Troubled NDDC and underdevelopment of Niger Delta region

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Despite the recommendations of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for the sack of the interim management of the board of the Commission and the refund of over N4 billion to the NDDC, there is an urgent need for an independent investigation of the operations of the Commission since some of the lawmakers were listed as beneficiaries of the billions of naira spurious contracts at the NDDC

By Anayo Ezugwu

WHEN former President Olusegun Obasanjo established the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in 2000, his motive was to address years of neglect and agitations of the region. This was the reason why he mandated the commission to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the region, as well as offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the people.

Obasanjo mandated the commission to formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area. He also charged them to ensure sustainable development of the area in the field of transportation, including roads, jetties, and waterways; health; employment; industrialization; agriculture and fisheries; housing and urban development; water supply; electricity, and telecommunications.

The commission was also mandated to survey the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development and also prepare the master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the region and the estimation of the member states.

It was also directed to tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the region and advise the federal government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring, and environmental pollution as well as liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention, and control, among other functions.

As the region that contributes more than 65 percent of the government’s revenue and 88 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, Nigerians expected Niger Delta to witness rapid development. A visit to the region shows that it is still enmeshed in poverty, under-development, environmental degradation, and youth restiveness.

Apart from the commission, the federal government in 2008 created the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to coordinate efforts to tackle the challenges of infrastructural development, environment protection, and youth empowerment in the region. Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua said the ministry was created to promote and coordinate policies for the development, peace, and security of the Niger Delta region.

But 20 years down the line, the commission and ministry have been characterized by corruption, mismanagement of funds, abandoned and uncompleted projects. In the last few weeks, the media has been awash with allegations and counter-allegations, involving key management staff of the commission.

For instance, between October 2019 to May 2020, the commission spent N81.5 billion. A breakdown of the bizarre spending showed that N1.5 billion as COVID-19 relief among staff; N1.072 billion for community relations; N4.1 billion for consultancy; N486 million for duty tour allowances; N790.9 million for imprests; N1.956 billion for Lassa fever; N906 million for legal services; N220 million for maintenance; N2.6 billion for medicals; N85.6 million for overseas travel; N61 million for logistics; N61.7 million for condolences; N1.121 billion for public communication; N744 million for security; N248 million for engagement of stakeholders, etc. While the police got N475 million to buy face masks, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment, PPE.

Likewise, in August 2015, Samuel Ukura, former Auditor General of the Federation, said at least N183 billion that was meant for the development of the Niger Delta was diverted by those put in charge of the commission. In July 2017, Nsima Ekere, former managing director, NDDC, announced the revocation of over 600 contracts worth N200 billion.

According to him, the rationale behind the action was because the management discovered that some of the contracts were either not properly awarded or some of them were awarded but the contractors had not yet gone to site.

Although it is difficult to ascertain the amount of money the federal government has spent on the commission since inception, BudgIT, a civic organization, on June 25, 2019, said the NDDC had received more than $40 billion from the federal government.

BudgIT in a tweet on its twitter handle @BudgITng said: “Since inception in 2000, NDDC has received at least $40 billion (N15 trillion) for projects in oil-rich Niger Delta yet failed to achieve the Niger Delta Regional Development Masterplan to lay the foundation for transforming the region into Nigeria’s Dubai.”

As a result of the unprecedented corruption and embezzlement going on in the commission, President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 30, 2019, inaugurated an Interim Management Committee and ordered the committee headed by Gbene Joi Nunieh as the acting managing director, to carry out a forensic audit of the commission.

Apart from IMC, the two chambers of the National Assembly mandated their committee on the NDDC to probe the commission. Since the forensic audit and National Assembly probe started, the IMC and the lawmakers have been at war, with each accusing the other of corruption.

For instance, Cairo Ojougboh, head, contract verification committee of the NDDC, said the National Assembly was responsible for the corruption in the NDDC. He said without President Muhammadu Buhari, the NDDC would have been killed and buried. “Between 2016 and 2019, emergency contracts of over N2 trillion were awarded under the supervision of the chairmen of Senate and House of Representatives committees. And the chairman senate committee collected 1000 of those jobs and said he was going to give it to the Senate.

“The records are there. These 1000 contracts were collected by a man called Nelson Agbamuche on behalf of the Senate. The immediate crisis in NDDC was as a result of the budget. In 2016, the bureaucracy told us that there was no budget, likewise 2017 and 2018. The budget for 2019 was just passed for few days ago.

“While successive leaderships of the NDDC may have done their best, today, the general conclusion of most stakeholders in the region is that the NDDC has not delivered on its mandate, at best a lack-luster performance, with very little to show for the humongous resources that have accrued to it.

“The contract verification committee was designed to lay a foundation for the forensic audit of the activities of the commission from inception to date and intended to establish the true position of the emergency regime between 2016 and 2019 in the commission.

“It is now common knowledge that some of the awards were not only spurious, but criminal as records available to us show that most of the awards were not backed by budget, have no bills of engineering measurement or drawings and were just open cheque for contractors and their collaborators to fill in at the nearest banks.

“For instance in 2017, the commission awarded a total of 201 emergency contracts valued at N100,396,879,001.06; in 2018, a total 1,057 emergency contracts valued at N162,688,289,333.05; and just seven months in 2019, a total 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1,070,249,631,757.70 were awarded.

“A serving senator has 300 NDDC contracts to his name. Of the 300 contracts, 120 have been fully paid and he has not mobilised to site for these 120. The NDDC Interim Payment Certificates that are pending are worth over N3 trillion. That is what the NDDC owes these phantom contractors.”

Likewise, Otolo Emmanuel, president of the Association of Non-Violent Peace Ambassadors, has called on the National Assembly to allow the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the NDDC to focus on developing the region. He said those running away from the forensic probes are the ones trying to destabilise the commission.

“We are here on behalf of the Association of Concerned Niger Delta Youths; Niger Delta Stakeholders Forum and Association of Women for Unity in Nigeria. We have come in solidarity with the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the NDDC, headed by the Acting Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei. We are here to demonstrate our support for Prof. Pondei on account of the good work he is doing in the Niger Delta. We insist that he should be allowed to carry out the forensic audit and anyone that is found wanting should face the full wrath of the law. We call on the National Assembly to stop impeding the development of the Niger Delta region because all the allegations that are going on do not benefit us. All we want is development, which is being frustrated,” he said.

Evangelist Mary Chijioke, another activist from the region, said she was not happy with the crisis rocking the NDDC, accusing some powers that be of sowing seeds of discord in the region. She lamented that the NDDC had been destabilised in the last one year. “We have had four Acting MDs in one year. They will put an Acting MD and remove him before you know it because they do not want them to focus,” she said.

But the lawmakers have vowed that no amount of intimidation or blackmail will stop them from probing the IMC. “If they claim that some 1000 jobs were given to any Senator, we challenge the IMC members to compile the list of these contracts and publish them. Also, the EFCC, police, or ICPC should be reached to investigate those claims instead of blackmailing anybody. If members of the IMC know that their hands are clean, they don’t need to panic or resort to blackmail, which would not in any way deter the already mandated investigative committees of the national assembly from carrying out their legitimate assignments.

“IMC must be ready to submit itself for a thorough investigation by committees already assigned for that by both chambers of the National Assembly. The allegations of balkanisation of the budget just came because the IMC members were asked to appear before the ad hoc committee to answer questions,” the lawmakers said.

As the controversy over corruption in the NDDC rages, many Nigerians expect the president to set up an independent probe panel to investigate the allegations and counter-allegations in the commission.

– Jul. 24, 2020 @ 18:35 GMT |

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