Enyeribe Ejiogu, Daniel Kanu (Lagos) and Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa)
Revelations from accusations and counter-accusations that the present and past managements of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) misappropriated humongous amounts of money have raised huge dust that is now swirling in the creek states and beyond. The agency is currently undergoing a probe of its activities by the House of Representatives. In the region and across the country, it is the number one item of public discourse.
This has made the people of the Niger Delta to become angry and more agitated. The people of the region have borne the brunt of the criminal mismanagement of the budgetary resources allocated to the NDDC, which was established by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in response to the energetic campaign by leaders and youths of the region for the revamping of the defunct Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) created by the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida military regime, which incidentally did not fully live up to expectation. Thus NDDC was established with the mandate to focus on real development of the region which had long been marginalised.
Like the case of the defunct NEPA, former President of the highly respected Ijaw Youth Council and ex-Commissioner in Delta State, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, said that nothing has changed in the commission as could be seen in the unfolding revelations at the ongoing probe.
Ekiyor, convener of the Integration Summit Group-Nigeria (ISGN), a pan-Nigeria organization committed to the propagation of unity and harmonious co-existence of all ethnic nationalities in the country, noted that at certain times in the earlier days of the commission there was no or very minimal corruption heard at the agency unlike what is now tumbling out through the probe.
“In the era before and up to the time of Timi Alaibe, you could see that the agency was doing some work. After Timi Alaibe, the only person that came there with any plan to work was Ibim Semenitari who was acting Managing Director for just a few months. The others that occupied the position did nothing, all they did was just to steal money with fake projects awarded to their political godfathers, friends and relations, and only executed contracts on paper and got paid; this was done to the total exclusion of genuine indigenes of the Niger Delta who went to the field to work. Go to the Niger Delta, over 65 per cent of projects already completed by indigenes have not been paid for by the agency and their families are all suffering for this. Today, banks do not provide loans for NDDC contracts because of the unreliable payment pattern. You find that contractors had to take loans from alternative sources at exorbitant cost. The unpaid contracts from 2016 to date is in excess of N40 billion. The agency clearly needs a complete cleansing. The Federal Government has to source true stakeholders and bring them on board a new team to restructure, redefine and implement a new vision for the NDDC.
“What is happening in the agency is a reflection of our country and the sort of leadership we have that has evolved under this democratic dispensation. It is a departure from what we saw even under the General Sani Abacha regime, where people tried to lead, not because of their stomach. People have become blinded by the desire for primitive accumulation. What I see now is that the government has to first source people who are passionate about the development of the region, to head the agency. The government needs to de-politicise it and involve the right stakeholders. Since the NDDC was formed, we know those of us who were involved in the agitation for the creation of the agency. Since inception, no stakeholder has been appointed to head the agency. The people who have headed the agency were appointed as a form of political gratification. Godfathers just send names of their loved godsons or god-daughters to represent the region, and the president in good faith would think that such individuals would do the work and he would then appoint them to guide the agency, to the exclusion of our people.
“So, basically, all that the agency has given to us are the crumbs from the resources taken from the Niger Delta. If you scour the length and breadth of the region, in terms of what the NDDC has done, you cannot find any federal presence in the Niger Delta. The agency was created to bring in federal presence, but it has been so misguided and misdirected over the years,” Ekiyor said.
He laid the blame for the situation in the agency to wrong appointment process driven by what he referred to as the overbearing pressure on the man who appoints by the Abuja political demagogues in the National Assembly and the presidency who seek to direct what should be done and who gets what from the national reward bowl.
“Once that starts happening and the board begins to service those demands from the people upstairs, then the members of the board are emboldened to do whatever they like because they have settled their masters in the National Assembly. Now that they are fighting themselves, it is not for the common people. So, we the common people have realised that we must now actively and aggressively monitor what happens; we will monitor their budget and everything that happens. That is the task we have given to ourselves. As stakeholders in the region, we can no longer fold our hands and watch. We can no longer do that. No more. It is insulting that those from the region would conspire with those who appointed them to under-develop us. Really, they are prodigal sons and daughters,” he said.
