In the wake of the 2015 yuletide celebrations reports of inadequate representation of the indigenes of oil producing communities in Ughelli North and Ethiope East were rife. Spy News Editor, Jon Egie, sought audience with Chief Pius Ovbije aka POC, the Commissioner representing the area in the board of DESOPADEC to throw light on issues relating to distribution of Xmas gifts. He did justice to our queries and also spoke on other related issues with a caveat that if he is found wanting in financial misappropriation he will resign his appointment. The following are excerpts of the interview.

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Chief Pius Ovbije

Chief Pius Ovbije

Chief, there is this scandal going on about Xmas gifts you were expected to give to people of your mandate area; we hear the government gave a certain amount of money to provide rice and other things for the celebration of the 2015 Christmas and members of your mandate area are complaining that they have not been given, what is going on sir?

To the best of my knowledge there is no way whatsoever you have, even the state government, no amount of money to purchase whatever item say rice for the people that can go round everybody. But we have tried as much as possible to satisfy the people and whatever things I gave out cut across my mandate area, from the traditional rulers down to the youth, we gave to them all.

 

We have reports that some communities rejected the gifts.

No, no, no! What happened was some people call themselves HOSTCOM and my knowledge about what HOSTCOM is about the host communities. There was a little difference between me and the executive members of the HOSTCOM. They wanted me to give whatever thing I wanted to give to the host communities to them to distribute. That did not go down well with me because the precedent I met, the way and manner they did it was not satisfactory to me so I decided to give the gifts of the host communities to them direct and this I did by sending the gifts to the various oil fields. And because the chairman of HOSTCOM in Ughelli North LGA was not comfortable with my decision, he wanted all materials go through him, which I refused; and of course, he is from Agbarha and advised that Agbarha peple should not take their own. All other oil fields namely: Evwreni, Afiesere, Eruemukowharien and Kokori/Orogun; they all collected their own and sent me wonderful letters of appreciation emphasising that they have not had it this way before. So the gifts went down well. I had to see the people face to face, I am not such a person that one man will corner and after releasing everything for him then I will hear the story of how it happened to my predecessor, no! It went down to the grassroots, to the oil producing communities and they are happy. As I am speaking I have letters of commendation that they have sent to me.

 

Including Evwreni?

Yes, including Evwreni.

 

But we have reports that Evwreni rejected their own.

Evwreni has taken their own, they initially rejected their own because the vice chairman who works with the chairman of HOSTCOM collaborated and both of them said they should not receive the gifts but Evwreni people were angry and they came here. The Evwreni field comprises Evwreni, Ogor, Enenurhie and Uwheru. In fact, they rushed down to come and carry their gifts because they have never gotten it so good before and because the gifts that passed their executives ended in the pockets of the executives but now I went direct. The people I am representing should know me, I should know them, they should have access to me and they should be able to discuss with me freely because lack of communication brings problems. Evwreni has collected and shared their own, it was not collected by the vice, the King ordered the President General to come and collect their own with the remark that since the inception of DESOPADEC they have not had it so good.

 

Was there any provision for indigenes that are not resident at home to collect any of the gifts from you directly?

 

No. The issue is this, in Ughelli North there are five oil fields, I am from the Kokori/Orogun oil field and I reside in Ughelli here, if I need anything I go to Kokori/Orogun oil field to collect my allotment and this is in line with the governor’s directive to us to get down to the people and that is what I am doing, but somebody in defiance of that order to us wants to corner me so that everything is done within Ughelli here forgetting that the people bearing the brunt are right there and I have to reach them.

Since assuming office what is your candid experience with HOSTCOM as a body?

 

What I noticed is that there is a wrong interpretation of the concept of HOSTCOM. The executive think that the body is their personal property. Let me tell you, most of the communities never knew when elections into HOSTCOM were done that produced their representatives in the HOSTCOM executive body. HOSTCOM is host communities; there are no two meanings to it. That is where the oil is being produced but do you know that most of these communities do not even know when the person representing them is being elected? And some of them have stayed in power for 12 years. I am from oil producing community and HOSTCOM should do a transparent business of election to let the people know their representatives and not foe a group of persons just forming a cartel and identifying themselves as the HOSTCOM. One of them told me that the HOSTCOM was registered with Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja and I asked him, who are the directors? That is a fraud on the communities. As representatives of the oil producing communities they must subject themselves to that level. I am a HOSTCOM member and that is why I occupy this position today in DESOPADEC but when I see that the HOSTCOM body is for some people to serve their personal interest, of course, that is not me, we are there to serve the communities and if somebody says he will take everything to the communities why are you trying to block him out? Join hands with me and let us take the communities to greater heights.

