NDDC probe: The tragedy of resource control agitation

Amidst the raging public discourse of the stunning revelations at the investigative hearing in the National Assembly on the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), KUNLE ODEREMI, SUNDAY ADEPOJU and SEGUN KASALI write on the effect of the sustained quest to redress the neglect in oil-producing states in the country.

AT inception in 2001, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had a 10–point mandate. The summation of the mandate is the need to restore the dignity of the people of the region that lays the golden egg, crude oil, Nigeria’s economic mainstay. It will be recalled that the commission was subsumed under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs by the Yar’Adua administration. The arrangement, which subsists, did not alter any of the NDDC core functions. Beyond the theatrics being freely offered at the ongoing investigative hearing on the commission are pragmatic steps outlined for the commission through an extant law.

Details of the mandate are formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area; conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, 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, water supply, electricity and telecommunications. It also includes surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development; preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the commission; implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the federation. The primary functions of the NDDC also include to identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region; assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the region by oil and gas companies and any other company, including non-governmental organisations, as well as ensuring that funds released for such projects are properly utilised. Tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution; liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control and executing such other works and performing such other functions, which in the option of the commission are required for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and its people are listed as part of the primary functions of the commission

Nineteen years after it birthed, the NDDC is in debts running into trillions of naira and a swelled litany of woes for the people. According to reports, the average life expectancy in the region is about 45 years as against 55 years in other parts of the country. Whereas 67.1 per cent of Nigerians are reportedly living in poverty; the situation is said to be worse in the Niger Delta, as 88 per cent of rural dwellers in the area live in crass poverty.  Above this is the stupendous illicit wealth of those saddled with bringing succour to the people of the Niger Delta by strictly adhering to NDDC’s lofty terms of reference. With rapacious appetite for sleaze and scandals, the elite have misappropriated and mismanaged the humongous allocation to the agency to the point of running it aground. Indeed, all the statistics about the failure of the agency on its mandate typifies the country, where the conspiracy of the gluttonous elite has robbed it of billions and left the nation prostrate.

 

OMPADEC

The NDDC had a forbearer in the name of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). It was founded on June 25, 1992, but the enabling law came into effect on July 9, 1992, with Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, as the headquarters. The president of the country was empowered to appoint the chairman and all other members of the commission, all of who were to operate on full-time, with a similar mandate to the NDDC, which includes essentially rehabilitation and development of oil mineral producing areas and tackling ecological problems that have arisen from the exploration of oil minerals.

Even though many believe that OMPADEC was an unmitigated disaster having failed to deliver on its mandate, the founding chairman, Chief Albert Horsfall, once disagreed. At a public hearing conducted by the Senate on his former commission many years back, he had attributed the bane of OMPADEC to a conflict of interest between those who established it and those who ran it, whereas two of his senior colleagues, one, a commissioner and the other, a director in the commission, differed as they claimed leadership was the main issue that accounted for the failure of OMPADEC.

 

Volatility and supreme price

Though agitations by the ethnic nationalities in the region from the Nigerian state predated the independence of the country in 1960, the outcries had assumed a higher decibel owing to the worsening economic and environmental condition among the citizenry. The increasing political volatility claimed lives of prominent citizens, including the Ogoni three and the Ogoni nine during the fistic rule of General Sani Abacha in the country.  Therefore, many are of the view that it is almost apparent that those managing the affairs of the NDDC and other agencies of government designed to change the narrative about the region do not appreciate the challenges before them. They seem not to understand the huge price the various minorities that constitute the area, including the Ogoni and Ijaw ethnic nationalities paid to get the little concessions on ground from the Nigerian government. With degradation of their environment through oil exploration, the people have been deprived of their daily means of survival, which is majorly aquatic resource, aside the prohibitive cost of having shelter over their head. They do not realise the violent confrontations by agitators with oil companies and security agencies over distortion in the socio-economic lives of the nationalities due to oil exploration. They appear to have forgotten the number of lives wasted during the years of different forms of agitation designed to draw global attention to the criminal neglect of the Niger Delta zone. Celebrated playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa and many of the younger generation involved in ‘militancy’ laid down their lives in the battle for justice and fairness in the region and which culminated in the 13 per cent derivation principle.

