Beyond the NDDC Probe

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Passage of two Icons
Before I go into the word for today, I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Alhaji Abdul Ganiyu Folorunsho Abdul Razaq OFR, SAN (AGF), the first Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria from the Northern Region, and also a former Chairman of the esteemed Body of Benchers. He passed on in the early hours of Saturday, July 25th, 2020 at the ripe old age of 93. May Allah, in His infinite mercy, grant him Aljannah Firdaus. Ameen.

I also offer my heartfelt condolences to the family of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter Pilot, who has definitely left her footprints in the sands of time, despite being translated to eternal glory at such a young age (24 years). May her soul rest in peace in the bosom of the Lord. Amen.

Are the Accusations Against the North Valid?
I have never hidden my dissatisfaction with President Buhari (Baba)’s administration (and that of most of his predecessors) – rightfully so, too – just look at the condition that Nigeria is currently in! We have fallen from grace to grass. But, on the decision to start a probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), I cannot fault Baba. He has taken a good step in the right direction, and more kudos will be in order if the investigation is properly and professionally conducted, the rot in that organisation fully uncovered, and all the perpetrators are brought to book. Nigerians are also of the opinion that, going forward, another key organisation that urgently deserves the searchlight, is the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Since Nigeria gained her independence in 1960, we have been governed mostly by people from different parts of the North, hence, we easily blame those Northern leaders for all our woes, including the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. Though this allegation is far from being baseless, it is also a fact that many parts of the North and most other parts of the country too, remain just as underdeveloped – it’s not just the Niger Delta that was singled out for underdevelopment, though of course, their case is worse and dire because of the environmental degradation and the pollution that has been occasioned by oil prospecting, which obviously also has negative side effects on the health of the Niger Deltans (higher risks of cancer and breathing difficulties, possible birth defects etc). That all our governments (present company included) have mostly failed Nigerians, is a fact. 60 years post-independence, Nigeria remains underdeveloped – a third world country, the poverty capital of the world. However, the Niger Deltans themselves, are just as complicit in the underdevelopment of their region.

I do agree that, the Niger Delta being the source of Nigeria’s major revenue, should have been given special attention, especially because in harnessing the oil mineral resources for the benefit of the country, its environment was being totally devastated (and still is); there should have been some form of parallel restoration and restitution of the Niger Delta as it was being degraded, but, unfortunately, there has been little or none. The IOCs should also have been held more accountable, as the kind of destruction that has been wrought on the Niger Delta, is easily visible to the naked eye – oil slicks on the river banks, black soot on surfaces, destruction of vegetation and so on.

OMPADEC and NDDC
It was obviously with this in mind, that General Babangida’s military regime decided to take some action to reverse the damage in the Niger Delta, by creating the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) established by Decree No. 23 of 1992, which was subsequently replaced during President Obasanjo’s administration with the NDDC, established by the NDDC (Establishment, Etc) Act of 2000 (NDDC Act). However, with the shameful drama which has been unfolding over the past couple of weeks regarding the NDDC probe and hearings at the National Assembly (NASS), Nigerians are now realising that the decay in the NDDC is as deep as an abyss (like its predecessor, OMPADEC); outright theft of mind-boggling sums of money by the Niger Deltans themselves to the detriment of their own people, having been given the opportunity to rehabilitate and develop their own region which has been devastated and polluted by oil exploration and related activities, through these special purpose vehicles of OMPADEC and NDDC.

The level of environmental degradation and squalor in the Niger Delta, is better imagined. Section 2 of the NDDC Act provides for a Governing Board of NDDC – out of a total of about 19 board members, it is mandatory that 10 must be from from the oil producing States which are listed in Section 2(1)(b)(i)-(ix). It is however, convenient for many Niger Delta militants, politicians, activists and so on, many of whom may be beneficiaries of the NDDC scams and contracts, to pull the wool over the eyes of their unsuspecting people and everybody else, to hide the truth and cover the spirit of theft and kleptomania which has taken over most public officials in Nigeria, including them, and heap the blame of the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta solely on Northern leaders. Section 14(2)(a)-(j) of the NDDC Act provides for the handsome funding of the NDDC, funds which by virtue of Section 15 are to be expended to, inter alia, administer the Commission, pay its staff salaries and other allowances, and pay for contracts awarded ostensibly to achieve the aims and objectives of the NDDC Act. Over the years, what has the NDDC done with this large amount of funds, to better the lives of the Niger Deltans? Nothing really!

