By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
I am angry and indeed outraged, after watching the video clip of Mrs. Joy Nuineh, the former head of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, on the monumental corruption going on in that organization that was set up to be an interventionist agency for the development of the Niger-Delta, but has become a drain pipe, totally crippled by buccaneers, looters and enemies of the people of the creeks and indeed Nigeria. I was trying to recover from this monumental revelation of the corruption and scandal in the NDDC when I tuned to Channels Television Politics on Sunday, to watch the greatest show of shame in recent times. I mean, you have to be strong enough not to want to set Nigeria on fire, after listening to those mind-boggling exposes on the financial state of the NDDC, which has now become a cesspool of corruption and looting. The guests on national television reeled out figures upon figures, running into several billions of naira, involving principal officers of the NDDC, in an apparent game of money laundering. And I’m sure that the “Presidency” also watched that scandalous outing. As we say, the chicken has finally come home to roost, as those who vowed to bury the NDDC are now fully in charge and they are seemingly above reproof, as is now common with certain political allies of power brokers.
The failure of leadership in Nigeria led to the demand by various regional warlords for special development and recognition, such as the agitation for a special status for Lagos State as the premier capital of Nigeria, recognition of the South-East for conscious development due to years of neglect and marginalization, a development agency for the North-East due to the endless war imposed on that region by Boko Haram terrorists and bandits and lately, even the South West has mooted the idea of a specialized development agency. The NDDC was set up in 2000 and since then, it has been one story of corruption, abandonment of projects or wanton fraud or the other, without regard for the lofty ideals underlying the birth of the Commission.
A few weeks back, I watched with great admiration, a video of the University of Maiduguri, showing the layout of the university campus, professor’s quarters and other infrastructure. In another development I saw countless houses built for the use of the people of the North-East, at moderate costs. The North-East Development Commission recently secured a $137m facility from the World Bank, also for the development of that region. I then wondered if the people managing this outfit are also not Nigerians like those put in charge of the NDDC. Why has the NDDC become so ineffective to address the myriad of problems confronting the people of the Niger-Delta? What is really the problem of the Commission? Why has there been no patriotic son or daughter of that region, to run the affairs of the NDDC for the benefit of the people? What has happened to all the huge allocations granted to the Commission for projects? How can Niger-Delta remain undeveloped with over twenty years of special grants and allocations? You will get a better answer to these and many other nagging questions when you listen to Mrs. Nunieh, who said that a serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria asked her to take an oath of secrecy to loot the public treasury! And that Minister is still in office. As if this was not enough, the Director of Projects of the NDDC, said openly that National Assembly members were indirectly responsible for most of the failed projects of the Commission, as they are the beneficiaries of the contracts for these projects for which they collect mobilization without execution. He then specifically accused the Deputy Senate President of interfering in the affairs of the Commission in order to hijack it to oil his 2023 political ambition as Governor of Delta State. Mrs. Nunieh had earlier alleged that Senator Godswill Akpabio was using the NDDC as a conduit pipe to secure his political ambition. This is rather disturbing indeed. I have had cause to warn about the ugly discoveries currently going on within the NDDC, but the so-called leaders of thought and stakeholders of the Niger-Delta have turned the blind eye, either because of their own pecuniary benefits from this malaise or they are the main culprits of the malfeasance in the Commission.
I pointed out that the NDDC has become the albatross of the people of the Niger-Delta, to which the President has no ready solution, except to summarily dissolve the Board and hand over the Commission to the undertakers. Senator Godswill Akpabio, under the guise of some forensic audit, set up an Interim Management Committee, in flagrant violation of the Act establishing the agency. It was then alleged by some protesters that the NDDC was being manipulated to serve the interests of two major politicians from the Niger-Delta. Unfortunately, that prediction has since become real, as we now know that Senators Akpabio and Omo-Agege are the real masquerades behind the current misfortune of the NDDC, using their cronies. The case of the NDDC has become totally embarrassing, at least to the people of the Niger-Delta, whose interests it was initially established to serve. As is common with governments ruling through propaganda, the hatchet men of those holding the NDDC by the jugular went to town hysterically, reeling out thousands of projects abandoned by contractors, just to dim our collective sense of outrage at the fraudulent management of the affairs of this totally leprous body.
