Morris Alagoa is a social and environmental rights activist. He is the state coordinator of the Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth. In this interview with JOHN ODHE in Yenagoa, he speaks on environmental issues as they affect Bayelsa state as well as the state's internally generated revenue.
Do you think the state government is fully exploiting all avenues for internally generated revenue to grow the state's economy?
Well, talking about sources of revenue for any government, I think from the 80s, what we know is that tax is one source, personal income tax, whether they are civil servants or not. Citizens have to pay tax. I was discussing with a Facebook friend from Europe and he told me that we are enjoying in Africa because most of the things here are free. She told me that although they have every social amenities they need, they pay their taxes. I remember here in Yenagoa when I wanted to go to Ogbia where I was schooling at Oloibiri, tax collectors used to wait at the waterside to collect tax from some adults. Even when I went to the higher institution in Aba, tax collectors were stopping taxes to look for adults to catch to pay tax. But now, crude oil has bridged a lot of gaps. The money coming from oil has become so much that a lot of areas where government is supposed to look into for internally generated revenue are no longer there.
However, in Bayelsa State, when this government came on board, civil servants in the state lamented that they were over taxed. Later on, we heard about the education trust fund. The same thing, civil servants were taxed. Later, we heard about students' school fees increment and all of that. And don't forget, almost all of us are still paying tax. In those days, there was nothing like Value Added Tax (VAT). Today, in many things you buy, including your phone, there is VAT. So, we are all in one way or another still paying tax, maybe to the federal government. And all that comes back to the state and the local government in form of federal allocation from the federation account. However, the 13 per cent which comes to the oil bearing states is huge. It doubles, if not triples, the statutory allocation that comes to the state every month. I remember when the state government was mentioning how much that came to the state; while statutory was about three billion, that of 13 per cent derivation was over nine billion. So, this amount that is coming from the federal government is huge.
However, the state government has also felt that they need to generate money internally to support what is coming from the federal government for the development of the state. So, the civil servants are heavily taxed. Then, what about the other sources? For instance, we have the Creek Motel, like the Presidential Hotel that is being managed by foreigners. The creek motel was also being managed at a time by some white guys. But for over a year now, that place has been dormant. In fact, it is now fallow, over grown with weeds and there are cobwebs everywhere. It is a wasting asset. What about the Bayelsa transport company? In all the Niger Delta states, it is only in Bayelsa state that you may have the transport company not functioning. If you go to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, they have a very big terminal where you go to book for a ticket, depending on the state you are going. The system is well organized. In Rivers state, the waterline areas even have the Rivers State Transport Company. What about Delta State, Edo, Sokoto, they are there. What about the Bayelsa Transport Company? Is it still existing? If you go to their office along Swali road, you will know that it has gone moribund. The vehicles you see there are skeletons, not
functional vehicles. Even if some of the vehicles are owned by private transport companies who partner the state transport company, such companies pay revenue to the state government in those states where the companies are functional. What about our own? This would have generated revenue and create employment to a certain level.
What about the Plastic Industry that we were having? Today, it is no longer there.
Then, most importantly, there is this company that was started during Alamieyeseigha's time. The Bayelsa Oil Company. Sometimes, we hear that it has an office in London. Some say it has offices in Lagos or Abuja. Only recently, l got to know the real name. They say it is Atala Oil Field, owned by the Bayelsa State government. Most unfortunately, while individuals like Gen. T.Y Danjuma was allegedly saying that he doesn't know what to do with money again, Bayelsa State has never given account, with all the transparency briefings, no mention has been made of the oil revenues coming from the Atala Oil Field owned by the state government. Now, the question is, is that company a liability or an asset? Or are the proceeds going into the pockets of some persons? This is because, from investigation, we heard oil was being lifted from that place. So, even if it is working as a marginal oil field, when l say marginal, maybe the original people that drilled it feel that at that level, it is not viable enough for them; so, they can give it out to another company. So, Bayelsa state government has an oil company. It is our own. Why is it that we have not heard about revenue from it going to eight years of the Dickson's monthly transparency briefings? We have a transparency law, one of the laws Dickson made about transparency and accountability. But do you know that nothing has been mentioned about the Bayelsa oil company?
Are you sure the oil company is still alive?
I learnt that it was the Bayelsa State government that allowed a certain company owned by Dan Etete to manage it. Even when l raised the issue on Facebook, some people said the company even has an office somewhere on Otiotio road here in Yenagoa and in Lagos and certain names, including that of Alamieyeseigha were mentioned. And since I posted that thing on Facebook, l have been receiving some messages on my inbox, sending me links and mentioning names. Board members were mentioned. Why is it that it has been silent right from Goodluck Jonathan's, Sylva's time till Dickson's time? Who are the people benefitting from that our common property? This is an issue that, if we have our way, some of us from the civil society angle, will approach the state government through the Freedom of Information Act for them to explain the position of the Atala oil field owned by the Bayelsa state government. It is our common wealth. It is supposed to be part of our internally generated revenue source, to support what is coming in. Again, when you talk about internally generated revenue, in the 70s when the City Council in Port Harcourt was doing refuse collection and the city was clean, nobody comes around to collect money from residents as sanitation fee. But here, as you are moving, you see every KEKE and taxi drivers paying everyday.