The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has since its establishment 19 years ago continued to prove that the word ‘shame’ hardly exists in its lexicon. Several trillions of naira have been allocated to the NDDC since its establishment in 2001, for expenditures on projects aimed at reversing the huge infrastructural deficit in the nine Niger Delta states, occasioned by decades of neglect by previous governments and environmental degradation by oil exploration companies. Sadly, there is absolutely very little on ground to justify this humongous amount released to the NDDC, and the fate of the 47 million people that make up the region’s population has continued to hang in the balance.
The mandate of the NDDC includes conception, planning and implementation of projects and programmes for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development.
Sadly, from one leadership to the other, the 19-year journey of this veritable organisation is such a sorry one that, rather than boosting the fortunes of the people, it has been deepening their misery on a scale never heard of before. For the NDDC, it has been an endless case of one scandal after the other.
In the past few weeks particularly, the NDDC has been taking scandal a notch higher and giving the term “clutching at straws” a deeper meaning, all with reckless abandon. Where it should apply reason and logic to defend itself from all sorts of allegations of unprecedented malfeasance, the agency, under its Interim Management Committee, is resorting to sabre-rattling and in so doing working hard to destroy our institutions and national image.
It was President Barack Obama who, in July 2015, while addressing the African Union on Africa’s transition towards more political contestability, stressed the need for the continent to build strong institutions to ensure sustainable development. One of such institutions is the legislature, without which there can be no democracy. It has since been identified as the major difference between democratic and autocratic governments, such as that of the military. The two other arms of government, executive and judiciary, continue to exist at all times, but only in democracy do we have a functional legislature.
In its bid to escape scrutiny and smear federal legislators in their resolve to undertake a forensic audit and other forms of investigation of the NDDC, the agency has since added the bashing of the legislative arm of government as an integral part of its core mandates. From the managing director to one or two executive directors, Nigerians are regaled almost on a daily basis with baseless allegations of legislators being behind the fraud in the NDDC.
Where the allegation is not about fraud, it is about what some of these officials ignorantly called budget padding, thereby lending themselves as being ill-informed of the constitutional functions of the legislature. If the National Assembly does not have the power to amend your budget where it deems fit, there is no need to even submit it to its members for scrutiny in the first place. The Constitution that vests that power in the legislature wants to avoid a situation where such institutions as the NDDC can be judges in their own case.
Senator Ajibola Bashiru, spokesman for the Senate, has since been throwing a challenge to the management of the NDDC to name the particular legislators that they allege are part of the fraud taking place there. So far, not even one name has been supplied by the NDDC, apart from a senator who has also disowned the companies he was said to have used in siphoning billions. And since in our laws the burden of proof lies in the accuser, that senator has also gone ahead to challenge the NDDC to prove that the companies alleged to be his are truly his own.
Like the NDDC, its supervising ministry is also resorting to the same underhand tactics of resting the blame on other doorsteps. When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently decided to discharge its mandate by squeezing Godswill Akpabio, Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, some hawks around him ridiculously blamed Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as being the one urging the anti-corruption agency to do so. Agege, the incumbent Deputy Senate President, had to issue a statement totally disowning the irresponsible claim.
It doesn’t matter to the Akpabio camp that, by trying to rubbish the person of Senator Agege, they are attacking the Deputy Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the highest ranking Nigerian from the Niger Delta, whose cooperation and support they ought to seek to ensure the region gets the best deal in the current scheme of things. Sadly, for them, their sponsored campaign of calumny has not yielded any fruit, as Senator Agege continues to get solid support from all over the country, especially from strategic groups in the Niger Delta.
The Deputy President of the Senate was far from being on the scene when, on June 24, 2015, the EFCC launched an investigation of Akpabio over alleged N108bn fraud. That was less than a month after he rounded off his tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom State. A year later, in 2016, Bashir Ahmed, an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari on social media, tweeted as follows: “Moves by Senator Godswill Akpabio to hurriedly withdraw over $7.2bn secretly stashed in the UAE have been blocked by the CBN and EFCC.” An interim report by the EFCC also said Akpabio allegedly gave a bank N1.4bn “for unknown reasons.” Nigerians will also not forget in a hurry how the EFCC discovered a humongous amount in dollars in Akwa Ibom Government House.
It is deeply saddening that some people are now making desperate efforts to blackmail the EFCC in its patriotic efforts to show to the whole world that there are no sacred cows as far as corruption investigations are concerned. Childishly, they goofed by thinking that hanging the investigation on the neck of the Deputy Senate President would divert the attention of Nigerians from reality, and also intimidate the anti-corruption agency.
