For those unfamiliar with the acronym, ‘DESOPADEC’, it is simply a contraction of the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission. The interventionist agency was created by the enabling Act in Delta State, to secure 50% of the 13% Oil Derivation Fund accruing to Delta State Government and the received sum used for rehabilitation and development of oil-producing areas of the state as well as carry out other development projects as may be determined from time to time.

From the above, it becomes evident that the commission was designed to play a key role in attracting development, build infrastructure and provide well planned fiscal incentives and most importantly establish good relationships with oil and gas producing communities while creating sound policies that will fundamentally enable private enterprises to operate successfully in the area.

It, however, becomes not only disturbing but a contradiction of the sort that the same DESOPADEC which was created to achieve the above objective, had under previous boards, regrettably gone astray with consistency in poor performance, thereby creating a frosty relationship between itself and-the oil and gas host communities.

From the deep sense of crisis that has characterized/trailed DESOPADEC existence, one important fact that must not be hidden from the commission’s new board is that the DESOPADEC they inherited enjoys more burden than goodwill.

There is a glaring trust deficit.
To some Deltans, particularly pro-DESOPADEC, failing in any given assignment is not unique to DESOPADEC as a commission or distinctive to its former leadership. Failure, they argued, is a temporal reflection of human weakness and weakness in the larger society. Former leaders of the commission are not in any way insulated from this reality. They are also victims of the same society and therefore should be excused.

For others, until the executive arm of government in the state gives the commission a free hand to operate, DESOPADEC efforts and initiatives will continue to reflect a ‘’palliative which cures the effect of an ailment while leaving the root cause to thrive. To the rest, that DESOPADEC is not delivering in its core mandate is ‘purely and squarely’ a failure of leadership.

For me, there is no doubt that the agency has a sincere desire to move the oil and gas parts of the state forward, but there are, in my view, two major factors. First, there is no clear definition of their problem, the goals to be achieved, or the means chosen to address the problems and to achieve the set goals. Second, the system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor with good means of livelihood-food, job, and security. This is the only possible explanation for this situation.

To solve this lingering challenge, the recently inaugurated members of DESOPADEC board must first admit that many of the villages and communities within its preview daily tell stories of a people without a good survival record. They are at intervals either sacked or their property destroyed by flood, their people particularly children decimated or dispersed. They endure poverty, economic powerlessness and outright deprivation. This is the order of the day among oil and gas bearing communities in the state.

This particular fact calls on the new board to commence thinking of creative ways to develop/implement plans and policies that will lead to emergence of legacy infrastructures in the area. this effort should begin with the establishment of schools for basic studies for these community dwellers.

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Why the state urgently needs to act on this new awareness is that school being far or close to the home according to what experts are saying definitely affects the student in many ways. For the student living far from the school, the long commute every day is physically and mentally tiring for the student. And as a result, it is harder for him or her to focus on studying after he or she gets home. Their lifestyle is usually more hectic because of the travel. Most, if not all school related events are actually near the school, so the student has to travel to attend all that too.
Comparatively, those who live closer to the school, they are usually better connected to the school and its events because, most, if not all school related events happen near the school. And because of the small distance, they are more up to date with it. Also, maximum students who attend a particular school, live close to it, so they are better connected with each other compared to the folks who live away and therefore tend to have more contacts and more connections. They are also more likely to become popular in school because they know a lot of people. They also are mentally more relaxed because they have a lot of time on their hands and they do not necessarily have to deal with traveling.

The UNICEF survey says something else; there are still a huge number of those who are in school, but are learning nothing, noting that schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school. it concluded.

More importantly, DESOPADEC and the state government by extension need to pay attention to present challenges in the region as development professionals warn that preparing for the future involves, first of all, training our young citizens to lead the development process, driven by a sense of their absolute duty to maintain our economic evolution. This will encourage placement of their dynamic potential at the service of our society.

To further catalyze the process of development, there is an urgent need for DESOPADEC to contemplate construction of road/bridge networks that will link Warri to Escravos terminals in Warri South West Local Council Area of Delta and another from Escravos to Forcados terminal in Burutu Local Government Area as well as complete Ayakoromo Bridge to link communities in Ughelli South and Burutu Council Areas.

It will equally not be characterised as out of place if one of the state-owned universities cites one of its campuses within Warri South Senatorial district as a way of bringing tertiary education closer to the people.

Finally, let me end this piece with a quote from Martin Lurther King Jr; ‘’it reads; if I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than the truth, I beg God to forgive.’

On my part, I hope this piece meets the new members of DESOPADEC board strong. I also hope that circumstances will soon make development of the region possible so that the dark cloud of underdevelopment will pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding lifted from our fear-drenched communities. Very key, this piece prays that soonest, the radiant stars of development will shine on our great state (Delta) with all its scintillating beauty.

God bless Delta State!

Utomi is the programme coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA).