Since the probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) began two weeks ago, politicians and civil servants have entertained Nigerians with beautifully scripted melodramatic scenes.
For starters, the NDDC was created by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000 with the basic mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region, particularly building shatterproof infrastructures that will support the nine states of region that laid the golden eggs but were muzzled by successive kakistocratic governments. It was the thinking of the government then that this would assuage the plight of the Niger Delta people and reduce youth restiveness in the area.
One of the key mandates of the NDDC was to tackle ecological and environmental problems arising from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution.
However, recent revelations have shown that the commission has long deviated from its core mandates and been turned into a milking cow by politicians, civil servants and contractors.
For a region that produces the oil that provides revenue and foreign exchange for which the Nigerian tripod stands, the Niger Delta is littered with abandoned projects and half-baked infrastructures that dilapidate as days run into months.
In Imo State oil-producing communities, for example, the road from Umuokanne in Ohaji to oil producing communities of Obitti, Assa, Awara, among others, is in a terrible state. Many communities in Imo State oil-producing communities today, as BusinessDay’s recent investigation showed, have no health centres, secondary schools, pipe borne water and electricity.
Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of the Niger Delta, had, in 2019, said that a total of 1,200 projects were abandoned in the nine states of the Niger Delta.
In Akpabio’s words at an NTA interview, “There is no way NDDC roads can last for even two years. I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in, pluck money and go away. I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.”
The cost of these acts of malfeasance playing out in the NDDC over the years has proven to be humongous. The biggest cost is, perhaps, unemployment in the region which has remained far above the national average.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 2018 third quarter job data, Nigeria’s unemployment was 23.1 percent. However, Akwa Ibom had the highest unemployment rate of 38 percent, while Rivers State returned 36.4 percent in joblessness. Bayelsa, another major oil-producing state, had an unemployment rate of 32.6 percent, while Delta State had a rate of 25.4 percent.
Abia, another oil-producing state, returned a humongous 31.6 percent in unemployment. Unfortunately, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa states topped the chart with the insurgency-torn Borno, which has been under the siege of Boko Haram and rebels for over a decade.
The list brings a vicarious pain when compared with other non-oil producing zones. While the South-South, which produces over 80 percent of crude oil, returned an average unemployment rate of 32 percent, South-West recorded 14 percent. North-West zone, on the other hand, reported 27 percent unemployment rate.
The obvious fact from these numbers is that the major actors in the Niger Delta, particularly the NDDC and governors, have failed to empower their people. The NDDC receives taxes from oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, but at no time has the agency accounted for how these humongous taxes were used.
Shell paid the NDDC $136.6 million as fees in 2019; $79.6 million in 2018; $79.6 million in 2017, and $125.14 million in 2016. This is just one out of over 15 oil firms operating in the region. The key question is, why has this money not impacted the lives of Niger Deltans?
Following from unemployment, youths in the Niger Delta have resorted to running kidnapping cartels, scaring away investors from South-South and South-East regions. The governors in the South-South regions have, at one point or the other, given oil companies whose headquarters are in Lagos marching to relocate their head offices to the region or risk one form of punishment or the other. Good enough threat, but who will bring all managerial staff to a region notorious for kidnapping and demanding millions in ransom?
Also, the NDDC has massively failed in one of its core responsibilities of arresting environmental degradation going on in the Niger Delta region. Many communities in the region cannot go to their farms or fish in their waters, thanks to oil spillage and gas flaring by the ever-denying oil companies.
With these failures, it is diametrically despicable for the NDDC to have spent N81 billion in five months on trivial matters such as community relations (N1.3 billion), staffing-related payments (N8.8 billion); public communication (N1.121 billion), among others.
We support the forensic audit embarked by Minister Akpabio and we urge President Muhammadu Buhari to make the findings of the audit public. We also adjure Buhari to stand tall and investigate the alleged 60 percent of the projects given to legislators as mentioned by Akpabio. Buhari must also investigate the roles of Akpabio, former managing director Joi Nunieh, acting MD Kemebradikumo Pondei, Interim Management Committee (IMC) and previous managing directors and ministers in charge of the agency.
It is our position that Buhari should invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commision (ICPC) to jointly investigate the mess and bring the perpetrators to book. Otherwise, his corruption rhetoric may not be taken seriously by the local and international communities.