Thursday, 30th November 2023

Outrage over fraud, rot in NDDC, Niger Delta

By Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt and Adamu Abuh, Abuja
18 July 2020   |   4:15 am
The long-running saga of sleaze in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has set off outrage in the Niger Delta region.The palpable frustration in the region is because since the establishment of the NDDC in 2000 as an interventionist agency to reduce poverty and foster development

• ‘Our People Should Not Keep Quiet’
• Lawmakers Rue Commission’s Performance, Proffer Solutions

The long-running saga of sleaze in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has set off outrage in the Niger Delta region.The palpable frustration in the region is because since the establishment of the NDDC in 2000 as an interventionist agency to reduce poverty and foster development by providing access to health services, safe water, roads, tackle environmental degradation, among others, there is not much on ground to justify the trillions of naira it has received till date.

Efforts to tackle its peculiar developmental challenges date back to 1950, when the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) was set up primarily to develop the region and funded with a 15 per cent revenue contribution from the federal government.

But it was replaced in 1993 by the Oil Minerals Producing and Development Commission (OMPADEC) and due to failure to achieve its development objectives, then President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, scrapped OMPADEC and set up the NDDC, with a mandate to ensure the sustainable development of the region, a feat the agency has failed to attain due in part due to corruption, poor governance and lack of accountability.

In 2017, the then NDDC managing director, Nsima Ekere, announced that its contingent liability was N1.3trillion, with 8,000 projects spread across the nine states.

But by last year, the total debt profile of the commission stood at N3trillion, with thousands of abandoned projects all over the region.In the aftermath of revelation of the scope of mindboggling sleaze that has characterised NDDC in the last eight months, the former chairman of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Board, Ledum Mitee, blamed the abolition of OMPADEC Act, which provided that the development of oil producing communities should be according to the priorities set by those communities, against a situation where the NDDC now solely determine projects without community inputs.

Mitee, also a former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), said the failure to involve communities in project implementation paved way for the NDDC to be hijacked by politicians, who turned it to patronage machinery and cash-cow of the Presidency.

“The Presidency should leave its crucible hold on the NDDC to perform its interventionist functions according to priorities set by the communities of the Niger Delta. Apart from the era of Onyema Ugochukwu and Timi Alaibe that there were sparks of some actual intervention, progressively, what you see is NDDC has just been some patronage machine. What have they done? Recent years have been the worst.

“I feel scandalised. I feel that NDDC is a scam on all of us people from the Niger Delta, because there are people out there, who had hoped that what the NDDC would do might add value to them. What value does it add to hear they spent N450 million for facemask and hand sanitiser for the Police, including consultancy, community relations, which is euphemism for money they are sharing to people. What have these got to do with development? They have never said we did this project.”

“Poverty is getting worse. We can say Nigeria is generally poor, but when you find out that an agency that is supposed to alleviate poverty is now helping to perpetrate that poverty and they rub it on your face that we share N10millon to ourselves, N5million, N3million as palliatives and the people, who are supposed to benefit, you did not even give them a bucket of water. It is so painful,” he said.

National Publicity Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ken Robinson, lamented that the NDDC has failed to address the backward and awkward state of infrastructure in the region, which the Sir Willink Commission specifically highlighted in its report to the British Government in the 1950s.

PANDEF regretted that 20 years of NDDC’s existence has been characterised by inefficiency, misappropriation, mismanagement, sorrow, continuous suffering of the people, polluted environment, poor state of infrastructure and award of contracts that only existed in paper, with monies disbursed.Robinson described recent happenings in NDDC as not only disgraceful, but also a tragicomedy and deliberate plan by the enemies of the area to ensure no development agency works.

“For over 50 years, the Niger Delta has been talking about marginalisation, underdevelopment, isolation and all those negatives that have been our narrative. And for 20 years of the NDDC, that narrative has continued because of the failures of the interventionist agency.

“The danger for the next 20 years, if this situation continues, is that the story will still be the same thing. I travelled from Warri to Benin on Thursday for over three hours for a journey that is about 55 minutes”

“One of the sad tales about NDDC is that from an interventionist agency that it was established to be, it has become a cash cow for politicians, where they draw money to run election. So, they appoint their political loyalists, stooges and cronies into the NDDC, who are not responsive to the needs of the people, but to those who appointed them,” he said.

Similarly, former president of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Charles Harry, said it was agonising that the NDDC has become a cesspool of corruption and place where accountability and transparency has been thrown to the dogs. He regretted that everything that has been done in the NDDC has been cosmetic, adding: “As a development commission, it is supposed to do things that are permanent and will improve the livelihood of the people of the region, but it has woefully failed to do that. Instead of putting round pegs in round holes, we were busy doing political patronage and playing game with the NDDC.

“We allowed the National Assembly to become a conduit to the NDDC. We allowed the player at the national level to become overlords that are dictating what will be done in NDDC.  So, NDDC, ab initio, was programmed to fail and it has failed.”

