The Federal Government of Nigeria has been urged to take a decisive step in the development of the Niger Delta which bears the crude oil, which is the mainstay of the country.
A number of professionals from the region, who spoke with BDSUNDAY, said it amounts to naivety to think that an interventionist agency like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or an exclusive ministry to the Niger Delta could meet the humongous development needs of a region that has been degraded over the years.
They urged Nigerians to look beyond the orchestrated drama at the National Assembly (NASS), adding that it was wrong for anybody to say that the Niger Delta has remained undeveloped because of the allegation of corruption or existence of it in the NDDC.
Beyond the drama/entertainment
Many Nigerians may be cheering at the seeming entertainment going on at the National Assembly and in the media in the name of probe of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, but many others across the nation may be mourning.
The seeming shenanigan seems to remind chief executive officers of government agencies of what most of them go through in the hands of lawmakers at the National Assembly where there have been outlandish accusations of bribery and demand for contracts and slots in everything the MDAs plan to execute.
That must be why beyond entertainment, most Nigerians have urged the Federal Government to take development of Niger Delta seriously. The drama going on at the National Assembly, they contend, would not develop the oil region for which an intervention agency of about N350bn every year was set up, and for which a full ministry with two ministers has been devoted to.
Instead of seeing fast pace of infrastructural and other developments in the Niger Delta, lawmakers are said to have turned their oversight function duties into means of enriching themselves, or looting machinery. Contractors are angry that huge sums of money are being collected by senators and members of the House of Representatives. From testimonies, it is either the contracts are directly awarded to the lawmakers or the contractors serve only as fronts.
The story has been told of how one senator pocketed 1000 contracts in the NDDC and said he was doing so on behalf of other lawmakers. Another senator has been mentioned in a scandal involving 300 contracts where payment for 200 was made upfront, yet, none was executed.
The likes of Arunma Oteh, then of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), had one also accused members of the National Assembly of trying to hijack her job as the DG. The minister of state for labour and employment, Festus Keyamo is in a running battle with the same NASS; the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ibrahim Ali, a retired colonel, and the suspended chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu have had their nightmares in the hands of lawmakers at the NASS. The same thing is happening in the present circumstance.
Observers say the case of the NDDC should be different because of the special circumstances of the oil region right from the days of the Willink’s Commission far before the amalgamation. The Commission is an interventionist agency and thus, the buck stops at the table of the President under the relevant sections of the Act establishing NDDC.
Ebun Adegboruwa, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), believes that corruption or allegation of it should not stop the Federal Government from developing the Niger Delta as it has not stopped the development of Abuja, Lagos or other parts of the country where there is no oil. He believes that it is wrong for anybody to say that the Niger Delta has remained undeveloped because of the allegation of corruption in NDDC. For him, the central government has the responsibility to develop the region.
The mood of the nation at the moment seems to suggest that Nigerians cannot continue to entertain themselves by listening to revelations about corruption or those who are corrupt. “What Nigerians are interested in seeing is punishment for those found guilty. What the politicians have perfected doing is to dull us, stage drama and a few days after, everything is swept under the carpet and a new drama is staged and Nigerians are once again being entertained,” Adegboruwa insists.
The consensus seems to support the view that those found guilty should be punished. They argue that there are many laws in the land that can take care during trial of those accused of corruption.
A Lagos-based Niger Delta technocrat who preferred anonymity said: “No electricity, no development in the Niger Delta that has been ravaged for many years. There is nothing to show for the resources being taken away from the region to develop other places. To think that to develop Niger Delta and assuage the anger of the people is to put everything on NDDC is a deceit. FG should focus on developing the place; if in the course of doing so and some individuals are seen to frustrate the efforts by compromising the efforts, they should be properly prosecuted.
“What is going on is pure theatrical meant to divert attention of the public. Nothing will come out of the probes. No electricity in most parts of the region; the East-West Road that started 10 years ago has since been abandoned. There is sufficient reason to believe that there is some kind of politics around the development of the region. Nobody should pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians hiding under interventionist agency.
“Since 2000, the Commission has been run illegally outside the Acts establishing it. It has been run on ad-hoc basis with interim management committee as against well constituted board. The forensic audit is germane, but there is more to what is happening in the Niger Delta than meets the eye.”
Many observers have wondered why President Buhari had remained silent, but the Pesident spoke last week, urging all government officials to honour invitations from the parliament. He however, asked both the forensic audit (that most persons seem to target in sabotage) and the probe in the NASS that the NDDC seems to kick against, to continue.
While this is going on, many intellectuals and professionals in the Niger Delta have started looking for other viable ways of developing the oil region. This could be dangerous signal that the masses may have lost confidence in all the development agencies and ministries dedicated to the development of the oil region.
Anger in the land
The perceived anger seems to have led some experts to suggest scrapping the NDDC. Others have recalled previous position papers that had kicked against the setting up of the NDDC.
Chika Onuegbu: Problems are multifaceted
The industrial relations, financial expert and commercial law master thinks the NDDC has failed. His view: “The Niger Delta development problems are multifaceted. There is the need to pay special attention to the development of the Niger Delta which was identified by the colonial masters. This need was discussed and recommendations made by the Henry Willink Commission. However, despite several of such reports including the Ledum Mitee Technical Committee Report on the Niger Delta and the establishment of the NDDC, the painful reality is that the region is grossly underdeveloped.
“As a matter of fact, the level of deprivation, hunger, poverty and neglect of the Niger Delta that produces the oil and gas that sustains Nigeria is unprecedented. This is obviously a structural violence against the region and its people. Unfortunately, the revelations from the ongoing probe and forensic audit of the NDDC has revealed what many already know; which is that the NDDC has been a massive failure and cannot as presently set up under the NDDC Act guarantee the development of the region.
