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Niger Deltans losing patience over NDDC board, audit report, plot to scrap 13% derivation

By Godwin Ijediogor, South-South Bureau Chief and Monday Osayande (Asaba), Chido Okafor (Warri), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), Agosi Tina Todo (Calabar), Julius Osahon (Yenagoa) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
16 November 2021   |   3:01 am
Four knotty issues are currently eliciting outrage and raising tension in the Niger Delta - delay in appointing a substantive Board for the Niger Delta Development Commission

NDDC

Four knotty issues are currently eliciting outrage and raising tension in the Niger Delta – delay in appointing a substantive Board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), non-publication/implementation of the so-called forensic audit report, perceived shortchanging of the region in the recently passed and signed Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and plot by some National Assembly members to abolish the 13 per cent derivation funds. Only recently, some National Assembly members sought the amendment of Section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, with the intention to remove the 13 per cent derivation funds for Niger Delta oil producing states.

Stakeholders and indigenes of South-south, including Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), through its national leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, have spoken against these issues, but such counsel remain unheeded. Now, there are threats to law and order in the region.

 
Amid threats, a Niger Delta stakeholder, Prof. Steve Azaiki Azaiki, representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives has said what is happening is an affront and insult on the sensibilities of the Niger Delta people and called on governors of the region to intervene to forestall breakdown of the current peace and stability in the area.
 
On the delayed implementation of the forensic audit report, he said the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was using the report as an excuse to delay the reconstitution of the NDDC Board and create an avenue for leakages, adding: “In all, it is corruption.”
 
He called for a review of the composition and structure of the NDDC, expressing dissatisfaction that NDDC, which was set up as an interventionist agency, today engages in painting primary schools, sinking boreholes and buying sanitary towel for women.
 
A lawyer and author, Frank Oseya, said the North under the present regime wants to completely take over the oil assets of the Niger Delta, insisting the region was shortchanged in the PIA and refusal to constitute a substantive NDDC Board is like adding salt to injury.
 
Oseya stated: “It is sad and shameful. Our own politicians from the Niger Delta, for want of unity and sincerity of purpose, have allowed greed and crass politics to overwhelm their better sense of judgment. 
 
“It is not for want of competent hands that the NDDC Board has yet to be reconstituted; it is simply because of the political brick bats and lack of cohesion within the rank of political leaders from the region. 
 
“The contending camps are too many. For instance, you nominate one person today as managing director, a flurry of petitions would begin to fly, not because the person is not competent, but simply because the person is not from a certain political camp. This is the biggest tragedy of the Niger Delta region today- the lack of a united front to lead the charge for true redemption of the region.”
 
On the non-publication or delayed implementation of the NDDC audit report, he said it is a big red flag that nothing significant would come out from “this jamboree of an audit,” adding that the NDDC has become a cesspool of corruption and a slush funding source for politicians.
 
He said over 13,777 projects executed by the NDDC were found to be either abandoned or below standards, wondering why the commission operates 362 bank accounts that eventually proved impossible to reconcile.
 
“Once the audit was announced by Akpabio, some of us expressed our misgivings about the seeming insincerity of the entire exercise. Today, our fears have been confirmed, that this was a mere distraction, if not a charade after all. Otherwise, why is the Federal Government stalling the publication of the said report? How can you even begin to implement the report when the content is shrouded in secrecy?
 
“The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), who received the report from Akpabio, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, vowed to prosecute those involved in the misuse of about N6tr appropriated for the commission between 2001 and August 2019.
 
“In any event, I do not believe that anything good would come out of that report. In fact, the entire audit report suffers credibility deficit. Can pot call kettle black? Akpabio lacks the moral authority to supervise a forensic audit of the NDDC. 
 
“This audit is another waste of time and public funds and we already know that nothing serious will come out of it. How can you give such serious assignment to a politician of Akpabio’s bio?” he asked. 
 
Stakeholders in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states reason that in line with world best practices, it was expedient for the government to put in place a new Board for the NDDC. Though some say it is early to expect government to implement the report, as it might require time to study it and come up with a White Paper, it should nonetheless constitute a Board in line with the law establishing the Commission, insisting it absolutely out of place to appoint a sole administrator to run a place like the NNDC.
 
An environmentalist and Chairman of Partners for Peace (P4P) in the Niger Delta, Dr. Moses Abang, said: “Reconstitution of the Board is long overdue. The forensic report is not ready up until now and it was a good thing that the President, for the sake of integrity and transparency, initiated the process, but we thought by now the Board should have been reconstituted.
 
