Current move by the Udom Emmanuel administration in Akwa Ibom State to foist a new Culture, Arts and Tourism legislation on the state is unsettling stakeholders in the industry.
Industry watchers in the state say stakeholders are at loggerheads over a proposed law to establish Endowment Fund and Preservation, Protection of Cultural Heritage of the big oil state that has left most of its rural oil-bearing communities behind civilisation.
At the moment, the pressure is mounting on the Udom administration to set up a commission to handle the special development needs of the oil-bearing communities of the state.
This follows concerns over the utilisation of the 13 percent derivation fund meant to develop the oil and gas producing areas in which many felt have not had a fair share of development.
Among those who have expressed worry over the absence of the commission in Akwa Ibom are Nduese Essien, former member of House of Representatives, Ita Enang, a presidential aide on Niger Delta Affairs and Iroigak Ikann, a former member of the state executive council
Akwa Ibom is said to produce about 504,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, accounting for 32 percent of Nigeria’s production output but the oil-bearing communities found in the state have often cried out against neglect and marginalisation by the state government.
Speaking during a radio interview in Uyo, the state capital, Essien notes that while other states in the Niger Delta have already set up such commissions, Akwa Ibom was yet to do so adding that he had always advocated for a commission to address the development of the oil bearing communities.
“We have always advocated the establishment of the commission in Akwa Ibom. Many States in the Niger Delta have done so except Akwa Ibom”, he says.
He said he raised the issue of the derivation during a meeting between Governor’s from the South-South region and National Assembly members in Benin, Edo State.
“On 13% oil derivation, we in the first National Assembly fought for it. The then President(Obasanjo) was not willing to pay the money. We used our position in the National Assembly to compel the then President to pay. The issue of resource control was primarily my idea at a meeting with Governors and members of the National Assembly in Benin.
“It was there that Obong Attah and James Ibori took over the fight. And you know governors had the media at their disposal.”
Speaking earlier, the presidential aide had lamented the alleged lack of transparency in the deployment of the derivation fund saying many governors in the region were using the funds wrongly.
According though some states have set up the oil-producing areas commissions, they were starved of funds while Akwa Ibom has not done so.
“The governors are only using the money to fly private jets. The state government are using the derivation money for something else, while sponsoring the communities against the federal government and they will stop production.
“Let me alert you that whenever any community stops oil and gas production, the cost of solving the problem and losses sustained within the period are to credited against the state government and would be debited so that the state governments would be responsible”
Ikann also explains that the absence of a development commission for oil bearing communities has robbed his local government area, Eastern Obolo of basic amenities, pointing out that promises had been made by successive administrations in the state and producing area development commission since the administration of former Governor Godswill Akpabio but to no all.
However, industry stakeholders on Wednesday submitted different memoranda during the public hearing on a bill to establish Akwa Ibom State Tourism, Arts And Culture Endowment Fund ( AKSTACEF) and another bill for a law to provide for preservation, protection And Restoration of Historical Properties And Heritage Sites in Akwa Ibom And for other connected Purposes respectively, the stakeholders said the proposed laws were duplications of existing laws in the state.
Presenting a 10-point memorandum at the public Hearing for above bills organized by the state House of Assembly Committee on Industry, Commerce and Tourism, the Chairman of Akwa Ibom State Hotels Management And Tourism Board, Ini Akpabio, said the proposed bill if signed into law will usurp the statutory functions of Tourism Board in the state.
On the proposed bill for a law to establish an endowment fund for culture, Arts and Tourism, Akpabio observed that the functions and powers of the fund managers in the bill already vested in existing Akwa Ibom State Tourism Board as contained in Section 1, 6, 7, 13, 16 and 27 of the Tourism Board Law.
” It is observed that the objectives of the fund as well as the functions and powers of the proposed Board pursuant to Section 1,6,7,13,16 and 27 of the Tourism Board Laws vests control, management and development of tourism, hospitality and allied purposes owned by the state government in the board. ”
” The said law empowers the Board to generate funds for this purpose is a duplication of functions. The law seeks to create a duplication of functions in the Tourism sector which will increase the cost of governance”, he said.
” Since there is a legislation that covers everything, the proposed law seeks to address, the ideal thing would be to amend the said mother legislation. The Tourism Board Law can be amended to direct the Board to compulsorily create an Endowment Fund wherein the said funds, levies and allocations will be paid”
He said apart from duplication of functions, creating another parastatal within and old one with the same responsibilities would increased bureaucracy in government activities.
But, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Aniekan Bassey, has assured stakeholders that every interest in the new bill will be accommodated.
The speaker who was represented by his deputy, Felicia Bassey, explains that all stakeholders will be protected in the new bill.