 

NDDC rot

Way back in 1960, the Federal Government introduced the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB), but it soon gave way to the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority in 1970, alongside 10 other ones across the country, all of which ended up with heaps of abandoned projects. A summary of the infractions in the NDDC is also frightening. Since the commission was created, almost all its management teams have had one serious issue or the other, especially over records of performance. Of the more than N3 trillion said to have gone into the organisation since inception, the NDDC, believed to be burdened with more than 12,000, abandoned projects across the nine states under its jurisdiction. The interventionist agency is equally believed to have a staggering outstanding bill of over N3 trillion, along with issues concerning a sum of N7.442 billion. In fact, many reports claimed that the story of the NDDC is underlined by decrepit structures, abandoned buildings; abandoned or poorly constructed narrow roads ridden with potholes, as well as unexecuted projects but fully paid for by the agency. According to a report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) report, NDDC has received about N4 trillion since it was founded by the Obasanjo presidency.

 

Political patronage

It is in doubts many Nigerians were aghast by the claim by the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and two other top officials of the commission that the activities of the NDDC had been mortgaged by political patronage. Regular reports on various platforms indicate that the vested interest of lawmakers in major government contracts, recruitment exercise and admission into unity schools and universities. Agencies like NDDC also constitute the veritable platform for the powers-that-be to usually rehabilitate and compensate political gladiators that suffered irredeemable defeats at general election. And given the humongous allocation and grants from reputable international organisations, the NDDC has over the years, become a big cash cow for the  political and economic elite in the region and outside the zone in terms of juicy appointments in the commission.   According to NEITI, the disbursements by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for the year 2019 to the agency is mind-boggling. Five states, according to NEITI, received above N100 million: Lagos (N117.76 billion), Bayelsa (N139.69 billion), Rivers (N158 billion), AkwaIbom (N171.43 billion) and Delta (N218.58 billion). “Four of the top five states were in the Niger Delta region. This owes largely to the impact of 13 per cent derivation,” the NEITI stated in the analysis of the FAAC allocations to the 36 states. “While Osun State had the lowest disbursed figure of N24.14 billion, Delta State had the highest of N218.58 billion. This implies that Delta State received over nine times the amount that Osun State received.”

 

Resource control

The campaign for resource control predated the birth of the Fourth Republic. It featured prominently in the quest to unravel the National Question, the euphemism for critical issues in the existing quasi federal arrangement in the country. However, key political actors from the Niger Delta region raised the tempo of public debate and discourse on the agitation for resource control in the crusade for restructuring of the federation. The first set of governors under the new political era in 1999 from the South-South zone, including Obong Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State; Dr Peter Odili (Rivers); James Ibori (Delta); Lucky Igbinedion (Edo) and Donald Duke of Cross River state bore the banner of the resource control campaign to all fora across the country. Their efforts were complemented by the drive of the Ijaw Leader, Chief Edwin Clark and other personalities from the geopolitical zone, especially when the North came up with the controversial adoption of Sharia law. The government soon found a compromise by increasing from five to 13 per cent the derivation principle. Though it eased tension across board, the problem of militancy subsisted necessitating the Amnesty Programme for repentant armed groups as a way of complementing the developmental agenda of the NDDC for the area.  A former Commissioner For Finance and Economic Planning in Delta State, David Edevbie, once gave account of the history of the 13 per cent derivation principle. He observed that every part of the nation feels the pinch of the unjust union, with no one taking responsibility for the marginalisation. He noted that the creation of OMPADEc and others were meant to redress part of the anomalies in the system. “Regrettably, OMPADEC performed dismally, leaving only a legacy of abandoned projects and unpaid contracts all over the Niger Delta,” he stated. But renewed move to address the issue was made through the 1995 Constitutional Conference which recommended that in sharing the Federation Account Revenue, 13 per cent should be set aside as derivation revenue to assist the development of oil-producing communities. He explained that the aim was to financially empower the oil-producing states of the Niger Delta to tackle the monumental neglect and degradation of the area, due to the lack of federal presence and ineffectiveness of federal spending in the area.

