Since Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State forwarded a bill to the State House of Assembly to amend the law setting up the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC, there have been series of massive protests and rejections trailing the bill. Many are of the belief that if the House of Assembly eventually passes the bill into law, the governor is set to bite more than he could chew. This is not far from the truth as ethnic groups which are currently the major oil producers and benefiting from the commission have out rightly rejected the bill as its content and the amendment sought run counter to the aspiration of the communities that are the main oil producers in the state.
Sources close to the state power house and conversant with the law establishing the commission say the sectarian outlook of the governor and his alleged desire to include his ethnic nationality into the benefitting communities and most likely nominate a close ally as Managing Director is the ulterior motive behind the amendment being sought by the Governor. Not a few Deltans have argued that his penchant to give his clan, where it is said that gas has been discovered in some communities and in recognition and possible inclusion into the commission have been alleged as the brain behind the overall amendment being sought by Governor Okowa.
Although Governor Okowa has explained that his desire in the amendment is for the overall interest of Deltans going by his prosperity agenda campaign, a broad spectrum of Deltans see this move as sitting on a gun powder which would explode and have damaging consequences beyond the perceived parochial benefit which he is seeking for his people, who constitute an infinitesimal two local government areas in the entire 25 local councils in the state.
While many believe that the rubber stamped State House of Assembly which prides itself as the most vibrant in the nation will not hesitate to pass the bill into law, a cross section of Deltans see it as being too hasty for the governor who has been in power for only two months to begin a diplomatic fight for his ethnic nationality in the politically volatile Delta State. Since the bill was sent to the State House of Assembly, it has been protest upon protest from various quarters and groups in the Central and Southern Senatorial Districts of the state.
The Urhobos, the Itsekiris and Ijaws have never ceased pouring venom on the decision of the governor. They are of the thinking that there is actually no need amending the law establishing the commission if the governor has no ulterior motive behind his action. The commission was established by an act of the House of Assembly in 2006 during the last days of former Governor of the state, James Onanefe Ibori, who held sway from 1999 to May 2007. They feel that the provision in the law should remain as it has benefited communities in the oil producing area of the state.
But Okowa, defending the rationale behind the bill, said the move to amend the laws establishing the commission was to make it more effective in delivering on its mandate. According to him, the financial situation of the country has made it necessary for prudent and judicious utilization of resources which has made it imperative for the laws setting up the DESOPADEC to be amended to make it effective, productive and more service oriented.
The Governor observed that the era where projects would be sited without adding value to the lives of the people is over. He said “we are not repealing the old law, it is not a new bill, the amendment we are proposing is to structure DESOPADEC in line with the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) model. This is democracy and I am not expecting that the amendment bill will come out exactly as we proposed it, there will be public hearing, people will make their contributions, I don’t believe in forcing the hands of the legislators to do my bidding. I propose that there should be a Managing Director and Executive Directors to run the day to day affairs of the commission while there will be Commissioners who will be on part time basis and representing different ethnic nationalities in the state.”
The proposed amendment bill is seeking to amend the principal law recasting it for the commission to consist of Chairman and eight representatives from the oil producing nationalities in the state who would be part time members and Managing Director who will run the day to day administration of the commission, including two ex-officio members among them. According to the proposed amendment, the position of the of Secretary is replaced with Managing Director while the words “oil producing areas of the state” are replaced with oil producing ethnic nationalities of the state in alphabetical order’.
In the public hearing organized by the State House of Assembly to get the views of the people of the state, not less than 25 groups from the oil and gas producing communities across the state expressed divergent views over the proposed amendment bill. While members of the House of Assembly Adhoc Committee set up for the purpose of the review and led by Hon. Dennis Omovie, said the sixth assembly led by Rt. Hon. Monday Igbuya was desirous to make the executive bill sponsored by the Governor, more proactive and cost effective, saying that the various memoranda and presentations received by the committee were germane to the consideration and passage of the bill.