 

It is apparent that you have no confidence in the sincerity of the HOSTCOM body, how do you advise the host communities’ indigenes to relate with and model the HOSTCOM body?

I am aware that election for the HOSTCOM body will be held next year; I am of the opinion that they should allocate the positions to the various communities that are producing oil. Let those communities do their own election openly, I will go there to witness the election especially that of the chairman; so that you let that community elect who will be the head for that period and not two or three persons ganging up to form the executive.

 

Is your decision to deal with the communities directly comfortable with the current HOSTCOM executives?

Of course you know the answer. If you have been doing something in hiding and somebody is coming to you to say no, I will not do it with you in hiding, I like doing it the way it is plain, I put the cards on the ground and we look at it. That is what the governor did. After he was sworn in, he came and told Deltans this is the position of the account of the Delta State, the level of the State’s indebtedness. Not that he was castigating the outgoing government but he made them know that the level of debt of Delta is such and such and even at such he will restructure the state economy and that is why he quickly sent a bill to the House of Assembly to try to restructure. I am following the path of the governor so do not blame me. You have been pretending to represent the communities whereas the communities do not know what you are doing and when I say no, let us change you are offended because you benefit from the old system. So those are some of the resistance I have seen but they are already beginning to see reasons why we must change.

 

Apparently, it is as a result of this resistance to their obnoxious behaviour that led them to petition you to the traditional rulers?

Yes, they wrote a petition and I went to answer it. They couldn’t even defend their petition. What was their accusation? That I am not carrying them along, what do you mean by carrying along? Come and join me, let us go to your community and address your community people you say no, you say it is only you; you are the one who has been going there alone. You are going there alone and do not want me to join you means there is something you are hiding and that thing you are hiding I want to see it because I look at you as a representative of the people but now I am telling you, come let us go and see your people you say no, that anything I want to give to the people I should do it through you and that it is only you that can go and tell them. I will not, and I will not take that, I do not believe in that approach.

 

We also heard of grumblings over DESOPADEC youth empowerment fund, how far have you gone with that?

It is not DESOPADEC youth empowerment fund, they call it security money. This fund has been in existence for very long time. They call it security money for oil producing areas. When we came on board we discovered that somehow, somehow some powerful hands were just taking that money for themselves and we decided that the money should go down to all the oil producing communities, even if it is N2000; I do not see why only one person will collect one million naira for himself alone, I stood against it and said let the money go down to the people. So, we asked all the local government areas to submit names so even if it is N2000 that gets to you and it will not stop there; presently, we are giving it out at N10, 000 and it is rotational. If for example in a community we have about ten persons that received in the month of November, by December allocation when that money comes, another set of ten persons in that area should have it. Tell the people that this N10, 000 that is coming is not permanent for you, so as you get your own, even if you are a farmer and you want to go and buy cassava stems or yam seedlings please do; if you are a trader invest it. Do not go and sit down in a bar and use it to drink. We want to see how it goes down on a rotational basis. I fashioned that modality and it is going down well in my mandate area. So today, of the N5 million that is coming in my mandate area I have 500 persons that will be taking it and this 500 persons will rotate it.

 

The N5million is it peculiar to your mandate area or it cuts across uniformly?

That is what I know for my mandate area.

 

There are reports that your sister LGA, Ughelli South pays N30, 000 per person…

Yes, it is very good for them. You know as a politician use N30,000 to divide N5million it will give you a hundred and something persons and use N10,000 to divide it you get about 500 persons. So, it depends on what you want to do. You see that I will reach out to more persons to avoid problems. People can protest that in a community where you almost 100 persons struggling for the money then you gave N30, 000 to about three persons, it may not go down well but if we say the N90, 000 let us give it ti nine promises instead of just three persons having it .So, it depends on how you want to do it, for me I like reaching out to more persons at the grassroots so they will know that this is what they got from this government. I do not think I will be able to do the N30, 000.

 

Have you started dispensing the N10, 000?

