‘Save NDDC before it is irretrievably lost’
Professor Jasper Jumbo started his career in the petroleum sector in the early 1970s as head, Petroleum Research and Geo-environmental Analytical Laboratories, Schlumberger. This afforded him an early glimpse of the precarious environmental danger the Niger Delta was to face. He later joined founding fathers of old Rivers State to agitate for a special fund to address the developmental challenges of the Niger Delta. This quest caused him to meet former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, leading to the creation of OMPADEC. Following the liquidation of OMPADEC, he later engaged former President Olusegun Obasanjo and was asked to come up with the NDDC blueprint.
Regrettably however, he said the NDDC has drifted from vision of its founders blaming this on godfatherism and lack of vision. As a result, he throws his weight behind the directive for a forensic audit, noting that the fortunes of NDDC can be redeemed, but there is urgently need for internal administrative surgery, de-bureaucratisation, transparent management, accountability and probity.
What led to the creation of NDDC?
When the presidential advisory committee of President Olusegun Obasanjo was doing the papers on Niger Delta, I made them realise that the founding fathers cursed Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) and that it has no spiritual root. I wrote the blueprint on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and submitted it through the late Ufot Ekaette to Obasanjo. He replied and assured me that the government had already taken a decision to set up the commission based on the write up and that when the commission is set up, the ideas I brought would be used.
Then, Governor Nasir El-Rufai was teaching Obasanjo electricity. I was talking about everything Niger Delta to Obasanjo. I have evidence from Doyin Okupe, and even when I discussed formally with the president with national security adviser, Aliyu Gusau. Even to meet with traditional rulers from the Niger Delta, it was Ekaette and myself that Obasanjo used to send. Until eventually, OMPADEC was wined up, myself, Senator Melford Okilo, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Senator Martins Yellowe all of us were in the committee. We were staying at Hallie Selassie street, OMPADEC House in Asokoro. I brought 14 funding provisions, because the idea was for the federal government to takeover fully the development of the Niger Delta. The governors refused. Obasanjo wanted to take half of the money from the 13 percent to add up, but the governors refused.
The late Mr. Power Ziakede Aginighan, was the only person who could come and translate those funding provisions I brought into cash. Obasanjo shouted that it was too much. He pruned them down to about 8 per cent and that is what they are still using today. So, I have given concise history of the travail that pervaded this crusade that brought this cash cow called NDDC. But the sad thing is that none of the real founding fathers of NDDC has ever worked in NDDC or OMPADEC. The people who put their money, intellectual property, risked their lives for the people, made sacrifice, the people God used to bring the vision, who God gave the concept, none of our children is working in the commission up till now.
And we are saying enough is enough. We are not slaves. Many of the people there don’t have stakes in oil as many of us have. Many of the founding fathers died in penury. Their children are suffering. What we are saying, in essence, is that we are appealing to the conscience of the Nigerian government that the place is drifting because of godfatherism and lack of vision. The original concept which we brought out that inspired the federal government to set up this commission to solve the problem of the region, to try to better the future of our people is being nearly lost and we must bring this to a halt. That is why I like to publicly thank the National Assembly and Mr. President for ordering the forensic audit into the affairs of NDDC. It is timely.
What were your expectations when NDDC was created?
Our expectation is that they will turn things around here. They will teach our people how to produce things from the grassroots. They will teach our youths how to build the roads, how to build the edifices, how to do procurement, to empower our youths to join our brothers from Igboland, to join the Indians, Lebanese, Chinese to start trading so that we can grow. We expect that some of the camps of these militants should have been turned into agricultural hubs. Some of these keke (tricyles) that haul agricultural products in the rural areas where the roads are not wide could have been produced here. They should have started manufacturing here. Why can’t we use NDDC to reach out to the grassroots? The problem is that most of the people there are bereft of ideas. That is why we are calling for change and we have no apology to anyone as fathers from this region.
What do you think is responsible for the drifting of the NDDC from the original vision?
The place has lost focus, gross mismanagement, over invoicing of projects, unacceptable bureaucracy, internal wickedness, treachery against the contractors, inability to structure our people to be empowered through NDDC jobs. Right now, no banks will give you loans for NDDC jobs. They have killed that opportunity. How will our contractors coming from weak background grow? How would all the youths grow? They over invoice the jobs to create billions for their masters. But this a community commission. We want to see a situation where NDDC will synergise with local content committee and Amnesty Office. We want a total paradigm shift, in such a way that our people will be trained. You cannot be doling money to people everyday, teach them how to make the money.
How has the NDDC been able to tackle the socio-economic challenges of the Niger Delta?