Omovie said the house had thought it wise to pass the amendment bill through normal procedures in law making by organizing public hearing to enable host communities of oil and gas and stakeholders in the state make inputs to the betterment of the proposed law. Supported by Hons. Pat Ajudua, Alphonsus Ojo, Oboro Preyor, Reuben Izeze and Godwin Abigor, Omovie said the public hearing on the bill was the sure way for the amendment to improve on the laws of the state. He added that members of the assembly would not be part of any law that would not enhance the living conditions of Deltans but would make the law people oriented so as to bring dividends of democracy to all Deltans.
But leaders of Ijaw oil producing communities in Delta State have rejected the proposed amendment bill of the commission. Comrade Sheriff Mulade, a staunch Ijaw advocate, kicked against the proposed amendment to place the commissioners on part-time and Managing Directors’ selection on senatorial level, saying the move was against the purpose of establishing the commission. Mulade pointed out that DESOAPDEC was established by former Governor James Ibori to cater for the oil bearing communities and not for non-oil producing areas.
He explained that the commissioners are the only direct representatives of the communities in the board but if relegated to be on part-time, it shows no one will be there to represent the people of Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko and Ndokwa who are the supposed direct beneficiaries of the interventionist agency.
Mulade noted that the new bill which seeks for appointment of Managing Directors on the basis of senatorial district will totally erase three ethnic groups of Delta South Senatorial District from representation because the district is made up of Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko because it allows only three Managing Directors one from each of the districts on rotational basis.
He further stressed that the bill totally removed powers from the oil bearing communities to take care of their liabilities which is not too good. “So I urged members of the Delta State House of Assembly to rise against these sections in ensuring that they are all corrected for the benefits of the three major oil producing ethnic groups of the state”, he added.
Also, Itsekiri staffs in the commission under the aegis of Association of Itsekiri Staff in DESOPADEC (AISID) have rejected the proposed amendment bill. In a communiqué signed by Chairman of the workers body, Mr. Weyinmi Agbeteyiniro, Barr. Gabrial Eyewuoma (Secretary) and Mr. Francis Lube (member), the group insisted that representatives of the oil producing ethnic nationalities on the board cannot be appointed on part-time basis while the Executive Directors and the Managing Director are on full time.
It also reject the appointment of Executive Directors on the basis of senatorial district considering the fact that senatorial districts are just a mere political structure which in the case of Delta South Senatorial District that houses the Itsekiris, Ijaws and the Isokos which produce about 78% of the total Oil/Gas money to be shared, will only have one Executive Director to fight over, while the other two senatorial districts that are essentially homogeneous and do not produce more than 22% will have one Director each. This, to the group, was unfair to the major oil producers.
The group also demanded that like as it is in the NDDC law, which this bill is being modeled after, the position of the Managing Director should be rotated among the oil producing ethnic nationalities on the basis of production quantum, with the ethnic group with the highest production taking the first shot while the position of the Chairman of the commission be rotated like in NDDC in alphabetical order.
In a similar vein, Urhobo youths, under the aegis of Urhobo Youths Alliance for Equity and Justice, have urged the Governor to withdraw the amendment bill until all ethnic nationalities in the state have taken their turn to occupy the commission’s chairmanship position. They also advised members of the Delta State House of Assembly of Urhobo extraction to dissociate themselves from the bill, which they alleged was to deny the ethnic nationality of its right to take a shot at the chairmanship position of the commission.
Spokesman of the group, Emmanuel Skido, argued that the law establishing DESOPADEC provided for rotational chairmanship of the commission among the five ethnic nationalities of Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko, and Ndokwa. He said: “The Ijaw and Itsekiri have taken their turns as Chairmen of DESOPADEC with all the benefits attached; so, after waiting patiently for years, it is now the turn of Urhobo to occupy the chairmanship seat for a full tenure as stipulated by the law establishing DESOPADEC in 2006 as amended in 2010; but the Delta State Government is sending series of bills to the Delta State House of Assembly in the name of restructuring the commission just to deprive Urhobo ethnic nationality of occupying the position and the Urhobo youths are saying ‘NO, to this.”