On what the youths of the region who are bearing the brunt of the looting and mismanagement at NDDC would do to redress this situation, Ekiyor said: “We are pushing to get the Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, out of the NDDC and to pursue a return of the agency to the presidency. The Minister should focus on the Ministry of the Niger Delta and push for budgetary provisions to develop the region. He should focus on the infrastructural development initiatives covered by the budget of the ministry. As of today, all the federal roads in the region have failed terribly and he has no plans on how to deal with problems. I thought he should focus on securing better budgetary allocations to the Ministry of the Niger Delta, to be able to deal with infrastructural deficits in the region. Instead the Minister is spending all his time and energy on supervising the NDDC rather than focusing on the Ministry of the Niger Delta. Today, you cannot successfully travel to Port Harcourt from Warri or Calabar without spending half of the day on transit. Because of the Niger Delta Ministry, the Ministry of Works has abandoned all the federal roads in our region.
“Hence, going forward we will demand accountability from the NDDC and we will go to the field to confirm the claims made in their quarterly reports, to ensure that jobs done match the costs claimed by it for the execution of the contracts. Clearly, Senator Akpabio is illegally supervising the NDDC and we will take him to court. His meddlesome is the biggest problem in the agency.”
Similarly, the President of the Southern Youths Development Forum and Founder of South Atlnatic Polytechnic, Uyo, Pastor Bassey James, said that the ongoing probe is exposing vested interests in the NDDC that are siphoning money from the region.
“Over 90 per cent of the contracts are done by non-indigenes of the Niger Delta. We are happy with President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio. We the people of the region are asking for a total probe of the activities of NDDC, not just for the past one year, but going back to the past administrations. The probe must be total. I am happy with what the Minister of the Niger Delta said that many lawmakers got contracts from the NDDC. People are happy that for the first time in the history of the Niger Delta the truth is beginning to come out. With these revelations, we are beginning to know the enemies of the Niger Delta, who take away our resources to develop other places. We are angry with the privileged politicians in legislative positions who have contributed to the rot in the NDDC. Can you imagine a situation where a person chasing a so-called thief who stole something turned out to have actually participated in stealing the very thing for which he led the chase for the thief? When he was exposed, he walked away shamefacedly. President Muhammadu Buhari has become the hero of the South-south region for approving the institution of the forensic audit which is yet to start. The agency has wasted trillions of Naira that should have been used to develop the Niger Delta.
“I am from Mkpat Enin Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State. My people have never benefited from NDDC. If you go to NDDC, you see that people from other parts of the country are the major beneficiaries from the humongous sums of money spent by the agency. Politicians in Abuja call the shots in the agency. There is so much pain, suffering, agony and anger in the Niger Delta. We are demanding that the names of the people who stole our resources should be published by the agency. Niger Delta indigenes in the management of the NDDC who collaborated with other people to loot the agency must be made to pay for their crime. That is our simple appeal to the president,” he said.
Equally pained by the mess in the NDDC, other stakeholders in the region who spoke with Sunday Sun painted a picture of the kind of future they envision for the agency.
Mr Ken Henshaw, former president, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and coordinator of We the People (WTP), a civil society group based in the Niger Delta, said that the criminality perpetrated against the NDDC should not go unpunished.
Kenshaw, who has launched an online campaign with the hashtag, #EndNDDCCORRUPTION, in the wake of the probe, said that every right thinking Niger Delta indigene should be angry with the plundering of the resources of the region through the NDDC.
“Every right thinking Niger Deltan should be on the streets protesting. No one should be allowed to enter that edifice of fraud called the NDDC office. We should occupy that building. Everyone who has ever been chairman, director or member of board of NDDC should be besieged. We should keep vigil on their houses, send them text messages, demand answers from them, question the source of their wealth, and ask them deep questions about their integrity. We should demand that they be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.
“They didn’t only steal NDDC money, they stole the development of the region, and they stole the future of a people. By their corruption, they stole education and made countless Niger Deltans illiterate; they stole healthcare and killed countless children; they stole money meant for generating employment and made millions jobless. They stole money for road construction and caused the death of our people through accidents. These are murderers. They have killed this region and its people. This is the time to call out these heartless thieves,” Kenshaw said.
Also, doyen of agitation for the welfare of the Niger Delta region, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, who opposed the idea of scrapping the agency, said that the laws establishing the NDDC should be followed if its problems are to be solved.
