By Jones Ayibaitare Otua
Two decades ago, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to address the developmental needs of the wealthy but poor Niger Delta region. The component states of the commission include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. The name irrespective of the fact that it does not reflect the geographical location of the Niger Delta was, in all honesty, well intended.
The commission which transited from the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) led by the erudite Chief Albert K Horsfall who established a very sound foundation, sadly, has degenerated into a conduit pipe for awarding phony projects that have no bearing to the yearnings and aspirations of the people of the oil bearing communities. In the same vein, it has over the years, especially in the recent past become an avenue for political patronage and a launching pad for inordinate political ambitions. With the exception of the pioneer Managing Director, Engr. Omene and the other two that were drafted from the oil majors, namely, Total and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) who themselves displayed gross incompetence considering the organized environment they came from, all others launched their governorship and other elective political ambitions from the NDDC. These desperate politicians who claimed to be technocrats or experts in their chosen fields used funds meant for the development of the people of the oil and gas rich Niger Delta region for themselves and cronies. In fact, they used the funds accruing into the coffers of the commission as if the NDDC was a political party. Even those that did not have political ambition including the ones that were drafted from the international oil companies (IOCs) suddenly became infectious with the prevailing order and stooped to their ambitious political benefactors and while doing so perpetrated even worse crimes. Indeed, the man that came from the NAOC made his younger brother who was working in the commission the de facto Managing Director as his recommendations for contractual patronage and payments were sacrosanct. Prior to his departure, he approved a study leave for his brother to keep him away from the commission and public scrutiny. As a result, his brother disappeared even before his final exit, enjoying his loot at the detriment of the entire Niger Delta region.
The immediate past Managing Director of NDDC, Obong Nsima Ekere, a failed estate valuer and former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State who narrowly escaped impeachment, trial and conviction but for his resignation and self-exile during the reign of the former governor, Godswill Akpabio did not pretend or hide his motive and ambition from the day he assumed office. It is on record that Ekere who lost the 2019 gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom State senselessly engaged the multinational construction giant, Julius Berger Plc to renovate only the floor he occupied in the NDDC Headquarters building in the Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt with an amount valuers said was enough to complete the permanent site of the commission headquarters along the Eastern Bypass that has been ongoing for years. They averred that the construction of the commission permanent site would have saved the money used in renting the imposing magnificent building which serves as its headquarters but also added so much value and change in the landscape of the Eastern Bye Pass, Port Harcourt.
In a recent encounter I had with a very senior staff of the commission who promised to give me facts and figures to justify his claims, he lamented what he called “the monumental and unbridled fraud” perpetrated by the various managements and boards who themselves are Niger Deltans. In his words: “If the first governing council came with pens to rob, the second came with pens and dane guns, the third came with even more sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 and pistols, then the fourth crowned their thievery with submachine guns while the immediate past management team came with a combination of all the above plus armour tanks and improved stealing technological tools in which 10 percent upfront payment for certified invoices was a must”.
According to him, the personnel who were in the good books of the management teams took advantage of their privileged positions and joined the bandwagon in the looting spree. In spite of these known facts, the anti-corruption agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have continued to turn blind eyes to the mindless looting taking place in the NDDC. We even took a step by reporting at the EFCC in Port-Harcourt but all we got was: “Show us the evidence, show us the evidence. That is what we need to act. We cannot act by mere allegations”. Regrettably, a week after we submitted the petition, we started receiving death threats from various unregistered mobile telephone numbers. That was why we have gone into hiding to save our lives.
To say the least, the NDDC has derailed completely and degenerated to a cash cow for the corrupt staff and management of the commission at the detriment of the of the ordinary people of the region. The commission with over a trillion naira debt profile has continued to award meaningless projects and abandoned some of the well-meaning ones initiated by the defunct OMPADEC that was accountably managed by the former chief spy of the nation, Chief Albert K Horsfall and the very first board of the commission. For instance, of what use are solar powered streetlights to a community whose citizenry retires into their homes to use kerosene operated lanterns, candles and fireplaces with no drinking water? The NDDC now embarks on resurfacing of roads in the state capitals of member states in the name of emergency repairs to avoid due public procurement procedures and pay 100 percent to contractors as soon as the 10 percent that has been formally entrenched as part of the contractual procedures exchanged hands. The sacred employees of the commission even go as far as openly fronting for National Assembly members and live in unjustifiable affluence. Because of the 10 percent kickback, those small amount projects which in their opinion will yield peanuts are relegated and left unpaid even with approved interim payment certificates while new jobs running into billions are now awarded with reckless abandon. The NDDC has what they call “small pocket or ticket projects” that is deliberately manipulate to less than N250,000,000.00 and awarded in multiples to up to 2,000,000,000 (two billion naira) to friends and cronies. Most of these projects are the ones executed by other donor agencies but claimed by the commission with the signposts of NDDC conspicuously hosted.
