BusinessDay

Why Niger Delta remains under-developed despite N15trn spent

…NDDC, special ministry, Amnesty programme fail to lift region

During a recent boat trip to oceanic island of Offoin-Ama near Kula in Akuku-Toru local council area of Rivers State, journalists were shocked to find in an oil-bearing community a non-functional primary school. There are no structured classrooms. The villagers said any teacher available would gather the children of all ages and keep them busy with lessons. The only water tank in Offoin-Ama does not bring water. The doctor posted to the island comes only on special days, especially when there is news that important personalities would visit.

The biggest shock was the kind of brownish and yellowish pools of water that the villagers pointed at as their source of water. The waterway to Offoin-Ama is rough and on the day of our visit, one boat capsized and a woman disappeared to this day.

When Eroton E&P team visited Bille, Krakrama, Minama, Sangama, Ifoko, Tema, Abalama, and Ido communities in Asari-Toru Local Council Area of same state last week, the community leaders said they had never seen development for decades until some sparks now. A leader, Christian Sekibo Jnr, said they grab any opportunity for development with both hands. This is the fate of most rural areas in the riverine areas.

The Niger Delta region has two faces; the cities such as Port Harcourt, Calabar, Uyo, Warri, Bonny Island, Benin, etc where the 13 percent derivative and other development funds are concentrated, and the riverine areas that have difficult terrains, dangerous access, and difficult construction profiles. So, the cities in the region serve as “posterboy” of the region but the oil-bearing communities look centuries backward; no sanitation, no sustainable economic activity, no amenities and facilities, no justice system, and no modern life.

Wasted trillions?

This raises the question; how were the trillions so far devoted to the development of the region applied and deployed? The past Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, mentioned N12 trillion ($40billion) as the amount so far spent in 15 years, but other sources mentioning back to 1999 have put it at over N15 trillion.

The various development and intervention agencies created to develop the region include the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that has an annual budget of about N300billion, making about N6 trillion since 1999; the Niger Delta Ministry that controls the N725billion East West Road and yearly budget of about N30billion; the Amnesty Programme that has been pumping over N60billion per year since 2011,totalling about N500billion; the oil multinationals and marginal field operators that have development funds under the MOU or GMOU schemes and spend almost N100billion per year or at least N1 trillion in 20 years; state governments that have been getting 13 percent to develop the region which is about N8 trillion so far; and many other dedicated efforts and funds.

Roadblocks to Niger Delta development

Many commentators and authorities have advanced different reasons why the oil region remains undeveloped despite these huge funds.

Corruption

Of all factors eroding value and volume of funds spent on developing the Niger Delta, the most strident seems to be corruption. If corruption truly means dishonesty for personal gains or dishonest exploitation of power for personal gain, then the oil region has seen much of it.

Books have been written on corruption in the Niger Delta and one particular author, Daniel Agbiboa (with Benjamin Maiangwa), says 80 percent of oil wealth is in the hands of one percent of the populace. The authors are in agreement that much of the stolen wealth is hidden abroad, thus about $107billion was traced abroad as investments while the region begs for investments and reflation.

The main disaster is that the race to grabbing oil wealth has created huge conflict and led to what one Brown Ogbeifun (PhD) calls conflict entrepreneurs. Under crisis and chaos, the managers of various agencies loot the funds and divert assets. At the end, the state or agencies reman poor while the CEOs emerge as super rich.

Corruption has become so pervasive in the oil-bearing region and in the oil business that most Niger Deltans now see loot as a right and entitlement. They loot, showcase it, and emerge as heroes who looted back part of the people’s wealth.

Ansource once disclosed how some accounts persons in the NDDC showed an acting MD how to loot funds. They showed him several millions and subheads that he would sweep away. When the new CEO asked to be shown the documents authorising such sweepstakes per month, they said:“That is how the past MDs have been taking”. He told them that past MDs taking the funds did not amount to a document. Everybody salted away.

Truth is that, as Godswill Akpabio lamented, the NDDC and some of the agencies meant to develop the Niger Delta region have simply become automated teller machines (ATMs) and the CEO have been drawing over the years. Stories have been told about middle class workers in such places that are richer than some ministers with houses everywhere.

Politics

Closely associated with corruption is politics. Many experts argue that in Nigeria, both are Siamese twins. Each time a person is appointed into headship of the big organisations meant to develop the oil region such as the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta, jubilation explodes. This may not be because of the development soon to come or projects soon to come to an area, but looted funds on the way. Loyalists begin to bring cows for celebration and sew new dresses befitting the office.

Relations of such an appointee find people besieging their homes to submit proposals to present to their brother who is now about to step into power and money. The belief is that the appointment is a licence to loot, and woe betide any appointee that does not see it this way!

Also, appointment of headship of the NDDC has been purely political. Those making the appointments, making the recommendation and those being appointed, all have politics in their minds. First, almost all those who headed the NDDC in the past have contested for governorship. Now, those being appointed as MDs could be to compensate them for not making it as governor. By this, gubernatorial advantage seems to be the focus of the office of CEO of the development agency.

When Chibuike Amaechi and Magnus Abe began their quarrels, the position of Director of Finance and Administration became a diadem. The position was believed to be dedicated to winning a state during elections. More so, the position seemed to be a prize for helping in elections because the person is to move funds straight out.

Even mere mention of a person as next MD would lead to contract lists being sent to him while screening is going on to choose him; those with supervisory powers over the Commission in Aso Rock would have a list, those in the parliament would have theirs, etc. That could explain why one senator is credited with 300 contracts with 120 fully paid for without any job done.

