Hope deferred for Niger Deltans as NDDC unravels

 
Fri Jul 24th, 2020 - Bayelsa
 

Stakeholders from all walks of life in the Niger Delta are furious over allegations of extra-budgetary and financial malfeasance to the tune of N81.5 billion currently rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Outrage in the Niger Delta stems from the disenchantment that the NDDC, which is supposed to be the bedrock of coordinated and sustainable development for a marginalized region, which is environmentally despoiled for feeding the nation, has been captured by mindless and avaricious political elites within and outside the Niger Delta. Their mindless actions have consequently deferred the hope for the development of the region.

The NDDC was established in 2000 by an Act of parliament after the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission Decree 1998 was repealed. As an interventionist agency, the NDDC is supposed to deploy allocations from the Federation Account to tackle ecological problems occasioned by exploration of crude oil and gas in the Niger Delta.

It would be recalled that beginning from the 1990s, various oil-rich but neglected ethnic communities in the Niger Delta became more vociferous in their demands for greater autonomy and control of the area’s petroleum resources. These demands were hinged on gross physical and human under-development of the region and the widespread environmental degradation and pollution from oil activities that date back to the 1950s when oil exploration and exploitation started in commercial quantities, first in Oloibiri (1956) in Bayelsa and Uzere (1958) in Delta States.

Due to the pervasive poverty, even by Nigeria’s standards for quality of life, frustrated youths resorted to arms struggle and wanton vandalisation of oil installations in a bid to press home their demands for a more equitable distribution of the proceeds from oil and gas, which still account for well over 85 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and environmental remediation.

To reverse the grim picture of the pitiable state of the Niger Delta, the NDDC was established primarily to drive the process of policy formulation and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area. The agency was also to conceptualise projects and programmes for sustainable development of the region in critical sectors such as transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity, and telecommunications.

These are in addition to the preparation of a regional masterplan to promote the physical development of the region. But 20 years after the setting up of NDDC and its receipt of trillions of naira to drive the development of the region, there is still pervasive poverty, poor health facilities and high mortality rate, teeming unemployed youth, extreme low level of industrial development, deplorable road network, epileptic electricity, and worsening environmental degradation due to oil and gas activities in the region.

Early warning red flags that the NDDC had skidded off its core mandate and was devoid of accountability and transparency was repeatedly raised by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives (NEITI) in its Fiscal Allocation and Statutory Disbursement 2007-2011 and 2012-2016 reports respectively.

The reports which revealed that the NDDC earned N593.961 billion between 2007- 2011 as well as N249 billion between 2012-2016, totalling N842.961 billion in 10 years, for instance.

NIETI had observed in its 2007-2011 audit of an instance when a total number of 22 projects were duplicated in the projects’ schedule with a total contract sum of N1.18 billion, mobilization payments of N370.70 million, interim payment certificates (IPC) issued to the tune of N156.81 million and mobilization recovered on IPC’s of N93.09 million.

Also based on reviews from the aforementioned audit, projects with contract sum of NGN284.884 billion and mobilisation or advance payments of N63.558 billion was made but was not certified for work done on the established milestones or progression and therefore no interim payment certificate (IPC) had been issued.

In its 2012-2016 audited report, NIETI also said it made a series of efforts to get the commission to provide the list of programmes organised by the various directorates of the commission during the years under review. But this was not made available. NIETI equally mentioned that in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, its officials were not allowed entry into vicinities where projects were located and therefore they could not verify the existence of the project worth N208 million and said to have been completed.

It is amid these prevailing scenarios that the issue of financial malfeasance by NDDC officials have dominated headlines in the last two weeks, though a fragment of the rot in the commission, has triggered outrage in the region.
Various stakeholders, including governors in the Niger Delta states, Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, among other, have expressed disgust over alleged financial scandal rocking the commission under the leadership of Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei’s Interim Management Committee (IMC), which is being supervised by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godswill Akpabio.

Considering the recent revelations of extra-budgetary financial recklessness by NDDC’s management as very tragic, the South-South Governors Forum maintained that they were convinced and expecting that the forensic audit of the commission ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari would serve to put NDDC on a sound corporate governance footing and reposition it to better deliver on its mandate.
Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Delta State, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa, explained that the governors were fully in support of the National Assembly exercising its oversight functions through the ad hoc committee set up for that purpose of investigating alleged financial recklessness to the tune of N81.5 billion by NDDC’s management.

According to the forum, “The South-South Governors are desirous to see an NDDC that is fully alive and responsive to its mandate of accelerating infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region and enhancing the general living conditions of our people. Hence, we will not hesitate to give our unqualified support to any policy initiative that will make this a reality. The forum wishes to advise the combatants in the current crisis in the NDDC to refrain from utterances and actions that will breach the peace and security of the region.’’

