The problem of the development of Nigeria is not about the ruling political party. It is about the human character called upon by circumstances to lead and to think for the country. It is about the nature of the human called upon by politics, that art of rendering service for the good of the greater number of the population, to lead. I have in the past written several lines arguing that the non-development of the Niger Delta region cannot be blamed totally on government. And it is now obvious, with the scandalous revelations oozing from the National Assembly inquiry into the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission, hereafter, NDDC, that conviction that Niger Deltans are the problem of the development of the region has always been right, just in the same way that most Nigerians believe that northern leaders are the bane of the development of the North.
Whenever we make a review of the poverty and, the underdevelopment of the North, fingers point at present and past northern leaders. We make arguments to suggest that more northerners have led Nigeria since independence and as such the region has no reason to remain where it is today on the development ladder. As we say, when you point a finger at another, three fingers point at you while a finger point heavenwards. This means that blame goes more to the self than to others and God. So, as we blame northern political leaders for preferring to embezzle funds meant for the development of the region, so also do we live with equal blame for embezzling and mismanaging funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region.
Simply put, the bane of the development of Nigeria is its own people. To my mind, we are a special breed of humans. Our greed and quest to make us the richest and the most influential political leaders forces us to see no limits in destroying the future for immediate glory. Only a different species of humans can freely do that. Sigmund Freud would have written several doctoral theses studying the behaviour of the Nigerian public servant living and working in Nigeria and for Nigerians. Conversely, this Nigerian species of human turns out a different species when he works as a public servant in other lands. We have seen him turn out to be the role model in several other countries of the world, except in his home country. So, the nut to crack here is to psychoanalytically find out why the Nigerian believes, thinks or acts in ways to suggest that, until he ruins his environment for personal gains, he cannot be considered as accomplished.
If we take a look at the Niger Delta region, we can count some intervention agencies created both by military and civil regimes to strategically alter its development narrative. The military government of Ibrahim Babangida created OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission) in 1992. The most I can remember of OMPADEC was continual in-fighting.
The commission lived out its time not achieving much for the oil mineral-producing areas, among which Imo and Abia states are counted. However, the most audacious effort to specifically address the development problems of the region began with Olusegun Obasanjo in year 2000 when he pulled through the NDDC and the Ministry of the Niger Delta. At creation, it was believed that the development problem of Niger Delta was over. Between year 2000 and 2020, no non-Niger Deltan has headed both organizations. And I am aware that the NDDC has been generously funded.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua added to that with the creation of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, with the sole aim of recalibrating the mindset of militant agitators in the region to allow peaceful oil exploration activities. So, as it is, the Niger Delta region has three strategic intervention organizations created and funded by the Nigerian government to push the development of the region. This is without prejudice to huge federal allocations to states in the region as a consequence of the 13 per cent derivation approved by the Obasanjo government. Yet, the story hasn’t changed much. Individual state governments are doing their best to change the narrative of their states. But the intervention agencies have turned out to be special toll gates for political and non-political actors who see funds available to the agencies as first meant to satisfy their wants before anything else. Shola Omotola of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, concludes in a study titled “From OMPADEC to the NDDC: An assessment of state responses to environmental insecurity in the Niger Delta, Nigeria,” that “though these response have moderated the crisis, they remain inadequate and ineffective, epitomised by increasing environmental degradation, excruciating poverty, rising tension and ethnic militia, and general underdevelopment. The inadequacy of these responses may not be unconnected with political influences, corruption, unrepresentativeness, and other underlying structural problems that render them cosmetic.”
This position is clearly exemplified in acting managing director Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei’s remark before the National Assembly inquest on NDDC that “we are NDDC.” That was his response to questions on why NDDC blew N1.5 billion on COVID-19 palliatives for its staff. His response was an expression of a sense of entitlement, the same ‘crime’ we accuse everyone else of. Pondei somehow expressed total lack of understanding of the role of the commission in the life of the region.
His understanding is probably that the NDDC was meant to first satisfy wants of staff, political and non-political actors before anything else. Yes, the commission is about development. But in the mindset of its operators, the development begins with individual actors and political actors in the region who must draw their life sustenance, and funds for the next election from its funds under any guise. It is, therefore, clear that neither NDDC nor any other intervention agency for the region is serving the purpose for which they were created.
There is, therefore, a need to reboot the setting of the commission to bring it to reality as a development agency with a huge workload before it. This is sadly what the Godswil Akpabio versus Joi Nunieh tie is revealing to us. I am not as interested in who loses as I am in how to make the NDDC effectively and efficiently serve the purpose for which Obasanjo caused it to come into being.
Besides, there is another problem facing intervention agencies created for the region. Not many want to talk about it, but it is also destabilising. This is the problem of leadership transfixed in ethnic identity. Some ethnic groups in the Niger Delta feel entitled to leadership of the intervention agencies and would go to any lengths to ensure that no one outside the group is allowed a peaceful reign, when appointed to lead. This is one problem that many in the region discuss in whispers. But be sure that, gradually, it will bloom. To resolve this emerging problem, there is the need to return to the establishment documents for the intervention agencies to understand the leadership setup. The Niger Delta area, geographically, as oil-producing states, comprises all the states of the South-South, including Imo, Abia and Ondo.
This applies to NDDC as well as the Amnesty Office. For equity and justice, managing the agencies should logically rotate among the nine states of the oil-producing states. Eric Teniola wrote in a recent article that “since 2000, every President in Nigeria has been unfair to Ondo and Imo states in terms of appointment of chairman/managing director/executive director in the Niger Delta Development Commission. It does not matter the quantum of oil produced in those two states as long as they are still members of the NDDC, the rotation formula as contained in the NDDC Act should be applied”.
However, let no one think that the human problem of development as seen in the NDDC is exclusive to the commission and the region. No, it is a Nigerian thing. As it is, even the NEDC (North East Development Commission) established in 2017, is already exhibiting similar tendencies like the NDDC. Hardly a week passes without allegations of fraud against management of the NEDC. The allegations may be unfounded, but they point to something that may not be at par with normal and rational public behaviour. Again, it is about the human species managing public institutions in Nigeria. It is like those called upon to lead organisations in Nigeria are born with a destructive and, debilitating, mindset.