In saner climes, a person facing investigation of such massive sleaze would readily abdicate his position so as not to impugn negatively on the system. There are millions of people, for example, who are still amazed that a person of such a character is serving today as a minister, in a government that has made a global name in probity and transparency. An accused that wants the survival of the system, not feathering his own nest, would have thrown in the towel to ensure the allegations against him do not end up having a negative impact on the government of the day. In other words, if Akpabio resigns today, those Nigerians that have turned critics of the government, courtesy of his appointment, would now sheath their sword and return as guides and supporters.
I pity the NDDC as well as those egging it on, and congratulate Nigeria because, as things stand, no amount of blackmail and insults will stop the National Assembly from investigating the alleged spending of N40b within three months by the Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei-led Interim Management Committee (IMC).
At the centre of the brewing contract scandal is this Committee that was set up to ensure the forensic audit of the NDDC, where unprecedented corruption has undermined all efforts to develop the Niger Delta region.
But why is the National Assembly intent in investigating the NDDC? FIrst of all, the legislature has oversight responsibility over all agencies of government. Its action is therefore predicated on a flurry of petitions to it, and to the anti-graft agencies, by groups that have clear identity, including the Niger Delta Rights Advocate, Transparency and Accountability Advancement Group; Niger Delta Transparency and Accountability Watchdog! Niger Delta Frontline Coalition (NDFC). An environmental activist, Hosanna Jalogho-Williams, specifically accused the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, of micromanaging the NDDC.
The NDDC should know that by consistently making the National Assembly or its principal officers its whipping boys, it is running the big risk of not only destroying the legislature, but also alienating the legislators and hampering the unprecedented harmony between the executive and the legislature, whose virtues President Buhari personally extolled to high heavens in his congratulatory message to the Senate and the House of Representatives three days ago, after clocking one year of mutual respect and cooperation, in the overall interest of Nigeria. Recall that President Buhari described the current crop of legislators as patriots and added that he is proud of them. This is the first time since the return of democracy 21 years ago in 1999 that Nigeria is enjoying real cordial relationship between the two branches of the National Assembly on one hand, and the Executive, on the other.
There are, of course, many analysts who have observed that the NDDC on its own could not have summoned the courage to be insulting the legislature the way it is doing; that it is just fighting a proxy war on behalf of a master that remote-controls it, and that this master is doing so in an erroneous bid to blackmail the National Assembly to stop the probe it has vowed to carry out, fearing that the skeletons he is hiding will be exposed.
Well, whatever might be the reason, this is a fait accompli as the legislators are leaving nothing unturned in their determination to unearth the sleaze that has since defined governance in the NNDC. If truly there are members of the National Assembly that have joined in the looting of the NDDC, that cannot be enough reason to seek to pull down the roof and destroy the institution and those leading it. As the Senate spokesman has challenged the agency to do, it should compile the names of these individuals and submit it with solid evidence to the anti-graft agencies.
Surely President Buhari will not be happy that the people who are making governance easier for him are now targets of ceaseless, baseless attacks by an agency of his government which, in any case, is not even working. Some observers have since renamed the NDDC as uncompleted projects commission, prompting them to conclude that the agency should be outrightly scrapped. Surely there is no doubt that it is serving purposes other than those for which it was established.
It behaves on the President to turn this recalcitrant agency of government to work for the people. But there is no way this can be achieved when the head is rotten. The solution therefore is a holistic fumigation that will ensure proper corporate governance for the NDDC. As things stand, that can hardly be achieved with the present structure manning the institution. In situations like this, integrity is the watchword. Sadly, these people cannot give what they do not have.
Nigerians are also not fools. They know that if NDDC were working even in half capacity, the Niger Delta region will literally by now have been flowing with milk and honey. But you will weep for the people when you go to that part of the country and see the degradation and poverty that most of the people are experiencing, all because the institution set up to help them is busy clutching at straws.
How General Buratai will force Boko Haram’s Shekau to surrender
It was Frank Clark, the renowned American lawyer, who famously said that “if you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” This perhaps explains the recent setback the country has experienced in the war against terror.
