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PIB: Southern lawmakers failed our people – Eradiri, ex-IYC president

Former President of Ijaw Youths Council, Udengs Eradiri, speaks on the passage
of the Petroleum Industry Bill into law, the ongoing forensic auditing in NDDC,
among other issues, in this interview with Mudiaga Affe

Members of a militant group, Niger Delta Avengers, recently threatened to cripple the economy if the federal government failed to accede to their agitations, which include the inauguration of a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), how can their threat be addressed?

I was President of the Ijaw Youth Council when the Avengers in 2015 started the agitations in the region. I was involved in the processes that led to peace and stability in the region. The call for the formation of a board in the NDDC, I think is premature on the part of agitating groups in the Niger Delta. The reason is that certain interest groups that do not have proper information about what is going on are trying to hide under the guise of agitators to issue threats about the formation of a board for the NDDC.

I want to ask a simple question- what is the correlation between the board of NDDC and the struggle for justice in the Niger Delta. This is the same NDDC that mismanaged the fortunes of our people, so, are we going to be forcing the government to appoint a board that we have no control over, and in the end, this same board that was set up will now begin to pilfer the resources of the region.

What I have seen is that there is a fundamental crisis in the NDDC that needs the right people, the right framework, the right managerial structure to be re-jigged for the commission to live up to its mandate. The Niger Delta people were the ones that called for forensic examination of the agency because they believe that the NDDC has not lived up to expectations, and it was based on that that President Muhammadu Buhari decided to institute a panel to find out why the agency has not lived up to the desired expectation.

In the middle of the process, the same people are clamouring for a board. It does not make sense to me. With what I know and with what I have seen, I think that the people of the region must wait so that after the forensic examination, we can see reasons why there had been failures. And this can be factored into while appointing the new board. There also have to be terms of reference for the new board so that they do not go the same way as the former boards. Our people must understand that they have asked for something and they should have the patience to wait for the outcome of the forensic scrutiny before the board is appointed.

At what point are we in with regard to the forensic auditing?
Two preliminary reports have been submitted and the final report will be submitted before the end of July.

What would be your rating of the interventionist agency since its inception?
My assessment will be relative. Most people keep saying that the NDDC has not done well, but before the inception of the commission, there were no roads to so many of our communities. Today, many communities can be accessed by roads and many young persons have got scholarships that have changed their lives as a result of the NDDC.

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This is apart from the water and electricity provided to communities that did not have these infrastructure before. So, from where we are coming from since the year 2000, I will say a lot has been done to improve the lives of the people. However, whether it is meeting the standard of today is another issue to debate about. I will say at the moment, the agency has not been able to satisfy the people. Generally speaking, however, from its creation, it has made an impact on the people.

Youth participation in politics is one issue that has topped the front burner lately, how can we promote this?
I am one person who does not believe in the not-too-young to run mantra in Nigeria because of the way our young people have gone about it. So far, a lot of young people have been allowed to serve in government but they have truly not lived up to expectations. If you look at the National Assembly that you have heard all kinds of things, no fewer than 50 per cent of the number of people in the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives today, are young people. Young people in Nigeria today fall in the bracket of between 30 and 50 years, and we have had a lot of them that have been governors as well. The issue here is, what has been their performance with regard to delivering the dividends of democracy?

If I see a 90-year-old that I know will deliver the dividend of democracy to the people, just as Malaysia went back to bring their 93-year-old leader to lead them, as distinct from a young person who will go there and gallivant, I will choose the older man because what is important is that person who will occupy that office and be responsible to the realities of the day.

So, if you look at participation, you would have seen a lot of young people, but what is the quality of leadership that has been expressed by these young people? I think what we should be talking about is the quality of the individual and the process he/she emerges. If the process is transparent you will at the end of the day get someone who will deliver. But if the process is arm-twisted, then some of these people who get into public offices will continue to play the bidding of those who arm-twisted the process to put them there.

How is NDDC presently engaging youths in the region?
The engagement process of the NDDC is a relative one. Since we came in, we have been doing a lot of engagements. For instance, zoom meetings have been held several times to talk about issues in the region. We have packaged programmes that will put youths on the right page. We have a sports training programme, and a lot more that have been put in place and that is why we keep talking about the forensic process because NDDC is an interventionist agency.

Unfortunately, the agency has been muddled to go through the procurement processes in the country and this is not helping the interventionist agency. Therefore, if you want to carry out any activity, you will have to go through a process in line with the procurement initiative. These are some of the frustration that is befalling the agency and we have recommended that certain categories of protocols should be exempted from the procurement process.

So, we are still identifying certain areas that militate against the progress of young people. The agency is supposed to be training over 1,000 young people for stream seven, but we are still in the procurement process for the seventh project to start. It is those issues that we are putting together and to be sent to the minister that waivers need to be given in certain areas, especially in activities that concern youths so that they can be kept busy. I urge the Niger Delta youths to be patient with Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. He means well for the region and by the time the forensic team will come up with their recommendations and the board is set up, we would have a stronger and more disciplined NDDC that will deal with the challenges of development in the Niger Delta.

It is believed that youth restiveness also contributes to insecurity in the country. At the national level, how can this be tackled?
So many things have been muddled up in the country. We need to ensure that the electoral process is transparent enough so that leaders who come out after that process are accountable to the people. People have been talking about true federalism, yes I agree, but most importantly, the electoral process that will select leadership in a restructured Nigeria must be devoid of the manipulations that we see every day and this will make them accountable to the people. Once we have accountable leaders, the organogram for every institution will be spelt out. If you are in NDDC, your responsibility is to deal with issues of development to the people. So, if given the opportunity after a transparent selection process, you will begin to see the institutions of government functioning well.

Criticisms have trailed the Petroleum Industry Bill just passed into law, what is your assessment of the new law as it affects the region?
The government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua proposed 10 per cent equity and from that point, we made our position clear when I was the President of IYC. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo started the Olokola energy, he gave 10 per cent to the people as equity and that was where it started. We insisted that that same 10 per cent must be translated to every oil activity within the Niger Delta and so when Yar’Adua came in, he started this PIB matter. The agitation from the region led to that 10 per cent.

So, when the thing started going back and forth because of the interest of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the manner of electoral process that brought the kind of people we had in the National Assembly, it is the reason why they could not pass it for close to 20 years. This same electoral process is the reason why we have people who will subvert national interest because of personal interest. My take is this- I am very angry at my people, especially the southern governors and leaders of the party. It is these same governors that hand-picked their cronies to represent the people in the National Assembly. When the chips were down, these lawmakers were nowhere to be found because most of them did not understand the reason why they are representing the people.

In contrast, lawmakers from the north attend meetings called by their governors and they rub minds on critical issues and adopt strategies on how to implement their plans, while our governors and their hand-picked representatives are sleeping. When the northern lawmakers successfully push for what they desire, the southern lawmakers will be crying foul. Where were they when critical decisions are being taken? A man who fails to plan, plans to fail.
The northern people mobilised to ensure that the PIB was passed the way it is. For me, let the PIB be signed into law, while we look forward to the amendment. You cannot eat your cake and have it. They have failed because they were not even prepared in the first place because they are governors’ cronies. We knew all along that a day like this would come. There had been different versions of the bill when it was being debated but what role did our governors play?

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