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NDDC as swirling cesspool of waste

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Abandoned rice mill at Elele Alimi

The abandonment of two multi-million naira rice processing plants, built by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), at Elele Alimini, in Rivers State, and Mbiabet-Ikpe, in Akwa Ibom State, among other such projects, has set the interventionist agency apart as a swirling cesspool of waste of public funds.

And in a bid to rid the agency of some of its questionable characteristics, including spurious award of contracts, the new management team has made public its intention to cancel abandoned or non-performing contracts littering the Niger Delta region, and valued at over N200b.

Relying on its functions provided for in Part II of the NDDC Act to conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta area, in the field of employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, the NDDC in the discharge of its mandate, embarked on the building of the two rice processing plants, with a combined capacity of 210 metric tonnes per day.

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The Guardian findings reveal that in 2006, at the peak of militancy in the region, the then management of the agency conceived the idea of building rice processing plants. Agrarian parts of Bayelsa State, including Peremabiri, known for rice production were considered as possible location for one of the rice mills, but youth restiveness in the area, caused the agency to look elsewhere, thus, the choice of the tranquil Elele-Alimini.

Though Elele-Alimini is not known for rice production, its serenity, central location and history, which is devoid of arms agitation, made it a preferred choice for the location of the rice mill worth over N500m, but now abandoned.

The construction of both mills in Elele-Alimini and Mbiabet-Ikpe, were completed in 2008, and test-run in 2009, They, however, could not function due to the absence of rice paddy. As a result of this, the two plants have been allowed to rot away and have suffered depreciation over the years.

It is worthy to note that it wasn’t until 2014 that the agency conceived the idea of establishing an Out-Growers Scheme of 1,000 rice farmers in the region to guarantee and ensure the sustainability of the plants when they eventually become operational.

It would be recalled that immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, had advised the NDDC to privatise both processing plants.

“The government doesn’t really have any business running anything. Its role should be to formulate policies, put infrastructure in place and give incentives to aid the private sector to perform, because it is actually the private sector that can run these mills efficiently,” he said.

All past four managing directors of the NDDC have expressed displeasure with the non-utilisation and dormancy of the mill at Elele-Alimini, which has the capacity to process 180 tonnes of rice daily. This is equal to 3,600 50kg bags.

Worried by their perennial non-utilisation, incumbent managing director, Nsima Ekere, recently disclosed that contractual terms for their operation would be reviewed because the contractor had failed to perform.

“We will terminate the existing contract because the contractor evidently does not have the capacity to run the facility. What is important to me and the government is to get this facility to be functional so that we can put food on the tables of Nigerians,” he said.

The Guardian gathered that the contractor who was “highly recommended from the top,” lacked the technical know-how to manage the Elele-Alimini rice mill, thus it has remained idle.

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Ekere, who confirmed this when he visited the mill, disclosed that the firm engaged to run the facility “unconscionably allowed it to lie fallow for 10 years.”
And in a bid to ensure that the huge public funds expended on the rice mill does not go down the drain, he said the new board would negotiate with private investors to take over both mills, even as it hopes that their revival would encourage local communities to grow more rice, and expand the agricultural value chain.

“Nigeria as a country is still importing a lot of rice and we spend billions of dollars importing food, yet we have a facility here that can actually help to reduce the amount we spend on food imports, but we just leave them idle. Going forward, we will immediately go into partnership with the private sector to put this facility to use. We want to see that this mill is functional, so that we can begin to employ people,” he said.

Interestingly, three years after the NDDC came up with the idea of establishing the out-growers scheme to guarantee and ensure the sustainability of the processing plants; the scheme is yet to take off.

Though officials of the commission declined to comment on how much it would cost to resuscitate the plants, a source that pleaded anonymity disclosed that due to the depreciation of the machines, it would cost millions of naira to get the plants running again.

The fate of both mills, which have been taken over by weeds, has been blamed on the NDDC’s indiscretion. This goes a long way to cement its unfortunate reputation as a contract-awarding agency, incapable of developing stakeholders’ engagement mechanism, in all facets of its operations, ranging from project conceptualisation, to monitoring and evaluation.

Abandoned projects ranging from water channelisation, roads, bridges, schools, hostels, hospitals and so on litter Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers states, all of which are benefitting states of the commission.

Worried that the agency has become synonymous with large-scale waste of public funds, without necessarily impacting positively on the lives of the people, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani, who supervises the commission recently directed its Akwa Ibom State Office to come up with a detailed report of the status of all ongoing and abandoned projects in the state. This is in the wake of allegations that there are over 300 abandoned projects in the state alone.

Usani during a recent inspection visit to the state lamented that the people were not seeing the dividends of government’s investments as typified by the abandoned road project at Ikot Akpatek, in Onna Local Council.

The Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works, Ephraim Inyang, who accompanied the minister to some project sites, alleged that most NDDC’s abandoned projects in the state were published as completed by the commission.

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The over 300 projects allegedly abandoned in the state include 121 roads; 75 uncompleted classroom blocks; 69 rural water scheme, and 43 mini electrification projects.

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has also taken a swipe at the commission for its failure to assuage the developmental deficit of area. For him, the commission has become a clearinghouse where resources are diverted to fund political projects.

He has also alleged that the NDDC as presently constituted, has become a fund raising commission for politicians who want to contest elections. “NDDC is a fund raising commission for politicians who want to run for political offices.  The re-run election in Rivers State was funded by the NDDC for the APC. The way the NDDC is structured, it will not work. There is so much corruption in NDDC because board members are working to amass wealth to contest elections in their various states,” he said.

The governor said the Rivers State government has solely taken over the construction of a Mother and Child Hospital, after NDDC reneged to pay its counterpart funding.

According to him, after the state paid its counterpart fund of N800m, the NDDC refused to pay a dime of its N900m contribution. Head, Corporate Affairs of the commission, Ibitoye Abosede, informed that the commission has so far awarded a total 1, 688 projects in Rivers State, and was currently working on 536 projects. He said 134 of these projects have been commissioned, while 34 were ready for commissioning.

According to him, the projects include: regional roads, hospitals, bridges, electricity, shoreline protection and reclamation, as well as hostels for schools. He explained that work on the 3.65km Okrika-Borokiri Road, with three bridges connecting Kolabi, Abotoru and Okpoka creeks to Port Harcourt, have recommenced after a brief period of lull.

In Obodoukwu Community, Ideato North Local Council of Imo State, a N245m road project awarded in 2015 by the NDDC is one of the projects that has been abandoned in the state.

The NDDC has since inception embarked on 1,614 projects in Delta State. The projects are valued at N366b. About 803 of them have so far been completed. But recently, indigenes of Tsekelewu and Polobobou communities in Warri North Local Council of Delta State, threatened to disrupt activities of oil companies
operating in their domain, if work on all abandoned projects is not restarted.

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Of topmost concern to these communities is the Tsekelewu and Polobobou canalisation project that was awarded in 2005, but has since been abandoned. Also abandoned are four water projects.

Both Tsekelewu and Polobobou communities are hosts to several oil companies, including CNL Opuekeba Platform, NPDC/Elcrest Exploration & Production Nigeria Ltd, Opuama Flow station and Sahara Energy.

Commenting on the high rate of abandoned projects, an activist and founder, Agape Birthright, Ms. Ann-Kio Briggs, told The Guardian that the abandoned rice mills are a metaphor for thousands of abandoned projects across the Niger Delta.

She said it was disheartening, annoying and unbelievable that the commission staffed by persons mostly from oil producing states, has failed in its responsibility to the region and her people.

“If you build a rice mill in the Niger Delta, is the mill to function as a business for Rivers State or for the community and local government area where it is located? Where is the rice grown and transported from? The failure has always been that the NDDC was set up to calm agitations from youths of the oil producing states.

“The NDDC is, without a doubt, an agency set up as a conduit pipe to loot money for politics, fund politics, reward failed politicians and reward supporters of political parties funded with oil and gas money. Seventeen years after it was set up, the NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta and the Amnesty Project were all set up for momentary relief,” said claimed.

She regretted that people of the oil producing states, for whom the NDDC was set up to serve, were never allowed to manage the agency for themselves, by themselves, rather the government at the centre, which claimed to manage it equitably, choose people whom they would control, and who would do their biddings to run the place. In the midst of this, the oil producing communities remain neglected, impoverished, and abused by the poor management at the agency.

“The budget allocated to the NDDC has never been paid in full, it has always been split, looted and stolen before getting to the agency; jobs are shared and allocated to interested parties from outside of the oil producing states, even before budgets would have been approved. NDDC will continue to fail as long as the Federal Government determines who is employed there and the people don’t have a say or have representation,” she said.

During a recent visit to the commission’s Headquarters, the Niger Delta Affairs minister warned against attempts by some persons to hinder the planned audit.

That is why the Coordinator, Centre for Peace Development and Child Welfare, Inemo Samiama, is of the view that it was time government took decisive steps to end the sleazy contract awards at the commission.

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“Somebody needs to take some drastic measures to sanitise the place because the people are awarding contacts to themselves through proxies. Worse of all, they award contracts that are never executed and pay mobilisation fees. The number of contracts and projects that are abandoned, and littering the Niger Delta is shocking. Somebody has to do something about the level of impunity in the NDDC. So, I think it is time for some people to be penalised otherwise the Niger Delta people would not reap any benefits from the commission,” he said.