“In arriving at the 13 per cent compromise rather than the more equitable 50 per cent that was bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, the conferees must have assumed that after taking into account all sectional interests, 13 per cent of the total oil revenue would put a reasonable amount of revenue in the hands of the oil-producing states to assist them in tackling the enormous problems of under-development in the oil-bearing communities,” he stated.

 

South-South stakeholders’ summit

At the twilight of 2019, the key stakeholders in the South-South renewed their agitation for a restructured Nigeria at a summit held in Port Harcourt. It was at the instance of ObongAttah, Duke, a former President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Professor KimseOkoko, former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), OnuezeOkocha (SAN), MrIduAmaidhe, Solomon Asemota (SAN), Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Fred Obe and AmagbeKentebe. The Chairman, Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, and Alfred Diete-Spiff presided on the occasion that attracted by more than 600 delegates from the six states in the zone. In his speech at the event, the governor of Rivers State, NyesomWike , reinforced the demand of the region for equity and fairness in the affairs of the country. His words: “We own every inch of our lands and the resources that it contains just as we concede the same to other sections of the Nigerian society. But we also believe in the obligations to share our resources with others on fair terms and contribute towards the unity and progress of our country. These are the fundamental building blocks for nation building in a pluralistic society like ours, and any political substructure that denies or negates their essence is doomed to create twists and turns that would upset the path to development rather than advance it. Sadly, there is nothing in the existing Nigerian federal structure that acceptably advances these fundamental principles of nation-building. The result is the accentuating levels of distress, schism, and drumbeats of violence that has enveloped the polity and causing so many Nigerians to ask unsettling questions about the wisdom of continuing with a structural pattern that is not working for the best interest of the nation and its people.”

For Attah, it is imperative to bring an end to the “current feeding bottle federalism” with the attendant weakened constituents. He said: “Today, Nigeria is not only stagnated, it is alarmingly retrogressing. When one commodity accounts for more than 80 percent of our entire foreign earnings; when we can no longer feed ourselves; contractors are not being paid; civil servants are being owed salaries and pensioners are a forgotten breed; are we not approaching the threshold of a failed state? How did this come about, because we exchanged a federal system that worked, a system that encouraged creativity, productivity and competitiveness, we exchanged it for a unitary system that changed us into drones.”

 

What is happening at NDDC is a show of shame —Ayo Adebanjo

A foremost nationalist and leader of the pan-Yoruba organization, Chief Ayo Adebanjo spoke on the current scenario at the NDDC, saying that it did not come to him as a surprise. His words: “There is nothing new in what is happening in the NDDC. The commission has shown that there is corruption in the country.  The Buhari government is an institutionalised corruption. All that Buhari has been showing us is fake. Why did I say so? Was he not warned about the chairman of the chairman of the Economic and Finacial Crimes commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu. If you could remember, the National Assembly rejected the man twice. Look at Godwill Akpabio too! He is under investigation by the EFCC, considering his eight years’ tenure as a governor but he made him a minister. Immediately he crossed over from the PDP to the APC, he became a saint. To be candid, what is happening at the NDDC is not a surprise. The man shouldn’t have been in government. Everything has collapsed under Buhari. Security is zero. Economy is zero. Where exactly are we?”

On the way out of the problems, Chief Adebanjo stated: “Buhari should step out of government. If you look at the NDDC probe, Akpabio has also accused the lawmakers. So, it is only the judiciary that is excluded now. Within the Magu’s investigation, Magu has accused Malami. So, where are we? Who is fooling who? It is a disgrace. It is a mess. What is happening at NDDC is a show of shame.”

