ANEEJ, Others Advice FG and States

ANEEJ, others advise FG, states on oil revenue management……by Charles Okonji (Compass Energy)

AFRICA Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country have urged both the federal and state governments on proper management of oil revenue. The NGOs, while emerging from a workshop on revenue management in Benin, Edo State, stated that for several decades, the problem of the Niger Delta had continued to recur in development discussion “like the proverbial tortoise with no clear solutions at the moment”. The region, which is the proverbial goose that lay Nigeria’s golden eggs, they noted, had remained largely undeveloped when compared to other parts of the country and even worse with its contemporaries elsewhere in the world.

 From one regime to another, according to them, there had been several efforts at resolving the development question of the region without any meaningful headway owing largely to corruption. Over $900 billion, they pointed out, had been earned from crude oil exports and yet the country was largely impoverished with the worst hit being the Niger Delta region buffeted with environmental degradation and pollution occasioned by the activities of multilateral institutions. Renowned environmentalist and Human Rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, who championed the cause, and the Late Isaac Adaka Boro, who adopted nonviolent approaches to resolving the Niger Delta issue, these NGOs said, were cut short by the state. Ken Saro Wiwa was executed alongside the Ogoni nine by the General Sani Abacha despotic regime against local and international outcry. According to them, the Niger Delta militant approach to deal with the situation since the Federal Government could not address the issue.

 The Federal Government, in the past weeks, the NGOs said, has elected to bombard various Ijaw communities, killing over 2000 women and children, rendering several others homeless in their quest to route the militants. This informed the decision of the Africa

Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) to commence deliberate efforts to ensure that oil revenue derived from the region becomes a blessing rather than a curse to the region. The group had championed budget monitoring and tracking as well as the replication of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commissions at the state level model after the Ondo State example for the management of the thirteen percent oil derivation accruing to oil bearing states. It is on this score that the group initiated a project, entitled”Strengthening Oil Revenue Management in the Niger Delta”, which sought to build the capacities of various government and non-governmental institutions.

 ANEEJ Executive Director, Rev. David Ugolor, declared that the event marked yet another journey into the organization’s decade quest to mainstream good governance in the Niger Delta, adding that the ploy was a deliberate orchestration to reverse the resource-curse phenomenon that has rendered millions of the people of the Niger Delta impoverished.

Calling for a minute silence for the dead in the Niger Delta crisis, he said the “strengthening of oil revenue management’’ project in the Niger Delta region would last three years. Ugolor said that of the total cost of $1.2 million would be spent on the project, while the Norwegian government would provide 50 per cent, while one of ANEEJ’s supporters in Germany had pledged 25 per cent. He said his organization was confident that the project would provide the needed solution to the myriads of problems besetting the beleaguered region. The Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Nedrebo Tore, said his government was supporting the project because it believes that good governance is the key to sustainable development all over the world. He said Nigeria’s oil revenue was more than enough to develop the country and meet the needs of its citizens if well spent like Norway did. By accountable management of its oil revenue, Tore said Norway had developed relevant infrastructures, provided for the needs of Norwegians yet unborn and dedicated one percent of its gross national product or Gross National Products (GNP) to assist developing countries.

The Edo State Special Adviser on Fiscal Governance, Mr. Oseni Elamah, who also chaired the state’s Assets Verification Commission, said that though the recently submitted report investigating public incomes and expenditures prior to November 2008, when the present regime came into office, was carried out by the Edo State Government. He said the verification exercise was set a benchmark for performance by government and send signals to those in government that it was no longer business as usual as those charged with managing public resources would be subjected to regular reviews and evaluations. Elemah said the Edo State government hosted of the workshop, though the state received a small percentage of income as an oil producing state in the Niger Delta region, adding that the state remained committed to transparency and accountable management of its oil revenue as well as revenues from other sources. His position was amplified by the Edo State Deputy Governor, Dr. Pius Egberamwen Odubu, who declared that the state was on the verge of enacting two laws: one on fiscal responsibility and the other on public procurement in line with government’s resolve at entrenching transparency in the management of public revenues. This, he said, was all the more relevant given the global economic crisis with dwindling oil revenues which has reflected in declining allocation from the Federation account, leading to less funds at the disposal of government. To overcome this ugly trend, he said the government recently moved to enforce legislations on taxes to block all leakages, challenge the citizens to pay their taxes and hold the government accountable to the people.

