The current picture of the Niger Delta Development Commission is an unfortunate reflection of the Nigeria state as a dream killer, writes Louis Achi
It’s difficult suppressing a yawn of boredom, when news from the numbing, putrid drama flowing from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) legislative probe flickers on national television.
But this position tends to minimise an extreme existential dilemma threatening the world’s third largest wetland, hosting about 25 per cent of Nigeria’s population. The Niger Delta region extends to about 70,000 km2 and makes up 7.5% of the nation’s landmass.
Today, almost all indices of human growth show that in the Niger Delta region, the quality of life is in a serious decline. Sixty-four years after oil and gas exploration started in the region, Niger Deltans still cut a sorry sight on the Nigerian stage.
With a ruling elite in the grip of a gargantuan appetite, corruption gnaws at the resources of the region with a precision of a combined harvester chewing up both human and natural resources. And worse, no consequences!
The NDDC has received approximately, four trillion naira, in the past twenty years. Available records show the following accruals between 2007 and 2016: 2007 (N64.721 billion); 2008 (N84.790 billion); 2009 (N141.575 billion); 2010 (N135.097 billion); 2011 (167.778 billion); 2012, (N140.605 billion); 2013, (N149.352); 2014, (N207.553); 2015, (N140.512) and 2016, (N181.637 billion). Trillions with zero impact!
The NDDC was established in 2000 through the NDDC Establishment Act under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. This Act repealed the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission Decree 1998. It birthed a Commission with a re-organised administrative structure for increased effectiveness.
The vision of the Commission is to proffer “A lasting solution to the socio economic challenges of the Niger Delta Region” while the commission’s mission is “to facilitate the rapid, even, and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful”.
In September 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the formation of a Niger Delta Ministry, with the NDDC to become a parastatal under the ministry. One of the core mandates of the Commission is to train and educate the youths of the oil rich Niger Delta regions to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification, productivity and mitigate poverty. Today, the region can only celebrate motion without movement. Any hope?
It could be recalled that following the forensic audit of the sleazy NDDC ordered President Muhammadu Buhari, over alleged humungous financial malfeasance, both the Senate and the House of Representatives are currently investigating the commission.
Penultimate Thursday, the acting Managing Director of NDDC, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei and other top officials of the NDDC walked out on the House of Representatives committee probing the commission after calling for the resignation of its Chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, accusing him of “crime against the commission.”
When the committee resumed sitting last Monday, its chairman, on account of ‘injured’ reputation, withdrew from the probe and his Deputy, Thomas Ereyitomi, presided over the hearing.
Pondei revealed that between January and May 31, N34bn was given to the NDDC by the federal government, stating that from October 31, 2019 to May 31, 2020, the current interim management committee led by him spent N59.1bn out of the N81.5bn spent by the NDDC within the period. He informed that he assumed office on February 20, 2020.
“Out of the N51.9bn, it is also verifiable that N38.6bn was spent on capital projects. The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC published a list of contractors, who have been paid up to May 5 (a total sum of) N35.3bn and no contractor said he was not paid. In all this, the IMC did not award any of those contracts; they are historical contracts that existed before we came. “On recurrent expenditure, N20.5bn was expended by the current IMC between February 20 and May 31, 2020. It is good to note that a large proportion of the payments were from a backlog of expenditure that the previous managements had incurred and did not pay,” he explained.
When the committee asked Pondei about the alleged N1.5bn spent on COVID-19 palliatives by the NDDC, he graciously corrected the honourable members by clarifying: “It was not N1.5bn please. The figure is shown clearly. It is N1.32bn.” He also revealed that the IMC had so far received about N72bn.
Forty-five minutes into his presentation, Hon. Enwo Igariwey, asked Pondei where the commission would get money to pay students on scholarship since the operation of the 2019 budget ended on May 31 and the 2020 budget had yet to be approved.
Perhaps giving Nollywood a run for its money, Pondei suddenly ‘slumped’ at this point and security agents carried him out, effectively derailing the session. Later, he strolled out of the NASS complex to be cosily chauffeured home.
On his part, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who was interrogated on the committee’s resumption, accused members of the National Assembly of getting the lion’s share of NDDC’s contracts.
Defending the huge expenses of the commission during the pandemic lockdown, Akpabio said, “We cannot close down the Niger Delta, because of the security implication in the region. We cannot close down the NDDC, because of the fact that we are doing forensic audit.
“The NDDC plays a vital role in ensuring the peace and security of the region, and 90 per cent or more of the resources of the country, on a monthly basis, comes from there. If you close it in totality, all you will have will be chaos.”
Curiously, Senator Akpabio was to recant his bombshell allegation as Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila gave him 48 hours to publish names of lawmakers, who got NDDC contracts. Akpabio wrote to House later recanting his earlier assertion that members of the federal legislature were major beneficiaries of NDDC contracts.
For good measure, Akpabio was also enmeshed in a bawdy controversy with feisty “Port Harcourt girl” Mrs. Joy Nunieh, a former Acting Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee of NDDC, who claimed to have slapped Akpabio over inappropriate advances to her.
The common focus of regional development commissions or regional planning mechanisms is the integrated management of the economic, social and physical resources of a spatially bounded area. Regional development commissions and policies have been proposed and carried out since the beginnings of civilised human settlement.
But in the Niger Delta region, this effort has become a total failure. There is pretty little to show for their natural bounty and worse, zero consequence for extreme, treasonable high crime. For the region’s huddled masses, it’s yet morning on creation day. It is where human dreams die.