NDDC PROBE: If Niger Delta Development Commission could talk
If NDDC could talk By Olukorede Yishau
My name, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), implies that I was born to turn around the region. Some two decades later, the region is just slightly better than I met it and even President Muhammadu Buhari is tired and wants to get to the bottom of the rot that has rendered me ineffective no matter the efforts to frustrate a clean start.
Given the recent drama over me, some people are seeking my demise. One genuine reason will be that as the lifespan of the roadmap put in place after my birth expires this year, I am nowhere near achieving the mandate given to me.
If you also consider the atrocities that have been committed in my name, you may see some sense in the quest to have me dead, buried, and forgotten. But, for goodness sake, I am still in my prime.
Since I came to be under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, I have been attacked by people who feel I have only helped some people to roll on the lap of luxury, enjoy the extravagancies of women of easy virtues, and turn champagne to hand-washing liquid. They are quick to add that I have provided easy cash for some men with brawns and questionable brains.
The Niger Delta, which deserves to be a paradise, remains the base of poverty, degradation, rejection, and desperation. Many still live in houses made of wood. There are bits of luxury here and there but in short supply. It is something many hear about and see when the rich choose to throw their weight about. The majority lives in hell; the minority in heaven. It is like the people have sinned and come short of the glory of God to be consigned to that sort of existence. Or is it that they have sinned against their leaders, the men they elect to lead them? Or, better still, the men who forced themselves on them as leaders.
In some parts of the Niger Delta, they never see night. The multinational operating in these areas have their flow stations so close to homes and send out gas flares throughout the day. So, the only way to differentiate between night and day is to check their wristwatches.
In many towns, oil pipelines are not underground. They are in the open. And often they burst or are burst and our soils and existence are damaged in the process.
The people have shouted, protested, and threatened violence over their fate, yet change has refused to come. It is as if the multinational also has another licence: to send them all to their early graves so that their leaders can have all the wealth for themselves, including the little they manage to spend on basic amenities. This environmental genocide, as some have called it, is having serious effects on the people. Strange diseases are killing them. Expectant mothers are developing strange allergies. Yet, health centres are ill-equipped to take care of their health needs. They have several people with aggravated asthma. Premature death is not uncommon.
In the 50s, the need for special treatment for the Niger Delta, as a result of its difficult terrain, dawned on the authorities. As such, the region has had interventionist agencies, such as the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC), attending to its needs. It was the OMPADEC that gave way for me. So, when Obasanjo gave me life, my mandate was to develop Niger Delta. But, the impact I could have made was limited by the fact that my dues were not given to me and the little given to me were not judiciously used. The statutory payments that should be made to me were withheld by all arms of government. It ran into trillions and all efforts to get the money released for the betterment of the people did not work.
I came at a time when things were really at the edge and there was hope I would right the wrongs. My predecessor, OMPADEC, was programmed to achieve next to nothing. One of the first things those in charge of me thought of was a Masterplan for the region. The Niger Delta worked with other stakeholders in the region to design this plan whose dream was to turn the creeks around by this year, but you all know where the region and its people are.
Obasanjo, in his preface to the Masterplan, was so optimistic that with the plan, the Niger Delta would get back its groove. But I have been bogged down by internal and external factors. At a point, I owed its contractors over N1 trillion on existing contracts. At a point, contracts were awarded with no design and no specific location but with the sole purpose of collecting advance payments.
There were instances where one contract was awarded to two or three contractors. Many were just interested in taking money meant for a road, hospital, or other projects and did not care to do the job.
There were allegations that members were colluding with outsiders to institute legal actions against me and later push for an out-of-court settlement, after which they shared the settlement money. There was a time I had over 400 court cases against me in courts.
A presidential report on me showed that I got into projects that were not connected with my mandate as an interventionist agency. What on earth was I doing renovating Port Harcourt Club and commissioning a study on the generation of electric power from the gully erosion sites? In-fighting by those running me over how to share the money and further pauperise the people are common.
The quality of some of the infrastructure projects those running me have delivered falls below acceptable standards. To them, I am seen as a ‘contract cow’, whose award letters were hawked in the major cities of the country. Leaders in the region have part of the blame for my woes.
I must also point out that the blame for non-realisation of Masterplan, as it expires this year, is not just mine. Other stakeholders, such as the Federal Government, Southsouth state and local government areas, and the oil giants, have not done their parts as envisaged in the Masterplan. The Federal Government, for instance, has not released all cash due to me. Several trillions of naira statutorily due me are held by the Federal, state, local governments, and the oil giants. So, I have far less than I need and, to make matters worse, people are still mismanaging and stealing the inadequate cash using all kinds of tactics.
Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, in her few months as acting MD, laid a foundation which, I am afraid, has not been built on. Ever since she stopped handling my affairs, it has almost been garbage in, garbage out. The last few months have been particularly painful.
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Instability in management has been the new norm. The so-called forensic audit to unravel why I have failed to fulfil my mandate has engendered ‘roforofo’ fights. Now that I am supervised by the Ministry of Niger Delta, you will expect things to be different, but that seems to have compounded my woes, with the minister, Godswill Akpabio, and my former interim head, Dr. Gbene Joi Nunieh, trading tackles like professional footballers. She recently denied that N22.6 billion was spent under her stewardship and alleged that the minister threatened to remove her from office if she did not do his bidding.
Akpabio fought back, claiming she was removed for insubordination and lack of the prerequisites for the job, such as the NYSC certificate. He even did some side tackles about four failed marriages! She fired back the following day asking if he wanted to be husband number five. She also added that she once slapped him for sexual harassment. Just yesterday, there was another twist in the tale. Dr. Nunieh received visitors she suspected were out to abduct her before Governor Nyesom Wike played the Superman.
Members of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) in charge of me now could not account for N183 billion when they appeared before the Senate ad-hoc committee. They admitted awarding themselves N1.5 billion for Coronavirus relief. They are also unable to respond to claims of misappropriating N40 billion.
With all this nonsense going on around me, are those seeking my demise not justified? But in life, there will always be issues, and issues are meant to be resolved but you don’t throw out a baby with the bathwater. I need to be restructured for enhanced performance. Incorruptible people should man my affairs. Killing me may kill the future of not just the Niger Delta, but Nigeria.