Governors of the oil-rich South- South states have demanded an upward review of the provision of 2.5 per cent as Host Community Trust Fund in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to 10 per cent in the best interest of oil communities and the nation.
The governors also advised President Muhammadu Buhari that in the absence of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) board, the commission’s fund, beyond the payment of salaries, should be put in an escrow account until he constitutes the board.
Chairman of the South- South Governors’ Forum and Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who spoke at the end of the forum’s meeting on Monday night at the Government House, Port Harcourt, said: “We took up the issue of the PIB, which is already before the House and having compared notes with ourselves, we are of the view that while we welcome the Host Community Trust Fund, we do believe that the 2.5 per cent 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 should increase the provision in the host community fund from 2.5 per cent to 10 per cent in the best interest of our communities and our nation.”
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 feel satisfied with provision of funds for them in the PIB, they are more likely going to be watchdog on behalf of the Federal Government, the states and oil companies.
“And 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. Okowa noted that it was worrisome that the NDDC has been run more than a year by an Interim Caretaker Committee, and now, an interim administrator.
This situation, he added, 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 stressed that the demands of the governors were based on the interest of the country, the states and more importantly in the interest of various communities of the Niger Delta.
He added: “So, it means that the NDDC is actually run in such a matter that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders’ input in the running of the NDDC affairs.
“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if for 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 people of the Niger Delta.”
The governors demand ed that whenever the board of the NDDC is constituted, the advisory council must be called upon to place 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 shortchanged as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue going forward into the future, 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 boards should come in and have funds to spend,” Okowa said.
Present at the meeting were Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Douye Diri (Bayelsa) and the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Moses Ekpo, who represented Governor Udom Emmanuel.