Chief Michael Johnny
Chief Micheal Johnny, was the immediate past Chairman of Egbema Gbaramatu Communities Development Foundation and chieftain of All Progressives Congress, APC in Delta state . In this interview with Daily Watch’s OBIRE ONAKEMU on the challenges in the Niger Delta and President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance.
Sir, how do you see to the state of the Niger Delta at the moment?
The major problem in Niger Delta region has been that of bad leadership and lack of purposeful representation. We have had different persons occupied sensitive positions, but what we saw was people abandoning the development of the region and pursuing their personal wealth and enrichment. Sometimes in 2016, I read in the media, a statement credited to the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, that there was nothing on ground to justify the over $40 billion that has accrued to the Niger Delta region in the past 12 years through various intervention agencies.
According to the minister, the $40 billion came mainly from oil companies, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, 13% derivation and other intervention funds. So, one would be wondering where are these monies or who are those keeping the money.
So, we are beginning to realize that we are responsible for the problems bedeviling our oil rich Niger Delta region. The Federal Government has been releasing the funds but what we have done with the funds is another problem. Our people in positions should have a change of mind toward the region, and whatever funds meant for the development of our communities must be used judiciously.
I was chairman of Chairman of Egbema Gbaramatu Communities Development Foundation; we made sure the funds released to us by our partner, Chevron Nigeria limited, were transparently used, before I left office. My administration and financial book was audited and found to be clean. That is how leadership should be!
Do you think Buhari is committed to Niger Delta development and peace?
Chief Michael Johnny
Yes, the President is committed to the development of the region. The President’s role is to ensure that funds entitled to the region were being released, while ours is to ensure that the funds are used for the right purpose and not diverted to private pockets. I also read about the reports from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which revealed that oil producing states in Niger Delta, received N7.006 trillion as payments under the 13 per cent Derivation principle over the last 18 years, from 1999 to 2016.
The oil producing states are Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Cross River, Edo, Bayelsa, Abia, Ondo, Imo and Anambra. But can anyone pinpoint what the over N7trillion was used for? Certainly nothing on ground to justify it! These funds were not received by foreigners, by same indigenes of Niger Delta, who claimed to love Niger Delta too much. So, the case of the Niger Delta is a house divided against itself.
Analysis of the payments showed that from 1999 to 2003, N360.4 billion was paid to oil-producing states; N1.338 trillion were paid to the states between from 2004 and 2007; 2008 to 2011 saw the states receiving N2.36 trillion, while from 2012 to 2016, the states received N2.947 trillion. Ironically, the 2017 budget of all the states, inclusive of Lagos, stood at N3.165 trillion, about half of the amount states received from the Federation Account under the 13 per cent derivation principle.
The huge sum notwithstanding, the Niger Delta region is still suffering from massive infrastructure decay, widespread poverty and environmental degradation, insecurity among numerous others.
May be it will be better for the Federal Government to be paying the money directly to the oil producing communities, since the law said the money belongs to the host communities.
So far, how do you rate the current NDDC board? Do you see them alleviating the plight of the people of the Niger Delta?
First, the NDDC board works with available funds, secondly, the commission was not created to throw money around as most people would believe. The NDDC was established to build infrastructures. Several projects were being executed by the present board! We shall continue to encourage them to do more and we shall also criticize when necessary, but for the present board, they are doing their best for the region. However, we must accept the simple fact that the commission is not a tribal entity.
There has been clamour for restructuring of the Nigerian state as a way out of the problems in the country. Do you concur?
Even if we restructure our institutions and do not restructure our minds or repent from our greed and corrupt acts, then we are just wasting our time!
Are you really convinced that Nigeria is making positive impacts under Buhari?
Yes, the President has shown to Nigerians that the country was in a wrong direction until he became President in 2015. From all indication, and going by the judgment of international community, it is obvious that Nigeria is making great impacts; it is only that corruption is fighting back seriously from the opposition party.
How do you see to the Federal Government plan to spend $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight Boko Haram insurgency?
No amount of money is worth the soul of any Nigerian. The senseless killings by Boko Haram and criminal elements wasting the souls of innocent Nigerians must be condemned and every right thinking Nigerian must support the Federal Government’s plan to tackle the menace.
Chief Michael Johnny
Would you say the president is doing enough to bring the country together?
President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently appealed to Nigerians to live together as one family; he is doing his best to keep Nigerians and the country more united and peaceful. But there are opposition agents around his government!
In what way, can we address Nigeria’s Security challenges for sustainable peace and development?
We all must come together to ensure peace and security in our only country – Nigeria and separate criminality from gentle agitation and most importantly, we should support the anti corruption fight of President Buhari, because a country where few persons have stolen and enriched themselves with state funds, leaving majority of the masses – Nigerians to wallow in abject poverty, the results would be insecurity and restiveness.