New Telegraph

‘How govt can address challenges of oil producing communities’

Dr. Victor Koledoye is the Acting Chairman of the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC). In this interview, he attributes the achievements recorded by the intervention agency to the efforts of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu- led administration. BIYI ADEGOROYE reports

How has OSOPADEC in recent years impacted on the lives of the people of the mandate areas?

First, as a civil servant, what we are there for is basically to provide support for the political class anytime they are in power or in saddle of responsibility. So, definitely with the last board, there have been a number of projects that were inherited by this administration and there were new projects that were commenced just at the early stages by the time the last board left.

For example, we have the Aboto/ Atijere road that was awarded by the last board. The project is ongoing and is going to open through to Lagos. Shortly before the board left, there is this asphalt overlay from Igbokada down to Araromi. One of the reasons we are a bit concerned about rehabilitating that road is that we are thinking of linking Ilaje side to Lekki and it is going to be very strategic and economical for the state.

We have water treatment plant completed by the last administration of Dr. Olusgeun Miniko. However, it was not functional because there were a number of outstanding commitments that needed to be paid and the present administration paid those commitments. Besides, it has the capacity of providing about two million gallons of water per day. Then, the reticulation was done by another contractor and that is what we inherited.

At present, the reticulation has been done and we can supply water to Igbokoda. The one from Aboto to Ugbonla, we have some technical issues on that line and we are currently fixing it. But it is also in an advanced stage. It is to supply treated water to both Ugbonla and Igbokoda. It has the capacity to extend to other communities. We are trying to embark on a number of skill acquisitions for the youths in our area. Currently we are planning to do skill acquisition on solar power engineering. The interesting thing about this is that already job is provided and they only need to have the skills.

At the end of this training, almost all of them are going to be gainfully employed. It is going to be entrepreneurship training, they are going to have skill training in solar power engineering and at the end of the training they are going to be gainfully employed. We also have other aspect we are interested in, and that is mini-grid electricity. We are trying to collaborate with public utility.

There are number of our communities that do not have electricity. They cannot be connected to the national grid because they do not have a line that can connect them to the grid. So, we are trying to leverage on this mini-grid to provide electricity. Basically, it is going to be financed by the World Bank and some private sectors.

Do you still pay OSOPADEC bursary scheme for students of the mandate areas?

Yearly, we tried to pay bursary to our students. Currently, we have another bursary programs online, students have already applied and we are doing screening. Hopefully, when we complete that exercise we should be able to do another bursary payment. We have been paying bursary since this administration came in; except for last year and it was due to the harsh effect of Covid-19. Interestingly, the government has a commitment to pay bursary this year.

In terms of community development projects, do you think OSOPADEC has done enough?

Within the resources available to the commission, I think we’ve done very well. The question is: What resources are available and how best have we used the resources. I think on that level, I will give the commission a pass mark. The challenges in the mandate areas is enormous infrastructural wise, social economic wise. Despite the fact that that is the place where most of the resources, especially oil revenue come from.

It is undisputable for anyone who visits the environment to see that definitely there is a lot of gap. In other words, if you look at what resources have come to the state from oil and look at what has been derived in terms of development, definitely there is a wide gap. If you look at what that gap is and what will be needed to close that gap is definitely enormous in terms of resources.

So, the little that comes should be very constant and we also need to have a strategic plan on how best to use the little resources to make a difference in the lives of the people. In terms of expectation and what needed to be done, there is no pass mark for that. But in terms of resources that is available for what we should do, I think we have done well.

In most developmental indices, Ilaje and Eseodo are backward compare to all other local government areas in the state. And what OSOPADEC has always done is to advocate that government should focus more on what could benefit people of the mandate area.

The governor has been trying on the issue of sea port, Free Trade Zone and other beautiful plans. I see them as long term plans. We should also think of short term intervention plans for the people of mandate areas. But honestly, we must commend this administration for the focus and determination to impact the economic base of the state.

Interestingly, we have the inland water way that is somehow abandoned for a long time. They are linked to the Atlantic, but weeds have over the years overgrown them and most of them need dredging. I still believe that if we have a focus on that, it can even be leveraged upon to promote the sea port.

What is the biggest challenge of OSOPADEC in recent years?

If you have an area where socioeconomic activity is low, where you are having high rate of unemployment of the youth, the tendency is that the rate of crime will be high. There was a war between the Ilajes and Ijaws, and typically after every war too, there will be increment in arms around the zone; the militarization of people around that area and the fact that the Niger Delta area was at one stage on the issue of resource control. There is also the issue of degradation of the environment and the people have to take arms for these reasons. I have interacted with those guys with genuine concerns.

If those things that led to struggles are still there, you are still providing excuses for criminals to take up arms. What can wipe those challenges away is if we can improve the socioeconomic indices of that environment; improve infrastructure. Of course, we are going to do a lot of stakeholders’ engagements in terms of demilitarization of the people, education of the youths and skill acquisition programmes. I have a feeling that the moment we put them in place and they are constant, all those ugly traits will disappear.

What are you words for the mandate areas?

Well, my biggest word will be to the youth. Every country that is economically competitive is basically private sectors driven, and no private sector will want to invest in a country where there is insecurity. My appeal goes to the youth; we need to create the enabling environment to attract investors. The potential of the South is not even oil; the potential of the South is in our waters. The fact that we are close to the sea is also a fact that we are close to Lagos. Oil, to me is a distraction. If we can open up our water ways, have a sea port and create an environment that is conducive and attractive for investors, the issue of unemployment will be a thing of the past. We need to lure government to invest more on non-oil sectors and stop militarization.

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