Niger Delta Leaders Say Extra U.S.$1 Bn for Boko Haram Discriminatory

Federal government's plan to spend additional $1billion Excess Crude Account (ECA) fund in the fight against Boko Haram is not going down well with the Niger Delta region and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

While stakeholders in the region described the approval given by governors-- some of whom have dissociated themselves from the decision -- as discriminatory, the main opposition party accused the Federal Government of deploying diversionary tactic to cover attempts at "pilfering $1 billion from the ECA "to finance partisan activities."

In separate statements in Port Harcourt and Abuja, they called on the National Assembly to block the fund and demand complete breakdown of how the money would be spent.

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike would not condemn release of the $1 billion to tackle Boko Haram but insisted that environmental and security challenges in the Niger Delta far outweighed the North East insurgency.

Wike spoke at the Annual General Meeting of the Okpo Club of Nigeria (Association of Ikwerre Lawyers) in Port Harcourt, where he urged the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government to release the derivation component of the Excess Crude Account to oil-producing states.

The governor also called for release of funds earmarked for tackling environmental degradation and security in the Niger Delta. "Niger Delta environmental problems are as serious as the Boko Haram insurgency," he noted.

"I am not saying that you should not fight Boko Haram, but if you can get funds from the national Pool to tackle Boko Haram, then you should go to the same pool to get funds to fight environmental problems in Ogoni and other Niger Delta communities," he said.

In the same vein, a former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, observed that the approval was discriminatory and ought to be reversed, on the basis that government had not deemed it fit to expend such huge resources on the Niger Delta from the ECA.

Mitee told The Guardian that he was disturbed that government that had previously claimed to have defeated the Boko Haram wanted to expend $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account on the same conflict. According to him, it was disturbing that the Federal Government could not fund the Ogoni cleanup and the East-West Road, but would graciously seek $ 1 billion from the ECA to fund Boko Haram fight.

"I think that this discriminatory allocation of resources and projects is not healthy for all of us. Look at the Ogoni cleanup it has been starved of funds and the United Nations Environmental Programme in their report said it was a project that should be financed with an initial $1 billion. How much has been voted; how much has been allocated?

"What our Constitution guarantees is that people should not be discriminated on the basis of where they come from, but I think this is discriminatory and should be reversed," said Mitee.

On his part, a former president of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Professor Kimse Okoko, said the approval of the fund was outrageous. He tasked the National Assembly to ensure that the Federal Government provide details on how it plans to spend it, to avoid repeated misappropriation of funds meant for combating Boko Haram.

"I am begining to suspect the whole deal, and I think the national Assembly should seriously examine the request. (They should) ask for all the details of what they want to use it for and for how long. It appears to me there is something fishy about the request for $ 1billion, and it should not be approved for the Executive," he added.

National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement on Sunday also challenged the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to substantiate his claims that the PDP was rebranding with stolen money.

Ologbondiyan said: "Such wild allegation was only intended to divert public attention from the heavy sleazes under the current administration, the latest being the move to use the fight against terrorism as a conduit to siphon public funds for partisan purposes.

"The Federal Government has failed to address issues raised by the PDP and majority of Nigerians, including APC members, who cannot fathom how this administration would want to expend N365 billion on fighting insurgents it claimed had been technically defeated.

"It is indeed appalling that rather than being remorseful, the APC Federal Government has renewed its wild allegations and cheap blackmail against the PDP.

"It is clear to all that the PDP do not have access to public funds and cannot be rebranding with stolen money. Instead, we are rebranding on the grace of the general goodwill of Nigerians who have suffered untold hardships in close to three years of APC government.

"While we understand the nervousness of the APC Federal Government over our rebranding and the renewed popularity of the PDP, which has signaled their inevitable death knell, resorting to outlandish allegations will not help them as Nigerians have since seen through such old-fashioned propaganda and gimmicks.

"We are however not surprised by this diversionary and deceptive approach from the APC government; a government whose officials have since become notorious for dishing out falsehood to Nigerians to cover their incompetence and corrupt tendencies.

"This is the same minister of information, who in a press in conference in Abuja, in 2016, promoted allegations that 55 people stole a total of N1.34 trillion; that five former governors stole N146.8 billion; that four former ministers stole N7 billion. All these have remained unsubstantiated.

"While we challenge this government to come clean on the issue of the $1 billion excess crude money, we also challenge the minister of information to comment on allegations that the APC funded its 2015 presidential campaign with stolen public funds, particularly from Lagos and Rivers states.

"He should also waste no time in commenting on allegations of corruption against their former SGF, Babachir Lawal, the Mainagate and other heavy sleazes going on unabated under the current APC-led administration."