Editorial: Akpabio, Nunieh, and the N81.5 billion NDDC Squandermania

Opinions
Typography
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

 

Even as Nigerians revel in the public spectacle of allegations and counter-allegations between Niger Delta Minister, Godswill Akpabio and the former acting managing director of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the tantalizing revelation by the Senate ad-hoc committee that a whooping N81.5 billion has been misappropriated at the NDDC from October 2019 to May 2020 was a damning appraisal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s hollow pledge to combat corruption and another reminder, if any was needed, that Buhari’s anti-graft war has been an unmitigated failure. It is indeed pathetic that while the average Nigerian buckles under the yoke of poverty; unemployment and the failure of government to discharge its statutory responsibility to its citizens, some individuals would have so much leeway on profligacy and massive theft of public resources from the NDDC which, in the opinion of Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, has become Corruption Inc. Sadly, Buhari made a curious endorsement of this pervasive corruption by supporting the creation of the IMC without any clear mandate; and further muddied the waters with a circuitous rigmarole called forensic audit which is a phantom exercise. This is a sad commentary on how Nigerians conduct public affairs. The president must rectify the situation without delay by doing the right thing and inaugurating the NDDC Board screened and approved by the Senate.

 

The story of the NDDC, like some other agencies in Nigeria is long. It is one of disappointments, failure, broken promises, and a callous disregard for the hopes and aspirations of the Niger Delta people. It is a story of contracts awarded for infrastructure projects, monies collected and no projects executed. It is the story of billions of naira appropriated by the Federal Government for projects, with little or nothing on the ground to match the huge expenditure. Thus it has come to be that politically connected persons of Niger Delta extraction who were given the responsibility to lift their people from poverty, turned round and short-change them.

 

Parenthetically, the financial recklessness in the NDDC is the inevitable result of pervasive corruption. Reading from documents provided to the Senate ad-hoc committee by the IMC, regarding expenditure from October 29, 2019, to May 31, 2020, the committee chairman, Sen Olubunmi Adetumbi, revealed that: “Out of the total expenditure of N81.495 billion spent by both the IMC, led by Mrs. Joi Gbene Nunieh, as Managing Director between October 29, 2019, and February 18, 2020, and the current IMC, led by Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei between February 19, 2020, and May 31, 2020, N3.14billiion was spent on COVID-19 pandemic as relief funds.

 

“Highly disturbing is the fact that based on the records of payment of such funds, a whopping N10 million was given to a single staff while two other staffers collected N7 million each. Other payments as reliefs against the pandemic are N3 million given to each of 148 other staffers, N1.5 million each to 157 other categories of staffers, N1 million each to 497 others and N600,000 each to the last category of 464 other staffers. Also included in the COVID-19 pandemic relief largesse, as clearly stated in your submitted financial documents, is N475 million given to the police high command for purchase of face masks and hand sanitizers for men and officers across the nine states in the Niger Delta Region.”

 

Adetumbi stated that the IMC headed by Ms. Nunieh, who was appointed in October 2019 and sacked in February, 2020, spent N22.5 billion out of the N81.5 billion being investigated. Whereas, the incumbent IMC headed by Pondei, squandered N59.1 billion from Feb 19 - May 31, 2020. The NDDC spent N1.3 billion on community relations; condolences, N122 million; consultancy, N83.8 million; COVID-19 intervention, N3.14 billion; Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) N486 million; Impress (Oct 2019 to May, 2020) N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal fees, N906 million; logistics, N61 million; maintenance, N61 million, and medicals, N2.6 billion. Other projects include N2.6 billion for overseas travel (February to May, 2020 when the whole world was in lockdown); public communication, (N61.7 million); security, (N744 million); engagement of stakeholders (Feb to May, 2020), N248 million etc. As if all that was not provocative and insulting enough, Pondei had the temerity to justify that part of the N3.14 billion Covid-19 relief was given to various groups in each senatorial district in the Niger Delta – youths (N5 million); women (N5 million) and persons with disabilities (N5 million) to help cushion the effect of the pandemic on them so as to avoid violence. It stretches credulity for Akpabio to claim ignorance about this ongoing squandermania until he was slapped and ordered to keep his uncontrollable libido inside his hot pants.

 

It is unfortunate that the good intentions of government have been thwarted by the selfish ambitions and greed of the political elite of the Niger Delta region. In reaction to public outcry against official neglect of the hard-pressed sub-region, the NDDC Act was signed on July 12, 2000 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, to find “a lasting solution to the socio economic challenges of the Niger Delta” while facilitating the rapid, even, and sustainable development of the region into one “that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful”. Since regular budgetary provisions from Abuja were insufficient to close the yawning gap between resource generation from the region and its development needs, the agency sourced its funding from first line deductions from the Federation Account as well as contribution of a percentage of their profit by all oil and gas companies operating in the Niger-Delta and mandatory contribution by the federal government.