Yes

 

It has been alleged that you are hoarding the money meant for the people because you nurse a political ambition to be elected into the House of Reps in 2019, is that true?

I have the list of the 500 human beings that we gave this money to in the month of November. As a politician it is stupid for somebody to go and start thinking now that I am nursing the ambition of contesting, even if I want to contest it will not be public money, I am not used to it, anything that belongs to the public I am careful with it. I told you I paid 500 persons with that money, not a kobo left. I can’t eat other people’s money because if the governor has so much empowered me by appointing me what will make me to go and take a dime of such money. Instead I prefer to take from my own. Anybody that is thinking that I am going to contest is the figment of his imagination, and if I want to contest I will not be contesting with government money. I do not play with public money. Most of them forget that I was a businessman before my appointment. I do not believe people who just talk for talking sake because you do not want to accept change, you want things to be done the same old way of short -changing a whole community to your own selfish end and somebody else is saying no, then you can post anything on Facebook. At any time, any auditor that wants to come and audit the N5million the record is there, if they discover that I removed ten naira for myself, of course, I will be prepared to resign. If I take ten naira out of that N5million, I will resign before the governor sacks me. I have my name to protect.

 

Since your assumption of office how would you rate your public image with regards to the fact that you were a private businessman who has been known to be very magnanimous and generous and now that you have taken a public office, how do you rate your public image?

The issue is that the people know me; they know what I can do from beginning. Right from my school age I have been very magnanimous, even if my wife puts food on the table if I do not eat with someone else I do not feel satisfied. So, since I assumed office especially with my position in my mandate area, of course, everybody knows who POC is, they call me and I find time to make sure I receive them and listen to them. There are some pathetic cases where I have no option than to dip hand into my own money and give them. It is bad as that. It must not come from the government alone. And do not forget, since we assumed office the situation has been so bad, it is getting on every person’s nerve. You know our allocation is directly attached to oil revenue generation and the recurrent expenditure in DESOPADEC is very high but what baffles me is some people are still looking at the early stage of 2006 when DESOPADEC was established. As at that time oil was selling at almost 150 dollars per barrel but today oil is selling at thirty something dollar per barrel. They have a high expectation but people should come to reality, I am a very practical person, people should realise that if they were giving you 100 bags of rice as at 2006, do not expect that 100 bags of rice now from the present DESOPADEC. The economy is bad and we all know, we do not generate fund, DESOPADEC only relies on allocation and the allocation they get has a direct bearing to the oil revenue generated. But for me, the majority of the people in my mandate area are satisfied with me.

 

We have entered into a new year, kindly give a good will message to people of your mandate area.

My advice to them is that we have entered the New Year, a new beginning, people should think more about what they want to do with themselves. They should look inwards, not necessarily running up and down for employment because the employment is not just there. There is no one government now that can really give people employment. They should think about how to acquire skills and that brings me to why I am trying by all means to put the Afiesere skills acquisition Centre in order so that those from the oil producing communities should be able to come there, acquire their own skills in whatever field they want to learn. Is it aquaculture, carpentry, painting, automobile electrician, hairdressing, shoe making just name it. The whole workshops are there in Afiesere that is why I am trying to see that the place kicks off this January. We want to see how the governor will come and so the official commissioning of that place this January so that our people can learn skills and with little starter packs given to them they can now become employers of labour on their own. That is just what my thinking is all about. It is one of the major things I have for my people this year and other things such as street lights and so on, they will never see their way in my budget because they make no meaning. We have a lot of street lights and at the end of the day they are not working, some of the roads are broken down, we will see how we rehabilitate some of these roads to have access to these oil communities. Also water project, I am not thinking of building new water projects unless in places where there are none. Some of these water projects that have been done need to be rehabilitated, you just see a water project that is there, the community use generator in powering it but now the community does not have the fund to buy diesel and the project is abandoned and no water in such communities and then you will now call me that you want to build another one, no, no, no ! You are wasting the government money; all you just need to do there is convert the source of power to solar for them. These are the things I am doing, I have visited Kokori and most of the oil producing areas and I made it very clear to them that I am not sinking any new bore hole, the ones there are as good as anything, all we just need do is to remove the source of power, if they were powered by generators which the communities can no longer afford let us convert them to solar.

 

So you assure them of meaningful representation?

Definitely, I will not disappoint them.

Thank you very much.