“The forensic report was supposed to have been out by now and a new Board should have been reconstituted. I do not know why they are delaying this. The minister said they were going to fish out the culprits and clean up the NDDC, but up till now nothing has been done. The integrity and accountability they made us believe would be put to play is not happening.”
 
“I am aware that some states want to be incorporated into the NDDC, like Lagos, Ogun and Bauchi, but NDDC is a region; I don’t know why they are demanding for that. The bill has already passed the Second Reading, I don’t see why, even if they have discovered oil, is it for commercial use? NDDC is for the Niger Delta region and because of the problem in the region, the suffering of the people, the pollution, etc., that is why we have the NDDC to develop that region, not because it has oil.”
 
On his part, Director General of the Bridge Movement, Mr. Courageous Michaels, said the delay is not good for the region; insisting reconstitution of the Board and implementation of the report is paramount.
 
“The NDDC is an interventionist agency for the region, so the delay in reconstituting the Board and non-publication and delayed implementation of the NDDC audit report is not good for the region, as these will slow the development further more.
 
“Even if they are not going to publish the audit report, they should be able to set up a new Board and kick-start implementation for the good of the region. Let’s just move on and stop crying about the past. If someone is hiding something somewhere, that should not drag us back, whether they publish the report or not, constituting the Board is paramount,” Michaels stated.
 
Spokesman of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Ezonebi Oyakamegbea, saw the delay as a deliberate act by Akpabio, who he alleged was trading the destiny of the region, saying: “We know the gimmicks of the minister and his allies. The issue of the forensic audit was just an alibi; the truth is that there was no forensic audit, if there was, let them release the report and make it public.
 
“We are so disappointed that Akpabio, who had been a governor of a state for eight years and a senator for four years, will let himself be used against his people.
 
“The only interventionist organisation established in the region to develop the region and alleviate the sufferings of the people has been hijacked by Akpabio and his cohorts, who have turned it into their private business. Whatever means Akpabio has wielded that is now giving him this confidence will soon disappoint him. He will run begging for forgiveness, but it will be too late.
 
“The Federal Government should hold Akpabio responsible for whatever action comes in the aftermath.”
 
A professor of Economics at the University of Uyo, Emmanuel Ownwiodukit, noted that with a Board in place, diverse ideas and experience from diverse individuals would be brought to bear, thus charting a course for the growth of the organisation, where there have blunders in the past.
 
Ownwiodukit stressed that it is necessary to make the report public, so that Nigerians and the people of Niger Delta would know those who plundered the NDDC and frittered away the commonwealth of the region, adding: “If they don’t want to publish the whole report, they should publish those who collected money from NDDC and did not do the work. They have to name and shame them publicly.
 
“Every right-thinking person will know that the Board should be in place, because that is what the law says. I expect the National Assembly to compel the President to constitute the Board in line with the law, because in corporate governance or modern business management, you cannot be having sole administrator as if you are in the 19070s.”
 
On his part, National President of the Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND), Kennedy Tonjo West, alleged that Akpabio had a game plan off his sleeves to turn the ministry and NDDC to his private estate from the onset, stating: “Over N800b has been approved within 2019 and 2020 budgets for NDDC alone, what has Akpabio done with the monies?
 
“Akpabio didn’t hesitate to get Mr. President to sack Joy Nunieh, dissolve Prof. Pondi-led IMC and appoint a sole administrator, but extremely reluctant to allow constitution of a substantive Board. He wants his list to fly, probably looking for a candidate to cover his tracks. Why are all the governors, ministers and others from the region keeping quiet? 
 
“Akpabio’s NDDC forensic audit is shrouded in secrecy, the so-called expert auditors stayed in one room to conjure the reports. That’s the only reason the report can’t face public scrutiny and implementation.”
 
Spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Ebilade Ekerefe, said: “There’s no need to talk about the delayed constitution of the board; we have done everything humanly possible through legitimate and peaceful agitation severally to draw the attention of the Federal Government to the impending danger in not constituting the Board, but sadly, nothing has been done.
 
“Buhari is not ready to constitute the Board and this could lead to unimaginable violent agitation that will threaten the peace and stability in the Niger Delta region stakeholders have helped to sustained. We are not fools; we are only taking our time and that patience has got to a crescendo. The world should take note.
 
“The forensic audit was just a decoy, despite the billions of naira expended on the exercise. That’s why it cannot be published. We are convinced that it was just a deliberate strategy by Akpabio to divert our attention regarding the appointment of a substantive Board. 
 
“If not, why has the Board not been constituted even after the submission of the much-anticipated report to the Presidency, as they promised? It was just a scam and a strategy to buy time. They’re now bereft of good ideas to convince the region over the continued delay in constituting the Board.
 
