Afam Nkemdiche writes that the interventionist agency refused to learn from history

It exceedingly grieves my heart, as I presume it does many another Nigerians that we have regrettably failed to learn one of the most significant lessons of our history. That lesson is simply this: that entities assigned with the sole responsibility of distributing humongous funds would as soon degenerate into cesspools of corruption. Be it recalled that it was precisely through such entities, be they agricultural produce boards; solid minerals boards; development commissions; etc., that that most odious term “corruption” first entered Nigeria’s public space. Skilfully deploying some abstruse arguments the country’s first crop of regional politicians respectively came up with the novel idea of pooling surplus proceeds from our natural resources. Pursuing the same arguments, such pooled funds were subsequently expended on developing the infrastructure and socio-economics of the country’s first three regions.

Consequently, a so-called Marketing and Housing Boards were set up in the respective regions. In no time, however, scandalous abuses of established procedures in both the appointment of members to these boards and in the award of contracts no sooner led to the country’s first financial investigative commission; namely, the Foster-Sutton Commission, in the 1950s. Upon the heels of which was the Western region’s in the early 1960s, wherein the C. C. Coker Commission investigated the finances of the Western Nigeria Marketing and Housing Board. Soon after, the Ironsi Investigative Panel was commissioned to probe the finances of the Northern Nigeria Marketing and Housing Board in 1966.

It would also be recalled that Aguiyi-Ironsi was pivotal in aborting the January 1966 coup d’etat, but in spite of his apparent opposition to that first military intervention in Nigeria, he still found reason compelling enough to investigate some of the issues which the “five-majors” had raised. Ironsi’s Panel would suffer a still birth on account of its author’s assassination, but snippets from both the Foster-Sutton and the Coker commissions respectively found copious evidence of abuses of administrative and financial procedures in the Eastern and Western regions. For reasons that may not be unconnected to the aforesaid evidence, succeeding governments fought shy of such entities as the First Republic Marketing and Housing boards from 1966 to 1985.

But we soon became heedless of our past. Our collective attention span endured merely 20-odd years, and much like a Phoenix suddenly rising from a long -abandoned sepulchre, the Ibrahim Babandiga administration, apparently with scant reflection, introduced the twin octopuses christened, Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC); and the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) into the polity. These new entities, not unlike their First republic’s predecessors, were set up principally for the re-distribution of pooled funds. Half-expectedly, and, again not unlike their predecessors, both OMPADEC and DFRRI no sooner degenerated into whirlwinds of corruption. All manner of measures was consequently employed to check both the obvious and the not-so-obvious flaws in OMPADEC and DFRRI; most of these measures redounding in no more than a change in nomenclature. So the whirlwind grew in both strength and outreach, surviving subsequent military and civilian administrations.

With time, DFRRI quickly withered while OMPADEC waxed ever stronger, morphing today (2020) into a money-gobbling behemoth known as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). NDDC would distinguish herself from the twentieth century variants by annexing the hitherto unheard evil of ghost contracts and contractors to her lackluster credentials. So while the Commission’s budget goes north by the year, the number of her executed projects heads south, with concomitant spike in the restiveness of the target beneficiaries. The previous time I checked, the commission’s budget was denominated in the hundreds of billions of naira! Surely, looking from these figures to the executed projects in the Niger Delta region must necessarily induce dizziness.

One does not need to be an economist to know that Nigeria cannot stabilize, much-less experience economic growth in her prevailing circumstances. Little wonder the ongoing vociferous call for NDDC to be scrapped altogether. For the present, expressed opinions are roughly divided down the middle on that call. But it needn’t be so because the jury lucidly turned in its verdict back in the 1960s: Fledgling nations should always regard pooling of funds for unproductive activities as a devastating plague. Furthermore, global bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Union (EU) have since availed humanity with cost-effective and sustainable models for developing the infrastructure and socio-economics of local communities. Those models postulate that the latter’s budgets be effectively captured into project costing, rather than setting aside ad hoc entities to re-distribute pooled funds. (See my intervention of 31st December 2019 – Adopt stakeholders capitalism for the Niger Delta.)

Had we learned the appropriate lessons, the current paroxysm of steeped emotions on the vexed issue might have been wholly unnecessary.

Nkemdiche, engineering consultant, wrote from Abuja