The governors have reiterated that both the forensic audit and the National Assembly investigation should continue and be concluded with dispatch so that the NDDC could quickly return to its role of advancing and protecting the developmental aspirations the people of the marginalised region.

Renowned academic and former presidential aspirant, Prof. Pat Utomi, said he was worried about the frittering away of resources meant to help the lot of desperately poor people living in conditions of grave misery in the Niger Delta.

“The stories may be sordid and disgraceful, but there are bigger and more painful issues,” he said. “If these can be considered exemplars of the level of goal displacement in our public institutions then the development experience can be classified as mission impossible.

“If public goals are so care-freely set aside for private goals of individuals acting as agents for the state, the resort to violence by citizens whose hopes appear forlorn should be easy to rationalise. It means Nigeria is in dire straits, much worse than the pessimists have been suggesting.”

He explained that hearing that billions of naira were spent on frivolous things and contracts that break basic decency and ethics are awarded to those who should have oversight function over the NDDC was distressing. To this end, he recommended the recall of all legislators involved in the contract scam and that they be held accountable by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

A public relations expert, Prince Yemi Emiko, stressed that NDDC has been a cash cow for politicians since inception. He suggested that NDDC should be returned to the presidency under the direct supervision of the president so that it would not be hijacked ahead of 2023 politics.

“I almost feel sorry for President Buhari because I know he means well,” Emiko said ruefully. “He should identify some serious-minded professionals with experience in sustainable community engagement and development initiatives, and appoint them to run the commission. There appears to be too much money floating around the whole place, without a corresponding governance model to check and balance expense.”

For Mr. LeRoy Chuma Edozien, the reckless plundering of the resources of NDDC by the management of the commission was tantamount to raping of the Niger Delta region afresh alongside what the oil companies are doing daily in their exploitative activities.

“As with all rape, we must all stand up and say ‘No!’ The rapists should face the full force of the law. Beyond the immediate sanctions, however, we must go through an attitudinal restructuring that makes all citizens see any rape of our resources as morally reprehensible. The grand corruption manifesting in the NDDC is mirrored by petty corruption in various other walks of life, public and private. Our citizens often see corruption, not for the moral decay that it represents, but as simply being smart.”

Similarly, Secretary General of United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS), Mr. Tony I. Uranta, said the group had repeatedly decried the quantum of corruption that has become the trademark of NDDC and the governments of the Niger Delta.
Uranta stated that for many years, UNDEDSS had shouted that whilst treacherous indigenes of the region have acted corruptly regarding their dealings with the NDDC (both as NDDC boards, executives and contractors), most of the sleaze had been possible mainly because of the complicity and directives from both members of the National Assembly and the senior actors in the presidency. He noted that the recent unfolding facts were a confirmation of UNDEDSS’s allegations.

Uranta implored President Buhari to ensure that the comprehensive forensic audit he ordered the IMC to execute is speedily carried out without tainting the process or further short-changing the region. He added that those indicted in the audit be made to face the full consequences of criminality in courts of law.

UNDEDSS affirmed further that the coalition was not interested in salacious allegations made by any of the players in the ongoing drama, concluding that all that the Niger Delta wants is that justice be done, and stolen loot recovered.

Also, a former chairman of Edo State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Afekhide Omoti, said he was saddened that money that was supposed to be used to develop the Niger Delta has found its way into private pockets, thus instead leaving the region under-developed.

“I realise that there have been attempts to discredit the hearing, but I still feel that the honourable members can still come up with a credible report since Nigerians are watching,” Omoti said. “I must note that the public hearing will only reveal the tip of the iceberg as the fraud is more deep-seated and has been going on for very many years. We hope that the much-talked about forensic audit will be detailed enough to reveal the rot and not cover up for certain persons, particularly those currently in government. I also believe that the president will do what is necessary to clean up NDDC.”

National Coordinator, South-South Elders Forum, Anabs Sara-Igbe regretted that NDDC, which was established as response to the loss of the blood of innocent Niger Deltans has failed to uphold its mandate to transform the region’s landscape.

“The funds injected into NDDC cannot be compared to the money used to develop Dubai,” Sara-Igbe said. “NDDC has got more money than what was spent in Dubai, but up on till now, we are still living in squalor. This is very shameful; there is no basic infrastructure you can see in the oil-bearing communities of the region. You have seen the kind of primary schools we have in Ofoima, Belema and other oil-bearing communities in the region. It is very unfortunate.

“We are aware of the National Assembly members, who have been impoverishing the region and the commission as 60 per cent of the commission’s projects are given to the lawmakers. They are so greedy, so self-centred. It is quite unacceptable. In a sane society, those indicted should have resigned by now. They should borrow a leave from other lawmakers across the globe, who by mere accusations, resign. But here, it is different.”