“Akpobio, as a smart and strategic manipulator, has devised a new means to keep the region in abeyance. First, he has extricated himself by saying he does not have the powers to appoint the Board, except the President.
 
“Secondly, he is using his proxy in the Presidency to test the waters, through publications of a possible merger, just to know the reaction from the region if his plans to collapse the NDDC under his ministry will be accepted.
 
“Let’s place it on record that if they try to attempt that illegality, it’ll definitely become the last straw that will break the Carmel’s back.” 
 
But veteran journalist and former Chief Press Secretary to Akpabio, Chief Usoro Usoro, said the Board cannot be constituted without the forensic audit report being looked into, since according to him, the two go hand in hand.
 
“At a time, there was agitation from some people in Niger Delta that the Board should be reconstituted, but the minister said they were waiting for the forensic report to be completed. That was completed a few months ago and submitted to the President.
 
“I want to believe there are processes and procedures; they would need to study the report and recommendations to know what to do. I don’t know whether there is delay as such, whether it can be seen as delay; I know that many people are anxious that the Board should be reconstituted, but if you reconstitute the Board without concrete issues they should tackle, we may end up having the same problems we have been having with previous Boards. So, we just need to give them a little more time to study the report and come up with a white paper.
 
“However, it is necessary to have a Board, so that all the interests, stakeholders, communities, states in the region will be represented and that will give them the sense of belonging, as they would have somebody who speaks for them or pursue their interest. That would check a lot of agitation and misgivings.”
 
In Bayelsa, there are divergent views over the delayed constitution of the Board, with some threatening fire and brimstones, just as others urged calm.

National President of Niger Delta Nonviolence Agitators Forum (NDNAF), Wisdom Ikuli, called for calm, insisting that for anyone to do justice to the various issues raised about the NDDC, “one has to tackle it from a holistic and multi-dimensional point of view.
 
“If the people of the Niger Delta region and the Ijaw in particular had not demanded for the forensic audit, all the drama playing out wouldn’t have happened. I, therefore, appeal to the people of the Niger Delta to exercise patience and restraint while going about their agitation for the constitution of the Board.”
 
The Delta State Coalition of Civil Societies (DSCCS) advised the President to replace politicians with professionals in the Board to add value and meaningful development of the region.

 
Its spokesman, Victor Ojei, said while the Federal Government delays in reconstituting the board, politicians who have hijacked the commission for their selfish interests should not be allowed into the board anymore, regretting that politicians are using it to enrich themselves, adding: “Until we have value for meritocracy, NDDC will remain a white elephant project where everybody goes to eat their cake.”
 
The Ovie of Idjerhe Kingdom in Ethiope West Council of Delta State, King Obukowho Monday Whiskey, believes Akpabio caused the crisis in the NDDC and advocated the urgent return of the agency to the Presidency, like the North East Development Commission, to put a stop to the current crisis bedeviling it and address the controversial control of the NDDC, which he alleged has been hijacked by the minister.
 
He noted that the “avoidable crisis” rocking the NDDC would have been put to rest if the President had listened to critical stakeholders by inaugurating the already screened and confirmed board headed by Dr. Pius Odubu as chairman and Chief Bernard Okumagba as managing director. 
 
He added that the huge financial mismanagement and outright stealing of billions of naira by individuals in the name of Interim Management Committee (IMC) and recently, sole administrators, has clearly shown that the President must put an end to “this dance of shame” by removing NDDC from Akpabio’s control, as all evidence has shown total failure and lack of capacity. 
 
“The President should listen to the voice of reasoning and urgently reposition NDDC to carry out its statutory responsibilities of intervening in critical infrastructural development for which it was established.
 
“It should be noted also that the huge stealing that is taking in the NDDC will become a standard if nothing drastic is done to bring the looters and their conspirators to book. I, therefore, call for urgent probing and prosecution of all those responsible for current sorry state of the NDDC.
 
“We cannot pretend that all is well in the Niger Delta region when NDDC has been hijacked by an individual to the detriment of larger populace. The President must act now or never,” the monarch emphasised.
 
Ojei urged Nigerians to forget the past and be more concerned about the future, saying the reports have been politicised just to manipulate the figures therein.
   
On its part, Itsekiri Libration Group (ILG) urged Buhari and the National Assembly to immediately constitute a substantive NDDC board and equally release the comprehensive details of the forensic audit report for public consumption and to pave way for the rapid development of the Niger Delta region.
 