Another pathetic issue is that roads are constructed to staff acquired layouts within Port-Harcourt and its environs. Our contact promised to reel out magnificent hotels owned by a Finance Director in the commission. The hotels are situated close to Stadium Road, Port Harcourt.
The present acting Managing Director who is known for his penchant to make any public office a family affair has in less than two months carted away over forty billion naira. It us on record that he was the person who deployed the military to his home towns (maternal and paternal) Agbere/Odoni to stuff ballot boxes and shot his way out during the presidential elections after all efforts to induce the communities with money failed.
In his desperation, he gathered some traditional rulers recently to project him as the one that the cap fits and the best to run the commission. He virtually lives in Abuja moving from one office to the other lobbying with huge sums of money to be retained as the substantive Managing Director. Indeed, this man currently in the saddle is an unrepentant criminal and a disgrace to his professorial title. He has turned the commission into a family affair and personal empire in which his wife and children are the shareholders.
If this man is kept longer than necessary, the NDDC will totally eclipse or there will be riots and demonstrations as he continues to increase the pains of the people from where Ekere stopped. This is not surprising to those who have an eye on the running of the commission. He learnt the ropes as a board member representing Bayelsa State during Ekere’s supervised looting so it took no time for him to perfect what he knows how to do best.
The saddest news is that the governors who make up the NDDC have continued to keep silence in the midst of these unbridled looting spree by a few privileged appointees of the government from the Niger Delta region who are supposed to be custodians and trustees of the people. It is sad that the intervention agency has become a parallel government in the Niger Delta region. Even the oil companies who have been meticulously contributing their quota with the aim of checking disturbances and agitations from their host communities are fed up with what is happening in the commission to the extent that a representative of one of the oil majors in the board has decided not to attend board meetings so he will not be tagged as one of the vampires in power or vagabonds in power (VIPs) as the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti would say. This is not a matter of APC or the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It is a matter of a few well positioned persons cornering our commonwealth for themselves and their friends. President Mohammadu Buhari and the EFCC in particular must act fast to address the rot in the commission by putting a stop to the looting of resources meant to alleviate the long suffering of the people of the Niger Delta region. President Buhari’s silence on the on-going looting in the commission speaks volumes and an endorsement of the mega-stealing that is going on.
How can EFCC and other security agencies keep quite in the face of the unbridle looting in the commission or are we saying that there are different set of rules for different set of people? Imagine the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) that in less than 48 hours initiated criminal proceedings to a serving Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) keeping mute since Ekere left office. The same anti-corruption agencies that immediately frozen the accounts of Benue and Akwa Ibom States is now deaf and dumb. The increasing cases of President Buhari looking the other way whenever someone close to him or the ruling APC is involved in any corruption case are becoming too cold for comfort. Not a few have opined that the way and manner Ekere, Akpabio, the governor of Kano State, Alahji Abdulahi Umar Ganduje (nicknamed Gandollar after a video of him collecting dollars in bribe money went viral ) would have been different if they were not in the ruling APC. It is amazing that the APC Government of Mr. Integrity aided by the security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have drilled and doubled down to subvert the will of the people of Kano State by first stopping an open, transparent, free and credible election, declared it inconclusive and overrun the state in the supplementary election with military and other security agencies. Not a few have opined that but for the doggedness of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, the military under the command of the roaring lion (Agu) of Ubima and Minister of Transportation, Right Hon. Rotimi Amaechi would have done messier things in the oil and gas rich state.
Again, it took the pressure of the main opposition party to prompt the Buhari administration into action in the case of the former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal who claimed to have spent millions of dollars to cut grass in the insurgent ravaged North East region.
I earnestly beseech the people of the Niger Delta to rise up to the occasion by challenging these dastardly acts of their people on their people. Let us rise up to safeguard our common heritage or we will wake up one day and find out that only the carcass of the commission is left to breath its last.
The on-going corruption in NDDC is part one of a series of the atrocities being committed by Niger Deltans against themselves. This criminality has to stop starting with this professor who within this short period has carted away over N40 billion. One could only imagine how much more billions of naira he would cart away if he stays longer in acting capacity or has his appointment confirm. God forbids!
Jones Ayibaitare Otua, a public analyst writes from Port Harcourt