The non-observance of the principles of fiscal federalism in Nigeria as practised in the 1960s before military intervention that introduced a unitary system of government was yesterday identified as one of the challenges militating against the development of the Niger Delta region.
It was also said through deliberate or ignorant behaviour, the people of the region added to the slow development of the area because of the intermittent disruption of projects by the youths and excessive demands on contractors by communities and individuals which constituted serious problems in the implementation of projects that lead to outright stoppage of work or abandonment of project execution.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, said this when he spoke on the paper titles: "The Challenges of Regional Development in Nigeria: A Case of the Niger Delta", which he delivered at the seventh Distinguished Faculty of Social Sciences Public Lecture Series of the University of Benin, Benin City yesterday.
He further noted that capacity of the local contractors also constitute a serious impediment in the implementation of projects and programmes in the region.
The minister said in the desire to empower local contractors and achieve the local content policy of the Federal Government, his ministry often as a deliberate policy, awarded contracts to the indigenes of the communities where projects were located only for such contracts to be abandoned.
According to him, "It is sad to note that most of such projects are either abandoned or poorly implemented. Equally sad is the fact that contractors with proven capacity that are not indigenes are often not allowed to implement projects and programmes in the region.
Another snag identified by the Niger Delta Affairs' Minister is the terrain of the region which he said makes infrastructural development a difficult task, pointing out that the average cost of road projects in the region cost three times more than it cost elsewhere in the country.
"Worst still, he said is that the advance technology which is often required for projects in the region is lacking.
Couple with this, Orubebe stated is that the financial resources required to develop the area is huge, while the funds being provided in the annual budget is grossly inadequate.
His words: "In particular, the funds being provided for my ministry is a far cry from what is needed to deliver our mandate."
He was therefore of the opinion that for meaningful development to occur in the Niger Delta region which has being the goose that lay the golden egg, the existing revenue formula needed to be adjusted to accommodate the expectations of the people both at the federal and state level.
"For regional development to thrive once again there is need for a review of the revenue allocation formula as well as both the exclusive and concurrent legislative lists of the 1999 constitution. The oil and gas rich Niger Delta region which is the focus of this paper comprises the states of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Edo, Cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
"The region accounts for about 90 per cent of Nigeria's total earnings and over 80 per cent of its total revenue. In spite of its huge resource endowment, the Niger Delta region illustrates a paradox of poverty in the midst of abundant resources. It is common knowledge that this deplorable condition is characterised by low level of human development, measured in terms of maternal death, child mortality, a heavy disease burden, highly polluted environment, caused by oil spills, gas leak and gas flare, limited access to potable water, dilapidated schools, health facilities and deplorable communication networks especially in the water-logged areas that constitute more than one-half of the region's total landmass," Orubebe said.
Besides, the minister noted that the complex development issues and challenges in the region required concerted efforts of all stakeholders including the technical and financial support of the multi-lateral development agencies in the country as well as the private sector.
Earlier in his remark, the Vice-chancellor, University of Benin, Prof. Osayuki Oshodin said university annual lecture series are geared towards public education and enlightenment on social issues, cultural education, economic, scientific and developmental interests.
According to him, they are aimed at bringing town and gown together just like the university inaugural lecture series.
Meanwhile in his welcome address, the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Prof. Charles Okorocha said the faculty's lecture series is an annual event which brings to focus topical issues in the socio-economic and political currents especially in Nigeria.
He said it was designed to ventilate the on-going concerns of the faculty as a vanguard in the analysis and understanding of social change in the country and beyond.