“Therefore, it is my considered opinion that the NDDC should be disbanded and the funds transferred to the Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities funds which will be organised using the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) model with proper governance and accountability structures. This structure would involve the local communities and backed up by law.”
According to Onuegbu, “It is also important to note that the youth and people of the Niger Delta have an important role to play. They have to maintain and sustain peace in the area. They must eschew the entitlement mentality and put pressure on the state governments and political leaders in the region to deliver good governance to the people and the region.
“There is also a need for the collaboration of all the political and business leaders from the region to ensure that the region speaks with one voice and that the people are able to attract development from the FG.
“Our seaports, infrastructure and the environment conducive for business should be collectively put in place. This will encourage businesses and investors to invest in the region and generate employment which will, in turn, promote peace and security of the region. The fact is that no investor will invest in an environment that he or she does not feel secured or where he/she has to spend unnecessarily to do business. He would rather invest the funds in better alternative locations.”
In 2008, both bodies submitted position paper to the National Assembly on the vexed issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The oil-related unions suggested the setting up of what it called Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Development Trusts.
In the memorandum, the unions said there is need to clarify the Licensee and Lessee that section 2(1) of the PIB is not applicable to. This is because the provisions of this Bill are not mandatory for such Licensee and Lessee as section 2(2) provides that, “Any other licensee or lessee of upstream, midstream or downstream assets to whom the provisions of subsection 1 of this section is not applicable may decide to incorporate a trust for communities designated by the licensee or lessee…The need for this clarification is to ensure that no licensee and lessee will hide under this provision to deny its host and impacted communities the benefits due them as provided in the bill.
In dealing with how the host communities trusts would be funded, the unions raised on what it called the adequacy of funding for Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Development Trust Fund.
The unions said: “Our interactions with host communities indicate that the 2.5 percent operating budget is grossly inadequate. However, our interactions with the oil and gas companies raise concerns that the Bill imposes additional financial burden on the oil and gas companies who are already paying their taxes, fees and royalties, 3 per cent budget to NDDC, 2 per cent Education Tax and 1 percent Nigerian Content Development (NCD). Our further reflections on the need for the Petroleum Host Community Fund indicate that the massive failure of the NDDC is a major driver for the need for this fund.”
Moreover the 2.5 percent of operating expenditure (OPEX) provided in this bill is just a fraction of the oil and gas companies contribution to NDDC. It is therefore our considered opinion that the National Assembly and the Federal Government should accept the reality that NDDC has been a massive failure, go ahead to repeal the NDDC Act and disband the Commission, and channel the NDDC funds directly to fund the Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Fund.
This is in our view will deliver better value than the NDDC. Our concern about the adequacy of the mandatory contributions in the bill is because inadequate provision of funds or subjecting the funding to donations and other optional means may scuttle the laudable objectives of the bill, dash the hopes of the petroleum host and impacted communities and further breach the trust between these communities and the government of Nigeria.
Forensic audit must continue – export promotions technocrat
This expert who preferred anonymity said: “The forensic audit should be allowed its full course. It should be extended to the beginning of the Commission. Outcome of this should not be covered up or allowed to cool-off in our usual manner. Supervision of Commission should directly be from the Presidency – as it was before the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission.
The board that was announced should be allowed to function. Stricter monitoring and evaluation strategies should be instituted. And its frequency of monitoring and evaluation increased. All present dramatis personae should be relieved of their positions to allow for free and in-depth auditing. But where they are found wanting the law should take its course. NDDC’s counterparts like the one in North East should also be torch-lighted. They are the same conduits all over the place.
Let the NDDC come back under the Presidency – Public Relations guru
If the President retains it, let the NDDC come back under the supervision of the Presidency or office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation.
Let NDDC be run by technocrats and not by politicians who only go there to loot.
Award of contract for community development should follow strict guidelines such as needs analysis, cost evaluation, quotation by at least 3 companies, audit verification, due process evaluation, project supervision and report, commissioning of project and final payment. For now, I wonder if these procedures are followed.
Our recommendation to NASS – Darlington Nwauju of Niger Delta Rights Advocates
We recommended to NASS for amendments to two sections of the NDDC Establishment Act 2000 as follows:
(a) Prescribing functions and powers of the two Executive Directors under the Act. The Act in its present form did not prescribe functions for the other two EDs leaving them at the mercy of the MD who has very omnibus powers under the present Act.
(b) Make the periodic financial reports to the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, compulsory and prescribe punishment for default. This is strategic to avoid the Agency taking taxpayers movies every fiscal year without accounting for what was spent the previous year.
(c) Finally, we recommended the setting up of a National Procurement Council or Commission (NPC) in order to regulate procurement practice and set benchmark and stiff guidelines for procurement.
Ekama Emilia Akpan: Education, human capital development urgently needed
The CEO of Showers Schools and top member of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) who has a passion for youths, education and human capital development said: “Human capacity through education and skills acquisition should be the centerpiece of the development focus. Emphasis should be on those subject areas most suitable to Niger Deltans, ie, Arts, artisan skills like drawing, weaving, and others.
The development agency dedicated to the region should publicise how the skills with education can bring them wealth. Those earning well now are in hands own businesses.
They should also publicize and encourage the natural advantages they are endowed with, intellectual endowment, artistic skills. Mentoring of the youth by the older ones in organized setting should be a new target. They should build business clusters for empowering the young and small businesses. Finally, there should be a system of applauding achievers in all fields, education, sports, business etc.
It is obvious that the confidence of the people of the region has been vigorously shaken. The bottom line however, is that developing the Niger Delta should return to the front burner of government activities. This is because, after each decade, posterity will certainly look back. Then, the Federal Government, not any other arm or agency, would either be a hero or a villain. And posterity usually has the final say.