’s oil facilities and pipeline network.
They expressed the belief that if the communities felt satisfied with the provision of funds for them in the PIB, they are more likely going to be watchdogs on behalf of the Federal Government, the states and oil companies.
“The peaceful environment that would be seen in the various oil communities would enable us to have greater production and a seamless production in which we do not have any form of disruption in our oil productions, going into the future,” he said.
Governor Okowa described as worrisome the running of the NDDC in over a year by an Interim Caretaker Committee, and now, an interim administrator.
According to him, this situation does not augur well for the people of the Niger Delta as opportunity for all states to be represented as they ought to be represented on the board of the NDDC does not exist.
He said: “So, it means that the NDDC is actually run in such a manner that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders’ input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.
“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if that reason the board has not been constituted, our advice is that monies being sent to the NDDC should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted and then proper processes are followed in the expenditure of the money in a such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta.
“The governors demanded that whenever the board of the NDDC is constituted, the advisory council must be called upon to play its role to ensure there is check and balance in such a matter that the states will truly have value for money expended by the NDDC.
“A situation where we begin to have emergency projects that possibly will not last three to six months is not right, we don’t feel happy about it and we are urging Mr. President to ensure that if the board is not going to be immediately constituted, then funds for the NDDC beyond the payment of salaries should be put on hold until he constitutes the board and the board can now run the finances of the NDDC as per the law creating the NDDC.
“We feel already short-changed as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue, going forward, because our people feel the pains – we do not want a situation where there is an abuse of processes, neither should we have a situation where we have abuse of funds.
“We believe that it is best for both the country, for the states of the Niger Delta, and for the people of the Niger Delta when due process is followed by the reconstitution of the board and also in reconstituting the board that the reconstituted fund should come in and have funds to spend as per the law.”
He stressed that the demands of the governors had been made based on the interest of Nigeria, the states, and more importantly in the interest of the various communities of the Niger Delta.
Apart from Governor Okowa, other governors present at the meeting were Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Godwin Obaseki of Edo, governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa, and the deputy governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Moses Ekpo, who represented Governor Udom Emmanuel.
Akpabio Appeals To South South Govs For Patience Over NDDC Board
Meanwhile, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has made a strong appeal to the governors of the South South region to exercise a little restraint in their quest for the inauguration of a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Akpabio, who was reacting to the demand of the South South governors who had called on President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate a new board for the commission, argued that it was for the best interest of the Niger Delta region to allow the forensic audit team already at work to complete its assignment before a new board comes in.
The minister, who made the plea during a press conference at the NDDC headquarters along Marine base on Tuesday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said he was happy with the present interim administration headed by Barr. Effiong Akwa whose effective management led to the completion of the NDDC building abandoned for about 26 years by previous administrations.
“The composition of a substantive board for the NDDC could be misplaced sometimes.
“We have to finish the ongoing forensic audit of the commission first so that when the board comes in, they can start on a clean slate,” he said.
“I want to appeal to the South South governors to allow the auditors to finish their assignment.