Also speaking, Eugene Abels, an activist and President of Extra Step Initiative said the country has failed the peoples of the Niger Delta, adding that a judicial panel should be set up.

“NDDC was created as an intervention agency,” he said. “It is an aberration to put it under the supervision of a ministry. NDDC’s budget is even bigger than the supervisor’s budget. So, the AuditorGeneral of Federation is expected to have annual audit of the commission. We have failed as a nation under this matter. In the past, it was the issue of funding. Now that that issue has been tackled, we are now facing the problem of fraud, diversion, greed and selfishness.”

But the former spokesperson of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr. Legborsi Esaen, the silence in some quarters of the Niger Delta, despite all that is unfolding, is suggestive that NDDC was established to ‘settle’ some elder statesmen, major stakeholders, and militant activists in the region.

“In Niger Delta, it is not in our culture to talk with food in our mouth,” he said in a proverb. “Indicted and disgruntled elements will be the most effective source of the forensic audit details. Let’s continue to watch the drama unfold. Nothing will happen to them at the end of the day, but at least, for the sake of posterity, let’s know the goats that broke into the barn and the quantities of yams they ate.”

Idamina William-Jumbo of Friends of Niger Delta Ecological Initiative (FONDEI) said it was depressing that the pillage of the common patrimony of a people, who have continued to suffer environmental degradation due to oil and gas exploration and exploitation, was being spearheaded by their own sons and daughters.

He declared that FONDEI was worried that President Buhari seems deliberately complicit with the under-performance of the NDDC due to his failure to appoint a full board for the management of NDDC. According to him, it was worrisome that Buhari allowed himself to be deceived to set up IMC to oversee the much-touted forensic audit.

“We state that such contraption is illegal and alien to the Act that set up NDDC,” he stated. “Why Mr. President has chosen the path of perfidy on this matter leaves us confounded indeed. There is absolutely nothing that says that the substantive board/management of NDDC cannot superintend over a forensic or any kind of audit of NDDC.”

Acting Executive Director, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), Mr. Courage Nsirimovu, has called on President Buhari to direct the anti-corruption agencies to prosecute any public officer(s) in the NDDC or National Assembly, who might have violated Part 1 S. 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers that stipulates that a public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.

Furthermore, IHRHL has called on Buhari to restructure NDDC and include credible civil society organisations into the agency’s structure to ensure due process, monitoring and evaluation of contract awards, projects implementation and also to ensure compliance with the agency’s laws and regulations.

Also, former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Mr. Eric Omare explained that some stakeholders had opposed the constitution of an IMC to manage NDDC against the express provisions of NDDC Establishment Act, but President Buhari ignored it because it suited his political interest.

“It is unfortunate and all the blame should go to President Buhari for allowing this show of shame. The way forward is to immediately dissolve the IMC, sack Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and transfer the supervision of NDDC back to the office of Secretary to Government of the Federation. Then the forensic audit should be under the direct supervision of the presidency, who should inaugurate the substantive board of NDDC that has been cleared by the National Assembly.”

A human rights and public commentator, Wisdom Ikuli has, however, condemned in totality the call in some quarters for the scrapping of the agency. According to him, this was not only insensitive, but ill-willed.

“Corruption in Nigeria is systemic and endemic,” Ikuli stated. “It is not peculiar to the NDDC; it is widespread. The case of NDDC is likened to the pains members of The Nigeria Police are facing because most of their activities relate directly to the masses.”

In the same vein, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Moses Theophilus, regretted that rather than complementing the efforts of the federal and state governments, the commission has become notorious for embarking on substandard projects that are eventually abandoned.

Bayelsa State chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Laye Julius has suggested that henceforth, the appointment of the managing director of NDDC should be given to someone with track record in development and not a politician.

Coordinator of ex-militants under the aegis of the 21st Century Youths of the Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience (21st CYNDAC), ‘General Izon Ebi argued that the National Assembly is against IMC and Akpabio and wants to truncate the forensic audit of the commission.
Ebi wondered why the IMC and Akpabio should be singled out for investigation by the National Assembly while ignoring to probe the administration of former NDDC managing directors like Nsima Ekere and Professor Nelson Brambaifa.

According to Ebi, “It is obvious to every discerning mind that the reason for the investigation was not to find out the truth nor reshape the focus of the commission for optimum service delivery. Rather, it is a situation of, “if we can’t eat from the pot, let us scatter the party!”

He said the group has stated unequivocally that the forensic audit of the commission must get to it’s logical conclusion, as that would be the only credible way to rejig the commission and expose those that have been raping the region.

There is presently widespread uncertainty in Niger Delta over what the next few weeks will bring for the NDDC. There is, however, a general consensus that the commission should be overhauled and the treacherous paddling of the commission’s budget by the National Assembly, which disrupts infrastructural development of the Niger Delta and threaten national security, should stop.

 
 

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source: Guardian