Just within the limits of the vision of the commission, of the people they appointed who did not understand the principles. So, they are doing anyhow. They are busy awarding any type of contract they like without even following due process. What legacy project has NDDC left on ground for us as a people over these years? NDDC has collected statutorily over N2.8 trillion. The oil companies have given several billions of Naira. What have they done with it? It is being looted by those who want to contest as governors and senators. You finish a job, they will create bottleneck and they won’t pay. Even me that brought the blueprint, there is a job I finished, it was awarded to Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. Because of the garrulous nature of the youths from that area, he abandoned the job and I bought it over from him. It was a 24-kilometer road, I financed it. Do you know that six years ago I finished this job, they are still owing me N248 million. I went to National Assembly and brought it to the fore.
Is government’s claim that NDDC has nothing tangible to show for the resources received so far true?
Government will claim they have been given so much money, rightly too, but nothing to show for it. People loot the money, divert the money. Tomorrow, everybody that goes to NDDC wants to be governor, senator. No, that is not why we set it up. They are stakeholders alright, but it is not one person’s purse. One person in politics wants to go and carry the whole money. No, it is not right. Good a thing they brought a lady, who is now the acting managing director. We have looked at her, she is okay. But we have a problem and have tried to see how we can support her to stay for six to nine months.
Then, they will look for forensic auditors, administrators to perform the forensic audit of that place, not to go and give it to one firm so that they will go and share money. It is not acceptable to us. Let them go to the Chartered Institute of Administrators; there are known forensic auditors nationally and internationally. Let them go to some universities, they are there. Let them come and do the audit, let us strengthen the NDDC. There is no other commission we have for the development of the Niger Delta except the NDDC. The state governors are up in arms recently. I am talking on behalf of the founding fathers of NDDC and OMPADEC. Let them get an independent sole administrator.
At what point did the NDDC began to derail from its mandate?
NDDC lost focus after Timi Alaibe. I remember when Alaibe was there, I served as regional consultant on skills acquisition and youths empowerment. We trained more than 2000 people in welding and other skills. I insisted that how do we empower these youths after training them? Because a trained mind that is left doing nothing is worst; and that is why you have these incidents of violence, kidnapping and other vices. I went with Timi Alaibe and we met the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and I told him that the government must do something to get money for us. They brought N2 billion for empowerment, but the thing went anyhow and at a time, I got annoyed and walked out from that portfolio. Let me ask what stops NDDC to take part of this money and put in a bank so that known performing contractors, our youths, our women can take soft loans, call it NDDC industrial bank or something. They can take soft loan at subsidised lending rate. Instead of 25 per cent, you take 5 or 10 per cent and it is monitored and you go and do the job and pay bank. NDDC will also make money from there. If Buhari wants to help, if Akpabio wants to help us, they should know that our people are bleeding, our people are crying. Even God is angry. Let there be a change.
Why has it been impossible for NDDC to implement its regional masterplan?
The way the masterplan was designed, for me, is not the correct thing. The Act mandates NDDC to design a master plan. There are 185 local government areas within the Niger Delta, get every local government area to sit down and produce what I call a perspective plan of development. You do the short term, the middle and the long term for 25 years, even if it is 10 years. You combined the whole thing into one plan. What and what does the NDDC master plan have for Bonny? I took on the NLNG contrary to the wishes of the people of Bonny and dragged them before the National Assembly and they were made to pay 3 per cent of their earnings to NDDC. What job has NDDC given to Bonny? The ring road they awarded during the time of Alaibe, after paying N2billion was abandoned and they are not doing anything about it. NDDC master plan has been abandoned. The templates are okay, but what we expect is an in-depth, progressive plan so that successive managers of NDDC will have a document to work with. If we have a good masterplan for Niger Delta, whether it is Buhari, whether it is Obasanjo, whether it is Osinbajo, whether it is you or me, there is a blueprint on Niger Delta that progressively if road A is built, road B is built, that one is gone. You know this one is gone and this one is outstanding. So that if someone wants something else done, you say there is a plan we are following. So that if there is a modification, it will be within the context and ambit of what is established so that anybody can come and implement it. That is how people develop and that is why it is called the masterplan.
Several hundred NDDC projects are abandoned. What is responsible for waste?
Abandonment of projects is partly caused by NDDC staff. Most of the jobs you see allegedly abandoned are jobs sold to briefcase companies and agents of some people within the NDDC, either the political appointees or some people working in NDDC which they hawk on the streets of Port Harcourt, the streets of Lagos or streets of Abuja. They sell and collect between 10 and 15 per cent. After they pay off the people that they have done the job without doing any job. When you go to the site, it is recorded that the project is done, but it is not. Or some people arrange, they go and take mobilisation, they eat the mobilisation, share with them in NDDC and that is the end of it and they run away. That is why you have the cases of abandonment. It is not the genuine contractors that abandon these projects. There are genuine contractors and they are being snuffed out.
