By Perez Brisibe
IN the advent of the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led administration of Delta State in 2015, the governor, in his bid to reposition and restructure the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission, DESOPADEC to actualize its vision, decided to unbundle the agency in line with the model of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
Dissolving the board, Governor Okowa, in a statement by his then Secretary to the State Government, Festus Agas, explained that he was restructuring the DESOPADEC board in line with the NDDC model through an Amendment Bill in order for it to actualize its mandate of developing the oil producing communities.
Making his position known in a statement, the governor said: “SMART is not so much a new policy as it is a new approach to addressing our most pressing needs. It will sustain and deepen the policy of less dependency on oil and lay a solid foundation for economic growth and infrastructural development.”
Until the governor’s move, the commission’s board was composed of just the chairman and members representing the various ethnic groups, thereby creating a developmental bottleneck in the actualisation of its vision.
Four years after the passage of the DESOPADEC amendment bill, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs which is the supervisory ministry of the NDDC (model used for the unbundling of DESOPADEC) is helplessly grappling in the dark to defend its 2020 budget.
The senate committee on Niger Delta Affairs during the 2020 budget proposal of the ministry while rejecting the budgetary allocation for the ministry, had also questioned the implementation of the ministry’s 2019 budget stating that “an outstanding N21billion worth of projects were not implemented in the 2019 budget” yet the ministry is making plans for new budget without recourse to its uncompleted projects.
MNDA 2020 budget is not sustainable– Minister
After a thorough grilling by the committee, Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Tayo Alasoadura who accompanied the senior minister of the ministry, Sen. Godswill Akpabio for the presentation of the ministry’s N23billion 2020 budget proposal, had admitted during the budget defense that the “budget was not sustainable.”
Senate Committee pooh-pooh budget
Chairman of the committee, Sen. Peter Nwaoboshi, while condemning the failure of the Ministry to consult with stakeholders in the Niger Delta before drawing up the budget, said: “How did you come about the projects? Did you sit in your office and bring projects or did you consult with stakeholders in the Niger Delta before you advised the minister on the projects to be put in the budget?”
Nwaboshi stated that with the oversight function carried out in the ministry, it was realised that the bane of the ministry was abandoned projects littered all over the nine Niger Delta states.
He said: “I dare to say that there is no local government in the region where there is no abandoned projects in the Niger Delta. We cannot continue like that! With all the abandoned projects in the Niger Delta and we are talking about new projects; these new projects are designed to fail.”
Warning the ministry against sounding like the NDDC which he described as one of the worst federal establishments, a member of the committee, Sen. Rochas Okorocha said: “This type of budget doesn’t produce anything feasible. You have to do your projects and complete them so you don’t sound like the NDDC. One of the worst establishments is NDDC known for funny activities because of the way it is set up.”
With an “unsustainable budget,” according to the Minister of State for Niger Delta and questions raised by the Senate Committee Chairman on Niger Delta surrounding consultation and inputs of stakeholders in the region, it is obvious that the Ministry needs to come to Delta and consult with the Askia-led DESOPADEC board in budget preparation.
DESOPADEC’s pre-budget preparation
It is on record that upon resumption in office, ahead of its 2020 budget preparation, the Askia-led board first embarked on a Town Hall meeting, with stakeholders from the various oil bearing communities, to get their inputs into the budget.
At the meetings, Chief Askia while harping on the paradigm shift of the new board, explained that the board will be setting aside 60 percent of funds in its budget for the completion of ongoing projects which the people hitherto referred to as “abandoned projects.”
He said: “We are in the process of putting together our budget, and we are having a departure from what used to be, following the directive by the governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, on the need for a bottom-to-top approach.
“We are here to redirect our focus to ensure we build projects that will touch our lives and make the people see the projects as their own.
“You call them abandoned projects but we call them ongoing projects and we will be setting aside 60 percent of funds in the next budget to the completion of these projects. The remaining 40 percent will be for projects that will be collated from interactions as a result of these town hall meetings which will be shared according to the quantum of the various oil producing ethnicities.”
Taking its consultation a notch higher beyond stakeholders of the oil bearing ethnic nationalities in the state, the board has also met with the management of oil companies including multinationals operating in the state in a bid to partnering with them in its 2020 budget implementation and the actualization of its mandate.
Juxtaposing the budget activities of the DESOPADEC board and Ministry of Niger Delta, it is glaring that though the board was unbundled and modeled in line with the archetypal of the NDDC, DESOPADEC has surpassed its expectation in budget preparation compared to criticisms by the senate committee on Niger Delta against the Ministry.
X-raying the words of the Senate Minority Leader and member of the committee, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe that “the budget of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is designed to fail,” the Niger Delta region will achieve a lot, if the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs headed by Sen. Akpabio eats the humble pie, takes a trip to Warri, headquarters of DESOPADEC and meet with the board to be tutored on budget preparation.
Perez Brisibe writes from the office of the DESOPADEC MD/CEO