After eight consecutive weeks of unprecedented success, during which the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, personally led the armed forces to achieve victory upon victory against the terrorists, forcing their cowardly leader Shekau to cry profusely like a baby and begging for mercy, the terrorist group decided earlier in the week to strike at soft targets with a view to showing their sympathizers that they are still very much on ground. The attack left in its wake scores of dead bodies of innocent citizens resident in Gubio village in Borno State.
One only needs to understand how big the size of Borno State is, to appreciate how easy terrorists fleeing from the main theatre of war could strike at innocent citizens in especially far-flung areas. As the Nigerian armed forces continue to push deeper into the war theatre, wiping out one terrorist camp after the other, chances are that those fleeing terrorists that have refused to surrender may, going forward, employ hitting of soft targets as propaganda tool to create the false impression that they are on ground.
The Nigerian armed forces have continued to record these victories against formidable odds: firstly, it is no longer news that they have been overstretched, involved in resolving one security problem or the other in all the 36 states of the Nigerian federation.
Earlier in the week, Senator Ali Ndume, chairman, Senate Committee on Army, made a statement that shook many Nigerians to their foundation, saying that no money has been released to the Army since the beginning of this year. He regretted that soldiers are being starved of funds at a time the armed forces need all the money they can get to finish off the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists. In his words: “I don’t know what happened from Thursday that I left Abuja, but before Thursday, you can quote me on that, no money has been released to the army as their capital allocation for 2020 and we are in June.”
“The President has been giving presidential orders on tackling insecurity but some people responsible for providing the army with funding are not responding. That’s what is baffling me,” Ndume said.
Two months ago, General Buratai relocated to the theatre of war in the North-East to personally lead the war and thereby boost the morale of the men and women in the trenches. Ndume said Buratai’s presence on the frontlines has had the required effect.
“Definitely, the coming of COAS has made a visible difference. He has taken a break after two months, to re-strategise because the remaining areas are delicate, because they are mixed with civilians being held hostage by the insurgents. The army needs to sort that out to avoid high levels of collateral damage; they need to strategize for the last push,” Ndume said.
This column felicitates with all patriotic Nigerians and particularly the Nigerian Army for achieving what even the best militaries, with the best funding and most sophisticated weapons, have not been able to achieve. The Taliban, for example, have never been as formidable as Boko Haram, but the United States has been fighting them for over two decades now, with more than $3 trillion spent in that war that is still ongoing. That says a lot about how difficult fighting guerrilla warfare is.
But unlike the American armed forces who are assured of solid support from their compatriots, the armed forces of Nigeria face opposition even from some citizens that they are losing their lives to defend. In the name of political opposition, some Nigerians will rather celebrate false figures reeled out by Boko Haram terrorists and start arguing whenever the armed forces claim to have killed a number of the terrorists. Obviously, to such people, it is better if the war against terror doesn’t end, provided doing so will end up according credit to the Buhari administration that they love to hate.
This column condoles with all those who lost their loved ones, and owing to our belief that the Nigerian armed forces will sooner than later carry the day, assure everyone that the death of these precious souls will, God willing, not be in vain.
Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest authors of all time, famously said that “the strongest of all warriors are these two – time and patience.”
Surely, Nigerians will need to exercise more patience and fully support our armed forces to finally extinguish terrorism from our shores. The armed forces are on the right track, and it is only a matter of time before they achieve this goal.
Ominous clouds gathering over Edo State
Once again, some selfish politicians are pushing Nigeria to the brink. We have all folded our hands as compatriots and are watching the drums of war being beaten in Edo State, with two major political camps – incidentally both in the ruling APC – at each other’s jugular.
I read so many posts in different WhatsApp chat groups or Facebook, and have regretfully seen how all we could do is to hope that God will intervene, as if the same God has not bestowed in us the ability to know the difference between light and darkness, and to do what is right. Self-preservation is said to be the first rule of nature. But are we preserving ourselves by just wishing that the ominous clouds gathering over Edo should just disappear without us doing anything concrete about it?
With this siddon look attitude, we have as a nation created or allowed monsters that we can no longer contain. When Boko Haram started, we just folded our hands hoping that it would just disappear. The same thing with banditry, such that, at the moment, the Nigerian armed forces are seriously overstretched, involved in resolving one security problem or the other in almost all states of the Nigerian federation.
The Oshiomhole/Obaseki saga could escalate and snowball to a major crisis that we cannot contain. Yet, we can prevent it if all the political gladiators would put national interest above all else, knowing that political office is always temporal. President Buhari, as father of the nation, needs to do more than he is already doing, by calling the warring parties to order before it is too late.