Why is huge chuck of NDDC budget expended on running the place?
The administrative cost of running NDDC is bloated. It is not sustainable. It is not like the traditional 15 per cent. There have to be a surgery, a forensic audit of the place. Let them check the running of that place, it is over staffed. The state offices are doing next to nothing and everyday you see youths clustering around the place. Can’t NDDC organise them to be contractors who can do the roads?
Do you have any regret agitating for creation of NDDC?
I don’t regret it because this is service for the many. It is a vision God gave to me. I am a servant. Each time, one way or the other, He arranges it and pushes me forward. I don’t know how. This year will make me forty years in the selfless service to Niger Delta people and I am not regretting it. Even if I die today, I will thank God that He used me to serve and leave legacy. God has used me to touch the lives of millions of people. So, I have no regret serving. It is not a cash thing. I think it was Aristotle in one of his treaties that said, “he said the greatest employment of the mind of man is to direct it to services that would contribute to the general good.” He continued and said but, “that in the exercise of human endeavour, it was left for only God and the angels to be on lookers.” I don’t want to be an onlooker when our people are suffering.
The commission is not irredeemable and that is why I am commending president Buhari for trying to nip in the bud the misadventure, the straying away, the prodigality of the NDDC so that we can still recover the soul of the baby called NDDC before it is irretrievably lost. When you do this, the boys in the creeks will be carried along and there will be peace. The vandalisation of our installed oil facilities, the incident of stealing of our oil will be drastically reduced. That is why forensic audit is timely. I am not talking about witch-hunting, I am talking about internal administrative surgery; I am talking about de-bureaucratisation of the process, I am talking about digitisation of the running of that place, I am talking of transparent management of the place. I am talking about accountability and probity. You want to know if you do a job and you achieve a milestone, you want to know when within a time frame of say six months you will be paid. You cannot go and finish working, take bank loan with interest of 30 per cent and within three years, six years they have not paid you. They have destroyed your business. Many of the founding fathers died because of heartbreak, some died out of penury and hypertension. NDDC has killed so many in the region and it has to stop.
Are you worried that despite NDDC receipt of over N2.8 trillion, poverty is still prevalent in the Niger Delta.
Poverty is prevalent because the modicum of disbursement is skewed, a few people take all the money. NDDC has not performed in terms of reaching out to the grassroots. How many market women programme has NDDC carried out? What empowerment programme has NDDC done for the rural women?
Was this what necessitated President Buhari’s decision to call for forensic audit of the NDDC?
It is a right decision he took and every right thinking Niger Delta person should support it. Let me say this, President Buhari means well for the Niger Delta. Look at the Maritime University, look at Bonny-Bodo road project. Look at the statutory debt federal government was owing NDDC our brother could not pay even when we tried everything with him. Buhari came and he has paid. Buhari wants to address the problems of the Niger Delta. He knows that bulk of the wealth of this nation comes from the Niger Delta. He has conscience and his conscience is pricking him. Our people have to help him. Buhari has seen that one of the things he is not doing well in terms of corruption is the NDDC and he has done the needful.
Why is corruption prevalent in NDDC?
They have been bringing people who do not have empathy, who do not know the problems. You don’t put a square peg in round hole. They have not understudied the problems of the region. They are just coming out of political aggrandisement to loot. If you take a hungry man into a garden where you have garden egg, he is going to eat everything the same day. That is what is going on in NDDC. They come in, they loot everything.
Why have the leaders of the Niger Delta been silent while the rot in NDDC persists?
How many can speak out? It is because they have an interest.
What were the key issues that NDDC should have tackled from its inception?
The problem of an underdeveloped region is very obvious. Starting from the littoral local government where bulk of the oil come from. It is not much of the issue of infrastructure, ecological problems. Those are the basics. In the vision document, there were six systems. I wrote it. These people don’t know them. They are not even asking and applying them.
Why have oil producing communities not benefited much from NDDC project?
Indices of mineral production should be the basis for projects. There was a time NDDC was looking at 60/40 in the major oil producing states, key oil producing areas will get a certain percentage, but all those things they have thrown aside. If they own NDDC as their own personal company, they won’t run it aground.
What if the forensic audit report when out is swept under the carpet?
First, forensic auditors must be given a free hand. It is being speculated that NDDC has about 100 billion in its account which the acting managing director inherited. Some boys have started complaining that there is an internal plan by some people so that they can hijack that money. Others are saying that they are trying to kill the probe so that it will be business as before. Having gone this far, if they want to muffle it, the youths will not agree. The government has to be up and alive to make sure that the right thing are done.
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