Harry explained that the current saga has been mainly due to the failure of the nation’s watchdogs and the National Assembly to perform their oversight functions effectively. Ordinarily, he noted, NDDC should operate based on receipt received from statutory allocation, oil companies, but it has been allowed to make budgets that are not backed by receipt.

“It is crazy to hear that in a government agency where salaries being paid, people will award themselves palliatives to the tune of N1.5bilion. A lot of people should go to jail. The impunity in NDDC has gone beyond the level where people should keep quiet. The level of stealing is mindboggling and this is aided and abetted by people who are supposed to be watchdog over this institution (National Assembly). Instead, they are collecting hundreds of contracts that they don’t execute and they are paid upfront fully. It is sickening.”

Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, said the crisis rocking the NDDC was indicative that something was fundamentally wrong with the agency and that it has not consistently being applying itself to service delivery to the region.

Bassey noted that if the NDDC had adhered to it regional master plan, it would have made huge difference, in terms of physical and human development in the region, saying though it has not lived up to expectation, the region still needs it to be repositioned to address the very dire situation of lack of infrastructure, pollution, lack of healthcare and immense poverty in the face of so much wealth.

“The leadership of the agency should be carefully selected to include people who actually understand the roots of the problems of the area and who have been engaged in trying to find solutions, not people appointed because they have political connections.

“The situation of the Niger Delta is a situation of emergency. It should be devoid of partisan politics. It is an issue of not just physical development, but also socio-economic, even psychological revival,” he said.

On his part, Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, implored President Muhammadu Buhari to sanitise the NDDC by ensuring that resources meant for sustainable development of the region does not go into private pockets.

Erstwhile president of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Eric Omare, suggested a stop to NDDC serving as conduit pipe for every successive administration to empower their political allies and satisfy short-term political interest to enable the commission focus on its core mandate.

“Those in charge of Aso Rock at every particular point in time have not seen the NDDC as a response to the peculiar developmental challenges facing the Niger Delta. Instead, it is seen as cash cow to satisfy temporary political interest within and outside the Niger Delta, and the situation has gotten to its lowest level under the present administration, where those who are only interested in using the agency to satisfy short-term political interest have taken complete charge of the NDDC. 

“I think the commission has done very poorly, with respect to impacting on the lives of the people of the region, both in physical and human development and that primarily is because of undue political interference in its affairs.

“The NDDC is regarded as a political empowerment agency, instead of developmental agency, and that is the reason why you have a lot of ghost contracts that have been awarded without being executed,” Omare added.

Two members of the House of Representatives, Victor Nwokolo and Abiante Awaji-Inombek, expressed concern over the inability of the commission to live up to the expectations of the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

The lawmakers, who spoke separately to The Guardian, believed the multifaceted problems bedeviling the NDDC would be addressed with appointment of credible persons with the region at heart.Nwokolo (PDP, Delta) said: “It’s a general notion that NDDC since inception have not made the desired impact of what it should, because it appears the administrators of the place have taken the rules, regulations, intent and purposes of the creation of the agency to the dustbin.

“That they get there and get carried away by what is in the office and not work according to the demands, details of the laws setting up the commission in accordance to the yearnings of the people in the region is most unfortunate.

“We are aware there are so many things working against the region, including militancy, lack of proper funding, lack of cohesive management team, as there is no cohesion in most of the management teams you find there, with infighting between managing director and chairman or vice versa, which have set back the hands of the clock.

“We expected that now that resources are becoming leaner and leaner by the day in view of the price of crude oil globally, the interim management committee will address the needs of the people. But we also believe that because of the level of awareness among the populace, the FOI Act, social media, from now on things will be better.

“So, to correct it, we need people with good, strong integrity to man the NDDC; people who are well known for their integrity. Those are the people we need. The executive has a role to play, in line with the NDDC Act, by holding the managing director accountable.”

For Abiante (Rivers: PDP): “The most important thing is the integrity of the appointees, their political ambition, their desire, level of selflessness and fear of God matters.

“It is unfortunate that those who have held forth in managing the affairs of the NDDC are people from the area you call Niger Delta. But those who are supposed to have the feel of what we face have not done well.

“There should be concerted effort to have leaders that are accountable. I do not want to say that there are no regulations; we have to look at that going forward if indeed we have done well or not.

“When people say the same people from the region are responsible for the problem, it depends on what you mean. What had been the situation in Niger Delta and what is the current development? If the Niger Delta is defined relative to the presence of oil, then you ask yourself those aspiring to position in the NDDC from the oil- bearing environment.
“In Akwa Ibom State, there are areas that produces this oil. People have been appointed from there based on their contribution of the oil; same goes to other areas. We have had people protesting in Ondo State that nominees have no relationship to those who have the oil. If you have such persons there, they may not have the same feeling as those from oil bearing communities.”