The Photo of the So-called ‘Elebele Bridge’
Last week, there was a photograph which trended on social media – of a young lady purportedly in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa State hawking something resembling food items on her head, crossing a wooden makeshift structure referred to as ‘Elebele Bridge’, allegedly built via a N2.3 billion contract awarded by the NDDC in 2018 and completed in 2020. I sincerely hope that it is fake news. I wept when I saw the photo. The only thing that that crude structure (which belongs in the dark ages and the dustbin of history) has in common with a bridge of today, is that it carries something across this particular Elebele Ogbia river. Any carpenter, with no prior training in bridge construction, could deliver that structure which does not even qualify to be called even a simple beam or truss bridge, for N1 million or less! The Elebele bridge even looks dangerous, as not only could it be easily destroyed by a bout of strong rain or a gust of wind, we all know how slippery wood becomes when it is wet – and people are expected to cross safely on it, without slipping and falling in various directions, when its surface is wet from the rain!

A couple of years ago, I watched a television programme in which the people of an area in Bayelsa State similar to Ogbia (it could have been Ogbia, I don’t remember) had complained that they required two bridges, because in the rainy season, the whole vicinity becomes totally flooded and impassable, to the extent that children are unable to attend school until the waters dry up, since there was no means of passing through the flood. They said that many times during the election campaign cycles, politicians would come and promise them that the bridges would be built if they were elected – alas! all empty promises. Shall we then say, that the NDDC has gallantly stepped up to the plate, and delivered that crude structure called Elebele bridge to the people of Ogbia? How cruel.

Section 16(1)(a) & (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution) provides that Government shall harness all the resources of the country, and use them for the benefit of all Nigerians. Furthermore, Section 7 of the NDDC Act evinces the fact that, the functions of the NDDC are encapsulated in the development of the Niger Delta in terms of all types of infrastructure, and tackling the ecological and environmental problems brought about by oil and gas flaring activities. Nothing of the sort has been achieved by NDDC, so far.

Dubai
To then see that it took six years and $12 billion to develop Dubai, another oil city, while in 20 years and with an alleged sum of $40 billion, the NDDC has achieved little or nothing in the Niger Delta, is mortifying, inexplicable and criminal. Section 21(2)(a) of the NDDC Act provides for a Monitoring Committee to “monitor to the management of the funds of the Commission and the implementation of the projects of the Commission” – where has this Committee been throughout the reckless, fruitless and corrupt spending spree by NDDC Officials in cahoots with dishonest Contractors et al? In a coma? Is there any similarity between other oil cities like Dubai and the Niger Delta, aside from the fact that they are oil producing areas? None. Not only is the wealth that is generated from oil production apparent as the level of development and modernisation is fully on display, Dubai has now become a tourist attraction;

while the Niger Delta remains a polluted backwater, in spite of the fact that more funds are alleged to have been pumped into the NDDC for the development of the Niger Delta, than that of Dubai.

Conclusion
In any event, in the last 20 years of the fourth Republic, we have had at least 13 years of Southern leadership, out of which for about five years, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, an indigene of Ogbia local government area, Bayelsa State, Niger Delta, was President! He must also be blamed, along with his predecessors.

My conclusion? If in about 45 years of leadership, Northerners have been accused of neglecting the Niger Delta, in the past 20 years (not even including the OMPADEC years), the NDDC comprising of Niger Delta leadership, has become just as complicit and culpable for the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. If they argue that the Northerners are unconcerned about the Niger Delta because they are not from there, what is their excuse for being equally as unconcerned about developing their own ‘native land’, since they are from there? The answer to this question is, Corruption!