Samiama who rated NDDC performance below par for not truly impacting on the lives of the peoples of the area, lamented that while oil producing communities still contend with infrastructural challenge, key players in the agency and their acolytes from different parts of the country were swimming in underserved wealth sourced from the commission.

“NDDC has not touched our peoples’ lives as it should because there are too many abandoned projects; too many uncoordinated projects, and too much money being wasted. As NDDC projects are used to settle people in Abuja, they are also used to settle politicians. From stories we have heard, even some politicians access NDDC funds for political campaigns and stuffs like that.

To dispel the widely held view that the NDDC has become a comfort zone, where political actors and their assigns help themselves to unmerited cash, new chairman of the board, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), says the new management is determined to make amends for the mistakes of the past.

According to him, the commission is poised to “Restructuring the balance sheet, which currently has about N1.2 trillion worth of on-going projects; reforming the governance systems to ensure that as an organisation, we comply with extant rules and regulations and prevent mistakes of the past from recurring; restoring the core mandate of the commission by ensuring we have a properly prepared set of master plans for the nine states; reaffirming our commitment to doing what’s right and proper.”

This much is re-echoed by the managing director, who recently said: “We are reforming the governance systems in NDDC. By the time we are done, we will institute the governance system that we know is proper and run NDDC according to best international standards so that when we leave, it will be impossible for any board that comes after us to reverse what is proper. For the first time also, this board has approached oil companies working in the Niger Delta to involve them in the budgeting process in order for them to also make input, since they are working in the communities and these host communities also have needs.”

He revealed that the new management met over 8, 000 projects on ground, among which were numerous abandoned projects spread across the region, as well as and a contingent liability of N1.3 trillion.

Among other things, since 2007, the NDDC has embarked on 266 medical missions covering about three million patients. It has also developed 47 cottage hospitals; awarded contracts for the construction of 187 health centres, out of which 83 have been completed.

In the education sector, NDDC has awarded 1,411 postgraduate scholarships, covering 344 doctorates and 1,067 masters of science degrees. Within this period, the commission also awarded contract for the construction of 678 classroom blocks out of which 449 have been completed.

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A total of 3,489 roads totalling 5, 900 kilometres were awarded between 2007 and 2016. So far, 1, 249 roads have been completed. The commission has also intervened in coastal areas, through shoreline protection, canalisation and jetty projects.

In agriculture, the NDDC has donated 900 tractors and accessories to farmers to improve mechanisation of agriculture in the region. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who spoke recently in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, suggested that Nigeria should adopt the principle of fiscal federalism, stressing that the Federal Government’s infrastructural development in the Delta, through intervention agencies like OMPADEC and NDDC cannot match the milestones achieved by the respective states by virtue of the 13 per cent derivation.

“My conviction that fiscal federalism will initiate faster development is born out of a comparison between the intervention agencies and the 13 per cent derivation. From the days of special funds, through OMPADEC to the NDDC, the Federal Government has provided funds for the development of oil-bearing communities, but there is very little physical infrastructure to show for it. This is so because these bodies are highly political and lack continuity as tenures are hardly completed. New administrations appoint new teams who award new contracts hence the zone is littered with abandoned projects,” he said.

The Guardian findings revealed that one of the reasons why abandoned projects litter the entire length and breadth of the Niger Delta is funding constraints. The failure of the Federal Government to pay its counterpart funding over the years has made it difficult for the NDDC to meet its obligations of servicing contractors and service providers.

Currently, over 80 per cent of the commission’s funding is derived from statutory contributions of oil companies. Due to paucity of funds, a good number of Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs), have been earned by NDDC contractors for work done and could not be paid as at when due.

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According to an NDDC annual report, this has led to variation in project costs most of the time. A social commentator, Eugene Abels, said it was morally offensive for the Federal Government to create an intervention agency and deny it appropriate funding. He also berated past managements of the commission for awarding contracts that would not be completed before the expiration of their tenures.

“All ministries, departments and agencies are required to return all unspent funds by the 31st of December, meaning they do not have the right to carry over funds for the previous year. Why are they allowed to leave contracts unpaid despite receiving funds? It is a form of financial recklessness for appointees with fixed tenures to create jobs that exceed their tenures. It is irresponsible and they have no right to create liabilities for the nation by leaving contracts unpaid. It is irresponsible for the National Assembly not to review and insist on the completion of existing contracts before approving budgets for new contracts. It is irresponsible for governments not to release their funds and stop the obnoxious practice of bribe-for-releases of funds, just as it is irresponsible for the people of the region not to demand for community-specific budget and ask for a performance review annually,” said Abels.


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