Abandonment: Catholic Bishop Laments How Northerners, South-westerners Corner Niger Delta Oil Blocs
Most Rev. Hyacinth Oroko Egbebo is Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Bomad in Delta State
•Says slaves better treated than N-Deltans
•Blasts Okowa: ‘Bomadi, Burutu, Patani excluded from projects to be funded by govt’s N150bn loan’
Most Rev. Hyacinth Oroko Egbebo is Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Bomadi which covers parts of Rivers State, the whole of Bayelsa State and the three local government areas of Bomadi, Patani and Burutu in Delta State. In this interview, Egbebo speaks on the neglect of the oil-rich Ijaw area, Niger Delta as a whole by the Federal Government and state governments in the region. Excerpts:
It would suffice to say that it has been intriguing having the opportunity working for the spread of the kingdom of God for over 14 years here as a Bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Bomadi, headquarters of the Diocese in Delta State.
As a Catholic priest, you’ve been expressing concerns and pains over the neglect and under-development of the oil-rich Niger Delta, particularly your Ijaw territory. Can you tell us how you’ve been coping with the work of God and agitation for the people.
Well, it’s hectic particularly when successive governments have been paying lip service and deaf ears to demands and appeals of people of the region over the years. There would have been no need to feel abandoned if our environment is not unique in the support it offers to the entire citizenry and the government of Nigeria, yet without the compensating and commensurate infrastructural development here. We live with the hazards of oil exploration and, given the obvious fact that all sectors of Nigeria now feel abandoned by government, there would have been no need to further engage this obvious narrative that might eventually end up in futility. Worse still, we might not be heard despite this attempt to register this needless and crippling abandonment. Nevertheless, it’s still worth my preoccupation to present the heavyweight of devastating feeling of abandonment by government to the purview of the public arena.
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With the interventionist agencies such as the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, MNDA, don’t you think the Federal Government has been able to make a move to tackle a few of the development challenges in the region?
Anyone who has not visited the Niger Delta would conveniently presume that the wealth from this region has been duly expended on the development of the region and that the living condition of our people has been sufficiently raised. This is why even when one has genuinely informed or graphically captured the state of affairs about lack of development of this region to an inquirer, it would still not be believed by such a person. This is the region that has produced billionaires and beautiful cities all over the country, suffice it to say that these billionaires are not found here. The partial success story only exists in the cities and some other places very far-fetched from where we live. It’s a common knowledge that oil blocs in Niger Delta are given to northerners and westerners who do not suffer the negative effects of gas flaring and pollution of our lands and rivers. But we’re very familiar with acid rains coloring our rivers from which our drinking water comes. Apart from the huge oil and gas deposits, the Niger Delta is also a treasure house for many seaports to spring up. The one closest to me is the Agge Seaport which is exclusively being used now to export crude oil by government. There’s the tacit consent and statement that we’re not entitled to use it for importation of goods. The colonizing powers in western Nigeria will not allow any other deep seaport to exist except Lagos. Indeed, slaves could have had fairer treatment than this option of being confined to look up to a congested Lagos for their need for importation when the opportunity exists right beside us here. It is also a pity that Dangote would not situate his refinery here but in a congested Lagos area. I pray that the crude oil would soon cease from flowing from here to be refined there. These interventionist agencies have not been able to remedy the sorry situation of the region.
So, what’s your message to the Federal Government in respect of this gory picture you’ve painted about the sufferings in the Niger Delta?
The managers of this country know exactly all we are going through, especially the picture I’ve just painted about the sufferings of the region and they know what to do to remedy the situation. Our woes first stem from lack of love for the Niger Delta by our highly placed sons and daughters in the political sphere, and this is why they’ve become easy conduit/prey as they are susceptible to the influence of the powerful government officials in Abuja for manipulation. Our sons and daughters have been known to be appointed by powerful people in Abuja for the purpose of benefiting from the resources here, just for their personal aggrandizement. This explains why they easily give up the prospect of the development of the region in preference for the sumptuous bribery funds they receive to embrace this killing sellout.
Indeed, our children have become shields by which our resources have been easily siphoned from here. Shamefully, our children have acted as breadwinners to bankroll elections for others, they expend their best efforts to train children from other regions rather than here; they zealously build roads and highways for other regions. These enslavement ego trips have shamefully ended up without any commensurate reward for even themselves. Could this be described as love of neighbor? The scriptures that I know copiously say without any equivocation that we should love others as we love ourselves, Mark 12:31.
Now, what about the state governments in the Niger Delta that also have considerable responsibility in the development of the region?
Another difficulty I can identify is the lack of focus and corruption of government officials at all levels in the Niger Delta. Often, the 13% derivation fund that accrues to our states from the oil sector is shrouded in secrecy and bureaucracy of governance. We do not know what is done with this assignment of funds to governments of this region. There is no gainsaying that the NDDC is used by the Federal Government to shortchange this region, it is the warehouse of bribery for the boys in government. Therefore, we’re not surprised that the real findings by the recently conducted Forensic Audit with their eagle probing-eyes to reveal the dreadful and devastating activities of these looters cannot be made public. Besides, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is not functioning where we live. The main grouse that has triggered this interview with you is my desire to identify and condemn the pointed hateful exclusion of the riverine Bomadi, Burutu and Patani Local Government Areas from the development scheme of the government of Delta State. The recent highly publicized borrowing of N150billion for development projects in Delta State did not feature any project here. Again, there’s also the rumor of another engagement to borrow N25billion.
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It is noteworthy that the government has not done any sensible project for us. When the governor came to us in Bomadi for a town hall meeting some years ago, he informed us that he didn’t have sufficient funds to build the polytechnic at Bomadi and the Ayakoromor Bridge that had been started by his predecessor, and we believed him. It’s now clear that all he told us was a bold lie, but when he was talking to us it seemed like he was honest. Yet, in poverty the governor was able to raise three polytechnics to university status elsewhere in the state. Who is fooling who? Does the governor know that Delta State is ascribed as oil-producing majorly because of us? Yet, he borrows hugely to preferentially build his highways with the intention of using our oil money to pay the debt.
So, what, in your opinion, is the way forward?
See, this travesty of unnecessary borrowing spree will generationally mortgage the future economic prospects of our children; this pointless preoccupation with borrowing will only end up with huge debts to hang over future fortunes of Delta State like the sword of Damocles. Unfortunately, the incoming administration will be constrained to perpetually pay up such festering debts.
Your final words…
This is to let Governor Ifeanyi Okowa know that the three local government areas of Bomadi, Burutu and Patani matter very much. It’s a pity that we’ve not made any meaningful progress infrastructure-wise beyond where we were since he came to power seven years ago.
This hateful and oppressive record the governor has handed down to us will certainly haunt him all the days of his life. Given the scenario above, it’s my candid advice and hope that our people should not vote across party lines anymore, but for those who can deliver. As the saying goes, by their fruits we shall know them, enough of this abandonment.