The open display of unconscionable joy that followed the inauguration of the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) last Friday, years after the originally proposed date, has refocused public attention on the troubled organisation. What an irony.
Nine months ago, following allegations and counter-allegations of misuse of funds by senior officials and management, the organisation was typecast as the prodigal son that frittered public funds. But, in a typical Nigerian manner, no one remembers that scandal anymore, and, certainly, no one is asking questions about the outcomes of the bogus investigations by the National Assembly to unravel how and why the NDDC’s senior officials and the supervising minister showed little scrutiny over the management of the resources allocated to the organisation.
It is no big deal for the government to inaugurate the headquarters of an organisation, particularly coming a quarter of a century after the event was supposed to happen. It shows slackness in the way previous governments supervised and enforced the terms of contracts they signed with various contractors. It suggests that organisations that are hired by government have little or no regard for the terms of the agreement, the timeline for completing the projects, and unwillingness to keep to any schedule.
It has been argued that the NDDC spends more money because it receives a lot of money. That might well be the case. However, there won’t be any problem with this weird argument, if the management of the NDDC had demonstrated transparency and accountability in the way projects were devised, the way money was expended on the projects and, in particular, if the management had justified logically and convincingly why some projects were allocated too much money. These issues have arisen for very good reasons.
Allegations of misappropriation of large sums of money at the NDDC have become something of a revolving door with no end. Those financial scandals have sullied the image of the organisation, the integrity of senior officials and management of the NDDC, and have also adversely affected the way the public perceives the organisation.
When the NDDC was set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo more than 20 years ago, it was seen as an appropriate and deserving initiative for a region that produces crude oil that has become Nigeria’s foreign exchange earner. Prior to that and even up till today, the Niger Delta suffered and still suffers from many inadequacies. It is devastated environmentally. It lacks many facilities and social services such as good roads, decent schools, habitable houses, good drinking water, and hospitals. The discrepancy between what is on the ground in the region and the quality of life of the people is distressing.
The establishment of the NDDC was, therefore, government’s recognition of, and a justifiable response to, growing unrests and protestations over lack of socioeconomic development, environmental destruction triggered by oil prospecting and production, damage to agricultural land and fishing owing to recurring oil pollution, gas flaring, and so on. Against this background, it is understandable to see how the setting up of the NDDC was intended to transform the region into an economically prosperous, agriculturally sustainable, politically and socially peaceable and enduring region.
Despite those good intentions, it is troubling to note that the management of the NDDC has deviated radically from the underlying mission laid out by the government. Lamentably, corruption has remained the key stumbling block to the achievement of the goals of the NDDC. High levels of corruption have ensured that the Niger Delta remains impoverished. The region is denied what it ought to receive from the government because money voted for capital projects and community development of the Niger Delta is embezzled or misdirected to the personal accounts of officials.
Given the publicity over the commissioning of the headquarters of the agency, it now looks like the NDDC has been forgiven for the financial sins that destroyed the image of the organisation last year and before that. It would be appropriate to depict the agency now as the three wise monkeys that choose to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and perhaps do no evil.
Public silence and lack of sustained demand for the outcomes of official investigations into the corruption scandal at the NDDC speak to the way the government and the people condone corruption, how we overlook cases of misappropriation of public funds by officials of government agencies, and public readiness to accept government propaganda over its so-called zero tolerance for corruption. Anyone who believes the government claims about its anti-corruption crusade would believe anything. There is simply no effective and ongoing war against corruption in Nigeria now.
We must ask serious questions about mismanagement of funds at the NDDC and other agencies of government. It is not enough for the public to yell and scream briefly whenever corruption of a large scale is exposed and then a few weeks later everyone returns to that traditional state of forgetfulness. Unfortunately, outbursts of temper at public officials or government will not reform or transform a country.
The collapse of Nigeria has been so spectacular. And it is partly due to the impact of widespread corruption on the country. In general, the breakdown of public and private institutions in Nigeria is evidence of the failure of political leadership, including the failure of the public to stand up and hold leaders accountable for their wrongdoings.
Nigeria is so ill-fated. For nearly 61 years, the country has had to grapple with clueless political leaders thrown at our faces by our own blemished political process. But, make no mistake about the current situation. The problem with Nigeria’s underdevelopment or lack of meaningful and steady progress does not rest solely with under-performance by naïve political leaders and state officials.
Every country deserves the quality of leaders it gets. Nigeria typifies that statement. Consider the endemic corruption at the NDDC, or, if that is not enough, look at the apparently stage-managed frequent abductions of schoolgirls and boys in the northern parts of the country. These criminal actions would have been dealt with forcefully by the government .
In this age of technology, there are tools to detect and apprehend officials of government organisations who engage in corrupt practices or officials who defraud the agencies in which they work. Similarly, there are modern crime fighting tools the government could deploy to put an end to banditry and irritating kidnappings of schoolchildren. One of such weapons is drone technology. With drones, it is easy to target and eliminate gang leaders hiding in forests.
It is not that Nigeria cannot afford these tools or employ the strategies. It is simply that leaders seem to lack commitment to the fight against insecurity. Additionally, money budgeted for security is embezzled and unaccounted for by officials who are responsible for managing the funds.
Present-day Nigeria is certainly an embarrassment to its founding fathers. No one is willing to take responsibility for the confusion in the land. Leaders are sick but are unaware of their ailment and are unwilling to listen or respond to public requests for better governance. Surely, these are not the hallmarks of a country that claims to be a continental giant.