I will begin this outing with an admission: I wrote three different essays on the terrible happenings in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and each has a unique perspective to it. Unfolding events gave rise to that. I intend to publish one or two out of the three because of some examples in those write ups that could be beneficial to our quest for sound development in the region. Of course choosing a title for this discourse was difficult for the very simple reason that unknown to many, what is happening to the Niger Delta and especially around NDDC which many have described as the shame of a country is actually a tragic trend that has dogged the path of the region before and after independence.
Read the history of Nigeria and one thing that comes very clear would be the deliberate attempts to dim the fortunes of the region and her people. This negative pattern is yet to abate. Every now and then it rears its ugly head, especially when the issues are such that habour inside them seeds of big gains. So when I took from a friend the title “Niger Delta Development Crisis”, it seemed to me poetically romantic yet far from being encompassing. It would in my estimation hide the main truth that what many term crisis in Niger Delta is all about contrivance by vested interest in the Nigerian project, who want the region down so they can milk it. So I dropped it. You can see the trouble of an innocent writer.
I thought about «NDDC: Comedy of errors» but the truth is, we have always been regaled with comedies of horrors in the past. What we are seeing about NDDC is just a familiar pattern. It is no coincidence that Itsekiri or Ijaw tribes are found across Delta State where the majority of the population domicile. Such arrangements can be disorienting. and inviting; it could be the reason the Urhobo and Itsekiri, two closely related people would almost always remain at daggers drawn. Or why would a small clan in Abia State find its itself partitioned into two states. It is about a mischievous kind of oil politics and obvious attempt to pretend to give when actually one is taking. Call it witchcraft politics and you won’t be wrong. When as a result of military coup, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida decided to establish the Oil Mineral Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), which of the groups from Niger Delta did he consult? Isn’t it a fact that the military hierarchy dominated by northern officers picked a security officer of Niger Delta origin as the chairman, in the same manner it handpicked the board without any contribution from the people. Cronies served out other interests. OMPADEC failed.
I wanted to use «Shame of a country» as the title but something reminded me that even OMPADEC that preceded NDDC equally brought shame so what is new? President Obasanjo as civilian leader was trying to clean the shame when he came up with NDDC as new brand, but it didn’t take weeks to discover it was all a whited sepulcher: external surface clean but dirty and rotten inside. Recruitment process has been an issue. For instance, this new process was not without the usual destructive drama; producing a chairman for the body became a game of chess. Abia State was on call, going by alphabetical order as prescribed by law and two eminent personalities were in contention: Dr Stanley Macebuh who hailed from an oil producing area and Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Obasanjo’s presidential media campaign manager, who is from an oil state but not a producing area. Chief Onyema got the nod and of course built one of the best roads in the state, not in the oil producing area of Ukwa but in the non-producing area of Umuahia. This aberration is replicated across the region.
The NDDC drama that played out at the National Assembly last Monday was not unusual rather an improved version of an old play. The difference was in the cast. When officials of NDDC were summoned to display, they couldn’t perform because they neither conceived the plot nor wrote the scripts. They were simply lost; from the beginning of the outing in the big stage they looked diminished, had no candour and lacked confidence. We saw how none of those officials could stand on his own, each wanted the other’s shoulder to lean on. Managing Director couldn’t answer simple management queries with confidence, authority and confounding exactitude. They were in trouble but a contrived one. Someone made them walk on paths angels would fear to thread.
The core North has never been at home with special funding concessions rightly extended to oil producing areas. Derivation was hard won, adding NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry to them was overkill. President Buhari got into power with this mindset. Journalists know he initially wanted to do away with the Amnesty Programme, he changed his mind when the ex-militants threatened to return to the creeks. Today, that programme is almost dead and its equivalent is the treatment being given to repentant Boko Haram insurgents. What was the rationale for ceding control of the NDDC from the Presidency to Ministry of Niger Delta and choosing an indigene to supervise it? Would same have been the outcome if Niger Delta region was given chance to nominate? Why do away with a board and introduce Interim Management Committee? Couldn’t a board coexist with auditing operations? The answer opens one up to the intrigues designed to settle scores.
Now people build up a case that «Niger Delta indigenes are responsible for underdevelopment of their region. Some clamour and scream, ‘dissolve NDDC’. None of these relates to real matters. Who recruits? Who is meant to monitor? What is the vision? Who creates one? For IMC, the task was correctional they now assumed full jurisdiction and concentrating on the mundane, lesser fever and you ask what is the state doing for which NDDC would pour out billions on COVID-19, to the point that NDDC was given out millions to state governments unannounced. Collecting foreign allowances for foreign travels, when the world was on total lockdown, to attend the graduating ceremonies even if has not fully computed how much was owed students on its scholarship. NDDC was going about all these when major roads in the region are not only substandard but nearly impassable at this period of the year.
That legislators got contracts is another big issue and only confirms a contrived situation. It does not absolve any from blame. President Buhari should disband the contraption called IMC immediately. Look at their expenditures and retrieve reckless expenses incurred. Take back NDDC to Presidency and set a right vision away from this seminar mentality. Get independent forensic agents to work with EFCC. Far beyond all this should be the truth that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to develop the Niger Delta region via a Marshall Plan. An intervention programme remains just that.