According to the introductory note to the Act establishing it, the NDDC was conceived to “use the sums received from the allocation of the Federation Account for tackling ecological problems which arise from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger-Delta area”.
Under and by virtue of section 2 of the NDDC Act, the power house of the Commission is its Governing Board, comprising a Chairman, one person to represent each of the oil producing member States of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers; three persons to represent the non-oil producing geo-political zones, representatives of the Federal Ministries of Finance and Environment, one representative of the oil producing companies in the Niger-Delta nominated by the said companies, the managing director and two executive directors. They are to hold office for a period of four years, subject to renewal and to operate as part-time members. By virtue of section 4 of the NDDC Act, the office of the chairman of the Governing Board shall rotate amongst member States in alphabetical order, whilst section 12 makes the offices of the managing director and the two executive directors rotational, in the order of the highest production quantum of oil amongst the member States. It is mandatory for the Senate and the House of Representatives to confirm any appointment into the NDDC and no other body or entity is recognised by the NDDC Act to run its affairs other than the Board. Meanwhile, the NDDC budget, running into about N400B, was pending for approval before the National Assembly. Apparently seeking to benefit from the corruption that has engulfed the agency, the National Assembly colluded with the undertakers to approve billions of naira for an Interim Management Committee that was set up to conduct a forensic audit. What has been the outcome of this criminal gang? Looting and fraud, where billions of naira approved as budget for projects are cornered as palliatives and phantom medical training.
You then begin to wonder: is the President aware of all these scandalous revelations and he has done nothing about it? Indeed, some events make you ponder on whether the Buhari administration is actually fighting ‘corruption’, which it hurriedly adopted as its main target, for battle. Or how else do we describe this anomaly that since 2015, the President has refused to constitute an effective Board for the NDDC and prefers to run its affairs through sole administrators. NDDC receives huge allocations from the Federation Account, oil companies pay royalties into the NDDC purse and the NLNG has now been mandated by law to pay 3% royalty to the NDDC, boosting the revenue base of the agency. And all that President Buhari can do for the suffering people of the Niger-Delta is to allow his men to hijack the NDDC for politics! What other conclusion can anyone draw from the President’s seeming passivity except that the undertakers are his main men that were used to deliver political dividends for him to earn his re-election and the NDDC has been handed over to them as their ‘reward’!
The oil production quota for the member-States of the NDDC are: Akwa-Ibom (31.4), Delta (21.7), Rivers (21.4), Bayelsa (18.1), Ondo (3.7), Cross-River (2,6), Edo (2.1), Imo (1.1) Abia (0.7). All other member-States have occupied the offices of Chairman, managing director and executive directors respectively, except Ondo and Imo States. Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta States have produced the Chairman of the Board in the past and by the rotational principle established under section 2 of the NDDC Act, Edo State should produce the next chairman whilst Ondo State, going by the oil production quantum principle established under section 12, should produce the managing director. I verily believe that the President and his men are well aware that the Interim Committee constituted for the NDDC is an illegal entity, both in law and by protocol, as it cannot find support in the NDDC Act and it was never confirmed by the National Assembly. And it is amazing that the people of the Niger-Delta, with all their years of activism and rich heritage, have all kept mute and allowed themselves to be cowed by politicians, as there have been no public protests so far, the militants are all silent and even the elders have gone to sleep.
The NDDC was conceived as interventionist agencies to address the critical problems of pollution and degrading of the ecosystem of that region, all resulting from the oil exploration and production activities going on there. This struggle has consumed so many lives and destinies, including that of Isaac Adaka Boro, Dr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, etc. One is therefore surprised that the people of the Niger-Delta see the NDDC as a goldmine, to be deployed to line the pockets of militants, ethnic warlords and regional politicians. What has happened over the years is that projects are deliberately cooked up without any intention to execute them and the people are short-changed year in year out, through the NDDC. I have never seen a people who hate and work against their own selves and interests, as those of the Niger-Delta area. They know these phony contractors, who are their brothers and sisters, they live with them in the same creeks and mangroves and yet they cannot stand up to challenge them and hold them accountable for the humongous funds allocated for fake projects. It makes a mockery of the whole campaign for resource control if at the end of the day, the outcome thereof will be to turn greedy politicians into emergency millionaires. We wait on the President.
Culled from the Nigeria Lawyers