On the Petroleum Industry Act, Azaiki reiterated the position of the region in refusing to accept the law as passed, saying “it was intended to annoy and keep us in a state of agitation, while they milk and pollute our land and environment.”
   
Many in the Niger Delta are of the view that there are a lot of annoying provisions in the PIA that Niger Deltans resisted at parliament, but were forced in by simple majority vote by the northern lawmakers fronting for the northern oligarchy.

They point for instance to the idea of host communities now including anywhere a petroleum pipeline passes. So, technically, some northern states without a drop of oil have now become host communities, to also enjoy the equity. The frontier basins are also to be exclusively enjoyed by the north.

 
The Itsekiri group charged the Federal Government and lawmakers to focus their attention, with speedy legislative engagements, on increasing the three per cent in the PIA and fashioning out how it can be maximally utilised to increase the tempo of development of the host communities.
 
However, Ikuli of NDNAF said the PIA is a great leap in the history of oil production in the country, adding that since the discovery of crude oil and gas at Oloibiri in Ogbia Council of Bayelsa State in 1956, no government ever deemed it necessary to make provision for the oil producing communities. 
 
“The presidential assent to the PIA has given host communities unprecedented strength and a very high sense of belonging. Niger Deltans expect that the PIA will usher in a new dawn that will guarantee and also ensure the active participation of the owners of the crude oil and gas in the distribution and adequate benefits from their God-given wealth.
 
“Niger Deltans expect provision of adequate social amenities in the region, especially to the oil and gas producing communities. They expect remediation and protection of the already devastated and degraded environment.”
 
Speaking on alleged moves by some people to have the 13 per cent derivation fund scrapped, Azaiki, representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), stated: “Any move to further humiliate the people of the Niger Delta and continue to manipulate us and keep us to continue agonising poverty will be resisted. And those promoting this evil thought should know that government comes and go.
 
“We will continue to impress on government to promote environmental justice, fairness and equity.”
 

On his part, Oseya said although the tendency by the north to expropriate and annex the oil resources of the Niger Delta has been there since time immemorial, there seem to be a renewed resolve to transfer the entire oil wealth of the Niger Delta region to the north. 
 
He noted that all the major oil bloc owners are northerners and that derivation principle that stood at 50 per cent in the 1963 constitution (when oil was not the economic mainstay) was reduced to 13 per cent by the 1999 Constitution, as oil became the major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria, adding: “A few days back, there was a Bill sponsored to amend the NDDC Act to include Lagos, Ogun, Bauchi and others as oil producing states. What can be more provocative?
 
“But even more provocative is the latest onslaught by about 66 House of Representatives members from the north, who co- sponsored a Bill to amend the constitution for the deletion of Section 162(2), which guarantees the 13 per cent derivation principle. In other words, our northern brothers are determined to take every bit of whatever is left of our God-given resources in the Niger Delta. 
 

“The proposed Bill has started to generate the expected backlash. The people of the Niger Delta, including lawmakers from the region, have vowed to fight this one to the very last. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a civil war.”
 
Oseya warned that Nigeria’s existence, as one nation would disintegrate in no distant time if the very crucial issues of fiscal federalism and resource allocation, are not addressed. He stressed that manipulating the laws to take and give whatever belongs to Peter to Paul will spell disaster for the continued corporate existence of the union called Nigeria.
 
ILG recently warned that the alleged plan to amend the constitution and remove the 13 per cent derivation fund could be the beginning of the end for Nigeria as a country.
 

A statement by its Chairman, Mone Oris, and Secretary, Ajofotan Omagbemi, said they decided to act “after critically observing the antics of some overfed and indulgent 66 northern legislators and their body movement, as well as the possible force propelling them in this counterproductive and tinderbox misadventure.”
 
ILG, a body of seasoned Itsekiri nationalists and opinion moulders in Warri Kingdom, stated: “We have considered the danger in the contemplated amendment with the patently sinister and mischievous intent to remove the 13 per cent derivation fund in exclusive benefit to the Niger Delta states and do wish to state unequivocally our no-holds barred opposition and outright rejection of same, with an immediate call on these overfed and indulgent neo-colonialist oligarchs to stop such evil intentions in the interest of equity and justice, so as not to escalate the already fragile peace in the oil-producing communities/states in the federat

“For emphasis and without apology to anyone, the Itsekiri nation remains a strategic host to many multinational oil and gas companies and major producer of oil and gas resource assets. We see this proposal/attempt as indirect form of modern colonisation, nay slavery; an attempt to continue enslaving and under-developing the Itsekiri nation in particular and the other Niger Delta ethnic nationalities in general that feed the larger federation.

