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Onwioduokit: Let people demand accountability from their governments

Onwioduokit

Professor of Economics at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Onwioduokit, in this interview with INEMESIT AKPAN-NSOH in Uyo, said that the Federal Government was breaching the Constitution in the payment of the 13 per cent derivation fund to benefitting states. He also urged Niger Deltans to put their elected representatives on their toes and demand accountability.

Akwa Ibom State is seen as the highest earner of the 13 per cent derivation fund. How has this translated to better life or otherwise for its citizens?
I will like to rephrase and put on record that the Constitution says at least 13 per cent and supposedly 13 per cent should be 13 per cent of gross, not all the deductions. So, effectively, my recent studies indicate that in the last 10 years, oil-producing states, the highest they’ve had has been equivalent of 9.6 per cent. So, the 13 per cent has not been paid as the Constitution envisaged.

Then the issue of whether the 13 per cent has transformed the lives of the citizens, you know 13 per cent does not come separately; it is factored into the budget of the state so it is spent across the state. The 13 per cent derivation is not tailor-made for only the oil-producing areas of the state, but it is captured in the state-wide budget used for the development of the entire state. To that extent, the whole state has benefited. If you look at the FAC allocation, most times, Akwa Ibom State has more revenue from derivation than the normal allocation to individual states.

Are you saying that Akwa Ibom State has been able to effectively manage its accruals irrespective of your identified shortfall in the percentage?
To my mind, Akwa Ibom State has managed the fund. I came back to Nigeria in 2015 since then I have been involved in this government, I can say that this government has made appropriation on every money that comes in for the parliament’s approval before it is spent. So, from this period, I can say to a large extent that the money has been used to provide infrastructure and sundry developmental needs.

Some think there is need for a special agency, or commission to be established to manage the application of the 13 per cent derivation fund for oil-producing communities in the state?
We should be careful about creating institutions. I advocate for effective use of resources in the state, but when you create bureaucracy, you are going to have need for offices; incur overhead cost; need capital and logistics to run these offices, and the money that would be used in servicing the bureaucracy is a subtraction from the amount of money that is available for the state.

We just heard that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is paying N300m for accommodation; just think what N300m could do for ten communities in Akwa Ibom State in the areas of water (which is very vital), health centres, improved school infrastructure, which will lead to improved quality of lives.

That is why I called for the scrapping of JAMB, ETF and all such structures that are created as drain pipes in a recent paper I presented because I am not a fan of the creation of unnecessary institutions.

All we really need is to have a transparent budgeting system that everybody will know that this is the money we have, know how it was spent, and be able to follow through. Citizens will begin to be involved by asking questions, and putting governments on their toes so that they do things correctly. But creating bureaucracy at every stage for me is wastage because when you create such, you must have requisite officials to run the structure. The cars you are going to buy for the agency, how do they affect the lives of citizens of the oil-producing communities?

But there have been strident calls across board that these funds are being mismanaged in states, or are not judiciously applied by governors because of the sheer volume.

These are unfounded allegations. Should we then have less money despite the environmental degradation that we are experiencing? The issue of usage of money is for the people of the state to demand for accountability, and hold their elected representatives to account for the money. It is not the duty of anybody from somewhere, who is not part of the state to come and decide how the money should be used.

The gold and diamond being mined in other states across the country, does they proceeds ever come into the Federation Account? Who own the money? Do we go and say come and account for the money? I don’t want people of the state to be docile, they should be up and doing, because I don’t expect an outsider to come and ask for accountability, or say that the fund should be reduced because is not being well managed.

Whether the money is well used, it is the money for the Niger Delta; it is money for the state. So, I expect Akwa Ibom people to demand accountability from the government, call for the books; call for records; be active in government. Like I tell people, the best of a human is human being. Human beings should be treated as human beings. When people are put on their toes to account, then they will be careful about what they do because they will know that accountability is waiting for them. But if everybody is docile, political leaders will end up doing what they like. What is important is to encourage civil societies to be active, and to ensure that our money is used effectively and sufficiently. If somebody was given money to construct a road, if the work is not well done, the money must be refunded. People must be active to ensure that projects are done to the standard but if you keep quiet, contractors will always do shoddy jobs for the communities like what is happening in the NDDC.

You hail from an oil-producing community, so how has this money impacted your people in the area of education, health, roads infrastructure; among others?
It is not yet Uhuru, so anybody that says all is well is not saying the truth and I am not here to say so. Like in Mbo Local Council, one of the oil servicing companies is building 100 housing units. These are some of the developmental programmes that we want to see. But the most important thing is the environment because you must be alive to enjoy whatsoever facility that is put in place. Once there is an oil spill, it becomes critical to the entire ecosystem. That is why apart from health and education, the environment is very critical to our existence. That is why the state government should take great interest in the environment, particularly the oil-producing areas because they are susceptible to such influences. But regarding education and health, attention should be statewide, although I concede that people of oil- producing areas should be given some level of concession to ameliorate some of the environmental impact, and restore normal life to them. Having said that, it is the responsibility of citizens to put pressure on their governments to ensure that at least they are being factored in, at the higher level, in the allocation of resources that come to the state.

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