14 December 2010

Nigeria: Sylva's Pact With Bayelsans (1)

Abuja — It is common practice all over the world including Nigeria for political parties and their candidates for general elections to come out with a compendium of promises to the electorate on what dividends of democracy they intend to bequeath, even as the people must trust them enough to exercise the franchise in their favour.

Yet, it is also common and peculiar practice in Nigeria to see such victorious political parties and their candidates jettison with frightening speed these promises contained in their pre-election/campaign manifesto as soon as they ascend those offices. It is therefore uncommon for any political office holder during tenure to initiate a contract with the electorate on what he intends to do, to which he would be held accountable for. That is why Governor Timipre Sylva's decision to set for himself a mission of some projects he intends to commission in April 2011 deserve even more than a cursory examination. Only on November 18, 2010, the governor in an advertorial tagged "Sylva Mission" decided to make public 11 projects he intends to conclude and commission between now and next April. Interestingly, a critical section of Bayelsans, as expected, have since raised eyebrows over the said mission, wondering what he was doing since May 27, 2007 till now and why he would wait till a few months to elections to astir. Without doubt, society thrives better where critical voices of opposition exist guided by nobility of intent and nothing else or less; therefore it is imperative not to dismiss these begging questions raised by the critics with a wave of the hand. Rather it is always better to examine the merits of such critical comments and questions, with the ultimate aim of helping to shape and bolster good governance by providing the dividends of democracy to the people.

Against this backdrop, one cannot but admit that activities in Bayelsa at some point in the last 18 months have been on the low with the state revenue profile depleted under a national revenue sharing formula, which dropped Bayelsa from the list of top revenue earners amongst the oil producing states to the lowest as occasioned by the ever present dynamics of the oil producing sector. With a state, who's earning midwived by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had declined drastically by 50 percent, still having to tend to an expenditure that was naturally on the increase; it seemed quite natural to experience a lull in its activities. While many critics continued then to bemoan the lull in activities, Sylva and his Finance and Budget Commissioner, Dr. Silva Opuala Charles, knew they had to take strategic steps to address the declining revenue profile if government is to continue with its action plan of delivering democracy dividends to its people. To this end, Governor Sylva wrote a letter to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, whereof he complained that the financial weight of safeguarding the commonwealth of the nation located in oil fields beyond 200m isobath of the state's coast line had become unbearable for Bayelsa alone to bear, especially at this time when the state revenue profile had dipped.

Sylva said for the state to continue to bear the financial brunt alone on behalf of the entire country, the Federal Government ought to make some concession that would ameliorate its burden. Consequently, he prayed for some concession for nine oil wells located beyond 200 metres isobath of the state coastal line. Specifically in the letter, Governor Sylva prayed Jonathan to "attribute 13 percent derivation revenue in respect of the nine oil fields located beyond 200m isobath of the Bayelsa State Coastal line." But the President declined the specific request conscious of the position of the law. Instead, he referred Sylva's memo to the statutory agencies empowered to act on it - the National Boundary Commission and RMAFC. Eventually, upon the duo's recommendation, the President consented to granting oil-bonus for three oil fields beyond 200 metres isobath of Bayelsa's coast lines; a development which has bolstered its revenue and set the government on a better pedestal to drive its revolutionary strategic action plan. Little wonder since that approval, the state governor has bullishly taken up the daunting challenge of wiping tears off Bayelsans by entering a self-initiated six months undertaking encapsulated in "Sylva's Mission".

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