Governors not Effectively Utilizing 13% derivation Fund - Naanen

Prof Ben Naanen, an expert on Economic History & Development Studies, who hails from Bodo, a major Ogoni oil-producing community in Rivers State, in this interview with the Guardians KELVIN EBIRI, Naanen said profligate lifestyle of governors, who lack capacity to spend creatively is worsening the plight of oil-producing communities.

• Governors Are Blinded By Ostentatious Lifestyles

Has utilisation of the 13 per cent derivation fund been beneficial to the oil producing communities?
I must admit that there is absolutely no doubt about the issue of disadvantaged position in the 13 per cent derivation, nobody will doubt that, and I think it is a constitutional failure.

When they inserted that 13 per cent derivation in the Constitution, they failed to put in place a mechanism that will aid accountability. In that event, you cannot hold the governors accountable for not effectively utilising that fund. The same constitution that prescribed 13 per cent derivation should have added, for example, before you release the next tranche, we have to see what you have done with this 13 per cent because now oil-bearing communities are being shortchanged, while the governors live in a profligate lifestyle, and nobody is holding them to account.

In most of the states, there isn’t a budget for the public to see. I think the kind of governance we are seeing is unheard of in most democracies and it should be changed.  If we cannot put in place a constitutional amendment to ensure that money is accounted for, we should find a way of benefiting oil- bearing communities directly.

It is estimated that over N10t has accrued to Niger Delta State since 2000. Are there things on ground to justify this enormous amount?
You point out to me what is on ground or what has happened, even in terms of very symbolic representations. If you go to regions in the world that have generated wealth, at least symbolically, you can see a building, a structure, that will say this is what has come from there. Even in those days in Ibadan, you had the Cocoa House, free education that Chief Obafemi Awolowo government as prime minister of Western Region introduced, and that has put the West ahead the rest of the country in so many areas of life.

In terms of professional development and other areas of life, what can we say that Niger Delta states have benefited? What have the people benefited from the 13 per cent derivation? So much money has come into the zone through derivation, but you don’t see anything that has been done with it. Just how can states go on without constitutionally putting budgets in place and people are keeping quiet? If it were you in possession of such money and there is no check, what will you do because that is what is happening now? There is absolutely no check and there seems to be a conspiracy of silence all over the place, and these governors continue to do whatever they feel like because there is nobody and constitutional procedure checking them. This is really sad.

Norway did not make oil that comes from the North Sea part of the national budget. That goes into a provident fund for the country. And so Norway has the highest amount of sovereign funds anywhere in the world, and still behaves like there is no oil. The people there are not desperate, but all our political leaders do in Nigeria is to gather every month to share oil revenue. They are not talking about productivity.

Those of them who want to do something would just go and put some infrastructure like roads and bridges here and there. The easiest thing for any governor to do is to award contracts for infrastructure. But in terms of creating a social base and a sustainable economic base, they are not able to do that because that requires a lot of intellectual work; a lot of planning and discipline. Infrastructure is okay, quite alright, but that is not development. Are you developing the people? Is the life of the people improving? Why should there be so much poverty in the place? Should that really be? Development requires a disciplined, sustainable process to improve the lives of the people over a period of time. So, you cannot attain development if the discipline, and appropriate governance is not there. That is the problem we are having.

Is the 13 per cent derivation meant mainly for the oil-producing areas or the entire state?
The way the Constitution fashioned it says the state, but in spending the money, the governors in their wisdom should pay serious attention to the oil-bearing communities because that is the normal thing to do. So, even though the resource control entities in the Constitution are the states, they should make sure that oil-bearing communities benefit directly through equitable distribution within the state itself, and not just a matter of sharing money because I don’t believe in sharing money.

I strongly believe that the money should be put into sustainable projects that will improve the lives of the people like, agricultural enterprise, youth development, and industrial development, all of which are capable of attracting or generating development in these areas. And none of these things is happening. Now, when you get to an oil-producing community, it is as dry as a desert. In fact, worse than a desert because of pollution that has taken place over time. What is happening is actually scandalous, and I am not talking specifically about Rivers State because the same thing is happening all over the place.

Delta State created DESOPADEC to disburse the fund, but whether it is done transparently is another issue altogether because you could also put in place something that is not working and it becomes a sort of merry-go-round, all the time the board members are sharing money, which never gets to the people at the grassroots.

However, the truth of the matter is that the affected people are not benefitting from the 13 per cent derivation funds because of the elite economy that is in place. The elite are just sharing the money and all benefits that should have accrued to the people and the people are left in the cold. Corruption is just everywhere. It is a terrible thing.

Which state in the Niger Delta can you single out that has transformed the lives of its people to the point that the people are thanking the governor for the good life that they have been exposed to? Everywhere you turn in the Niger Delta there is one story of woe or the other. Why should that be? It is a disaster; it is scandalous!

Delta State set up an intervention agency like DESOPADC to better the lot of oil-producing communities. Why have others not followed suit?
Your guess is as good as mine. I cannot understand. But maybe the governors have a perception of how they should handle the money, but the bottom line is that a lot of crises that we have in the states stems from the fact that a lot of people are not benefiting from the oil economy, and that was the kind of problem that the 13 per cent derivation was supposed to solve, that is to create a state of inclusiveness in the oil economy, which is not happening. Maybe people should ask the respective state governors what they have been doing.

Two Rivers State governors used state funds to purchase aircraft for their exclusive use. Do you agree that the 13 per cent derivation in a way fueled prolificacy in the Niger Delta?
That has always been the case, I am not really thinking of any particular administration, but that has become a way of life in Rivers State. Is an aircraft such a necessity to a state governor? The British Prime Minister flies all over the world in commercial flights. Why should state governors here begin to acquire aircraft? I think they went into such because they don’t know what to use the money for, and are unaware of creative spendings that will improve the life of the people. Here, governors have state cheque books in their pockets and they do whatever they like with those cheque books. Governance cannot continue to be that way and you think of making progress. The danger in all of these is that we are not having sustainable development process going on. What will the Niger Delta look like in 10, 20 years to come? We are living on borrowed times, and I dare say, sitting on a time bomb. At some point this country will become impossible to govern if we don’t do something about development and the Niger Delta. A lot of people in power don’t seem to see this coming and that is the strange thing.