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It is an absurdity for those who live near a river to bath or wash their hands with saliva. It is expected that such persons should have unlimited access to water for their use at all times. It ought to be a blessing to live near a river.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Akwa Ibom and other parts of the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria where there is so much oil wealth, yet, penury is pervasive. The story of Akwa Ibom oil and gas bearing communities could be likened to the story of those who live near a river but have no access to water for bathing or washing of hands.

They do not even have access to water to quench their thirst. It is a gory story of deprivation, neglect, suffering in the midst of abundant wealth.

Reports of focused group discussions conducted during the research on the implementation of 13% derivation revenue in Akwa Ibom state communities by Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, a leading women focused Port Harcourt based NGO have shown that inspite of huge oil revenues extracted from Akwa Ibom state over the years and the huge revenues that have accrued to the state through the 13 % derivation principle, oil bearing communities in the state still swim in abject poverty.

The focused group discussions revealed that between the year 2000 and 2018, Akwa Ibom state government received over N2.638t as revenue from the 13 % derivation.

The money was constitutionally meant for the fast tracking of the development of the region to cushion the huge negative impacts of oil exploitation on the oil and gas bearing communities.

The revenues, if judiciously managed, were big enough to tackle development challenges of the oil and gas bearing and host communities in the state, said Emem Okon, Executive Director of Kebetkache. “The money is big enough to generate employments for many, provide basic amenities, improve peoples standard of living and lift many communities and community members out of crumbling poverty”, she noted.

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Unfortunately, the revenues from the 13% derivation principle have only translated to huge revenues to the state government, making the government to become stupendously rich, while the communities that bear the brunt of the generation of the wealth and for whom the 13 % is meant remain hopelessly impoverished. It is a case of rich government, wretched people. Unemployment is high, standard of living is very low, basic amenities are lacking.

Some of the most striking cases of neglect in the region could be witnessed in communities of Ibeno Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State. Ibeno has one of the most productive oil fields in the Niger Delta, yet, it is home to communities that are beset by chronic levels of poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, backwardness, etc.

Ibeno LGA has about 26 communities and they all share a Secondary Grammar School provided by the state government a very long time ago. It was revealed in the course of the focus group discussions that Students in that school now sit on bare floor to learn as there are no desks and seats. Potable water and hospitals are also not existing in the communities.

“With the God given resource in Ibeno, people are not supposed to lack water, electricity, employment. But many communities in Ibeno do not have one borehole water. There is no electricity. People supply us drinking water from Eket. If you don’t have money to buy, you drink well water. There is mass unemployment here. Our cottage hospital has been overtaken by bush and there are no doctors,” said a community leader.

The government which operates from the state capital has continued to neglect oil communities, and this has led to increased levels of frustration, criminality and dissatisfaction in the region. Unemployment is high among the rural residents who are characterized by low incomes, high level of poverty, poor quality of life, poor shelter, lack of access to potable water, poor sanitary conditions, poor transportation and lack of electricity among others. Consequently, these have led to increased rural-urban migration, high crime rate, child labour and child trafficking.

“The State government has acquired a tradition of embarking on expensive/prestigious projects or what some people termed “elephant projects” with limited benefits for its poor inhabitants”, noted the Focus Group report. Interestingly, inspite of the huge revenues, the government even resort to opaque loans to finance its bogus budgets, said the report. It was noted that part of the problem of “Low performance or service delivery” could be traced to poor management of oil derivation in particular and public finance in general. This, the report claims, compounded the impoverishment of the citizens as the State continues to be characterized by wide spread poverty, low employment rate, inadequate infrastructure and social services.

The community members demanded an urgent need to institutionalize the management of the 13% derivation fund in the State through a legal framework that will enthrone equity and transparency, create awareness of its existence, and build capacity of citizens to monitor the activities of such institution. With this, it is believed that the 13% revenue could begin to impact positively on the oil and gas bearing communities.

Stvyn Obodekwe writes from Port Harcourt.

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