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NDDC exists for political patronage, not development – Nsirimovu

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The Executive Director of Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu

The Executive Director of Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, told ANN GODWIN, that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has become an agency for enriching political party loyalists, rather than one created to deal with the fundamental issues of extreme poverty, underdevelopment, and human capacity development in the Niger Delta.

Is the NDDC fulfilling its mandate to develop the Niger Delta ?
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) took off in January 2001, with a revenue profile as good as its predecessor, OMPADEC, projected to be at least N40b annually. The NDDC is to be funded from 15 per cent federal allocation to the nine states, 50 per cent of ecological fund due to the nine states, and three per cent of annual budget of oil producing companies.

NDDC completed a master plan for the development of the region, which cost trillions of naira. That plan was put together by the German Agency, GTZ. The point being made here is that NDDC had a plan, and ought to have been operating the commission accordingly, and not without a plan, nor feasibility as some have suggested. In spite of the plan, our experience over the years as critical civil society change agents is that the commission has maintained a patronage status like its predecessor- OMPADEC.

That is, it has become an agency for enriching political party loyalist, rather than one to deal with the fundamental issues of extreme poverty of its population that live below poverty line; address poor sanitation and waste disposal infrastructure, which contribute to illness, as well as, tackle poor educational and health facilities in the region. Additionally, it should address issues like inadequate capacity in governance; severe environmental degradation and adverse community impact from the exploitation and exploration of oil and gas, deforestation, and sporadic violent conflicts etc.

Does the abysmal performance of the NDDC contribute to the volatility of Niger Delta?
In the region, the “haves” have deliberately continued to ignore the suffering of the “have-nots”. Whether or not they chose to care, those of us who are watchers cannot pretend that we do not see nor witness. Efforts to end extreme poverty in the region is about much more than extending handouts to those in need as our leadership would have it at the NDDC. The fight against poverty, which remains the essence of the commission is a fight of necessity – not because personal morality demands it, but because our national security does as well. Extreme poverty in the region has depleted resources, weakened young people and crushed hope – fueling a volatile mix of desperation and instability. We have clear signs that our region can explode into violence or implode into collapse, imperiling our citizens, other parts of the country and the wider world as livelihoods are crushed, investors flee, and our ungoverned territory become a spawning ground for regional threats like terrorism, environmental devastation and diseases, simply because those entrusted and paid to get some critical jobs done continue to refuse to get them done. It is extremely difficult to promote and engage in sustainable human development in an atmosphere of violence. The more reasons why the leadership of the NDDC should continue to take their responsibilities seriously.

Why has corruption persisted in the commission?
The patronage disposition of the leadership of the commission and the monumental corruption that characterises it, depicts clearly, the non-participatory character of the commission. Its top-down approach to development simply means that there is hardly any direct consultation with civil society and communities. Whatever they have done in this guise can only be said to be farcical.  The oil companies are known to have been critical of the commission and threatened oftentimes to withhold their remittances until the commission shows what it has done with the monies already paid to it. For us, this points to the repeated failure of development in the region. That is the tendency for the idea of development to under-develop the Niger Delta and its peoples.

Professor Okey Ibeanu, captures this very well in his three theses on Affluence and Affliction in Nigeria, and in his inaugural lecture a couple of years ago. He insisted that wealth impoverishes Nigeria; that national security contradicts the security of Nigerian nationals, and that development under-develops Nigeria. Applied to the Niger Delta, we can see under the NDDC contraption, how wealth creates poverty in the Niger Delta, how national security makes nationals insecure in the Niger Delta, and how development has underdeveloped the Niger Delta.

What in your opinion is specifically responsible for hundreds of projects abandoned by the NDDC all over the region?
In the end as it is presently happening, in spite of all these attempts to develop the region via the NDDC, and after billions of naira have been pumped into the region by government, aid and corporate donors, the Niger Delta continues to reverse rather than improve by all counts. The huge number of abandoned projects, yet funds allocated and collected is a grave pointer to this fact. It is most clear to me that every development strategy that has been adopted for the region, including the master plan, has paradoxically underdeveloped the region. In my candid view, development has woefully failed in the region over time, because there is no iota of accountability, transparency and effective public participation in development activities and actual spending by the leadership of the boards of the commission.

How sustainable or relevant are the projects so far completed by the commission? 
It is very clear that those who were envisaged to benefit from the development of the area– the actual reasons why the commission came into being- vulnerable groups like women, children and the disabled are nowhere to be found in the scheme of things. It is also absolutely clear that what has been done in the name of development in the area has been unsustainable, especially all attempts to create alternatives to the petroleum industry and in environmental protection and remediation.

So, what is the way forward?
We cannot continue to have a region where very few live in comfort and plenty, while million others live on less than $1 a day. This is neither just nor stable. Rather than scrap the NDDC, we need to rework it, enhance the capacity of its practitioners upon measurable results to ensure that development is actually making a difference in the lives of the peoples of the region; secure public health; emphasise education and encourage a deliberate policy of agricultural development as critical alternative to a collapsing petroleum industry.

Leadership is most critical if the NDDC will succeed as a marshall plan for the Niger Delta region. Undemocratic regimes as we have them across the region can only continue to draw us backwards in terms of development and all, because there are always men and women, who would deliberately prefer to share what they never worked for, at the expense of the suffering bottom-millions of the region. Let me close here by drawing our attention to what happened in history and insist that it is possible to turn things around in the new era.

Thomas Jefferson and other founders of the United States, who were the disciples of English philosophers such as John Locke, and Davide Hume, made it clear that political institutions are human constructs that should be fashioned consciously to meet the needs of society. ‘Governments are instituted among Men,’ wrote Jefferson in words that have echoed ever since, to secure the rights of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Let me add most emphatically that after the American and the French Revolution, political systems could no longer be justified on the basis of the divine rights of monarchs or claims of religious prophecy. Governments must meet a performance test, whether or not they could improve the human condition, before they could take on the mantle of power or power positions.



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