 

Available evidence indicates the NDDC has received about N4 trillion in the past two decades. Records from 2007-2016 show accruals: N64.721 billion (2007); N84.790 billion (2008);  N141.575 billion (2009); N135.097 billion (2010); N167.778 billion (2011); N140.605 billion (2012); N149.352 billion (2013); N207.553 billion (2014); N140.512 billion (2015) and N181.637 billion(2016). Sadly, while the NNDC has a comprehensive master plan and despite these huge resources, aside inflated contracts, uncompleted or abandoned projects, there is little on ground in the nine oil producing states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers to justify the hundreds of billions of naira spent over the past 20 years.

 

Rather than deploy the funds to the development needs of the region, NDDC officials simply pocketed the money and walked away. To all intents and purposes, the sleaze-prone NDDC is now a slush fund. Contractors collected huge mobilization fees, shared some of it with their cronies in the NDDC and disappeared into thin air. In one instance, an NDDC official committed millions of naira to a fetish priest for his personal problems. One managing director ran into problems with the Obasanjo administration when he got enmeshed in some shady withdrawals to grease the palms of highly placed government officials. Roads that led to nowhere were inserted in the budget. It came to be that the NDDC like the Oil Minerals Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) before it; became a conduit pipe for rewarding the “boys” with phony contracts. Multi-million naira jobs were awarded to persons who had no intention of improving the welfare of the beleaguered region. Kickbacks became the order of the day. As a result, no fewer than 600 projects valued at N200 billion have been canceled.

 

The dismal state of development in the Niger Delta was documented in the unflattering report of the presidential committee on project execution covering 2005-2011. The report monitored 609 projects across Cross River, Edo and Rivers. According to the committee chairman, Chief Isaac Jemide; of the 609 projects, 222 (36.5%) were completed, 102 (16.7%) were ongoing and 285 (46.8%) were abandoned at various levels of completion. Similarly, a report from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) revealed that between 2007 and 2014, N594 billion was remitted to NDDC, but N7.4 billion allocated for grassroots development projects was unaccounted for. Another NEITI analysis of disbursements to the 36 states by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for 2019 shows that four of the top five states that received over N100 billion: Delta (N218.58 billion), Akwa Ibom (N171.43 billion), Bayelsa (N139.69 billion), Rivers (N158 billion), and Lagos (N117.76 billion) were in the Niger Delta region. With N218.58 billion, Delta with the highest disbursement received over nine times the amount of Osun with the lowest disbursement of N24.14 billion.

 

This kind of corruption in the NDDC is inhumane and beyond criminality in all ramifications besides being a major cause of the region’s under-development; resulting in decrepit social infrastructure, dearth of healthcare services, insufficient funding of education and a high criminality. It is unacceptable to adduce any reason to justify corruption. As a people, however, it is necessary for Nigerians to ask why people are so materialistic that they wish to acquire everything in sight, including what they do not need? Why did the Niger Delta elite supported by their powerful allies in Abuja give such a raw deal to the suffering people of the region?

 

Using the instrumentality of existing laws, proper sanctions should be placed on those responsible for this criminal behavior. Now that President Buhari has ordered a speedy and coordinated investigation of corruption allegations, the investigation should be a thorough audit of the NDDC from its inception till date. In the light of the above, the Federal Government should embark on a forensic analysis of all contracts awarded in the last 20 years. The state of the contracts in terms of level of execution should also be noted. The names of the companies or beneficiaries; how much was paid out as mobilization fee and the level of work done should be included in the compilation. Anywhere there is an infraction, the contractors should be invited to complete the job or face prosecution. To end the impunity of contract-abuse in Nigeria, all failed contractors, along with their colluders must be vigorously pursued and brought to book. Until some officials are held accountable for their years in office and go to jail if found guilty for their offences, more persons will continue to perpetrate criminality.

 

It is trite to say if the NDDC had lived up to its responsibilities, the current agitations and tension in the Niger Delta region would have been minimized. For a culture of transparency and accountability to be entrenched in the NDDC, it is important to have a substantive board in place rather than an interim management committee at the whims and caprices of the Niger Delta Minister, Godswill Akpabio; a man not known for probity. Having recognized the problem and ordered a forensic audit of the commission, Buhari must understand that an interim board cannot be the way to instill accountability in NDDC. Here, therefore, is a call on Mr. President to do what is right for the NDDC and the people of the Niger Delta. Mai Gaskiya (Mr. Honesty) has long been the ascetic-looking Buhari’s nickname, owing to his personal reputation as a lone squeaky-clean man in a sea of corrupt politicians. The time has come for Buhari to demonstrate with deeds, his commitment to fight corruption. Nigeria needs an enlightened president whose mind cannot be corrupted, as an imperative for national survival.