An international human rights group says Nigeria's central government must do more to control the corrupt practices of local officials who it says routinely misuse public funds. In a report released Wednesday, Human Rights Watch says ordinary Nigerians have received little of the billions of dollars Nigeria has earned from its oil industry. The report cites examples of corruption allegedly committed by the local government of Rivers State, Nigeria's top oil producing state.
Magnus Abe is commissioner of Information for Rivers State. He said the report is a total fiction and failed to acknowledge Rivers State government’s progress in development.
“The report by Human Rights Watch is clearly biased. It is clearly not an objective report. It is clearly diluted by local politics. First of all, this is a report that concerns 23 local areas of Rivers State out of 774 local governments in Nigeria. How do you get an objective view of what is happening in the local system in Nigeria by just picking just one state out of the 36 states of the country? Secondly, these people did this report, they didn’t even talk with the local authorities,’ he said.
Human Rights Watch alleged in its report that Rivers State Governor Peter Odili’s office handed out more than $90,000 a day in unspecified contributions and budgeted $10 million a year for entertainment and hospitality. Abe said the allegations are false.
“What you have to appreciate and understand is that a lot of things in the budget are proposals and do not in any way reflect what is actually done at the end of the day. For example, here we have a lot of security challenges in the Niger Delta. People don’t understand or appreciate for instance that even as a state government, we make support payment to the police, which are federal agencies and others. There are allowances that are paid to these forces. There are lots of things that the state government carries which it is not constitutionally supposed to carry, but it carries because of the peculiar challenges of the Niger Delta," he said
Abe said the report is not an objective one and describe it as a clear example of foreigners who he said go to Africa with no clear idea of what is happening there and yet hold biased ideas that all African politicians are corrupt.
Abe also rejected the report’s allegations that Governor Peter Odili budgeted roughly $65,000 per day for travel. He described the allegation as “rubbish.” He said the report was an attempt by Human Rights Watch to interfere with Nigerian local government politics.
“We are in a political atmosphere here. I’m sure Human Rights Watch is aware of that, then you are doing a report that is clearly indicting of politicians who are involved in a political process at this time, and then you don’t give them an opportunity to even have a say in what you are doing. So clearly one way or another, whether by commission or omission, I think Human Rights Watch got themselves involve in our local politics,” he said.
Abe who admitted he has not seen the report, rejected what he said is a claim in the report that Rivers State has not paid the salaries of its health sectors employees for months. He said Rivers State has a policy to match any allowance or salary paid to civil servants in any part of Nigeria.
Abe said the problem of marginalization and inequity in the Niger Delta has been a burning issue for more than 40 years. He said people need to appreciate and understand that.
“It is amazing how it’s almost impossible for Westerners to see progress in anything African. Before we get our opportunity to have our voices heard on the international stage, it must be either there is AIDS or there is corruption, or there like this kind of picture they are painting, those are the only things that can get out of Africa that can get world attention,” he said.
Abe said the Human Rights Watch report failed to mention the 150 megawatts power plant that Rivers State has built and a hospital that is of international standard. He also said Rivers State is building bridges and roads to areas of the Niger Delta that he said have never seen a road before.
Abe agreed that corruption has been a problem in Nigeria and other African countries. But he said it is not limited to Africa alone.
“You will also agree with me that corruption is not an African word. It is an English word, and I think that corruption is not just an African problem. It is an international problem, and all of the world needs to work together to eliminate corruption so that corrupt officials wherever they’re from, they should have no hiding place. So the problem of poverty in Africa is deeper than saying corruption officials have embezzled money. That is not the sole cause of poverty in Africa. The world economy itself needs to give opportunities to African countries to be able to compete and participate,” Abe said.