 Edo State Attorney- General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, who spoke on the topic Fiscal Governance Reforms in Edo State, said that ANEEJ’s choice of Benin City to host the workshop at this time was apt. He said the Edo State Government was committed to probity and accountability in the management of all its revenues and as a firm believer in fiscal responsibility, the state Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, had sent two bills to the State legislature for debate and passage with a view to domesticating federal laws. The draft bills, he said, among other sessions, provided for prudent management of all public revenues by all public servants, establishment of a Fiscal Responsibility Commission to enforce transparency and accountability in government provision of a framework for debt management, provision for quarterly reports on the performance of the budget, creating access to information on government incomes and expenditures and empowering members of the public with relevant proves to become whistle blowers. Obayuwana said that the Edo State government’s vision was the institutional location of the concept of fiscal responsibility. Admitting challenges and hurdles, he said the government would examine options for reorientation of the citizenry to appreciate the new thinking in the management of public revenue. The Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, while commending the support of the Norwegian government for the ANEEJ project, said that the Nigeria government has a lot to learn from the Scandinavian nation, as both are oil-producing countries. Oil, he said, is a natural gift and a source of wealth, which should be of benefit to all Nigerians. The present system whereby only a few people appropriate the oil wealth for themselves, leaving millions impoverished, Edebiri said should be reversed, expressing hope that the ANEEJ project would provide the necessary platform for this change. The Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who was represented at the workshop by Mr. Tony Nwaka, the State Commissioner for Local Government, said growing concern about fiscal responsibility makes the timing of the workshop auspicious. He said the concept of value for money and probity in the management of oil revenues canvassed was taking root in Delta State, the nation’s largest oil producing state with the domestication of  the federal Laws of Fiscal Responsibility and Public Procurement. He said the challenge was in enforcing relevant legislations by appealing to the moral and ethical conscience of the people.

National Coordinator of Publish What You Pay Campaign, Faith Nwadishi, said that the ‘Strengthening Oil Revenue Management in Niger Delta’ project as conceptualized by ANEEJ deserved commendation and called on stakeholders to appreciate its relevance to the development of the Nation. She appealed for popular support for the proposed oil sector reform, which is at legislative stage at the National Assembly to avoid multinational oil companies’ scuttling its safe passage, which would guarantee proper management of the nation’s oil revenue for the benefit of its citizens. Stakeholders at the workshop made various contributions. They equally commended the project and prayed for its success. Stanley Ikpako, who is secretary to the Host Communities of Oil and Gas in Edo State, advised government to take time to study the rationale for the peace in Edo State though oil producing. He said proper management of oil resources in the state would guarantee that the unrest in other states would not spill over to the state where it was yet to be passed into law like Edo.

 For local authorities and CSOs, Atakpu said on e workshop in each state with 20 participants each was planned for the two groups, while for the media similar workshops were planned to basically build their capacities to understand and report on issues of good governance in a more accurate and professional manner. A member of the Federal Government Sponsored Committee on the Niger Delta, Mr. Ben Domyegha, said if the report of the Committee and its recommendations were implemented to the letter, it would help reduce the crisis in the Niger Delta. Domyegha said: “The key is for the Federal government to exhibit necessary political will to amend obnoxious land and petroleum laws so that the oil revenues can be judiciously utilized for the common good of Nigerians.” Akie Hart, who called for enhanced capacity building for CSOs, said there are many concepts and terms associated with public revenues that stakeholders are ignorant of and urged ANEEJ to ensure proper breakdown of the jargons in developing the toolkits. A student of the University of Benin, Idirerurekevbe Ifemena, said the workshop was timely as it showed the vision of the elders for youths of the nation. He said the difference between the youths fighting in the Niger Delta and those in school was a matter of educational empowerment and called on authorizes to help reverse the trend.