Competence in management and engineering has taken a back seat in considering the headship of the development agencies and ministries. The ability to crush all bones and deliver a state to a ruling party during elections would be the most important factor. At the end, the CEO would pump contracts and projects in his state to win the next election. The focus of the intervention agency has deviated, according to observers.

Intrigues

The combination of politics and corruption seems to engender intrigues in the region. To get to a position to loot, a person has to form enforcement teams and use the boys to do stuff for top men. To cover the tracks, more violence and conflict is orchestrated. The result is chaos everywhere and every day. For instance, a group of professional protesters once emerged opposite the NDDC gates waiting for those launching a protest. They would create the placards right opposite the Commission and the boys would move across the road to the gates and begin to chant a slogan.

A worried opponent would raise some cash and come there and recruit the same boys and an opposing protest would begin. A chairman of the Commission was widely rumoured to have been caught burning almost N1million by the riverside while performing “juju” (ritual) to influence the CEO of that time. He was removed from office.

There is a type of war between the governors and those serving as State Representatives on NDDC board. This time that the PDP is no longer in power in the oil region and do not recommend the Reps, they now sit far and discredit whatever is done by the Commission. All those charge the atmosphere and make development either difficult or expensive.

The intrigues seem to worsen insecurity which has been heightened by pipeline vandalism and illegal refining. A source quoted an international news magazine, saying, “Various cult groups have emerged based on cultism lines to terrorise the region and scare away investors. This has driven up costs for projects in the region as military troops have to be factored into costing. Movement from project to project sites has been difficult. This has affected the private sector component of development project implementation.”

Projects &programmes needed in the region 

The people of the region had expected the Master Plan developed by the NDDC to serve as development compass of the region to be followed by all development agencies mandated to or interesting in developing the region. They could be the Federal Government, the state governments, the local councils, international oil corporations, foreign development partners, and the NDDC itself.

According to a report in an international news magazine, the Plan was a product of painstaking surveys, studies and investigations, listing all the needs from water, electricity, roads, health facilities, schools, to manpower needs. The expectation was that each development agency or partner would consult the Plan before starting any project so as not to duplicate them. It was expected that by the first 10 years, the various projects put in place in a coordinated fashion would create clear milestones of achievement so that it would be easy to know what has been done and what is left.

This has not been so as every agency carried out without as much as a glance at the Plan. The NDDC itself seems to be groping in the dark, doing everything but seemingly accomplishing very little. The Commission seems to act by the vision of each managing director than guided by the Plan, the magazine reports in its current edition.

East West Road

Perhaps, the greatest expectation of the people of the Niger Delta is the dream of delivering the East West Road. This road has a history and a sentient that touches the desire of the oil region to cut a road link with western Nigeria without recourse to the East as envisaged by their founding fathers such as Samuel Ogbemudia and Alfred Diete-Spiff. Such was the zeal that when the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2005, wanted to know what he would do to appease the people and youths of the region, the East West Road was the first demand. The president immediately agreed and later announced a N211billion contract in 2006.

Niger Delta-born Goodluck Jonathan, who succeeded the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (the man who created the Amnesty Programme for the same Niger Delta) reviewed the project and raised the amount to N725.77billion between 2011 and 2014. By the time he left office, there was argument whether the road was delivered up to 70percent or not. Now, the road is an eye sour. To the people of the region, the East West Road is another promise broken and a shattered dream.

Niger Delta Coastal Road

Another dream of the riverine people cutting from Edo to Calabar when their son (Jonathan) became president for the first time ever was that after the East West Road, their son would give them a coastal road. Their understanding was that a road that would run close to the Atlantic Ocean from Lagos to Calabar would bring out the beauty and splendour of the riverine areas and cause the areas closest to the sea to be opened up to civilisation and economic exploitation. The people still expect this, and they look up to Akpabio, who is now minister of the Niger Delta Ministry to give it a shot, but is this realisable under him or under anybody?

Niger Delta Coastal Rail line

The people of the region also dreamt of a coastal rail line from Lagos to Calabar. The dream grew bigger when Jonathan became vice president and president. Even now that their other son, Chibuike Amaechi is minister of transportation with a drive for aggressive railway development, many think the coastal rail line dream may be realised. Others however, say this dream is far-fetched. Recent plans announced by the Minister of Transportation indicate that something like this is close.

The Niger Delta Energy Corridor

A group of scientists and economists had come up with the concept of an energy corridor to run along the East West Road. The idea is to deliberately locate various oil and power projects along the East West Road such as refineries, petrochemical companies, mega-fuel stations, power plants, etc. These projects would be so interconnected that various cities would tap from them into the hinterlands. Over time, it would emerge as Nigeria’s most viable route. The design was presented to various review panels in Port Harcourt before it was tabled to the Federal Government but the ensuing political crisis between Rivers State (led by Amaechi) and the Federal Government (led by Jonathan) ensured that the idea died in the womb.

Agric Revolution and Economic Development

The region accepted to take up agriculture and develop few produce items such as garri/cassava, rice, palm oil and fish. Each state was to take up one. Also, the South-South Economic Commission was set up with Ambassador Joe Keshi as director-general. The idea was to activate massive economic development with each state driving one toward the other.

Again, political interest turned governors against one another and against the Federal Government and the dream died right there. Now, each state is pursuing its own development; most times duplicating turnkey projects such as airports and seaports without knowing where the cargo would come from.

Conclusion

It is public knowledge that the goings-on in the NDDC has attracted the ire of President Buhari, resulting in what is called a forensic audit. The crisis in the Commission is escalating with the report a few days ago, that the already screened new board recently announced by Abuja, will be reviewed and reconstituted.If the forensic audit goes well, and some past CEOs are sanctioned, sanity may return and the region may return to its planned path of development.

Ignatius Chukwu

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