 
“We are compelled to believe that the proposed amendment is subtly aimed at removing the 13 per cent derivation principle accruing to Niger Delta. Therefore, we totally reject such contemplation and intent by lawmakers who should rather strive in the interest of equity and noble justice for the sustainers of the nation’s economy, to increase this derivation percentage that has stalled for more than three decades and counting in the nation’s polity.”
 
An environmental activist, Alagoa Morris, warned that any attempt to do so would be one of the most costly mistakes the Federal Government would be making and only be a recipe for violence in the Niger Delta. 
 
He also frowned on any attempt to merge the NDDC with Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, saying that would not be in the interest of the region, adding: “Already, due to perceived presence of Niger Delta ministry, the Federal Ministry of Works is hardly seen doing any project in the Niger Delta. This ministry should be made functional and effective to bridge the lacuna and not to contemplate merger with NDDC or stylishly dissolving the NDDC.
 
Abang, described the move as highly political, saying the movers seem to be forgetting that NDDC was established to develop the Niger Delta region that has lost its land to pollution, degradation and poverty.
 
“They are also clamoring for the same thing in the North, which I am aware of, as an environmentalist. I went to the creeks in Niger Delta and we almost sank, because the soil was polluted. People live and are born in that place and the NDDC programme was to aid the development of this people.
 
“You are looking at a region that is still underdeveloped and you are saying it should be scrapped and saying this country belongs to a particular set of people and if they are not involved, nothing should work? I think this is very political, so our northern House members should take a second look and have a rethink.
 

“Before now, they were clamouring for the development of their region, they should rather be constructive and reasonable in their approach. You need to be in the Niger Delta to see the roof of these people’s houses, you cannot drink water there, you cannot fish, because the fishes are dying, and you cannot farm.
 
“I have stayed in most regions in this country, now part is as denied its environmental sustainability and protection like what the Niger Delta is going through. The environment of Niger Delta is totally polluted and some people are up there asking that 13 per cent derivation be scrapped? That is pure wickedness and heartless.
 
“What do they want this region to do? They want them to be totally wiped out before NDDC will help them?  It is not constructive. If our leaders have decided to sell their birth rights, we out here are not selling our birth rights; the region needs to be saved.”  
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Onwiodukit thinks it is more of a constitutional issue, arguing that the percentage for the people of the region was not even enough, noting that it was unfortunate that some people could be agitating abrogation of 13 per cent, noting: “But I am sure that there are intelligible people in the parliament, it is just a proposal and may not even see the light of the day”
   
On his part, Usoro stated: “I think whoever is saying such is just being mischievous. Some people are always very happy when there is a crisis, especially that which would put money in their pockets and truncate development in the country and Niger Delta in particular.
 
“Anybody who is contemplating scrapping 13 per cent derivation fund is not being fair. It is because of ignorance, because many do not know what the region is going through. Thirteen per cent is actually used to develop the Niger Delta, but to say it should be scrapped, is very unfair.”
 

For others, it is the state governors of the Niger Delta that should be blamed for not taking collective decisions before the PIA was signed, insisting their northerner colleagues took advantage of that to peg host communities’ fund at three per cent.
 
They ask how many state governments in the Niger Delta ever sent representatives to attend public hearings while the Bill was being debated and considered at the National Assembly? What efforts did they make in their individual states to discuss the PIB and take a collective position to pursue the subject matter when it was at the PIB stage? 
 
They remarked that Niger Delta governments and some stakeholders acted as if they were satisfied with the 13 per cent and hence they cared less for the PIB, which is now PIA. Interestingly, some northern governments sent high-level representatives to public hearings on the matter, where they argued that Niger Delta already has 13 per cent, NDDC, PAP and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. 

While they made that spirited defence or attacks, Niger Delta governments were nowhere near to even cough at the venue of the public hearings. They left the activists they despise to go to the National Assembly to fight alone for the entire Niger Delta, without state government support. 
 
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has promised to resist any attempt to scrap the 13 per cent oil revenue derivation, describing the move as a mere joke.

 
National Chairman of the forum, Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, in a communiqué jointly signed by other executive members, insisted that the principle of derivation in revenue allocation in Nigeria cannot be deleted from the Constitution.
 
While lamenting that derivation has been continuously suppressed since oil became the major revenue earner in the country, PANDEF stressed that the Niger Delta people were ready and fully mobilised to resist the Bill intending to delete Subsection 2, Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and any further attempt to economically emasculate the region and its people.
 
It instead demanded an increase of the derivation funds from 13 percent to 50 per cent.

 

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