By Joe Iniodu
The Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC ) was established in June 2000 by the Obasanjo Administration and enshrined with the mandate to bring accelerated development to the oil bearing States of the Niger Delta region. It was conceived as an agency of the federal government and created largely out of response to growing and widespread agitations bordering on the neglect of the region. Of course, it came on the heels of an earlier agency, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC which was established by the Babangida military junta in 1993 to address albeit half heartedly the same concerns.
In 2008, the Administration of then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua established the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and made the NDDC which was already in existence a parastatal of that ministry with late Obong Uffot Joseph Ekaette as the pioneer Minister. Not much is heard on how much influence he was able to exert as the Minister supervising that agency. But one would recall his strenuous efforts in asserting that the Niger Delta Ministry is bigger than NDDC. Why he was preoccupied with ascertaining which was superior is left to conjecturing. But battling with the ministry’s estimated budget of about N50 billion for the 2009 fiscal year, it may have been a tall order for him to subject a parastatal which budget was in hundreds of billions to strict control. By the time he left in March, 2010, not much was known on how much he asserted the authority of the ministry over the Commission as a parastatal under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
It is on record that NDDC was moved to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation . Curiously, no Niger Deltan has been Secretary to the Government of the Federation after late Obong Uffot Ekaette who served in that office during the Obasanjo Administration. So when the likes of Godsday Orubebe and Usaini Usaini served in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs as ministers at various times, it is unlikely that NDDC was under the ministry’s supervision. It obviously remained in the office of the SGF.
But on October 1, 2019,President Muhammadu Buhari graciously extricated the NDDC from the Office of the SGF and annexed it to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. This came on the heels of his appointment of Senator Godswill Akpabio as the Minister of that Ministry. PMB is quoted to have said that the reason for the “redeployment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC ) to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is to enhance the quality of life of the people of the region “. He further stated that the decision was a manifestation of his “commitment to improve the living standards of the people in the Niger Delta through coordinated and appropriate programmes”. Akpabio being a round peg in a round hole was chosen to faithfully execute the vision. His record breaking service as governor of Akwa Ibom State (2007-2015)may have buoyed his choice.
Since the appointment of Akpabio as minister and the knitting of NDDC to the Ministry of Niger Delta many things that are not only paradoxical but also some that are incongruous to our value system have taken place. Let us examine one that is likely to gnaw at our collective sensibilities. And that is while NDDC was domiciled at the office of the SGF, all of us were content without any complaints. Even though the occupants of the office over time are not Niger Deltans, our people prefer them even when they do not know anything about our pains our challenges and our fears . Of course the common deduction is that they can not know much about the challenges of the region outside the ones that are almost public knowledge. In the opinion of many, Mr President has demonstrated sincerity by redeploying the Agency to the Niger Delta Ministry as a parastatal and appointing a Niger Delta son as minister to superintend over the Commission.
But Niger Deltans are kicking and calling on Mr President to revert to status-quo ante by returning the Agency to the Office of SGF. The latest of that call is from the erstwhile Acting Managing Director of NDDC, Ms Joi Nunieh who is demanding for the dissolution of the IMC and the return of the Agency to the Office of the SGF. This is a body she served with pride, pomp and pageantry and spoke glowingly about until her poor conduct earned her the door. Her request is akin to cutting the nose to spite the face.
But NDDC is not known to have fared well while in the office of successive SGFS. The publicly decried corruption that turned the Commission into a cesspool of sleaze that has even warranted the forensic audit happened under the watch of the office of various SGFS. The possible reason adducible for the inability of that office to tame the hydra headed corruption in the Agency is lack of diligent supervision traceable to a surfeit of factors which include passion, commitment, knowledge of the terrain and proper needs assessment. We must not forget that the SGFS are not often from the Niger Delta. As the saying goes , no man can understand a people’s problem more than the people affected. Investing the busy office of SGF headed by a non Niger Deltan with the enormous responsibility of supervising an equally busy agency is a difficult task that is set to fail. Yet in our disparate upbringing, we prefer the outsider who knows little about us to our brother who knows our problems.
NDDC is known to be in existence for about two decades. During the period , about N15 trillion is said to have graced the coffers of the Commission. But NDDC has nothing tangible to show to justify this whopping and mind boggling sum, yet nobody raised a whimper. Corruption was given full rein in the Agency for 20 years with everybody looking the other way. Advocates and anti-corruption crusaders were lulled into slumber and everything appeared good. But in the last few months, the entire Nation is wide awake to noisome allegations of corruption involving first N40 billion and now N80 billion as against N15 trillion just because change is set to visit the Commission. Many believe that the deafening noise is part of the resistance to the change that is being envisaged in the Agency. Those whose hands are in the cookie jar do not want to let go resulting in the fabrication of weighty allegations against those commissioned to exact the change. While I decry corruption of any colouration irrespective of who is involved, it is curious why N40 billion should elicit more hullabaloo than N15 trillion that is said to have acrued to the Commission in the past 19 years. Moreso, why are the allegations of corruption coming at the time of the investigation of the activities of the Agency? Where were these advocates before now? Is it a case of politics as elections are set to come ? Is it a matter of certain people targeted for political decapitation? Is it the case of a manifestation of the popular phrase, “corruption fighting back”? I have reminisced over this incident but without answers to satisfactorily address what is happening.
It is intriguing that of all the boards , agencies and commissions that either custody or are allocated huge resources of government, NDDC is the one singled out for negative and unwholesome publicity. Sadly, some of those behind these scandalous acts are from the Niger Delta. Boards like NNPC, NIMASA, NPA, FEDERAL INLAND REVENUE and many others are not on the radar of parliamentary investigation despite the whopping sums managed by these bodies. But daily, NDDC loses development time with distraction from real and phoney groups. Are those at the helms of affairs in the other agencies beyond reproach? Why is NDDC getting this special attention it never had in the past 19 years? These are basic questions Nigerians should ask, but I can assure they would be short of answers.
But it is without doubt that forensic audit is at the centre of all the frenzy. Those whose hands are stained with the 19 years of filthy lucre and who are very wealthy and well connected do not want the audit to see the light of the day. They would do anything to scuttle it. The sponsorship of blackmail and unfounded allegations is part of the unfortunate scheme. Nigerians must not be hoodwinked by their shenanigans. This is a tug of war between people who are willing to take the darts to protect the interest of the people and a few corrupt elites who want to sustain the status-quo of always appropriating to themselves our common patrimony. As Niger Deltans, we must carefully choose where we stand in this war less we lose the chance of this liberation that is about to come one of which is exampled in the completion of NDDC headquarters which they kept as a conduit pipe of sleaze for 19 years.
Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst.