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NDDC Gate: So who is underdeveloping the Niger Delta?

NDDC Gate: So who is underdeveloping the Niger Delta?
July 20
18:54 2020

Award winning cartoonist, Mustafa  Bulama of the Daily Trust Newspapers on Sunday, in a cryptic rendering depicted the state of the rot in the Niger Delta, in a graphic masterpiece that is better understood in the face of the mindboggling scandal rocking the Niger Delta (Development), Destruction Commission (NDDC).

In the depiction, an official of the NDDC is seen in a boat whisking away with a cargo of looted funds, and gesticulating to a motley crowd of Niger Delta impoverished citizens, who sought clarifications on the wealth of the region, thus, “the North is stealing it, we must demand for resource control”.

This cartoon is instructive and telling as it affords an opening into the mendaciousness and compromise of the Niger Delta elites that have shaped the charged relations that have existed between people of the Niger Delta and other section of Nigerians, particularly the North.

The single story of Niger Deltans since the discovery of Oil in Oloibiri, in 1956 have been that the region’s resources upon which the nation is largely ran, have not been adequately invested in the region to improve the lot of the largely fishing and agrarian communities who have to pay with their means of livelihood on account of activities of oil mining.

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This narrative has produced numerous activists and seen several agitations over the years to put in the front burner the plight of people of the region and culminating in the death of the environmental activist, kenule Saro Wiwa on 10th November, 1995. With the dawn of democracy in 1999, those years of struggle would pay off in a sense with an increased derivative ration in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and of course the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), one year later, in the year 2000 as a successor to the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC).

The objective for the establishment of the NDDC is quite clear. According to the information gleaned from the website of the agency, the “NDDC was established in 2000 with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” An altruistic objective by all standards. This was to compensate for the socioeconomic and ecological degradation of the region occasioned by the scramble for oil; Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner.

According to the establishment Act of the agency, the NDDC was mandated to carry out the following functions: “Formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area; conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programmes for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications; surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development and preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the commission.”

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Others are: “Implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the commission; identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assist the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region and assessing and reporting on any project being funded or carried out in the region by oil and gas companies and any other company, including non-governmental organizations, as well as ensuring that funds released for such projects are properly utilised.”

The agency is also saddled with the responsibility of “tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution; liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control as well as executing such other works and performing such other functions, which in the option of the commission are required for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and its people.” Once again, a holistic template for the all round development of the region by all means!

However, the 20 years of the NDDC have seen little or nothing in terms of the development of the region despite trillions of Naira that have been voted to the agency since its establishment. In all that period, the agency has been characterized by mindboggling corruption as if it were an institutionalized body to “settle” the leaders of the region so as to keep “the boys” quiet.

So much has been written of the corruption in the NDDC that the current minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio who doubles as the supervising minister of the agency but who himself faces serious allegation of graft, once described it as an ATM. “I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away, I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency”, he told the Nigeria Television Authority in the early days of his appointment as the Minister of the Niger Delta, by President Muhammadu Buhari.

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It is sufficient for our purposes here to rehash some of the mindboggling scandals that have rocked the agency since its establishment. In 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua ordered an investigation into allegations that the then Chairman of the agency, Ambassador Sam Edem, spent N 1 billion to secure the services of a sorcerer to employ spiritual means to enable him get contracts from the Akwa Ibom State Government. In August 2015, the then Audiot General of the Federal, Samuel Ukuru, ssaid that at least N 183 billion that was meant for the development of the Niger Delta was diverted by those put in charge of the commission.

In 2017, a former Managing Director, Nsima Ekere, announced the revocation of over 600 contracts worth 200bn. According to him, the rationale behind the action was because the management discovered that some of the contracts were either not properly awarded or some of them were awarded but the contractors had not yet gone to site. In his words, “ some of the contracts were awarded as late as 2002 with some of the contractors collecting advance payments from the commission with zero work done at the sites. So we terminated these contracts worth about 200 bn, which is the first phase of our restructuring the commission’s balance sheet”.

Last October, the Senate said it was probing the award of the Water Hyacinth Emergency and Desilting Contracts awarded by the agency from 2017 t0 2019. The Chairman Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, made this known when the Director, Special Duties of the NDDC, Nosakhare Agbongisede, appeared before the committee in Abuja. Urhoghide said investigation became imperative because the initial cost of the contract at 2.5 billion was allegedly increased to N 65 billion.

Towards the end of last year, investigations showed that a serving senator is single-handedly handling about 300 contracts for the agency in breach of procurement laws, yet no one has been prosecuted for that. Enter the latest in the series of sleaze that has become second name to the agency: the revelations of the former managing director of the Interim Management Committee, Ms Joi Gbene Nunieh for the better part of last week. The sordid and salacious details of the financial infractions in the 7 month superintendence of the IMC given the theatrics that attended it are now well known that I do not intend to rehash them here, save to point out that a whopping N 81.5 billion was spent by the agency between January and May, 2020 on inanities including N 85.6 million on “oversea travel” at a time when the whole world was on lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pray, how were these travels procured?

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Back to Bulama’s cartoon. If there was ever any doubt as to who was keeping the Niger Delta region underdeveloped, the current scandal rocking the agency should resolve that against the leaders of the region who are nothing but the knees on the neck of the people of the region. In its 20-year history, the agency has been led by sons and daughters of the region with little or no consideration given to the Federal Character Principle; the thinking being that as an interventionist agency, more confidence would be engendered by having the people of the region pilot its affairs. We have however seen that kleptomaniacs have no sympathies for kith, kin or kindred.

Yet, despite their hands writ large over the mess that the NDDC has become, the leaders of the region have not stopped blaming the Federal Government for the rot in the region, with endless clamoring for resource control and blaming Northern Nigeria for the despoliation of the region. And even sometimes fanning the embers of conflict between youths of the region and their counterparts in other parts of the country.

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This blame game assumed a rather disturbing dimension on social media over the course of the last Eid-ul fitri celebration between a constellation of Northern youths and their Niger Delta counterparts on Twitter following claims by a section of Niger Delta youths, that the expensive and flamboyant lifestyle of some children of the Northern elite was bankrolled by the oil of the Niger Delta. My reaction at the time without prejudice to where I stand on fiscal federalism was to ask the aggrieved people of the Niger Delta to direct their grievances to their leaders who were the vintage albatrosses on their necks, and not the Northern elite. The current NDDC-gate I should think vindicates that stance and Bulama’s cartoon puts it in more graphic detail.

Going forward, irrespective of the outcome of the current probe of the IMC by the 9th National Assembly, which probe has assumed even more theatrical dimension with the collapse of the Acting Managing Director of the Commission, Prof. pondei while facing the HoR probe panel, the current stench oozing from the aviary of the NDDC should force a course correction so as to deliver the dividends of the NDDC to people of the Niger Delta. On the other hand, the citizens of the region would do well to rise from the pettiness of conspiracy theories and begin to hold their leaders accountable.

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While messrs Godswill Akpabio, Prof. Pondei, Sen. Nwaoboshi, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo Agege and Dr. Cairo Ojugho have so far been fingered in this grand sleaze, the fact of the matter is that they have accomplices and partners across the leadership spectrum of the Niger Delta from the traditional rulers to community leaders, state governors to leadership of faith based organizations warts and all.

In the meantime, I align myself with the recommendations of the erudite professor of Law and Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Itse Sagay SAN that the embattled Minister of the Niger Delta should be relieved of his portfolio as well as the members of the IMC and forthwith investigated and prosecuted to the degree or extent of each of their culpability in what might just become the scandal of this decade. This would give way for the constitution of a governing board of the agency in line with its establish Act, and also allow for a transparent forensic audit of the commission without interferences from any quarters

I imagine that President Muhammadu Buhari would not take this lightly given how much badly it has reflected on his administration which seeks to stamp out corruption. Yet, he must go beyond the statement issued the other day, to ensure that the investigations are conducted to the latter, and sanctions made. This scandal might just be the defining test for his administration’s anti-corruption war, and how he handles it would make or mar it.

Raymond Nkannebe, a legal practitioner and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos. Comment and reactions to [email protected] Please follow me on twitter @raynkah

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