A Prominent leader of thought in the Niger Delta region, and President-General of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Dr. Moses Taiga, has dismissed hope of a positive outcome of the ongoing probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the National Assembly. In this interview, he described the drama occasioned by the exercise as a reflection of the bane of leadership crippling the agency, blaming the successive administrations for their wrong appointments.
How would you react to the ongoing probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the National Assembly?
Every problem must have a cause and effect. I think the NDDC issue is just a token of the problems in the country. It is a shame that what we all fought for in terms of the improvement of the wellbeing of the people of the region that produces the wealth of the country is being abused. And it is very saddening. Aside from the probe of the NDDC, we in the UPU are also calling on the President to swear-in our son, Chief Bernard Okumagba, who has been approved by the Senate as the Managing Director of NDDC. As for the issue of the ongoing probe, I don’t expect to see anything good at the end of the exercise. It’s just another drama, and we have seen all these types of things before.
Some critics have used the NDDC probe to blame the leaders and citizens of the Niger Delta for the backwardness and underdevelopment of the region. What is your response to this insinuation?
I don’t think it’s fair to blame the people of the Niger Delta for the rot in the NDDC. We ask: How much of the contracts of the NDDC have the indigenes of the Niger Delta taken? We don’t know. So, we are waiting for the result of the forensic audit, which I don’t even think anything would come out of it. But let’s even say we have a list of all the people that have been taking contracts since the NDDC was formed, how many of them are from the Niger Delta? What is the level of activities of these people? What about the problems of Ogoni with the Shell Petro- leum? You cannot accuse the people that produce the wealth of the country of causing these problems for themselves. Let the NDDC provide the list of all the people that have done contracts with them. Certainly, I’m not one of them. So, what proportion of the contracts was given to the Niger Delta people? I don’t think there’s a major proportion of it. I think it is a question of trying to look for an excuse. The real issue is that institutions like the NDDC lack leadership. We did not put proper leadership there. If the leadership is firm and proper, contracts are given out properly, and educated people who know how to run development institutions are allowed to call the shots, then things would be better for us all. I challenge the NDDC to publish the list of all the contracts awarded since its establishment. If they do that, you’ll find out that the number of contracts awarded to the Niger Delta people is negligible.
There is a feeling among some opinion leaders especially in the Northern part of the country that the Niger Delta region is getting more than its fair share of the national resources, citing 13 per cent derivation, amnesty programme, NDDC funding, as well as Ministry of Niger Delta as a reference point. What’s your take on that?
I think 13 per cent derivation became a reality when gover- nors of that area made a very strong case for resource control. So, if they got a share of what they produce, why would it be an unfair contribution? On the amnesty programme, I think it was done principally at that time by the late President Umar Yar’Adua to ameliorate the dangers of the reaction of the youths in the area. So, it’s not an issue of pampering.
From your responses, it seems you are looking at what is happening outside than what is happening within the Niger Delta region. To what extent are you comfortable with the performance of the governors of the Niger Delta region in terms of providing the dividends of democracy to their people?
You’re not right to say that I’m looking beyond. No, I’m only calling on the Federal Government to give us a fair share of what we contribute to the wealth of the country. I am looking at what is happening in the Urhobo nation. The government should provide infrastructure to the Urhobo nation. We are the fourth largest tribe in this country, and we are not treated fairly. So, you are not right to say that I’m looking beyond. I am demanding infrastructural development in Urhobo land. I’m looking for the development of port facilities, adequate utilization of our gas to give us electricity in our area and to also call on all the oil companies operating in our areas to come back. We want companies like Shell, Chevron to expand their activities to improve Urhobo land. We call on Seplat, Heritage to come in too. Urhobo land at one time had the largest land oil facilities in the whole country. We want development from them. On our governors, I can tell you that a lot of my colleagues, leaders, neighbours and equivalent bodies like the UPU have cried out loud that our governors are not doing enough for our people. They are not doing enough to improve their states. And we have always called on them to impact their presence in governance.
What exactly are the demands of the Urhobo people?
Urhobo as the fourth largest nation in Nigeria demands equity and fairness for our people. We need federal roads, particularly the East-West Road, which has remained uncompleted for over 20 years. The Ughelli / Asaba road, Benin-Sapele-Warri road, among others, needs completion. These roads are in a state of deterioration, which has led to needless loss of lives, property, as well as productive man-hours. Also, our port facilities have been underutilized. The Sapele port that was given to the Navy in 1983 is currently underutilized and should be restored back as a full operating port. Similarly, Warri port should be reformed for effective utilization. We generate gas from the Utorogu plant, which is perhaps the largest gas plant in Nigeria. Yet, electricity in our area is comatose. This needs to be addressed. UPU wants Urhobo to get its share of the nation’s resources and opportunities. We were in the process of submitting the paper on Urhobo position to Senator- Omo-Agege-led Constitution Review Committee before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we shall do so subsequently. We want solution to the herdsmen menace in our community so that our women can go to their farms without fear of being raped or killed. We are against the ceding of our land to these people for grazing purposes.