David Ugolor is the executive director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, with the mandate, among others, to entrench good governance. With a number of projects that involve issues of development, social justice, poverty eradication and research in the Niger Delta region, supported by Norwegian and German governments, the organisation feels very strongly that for development to take place in the oil-producing area, the governance system needs to be improved upon, especially in the area of public finance management. “We found out that laws that help in strengthening the public finance system are lacking in some of these states in the South-south. The Procurement Law, the Fiscal Responsibility Law and Public Finance Management System were not in place. But we are happy that in Delta, Edo and Rivers states, they now have Procurement Law and Fiscal Responsibility Law,” he says in this interview with Adekunbi Ero, director, special duties. Excerpts:
How do you enforce and ensure compliance with the law to strengthen public finance management system?
Having these laws is not enough; the issue of enforcement is a big challenge. And unfortunately, stakeholders who are supposed to make it enforceable do not have knowledge about these laws. For example the Procurement Law in Delta State specifies that a board be constituted to guide the operations of the procurement system but how that is done currently is still a big challenge. Sometimes, it is not a deliberate intention to perpetrate corruption but just that some capacity challenges are there. So, what we have been doing in the Niger Delta is to help government to identify some of these challenges and bring in resource persons to help train operators. We have done that very successfully in Delta State by helping to build the capacity of the members of the House of Assembly in dealing with the oversight functions. We have also done that in Edo State. Some of these projects also flow from the fact that we also help build the capacity of oil and gas commissions like DESOPADEC in Delta State.
We have also partnered with them in building their capacity as well, helping them for training and helping them to identify the strategy on how to move forward in some of these issues. So, in Rivers State, it’s the same thing. And we are also building the capacity of civil society-based organisations on how they can form coalitions and network to keep eyes on government and budget processes because as you know, one of the most important documents that defines how government should be genuinely committed to ensuring transformation is the budget and in most cases, you will agree with me that most of the resources are allocated to recurrent expenditure which has no impact on people’s lives. But we are happy that some governments are increasingly taking full step now to ensure that more resources are going to capital projects and capital projects have the potential to grow the economy. And once the economy grows, there would be opportunity for jobs and once there are jobs, it would reduce the potential for crisis and conflict and that is one of the whole aims of the project.
We are very happy that in implementing these projects across the six states in the region, we have seen some marked improvements particularly in the areas of enforcement of some of these laws. We are also happy that some governors are increasingly seeing the relationship between delivery and having the trust of the people; and that again creates legitimacy for such governments. It is in their interest to see that some of these laws that were established are functioning properly; that they are not just kept in the shelf because if you keep them in the shelf, it’s a big challenge especially against the background of the crises that we have experienced in the Niger Delta region.
Do you believe in the proposed national dialogue as a way of answering some national questions?
I don’t believe in the national dialogue because it is not the solution to our problems. It’s a political agenda to misdirect the people and it’s a waste of public fund. It was not part of the agenda of President Jonathan when he was campaigning across the country. What Jonathan told Nigerians was that I would solve the problem of corruption; I would ensure that the oil and gas sector is reformed by the passage of Petroleum Industry Bill and make sure that the issue of power and infrastructural development is focused on. There is none of these things that he has been able to focus on properly. In short, in the area of fighting corruption, he has failed woefully and you can see very clearly that ministers are stealing money under his nose and he could do nothing about it. He has encouraged impunity across the board and the level of corruption today in this country, I make bold to say, is unprecedented. He has made it impossible for the corruption agencies to act because there is no political will. To me, this is a big threat to democracy.
But you know our political elites are very smart. They give ethnic colouration to these issues. People introduce ethnic sentiments to serious issues. Who gets what should not be based on where you come from. Look at Jonathan. He is an Ijaw man from the South-south but go to the creeks of the Niger Delta and talk to the average Ijaw man if he has fared better under this administration. You and I know what the Kaiama Declaration is all about. Has Jonathan met the hopes and aspirations of the Ijaw man as enunciated in the Kaiama Declaration? No. Even his people fared better under a northern president. All the key powers and resources still go to the North; he’s just being blackmailed. So, the answer to our problem is not dialogue. Some people who just want to keep the country busy and spend public resources came up with this idea.
What do you make of the recent controversy between Chibuike Amaechi, Rivers State governor, and the federal government over alleged missing $5 billion?
The way the federal government has actually managed the entire resources of this country again classically illustrates impunity. Section 162, sub-sections 1 and 2 of the Nigerian constitution [are] very clear on how the Federation Account should be managed. There is no room for the Excess Crude Account. But government from nowhere created that account and they disburse it at the discretion of the President and that is the question Amaechi is raising. It is not Amaechi but the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. But we live in a country where somebody raises a good question and government sees you as an enemy. Amaechi contested an election and won, but because the President does not like his face, the President refused to recognise him but chose to recognise the one who failed. What sort of country is this? And recently, he pardoned his kinsman Alamieyeseigha who stole, and on the other hand, you are pursuing Ibori. What signal are you sending? Let them provide convincing answers to them instead of hounding Amaechi. Then there was a controversy on oil well between Rivers State and Bayelsa State; while they were trying to resolve this, money was given to Bayelsa State. Jonathan will use one hand to pursue Ibori and he used another hand to pardon Alamieyeseigha and said this is his godfather. In a country driven by such ethnic interest, is it national dialogue that will solve it? If you do an election today, you will be surprised that Urhobo people will say they want Ibori to go and represent them in that national dialogue. And let me say this too.
The federal government has announced that the refineries will be privatised by next year. Do you see this as a good development?
This government lives on rent. This government is not driven by productivity. They look for every cheap way to survive. The managers of the economy are bankrupt of ideas on how to move this country forward economically, even socially. They chose to sell the refineries rather than make them operational as it is in other oil-producing countries. It is only in Nigeria you send out your crude oil to be refined. It is only in this country you import fuel as an oil-rich country. We used to do it before; why can we no longer do it? It’s all about corruption and lack of visionary and pro-active leadership. It is my pain each time I reflect about this country especially in a government where you have Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a woman I respect so much managing the economy. If this government does not have the capacity to grow the economy through agriculture, they should be bold enough to tell Nigerians. Why would you be selling the whole assets of the country to few hands? Look at the fraud in the oil subsidy. Who among the culprits have been brought to justice? It is very unfortunate.