Engr. Ebieridei Charles Ambaowei is the Technical Assistant to the Governor on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Matters in Bayelsa State and a former Acting President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), the apex and umbrella socio-cultural organisation of Ijaws Worldwide.In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, the former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in the state examines developmental issues of Bayelsa State and explains why he threw his hat into the ring to contest the Bayelsa Central Senatorial seat on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
How do you assess development of Baylesa State in its 23 years of existence?
It always feels good to have autonomy in order to plan for development at one’s pace and time. We cherish that any day, any time and that is the legacy of the creation of the state. Twenty-three or 24 years may be short in the history of a nation or state. But comparatively, we are a people in hurry for development because of the level of deprivation the Ijaw people have suffered over the years.
Specifically, in the areas of health, education and infrastructure, we cannot say we have made giant strides. But at least we have initiated processes to get us a better tomorrow. That we can rightly say we have done through the governors that have governed the state both under military dispensation and in the course of civil rule. it is a journey in progress.
As one of the oil producing states which has been receiving 13 per cent Derivation Principle funds from oil, would you say that the level of development in Bayelsa State is commensurate with the allocations the state has received?
You see, when this question comes up, what I often tell people is that Bayelsa State has its own peculiar environmental and ecological constraints. Even in Rivers State which we were part of, you hear of such mantras as upland and riverine areas, because even as people of one state then, when it comes to construction of a kilometer of road in the riverine areas, the cost is so high.
The man who is upland has laterite soil will just bulldoze the land and begin construction. But not so in riverine areas because 10 kilometres can be constructed with same amount on a road at the upland. I am speaking from a position of knowledge and experience both as an Engineer and a former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in this state.
I really do not subscribe to such notion that we receive huge allocation. In fact, why should we even be receiving allocations when we should actually be generating our wealth and be paying tax to the government at the centre? I don’t really want to go into that debate, rather I support the general consensus among our people that there is a high level of corruption and not checked that has created a huge deficit in development in the State.
I will say it any day, any time as an anti-corruption crusader and advocate of good governance, that corruption has stunted development in Bayelsa.
It is just like the parable of the talents which Jesus gave in the Bible. To one servant he gave 10, another five and the other one. While those who had 10 and five worked hard and returned with profits they made, the one who got a talent came back obtrusively and very ungrateful and said he dug the ground and hid his talent. Those who made good use of what they had, received more but the single talent from the ‘unfaithful servant’ was retrieved and added to the man who made additional 10, thereby raising his talents to 21.
The lesson in this for Bayelsa State is that we are people who used to say we were marginalised and oppressed; and now have our own state where we govern ourselves. It is not a situation where we were ruled over by Igbos or Yorubas. Now how faithfully and diligently are we in handling our resources? What are the traits to show that we are doing things differently? When these things don’t connect, then we give those who are on the other side basis for argument. I always say, you cannot come and take our resources and share out stipends for us and insist the stipends should sustain us.
How do you see the controversies that have dogged NDDC’s forensic audit?
Look, I will tell you without mincing words that NDDC is a big problem. Without controversy, it has proven to be a behemoth that dishes out corruption. Let me quickly inform you that as at May this year, Governor Duoye Diri appointed me Technical Assistant to the Governor on NDDC Matters. The work of the moribund NDDC Projects Verification Committee in Bayelsa State set up by then Governor Seriake Dickson provided a damning report.
Do you know that it was our report that made Governor Dickson to galvanise all governors of the NDDC states to pay attention to the projects being handled by the Commission in the nine states? That was why the governors unanimously approached Mr. President that NDDC is not actually developing the Niger Delta. That record shows huge amount of money has been released to NDDC for projects execution but there is nothing in the oil producing states to show for same in commensurate terms.
A forensic audit was ordered by Mr. President. Recently some people alleged that corruption is on-going under the NDDC’s Interim Management Committee. Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, the current Executive Director Projects (EDP) spoke on Arise TV. But when the interviewer, Dr. Reuben Abati, asked him to tell Nigerians the forensic auditors, the EDP could not name them. He held his tongue in cheek after elaborately blasting corrupt acts of certain Senators, contractors and front companies.
I doubt forensic auditing is ongoing anywhere in NDDC. By virtue of my current appointment which is to follow up on all NDDC matters as it affects Bayelsa State, and by the way, as a state, the issues concerning NDDC projects that we have unearthed is humongous.
Statistics from the NDDC prior to 2017 when our committee was set up by Governor Seriake Dickson showed that the commission had 893 projects in Bayelsa State, excluding interventions such as emergency repairs. Three hundred and fifty-one of them were said to have been completed, with a difference of 542; 196 yet to be started, 271 ongoing, four taken over by Bayelsa State Government, 54 were stalled and 17 terminated.
We are at a loss or quagmire regards the NDDC’s claim and asked NDDC to furnish us with the details. Our letter dated November 26, 2019 tilted: ‘Request for Detailed Information on Projects, Contractors and Consultants Involved in NDDC Jobs cited in Bayelsa State from Inception to Date,’ duly signed by me as the then Chairman, Bayelsa State NDDC Project Verification Committee sent to the MD, NDDC, attention ED Projects, and received on 28 of the same month at their headquarters in Port Harcourt.
NDDC failed and/or refused providing the requested details. What is the Commission afraid of? We had expressly written to NDDC and relied on the Freedom of Information Act. It was further buttressed by another correspondence by the Honourable Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of Bayelsa State. The then Acting Managing Director, Prof. Nelson Brambaifa directed vide official minutes to EDP to release the information. However, from Dr. Joy Nunie and to Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei-led IMC, supposedly fighting corruption won’t do the needful. The EDP, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh’s desk is squarely responsible to act but will not. This can only be usual shenanigans of NDDC. We are not deceived.
We are indeed considering the next appropriate course of action to protect our people. Prof. Kemebradikumo Podei and Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh are again extended a public application via this medium to act now. Furnish Bayelsa State with NDDC projects details up to 2020 in strict compliance to our professional questionnaire. Therefore, for us, from the picture and the prism we view NDDC, in fact there is disconnect with our aspirations, yearnings and desires. We are blind-folded on issues of scrutinizing their public activities. They have completely built brick walls to frustrate state governments that request information. NDDC is very opaque.
Why do you want to go to the Senate?
I want to go to the Senate to represent Bayelsa Central Senatorial District. The seat became vacant following the election of Senator Diri as Governor. I want to give my people effective representation. I want to put a full stop to docile representation at the National Assembly. I want to be at the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria due to my sharp sensibilities that zeros on the fact that obnoxious laws, statutes, policies and even the Constitution of Nigeria as framed are institutionalized unitary and oppressive mechanism which rob us daily. It is time to restore true federal system of government in the country. We lack that, we suffer the brunt always at this end and are complaining. But the fundamental element is to change laws, the statutes, and policies.
When it is right these complaints will stop from us. If previous representatives weren’t vociferous about this point that is the cutting edge I intend dwelling on in the Senate. Don’t forget, the history books are clear, that Nigeria was a true federal State as at independence in 1960 and also under the 1963 Republican Constitution. But the fortunes dipped, turned around for worse to this current mess through the 1966 coup and counter-coups, and especially the promulgation of Decree 34 of May 1966 by General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi.
I want to represent Bayelsa Central which comprises Southern Ijaw, Yenagoa and Kolokuma/Opokuma local government areas. Former Governor Dickson is not of the same Senatorial District with me as he is from Bayelsa West Senatorial District which is made up of Sagbama and Ekeremo local government areas