“NDDC should not be scrapped. If there is something wrong with the NDDC, follow the law establishing it. Whether you are sincere or not follow the law and NDDC would be better than what it is.”
In the same vein, the newly elected President of Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, Comrade Peter Igbifa, said thatnPresident Buhari would need to review the tenure of the current management because of the issues surrounding its activities.
According to him, there is need to engage the NDDC in line with the roadmap drawn from inception.
“We would engage the NDDC on the roadmap that was given to it when it was created. We would need to assess its performance based on the roadmap and see what has been achieved. We can’t keep talking about the NDDC without measuring its performance. My advice to President Buhari is to review the tenure of the present management because of the issues surrounding it. I am consulting with relevant stakeholders and we would soon come up with a position that reflects the interest of the Ijaw nation.”
Former Secretary of the Bayelsa State Chapter of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Comrade Morris Alagoa, said that the forensic audit of the NDDC should be holistic.
His words: “Nobody should be against auditing the agency, but the audit has to be holistic. For instance, the Minister openly said about 60 per cent of NDDC contracts are awarded to members of the National Assembly; jobs which are not executed. Besides, the National Assembly has oversight functions on the agency and so they are also culpable. In fact, the names of National Assembly members who got contracts and failed to execute them should be made public as part of the investigation. Otherwise, it would be incomplete. Anything working against the effectiveness of the NDDC should be exposed. Hiding such would be a disservice to the people of the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. Politicians, especially lawmakers, should not turn the NDDC to their cocoa farms and fish pond. They should face their legislative functions to ensure we have safe and sustainable environment and development.”
On his part, National Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, believes that the setting up of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) was wrong ab initio as it is by the NDDC Act. He asked President Buhari to scrap the IMC and inaugurate the NDDC board.
“The major issue for us is on the way forward is that President Buhari should reverse himself. He made a mistake by setting up the IMC which is unknown to law. The scandal rocking the NDDC is not surprising because there was a lot of connivance between those managing the commission and the people that were supposed to provide oversight functions to ensure that due process was followed.”
Agreeing with Evah on the issue of absence of due process in the management of the affairs of the NDDC, former Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, said that rules were disregarded as “officials simply engaged in brazen looting without monitoring and accountability and with no punishment served to culprits. The obvious problem with the way the NDDC is operating.”
He said: “The act which established the NDDC confers on it the onerous responsibilities of conceiving, planning and implementing projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region in the fields of transportation, health, education, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing, and urban development as well as water supply, among others, but that those in-charge simply abused the system with impunity.
“The idea was to direct resources to that zone to ensure they too benefit from the proceeds derived from sales of petroleum products taken from the region. But what we have seen over the last couple of weeks is that the NDDC has become a terrible exposure of the lack of governance in this country that billions and billions of naira are simply pocketed by officials of the agency, legislators and other political personalities and the cronies and virtually nothing goes to the development of the zone.”
Also, appalled by the mindboggling revelations of corruption in the NDDC, a coalition of civil society organizations working in the Niger Delta region strongly condemned the alleged mismanagement of public funds earmarked for the development of the region, while leaving the oil-rich communities in the region poorer, with zero or run-down infrastructure, high unemployment, youth restiveness, and endemic conflict.
The CSOs comprising 11 human rights and environment-oriented groups including Spaces for Change, Kebetkache Women, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, Corporate Accountability, Public Participation, We the People ETC, demanded an alternative benefit-sharing scheme that places communities at the centre of NDDC operations.
The groups lamented that despite the huge money earmarked for the development of the region, the inhabitants of the zone continue to live in crushing poverty and degraded environments amid the billions of oil wealth squandered on frivolities.
“We view NDDC’s alleged financial recklessness as a declaration of war against the vast poor and vulnerable populations, especially women living in hard-to-reach localities and riverine settlements, already living in necessitous conditions’, Emem Okon, Director of KEBETKACHE WOMEN, said.
Fyneface Dumnamene, Director of Youths & Environmental Advocacy Centre, warned: “It is clear that the multiple grievances that triggered the violent conflict of the late 90s, necessitating the establishment of the NDDC in 2000, have remained largely unmet. The latest revelations, if unpunished and stolen monies unrecovered, could pave way for the resumption of militancy activities in the region, with disastrous consequences for the country’s oil output and revenue earnings.”