A senior lecturer at the department of political science, University of Ibadan, Dr Enemaku Idachaba, decried the level of corruption in the country and blamed the government and the overall system for whatever happens in the commission. The don stated, “What I can derive from the whole scenario is that we don’t have government in this country. This is because we like blaming victims of circumstances in the polity. Instead of looking inwardly to see what they are doing wrong and open up and do the right thing, our authorities tend to be blaming other people for their own fault. The acting GM of the NNDC is really not alone in what is happening. The whole thing is like a vicious cycle and it has to do with the overall system. The government itself is to be blamed for whatever criminal acts that individuals are doing. That is the way I see it.” He added: “Looking at the NDDC holistically, the only way forward is to clean-up ourselves. The government should sit up and face the reality. The government of the day and those who are in the positions of authorities who are supposed to act should start acting in the right direction. The judiciary is also there to be strengthened. The so-called Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is also there to work and not covering themselves. The authorities of the EFCC should be able to exonerate themselves from what is going on in the country. They are guilty. Key stakeholders must see the need to work and move the country forward by being straight-forward, transparent, and accountable to the people that they are serving.”

Above all, Idachaba canvassed for attitudinal change of leaders and the led in the country.  “The problem in all of these issues bedeviling Nigeria is that we don’t have the right people in the positions of leadership. The authorities should search themselves; the National Assembly is also culpable of all of these practices because they are all contributing. And until we realise these, the country cannot move forward. It is by putting the right people in the positions to be at the helms of affairs and manage ministries, agencies, departments, commissions, and other offices. The problem we are facing is more or less attitudinal. And there has to be a change of attitude. If we can have a change of attitude and put the right people in public offices, the better. It has to be people who are tested and have integrity to manage our affairs,” Idachaba said.

Also reacting, a lecturer at the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Dr Austin Nweze, posited that the decay in the NDDC would not have happened if the country has, over the years, built strong institutions that have honest, transparent, and accountable leaders in positions of authorities. His words “Democracy cannot survive without strong institutions. There is so much corruption in the NDDC and this is just the microcosm of what is going on in the country. Until we have strong institutions and how do you build strong institutions? When there is accountability and transparency and all that. Vertical accountability is when the leaders are accountable to the masses. The institutions are weak because there is no vertical accountability in Nigeria. If they are accountable to the people, some of these sleazes and corruption won’t happen. It is the institutions that fight corruption. When this government came to power, the leader said he was going to fight corruption. And what happens now? Is the regime not more corrupt today than the past ones? We need to look at the character of the people that make up those institutions. We need to look at the systems that make up those institutions.”  Nweze, while condemning the incident that happened on Monday, said: “What played out in the House of Representatives, according to reports, is shameful and embarrassing. The questions are: who are the contractors? Who are those feeding fat in this system? We should begin to be transparent in the award of contracts. Some of the House members and senators are also contractors. Politicians are contractors. And what do you expect? The man that fainted was just performing a scripted play. They planned it to cover up. NDDC is a conduit used to siphon money. Problem-solving in Nigeria is such that further problems are created. The NDDC was set up to solve the problem of Niger-Delta and in an attempt to solve the problem, they created another problem which is heavier than the previous problems. NDDC is all “money for the boys”. The same thing to the commission set up for the North-East.

With the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC as interventionist agency, as well as the Amnesty Programme for repentant militants, the region had relative ample opportunities to right part of the wrongs of the past. Given the horrifying details concerning the management of the resources at the disposal of the NDDC for almost two decades at the investigative hearing in the National Assembly, however, leaders from the zone are bound to become circumspect and have cause to worry about the real and imagined foes of the Niger Delta region. Could a segment of the elite from the region have become the leech and the Nemesis of the people and the NDDC?

 

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