By Eddy Odivwri
In the Beginning…
After the prolonged agitation of the people of the Niger Delta and the accusation against the federal government of prolonged neglect, marginalisation and unfair treatment of the region which is the economic nucleus of the country, the advent of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 1999, decided to set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to remarkably intervene in the development, growth and peace of the people of the region. The commission was backed up by an Act of parliament. And that was how the commission took off, with Engineer Godwin Eyarubere Omene, as its first Managing Director. And the commission started operation at 8, Olumeni street, old GRA, Port Harcourt.
The NDDC initiative is about the third attempt by the federal government to attend to the peculiar needs of the people of the region. Before it, was the Oil Minerals Producing Development Areas Commission (OMPADEC).
But the disease which killed the efforts before it soon killed it (OMPADEC) and now threatening the NDDC.
The Trouble with the NDDC
The Act setting up the NDDC appeared to have taken into consideration all the malaises of the previous interventionist attempts and had blocked off those weak limks that led to abuse and eventual death. But because nothing is perfect with human beings, the commission has been abused and exploited in several ways leading to the weakening of its essence.
The commission is meant to focus on the development concerns of all the nine oil bearing states, and not only the six geographical Niger Delta states. Thus its board is expected to have representatives from each of the states. That is where part of the problem creeps in. Nominations, largely by state governors, to the board, have been highly politicized, such that competence and cognate capacity are ignored.
One of the consequences is that with a commission filled with budding and aspiring politicians, many of the people on the board, especially those at the commanding heights of the management see the commission as a gateway to political chiefdom. With that on their minds, and given the huge sum that passes through the commission on a monthly basis, say about six to seven Billion Naira, plus the about N8 billion from oil companies (though not regularly on a monthly basis), those who preside over the affairs of the commission see themselves as little Dangotes that can undertake wild financial ventures and unbridled political plunge.
Some of them have thus been verily reckless in managing the fortunes of the commission.
But sad as that may be, it is even sadder that the plethora of checks that are meant to keep the commission on track of its mandate have become motivating accomplices in the circumvention of the essence of the commission. That explains why certain persons like Senator James Manager have taken a permanent seat being the Chairman senate or House of Representative Committee on the NDDC. No senate leadership dares to alter the arrangement, because even the Senate or House leadership ultimately becomes a beneficiary of the abuse which the commission perennially suffers.
Was it not recently alleged that a particular senator has about 300 contracts in the commission? That explains why there is a huge jostle for lawmakers to belong to the NDDC committee in both chambers of the National Assembly. The consequence is that due process, propriety and proper oversight functions are sacrificed. How can people coming for oversight functions be flown on business class, sequestered in premium hotels, with boundless lavish privileges, plus a ‘thank-you-for-coming’ envelope… all at the expense of the organization to be over-sighted, be expected to file an objective report of whatever they find?
And so when those who are supposed to police a system conspire to be joint abusers with the insiders, what we get is a fiesta of fraud.
The lawmakers are part of the problem of the commission. Is it any surprise that as I write this, the budget of 2019 for the commission has not been passed by the National Assembly? This is the second week of Year 2020. Before the commission’s budgets are passed, all kinds of padding, negotiations, bargains, and all such mercantile warts are settled. What kind of system is that?
Many of the jumbo contracts are those awarded to the lawmakers themselves or their cronies. Worse still, many of such contracts are abandoned for years, and when they are revisited, it is with a request to revalue it and re-award it. The mess is huge and deep.
They see the NDDC as a large fertile farmyard that must be mercilessly scorched. While all that happen, the poor communities yearning for development and intervention are abandoned and left in the lurch.
Another strand of the problem is in the workforce itself. Many of the personnel have already been stung with the civil service bug. All the malaises and annoying bureaucracy you notice in regular government offices are now practised in NDDC. It was to nip this malady in the bud that the administration of Timi Alaibe had brought in Accenture, to reorganize the service structure. But the idea was soon discarded when Alaibe left. The commission is worse for it today.
Almost like state governments, succeeding administrations in the NDDC are so keen to either abandon inherited projects or initiate their own projects. The consequence is that there are a plethora of abandoned projects across the length and breath of the region.
Frequent management changes, it appears, has not helped policy and programme consistency. For instance, the huge effort put into the design and public launch of the Niger Delta master plan in 2007, would have greatly transformed the region if it was not dumped by succeeding administrations after Alaibe left.
Before things started going south, the commission had been helpful in tackling some of the biting needs of the people of the region. It is remarkable that it had carried out rural health schemes where rural folks were treated by a team of medical doctors from overseas in the past.
In the same way, the commission had built several roads, bridges, and hostels in various higher institutions, just as it had provided water in many communities, including intervening in education, beside offering scholarship to many Niger Delta Students in tertiary institutions. No doubt, the commission has made a lot of impact but could do much more if its resources are better managed.
The Advent of the Rot
After the first two boards left the commission, many, not all, of the subsequent ones have been on a binge. The proofs are all over there.
If you are in doubt, find out the motivations behind the award and re-award of the contract for the commission’s permanent secretariat. The present Dappa Biriye House where NDDC occupies along Aba Road, Port Harcourt, as tenant, belongs to the Rivers State government.
For a secretariat project that was said to have been more than 70 per cent completed to be re-awarded by the Nsima Ekere administration to Rodnap construction company at the cost of … wait for it: N16 billion, bespeaks of a hidden agenda! Rodnap construction company is a sub contractor to Julius Berger and was actively involved in the many construction works in Akwa-Ibom State during the governorship of Godswill Akpabio, who is now the minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Many believe that awarding the contract to Rodnap must have been influenced by then Governor Akpabio, who in turn had supported and projected Nsima Ekere for the governorship contest in Akwa Ibom State.
It is also instructive that soon as the so-called Interim Management Committee—IMC, (the brain child of Akpabio) came into office, the payment of N26 billion to Rodmap construction was the first to be made. Is it all coincidence or is Akpabio using the influence of his office to advance his personal interest?
The Professor Nelson Brambaifa–led board did not do much to arrest the slide of propriety. Not even his age and academic background came to the rescue. Two of his children practically took over the running of the commission with all the blight and bane that goes with the acts of children of that age. No surprises that he has been accused of several breaches.
Under him, there was this fad about award of “emergency projects”, designed by the former Executive Director Project, Mr Samuel Ajogbe. You would think these are urgent projects that could save or imperil a life. What is worse, you wil be shocked to hear of the cost of these so-called emergency projects, in hundreds of millions of Naira. When you are told an “emergency project” is costing N500 or more million, you wonder if payment is to be done in Republic of Benin CFA (Commnauté Financiere Africane) or Zimbabwean Dollar.
Or how can it be explained that the whopping sum of N1.9 billion was paid to a company belonging to “a government big man” for the clearance of water hyacinth during the brief period Dr Mrs Akwagaga Enyia acted as MD.
Or how can it be explained how a soldier, Brig Gen, posted to the commission to help maintain peace suddenly landed N3.6billion which he wired to his wife’s bank account in the United States of America? At the NDDC, a Billion Naira appears to be like chicken change.
A couple of scandals have broken out, but promptly managed, between when Akpabio was appointed the minister of Niger Delta and now. We cannot forget the scandal about employment, where a wholesome 300 persons were to be offloaded into the commission for appointment but for the resistance of Dr Enyia. It caused a row between the minister and the then acting MD
It was also rumoured that a certain consultant gets paid N1 billion monthly. Checks have shown that the sum paid is not as much, neither is it on a monthly basis. It was gathered that the sum of N600million was paid the last time. The consultant in question helps the commission to harass the oil companies to pay their dues to the NDDC, “using orthodox and unorthodox means” (including deploying militants to block their gates), and in recompense, he gets paid a certain percentage of the total sum collected. The consultant has helped to rake in some N80 billion from the IOCs for the NDDC.
Again, the consultant was appointed by Dan Abia, former MD of the commission who himself was also the nominee of the sitting minister of the Niger Delta, then as Akwa-Ibom State governor.
Akapbio’s finger appears to be in every pie of the NDDC, as he had long been involved in the affairs of the commission.
Given the strange way money is flaunted around the commission by those who run it, it is no surprise that the commission is currently owing over N260 billion for completed jobs with Interim Payment Certificates (IPC).
The IMC Confusion
Not a few people are aghast at the confusiuon occasioned by the setting up of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), at a time that a Board had been constituted and its members cleared by the senate and security agencies. Worse still, Mr President in endorsing the IMC had said when the supervision of the forensic audit exercise is over, the un-inaugurated board will be reconstituted. So what happens to the people screened and waiting to be inaugurated? Such actions and reversals, help in no small measure to present the Buhari administration as being confused and easily persuaded by almost every line of argument. But sources say the plan to re-orgamise the Board is because of the litany of litigations against the uninaugurated board.
Members of the IMC are drawn from only three (out of the nine) states of the region, which further makes it illegal as nothing in the Act of the commission suggests the possibility of Interim Management Committee.
The disagreement among the Niger Delta political leaders on who should wield the bigger influence on the NDDC is the root cause of the confusion exemplified by the IMC.
It is interesting that in less than two months, the IMC is already at daggers drawn among themselves as almost each of the member of the IMC has his/her own nest to feather. It is said, for instance, that the IMC Managing Director, Dr Gbene Joi Nunieh has broken free from the minister’s grip and wastes no time in reminding him that it was the federal government and not Akpabio that appointed her. On her part, she is said to be selling the impression that the commission is a cesspit of fraud and sleaze, all so the IMC will last longer than the six months, to carry out the forensic audit.
Some payments (about N300million) are said to have also been quickly made to some contractors, in whom she has interest.
No doubt, the IMC members see themselves as the new lords of the manor and wish they have cause to stay a little longer
The Forensic Audit
I am sure the president was moved to order the forensic audit following the tales of the greasy mess he had heard about the commission.
Nigerians look forward to seeing what the audit will reveal, provided its report is not edited. It is remarkable that the major audit firms or legal firms or even accounting firms in the country are not part of the exercise. And it will be confirmed whether those pushing and supervising the forensic audit actually have the right moral rectitude to do so.