A lot of us have watched the unfolding drama, accusations and counter accusations involving the national assembly members, past and present management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the minister of Niger Delta Affairs with great shock and bewilderment.
Many are yet to come to terms with the fact that an agency set up to accelerate development in what is unarguably the most strategic economic zone in Nigeria was turned into a bazaar house by individuals tasked with the sacred responsibility of running the establishment. Analysts estimate that if the NDDC management over the last two decades had genuinely applied say 70% of the funds allocated to it since establishment in 2000, the narratives of infrastructural decay (or non-availability), social unrest, unemployment and other expressions of economic frustration in the region would have been drastically reduced.
Sadly, rather than focus on the development of the region, successive management of the Commission have channelled their energy to looting and mismanagement of whatever accrues to the body from the revenue authorities. According to several media reports and estimates by non-governmental organisations in the Niger Delta region, more than three trillion naira has been channelled to the NDDC by the government to support infrastructural development, education, health and other social services in the region.
What can three trillion naira do?
Three trillion (or anything close to it) is a lot of money which if applied judiciously would be sufficient to build solid road infrastructure- especially in the hinterlands and riverine communities whose residents are virtually cut off from neighbouring towns or even their state capitals. If the funds that have accrued to the Commission since the days of Olusegun Obasanjo as civilian president, had been sincerely utilised, quality schools would have been built to provide sound education to the teeming youths of the region.
How about health? Do you know how many world class hospitals and medical facilities that could have been erected with just a fraction of the amount that the agency has earned in the past 20 years? How about improving the waterways to facilitate safe transportation and trade amongst the communities and even across the ECOWAS sub region? Would this have been too much for the NDDC to execute?
Why unemployment and economic frustration persist in the Niger Delta
Analysts identify roads, railways, bridges and flyovers as economic infrastructure for a number of reasons. If these, along with steady electricity are effective, businesses would simply move in to set up shops, create employment, pay taxes to the government, generate wealth and convert local raw materials to superior products.
The corollary is that youths will find jobs for their hands thereby reducing criminality as a result of unemployment, ancillary industries will spring up to support the new businesses, more jobs would be created and more tax revenue for the government; standard of living will shoot up as earnings improve and all indices of human welfare would move north.
That all the states in the Niger Delta have unemployment rates in the region of 30% – 40% tells a depressing story of betrayal, abandonment and most pathetically, a criminal failure of leadership. While it is convenient to blame “Abuja” for the economic and infrastructural mess in the Niger Delta region, the recent revelations emanating from the ongoing probe of the NDDC point to a grand elite conspiracy and an ongoing game of deceit by several stakeholders in the region to enrich themselves at the expense of their communities.
No twisting the facts
Now to be clear: nothing is too much for the Niger Delta region in view of its immense contribution to the economic sustenance of the Nigerian nation. The region as we all know is responsible for an estimated 90% of the funds that keep Nigeria going on a day to day basis. The country drills more than 2 million barrels of crude oil from the Niger Delta everyday- including Sundays and sell same at the international market in return for the dollars deployed to servicing the country’s expensive governance system. It is no exaggeration to say that Nigeria would collapse if in one month, no oil is drilled from the Niger Delta region.
One can therefore argue that even if 50% of oil revenue earned monthly by the country is invested in agencies tasked with the development of the Niger Delta region, it still does not equate to what the region has given to the Nigerian nation since 1958 when oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, present day Bayelsa State. In addition to supporting every facet of existence in Nigeria, revenue from Niger Delta was used to build Abuja (a rural hinterland in the 1970s) into the sprawling capital city it has become today.
Much of the humongous public infrastructural projects you find in Lagos, Kano and every other major (or minor) city in Nigeria today were financed largely with revenue proceeds drawn from the Niger Delta. The public schools in Nigeria, the transport infrastructure, the medical facilities you find all over the country would not have been there (arguably) if not for Niger Delta’s oil wealth. How about the civil service? The military and paramilitary formations? Well, let’s not dwell on what is public knowledge.
The truth one must never shy away from is that the Niger Delta region is too critical for Nigeria’s corporate existence and future to be toyed with. However, the time has come to do things differently because as Albert Einstein reminded us, only a mad man would keep at a particular behavioural pattern and expect things to suddenly change.
An opportunity to start afresh
The ongoing probe of the NDDC and the emerging revelations- as shocking as they are- offer us an opportunity to reconsider the present model and rethink the system for greater effectiveness.
A lot of commentators including the very respected Sam Amadi, former head of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission- NERC- have called for the scrapping of the agency- arguing that Europe was rebuilt after the Second World War without any special agency charged with the development and implementation of the “Marshal Plan.”
While the argument may be true; the truth is that the peculiarities of the Nigerian situation and especially the current development status of the Niger Delta demand special attention which can only be managed by an intervention agency like the NDDC.
President Olusegun Obasanjo in his wisdom saw the need to commit the development of the region to a special agency because unlike some of the commentators calling for the dissolution of the body because of corruption (as if there is no corruption in several other agencies), President Obasanjo knew that the development of the 9 states in the region would be better managed by individuals who understand the development challenges of the zone, command the respect of the populace and have the political goodwill to bring the stakeholders to form a united front.
What however we must now focus on is how to reset the operations of the agency to avoid a repeat of some of the very sordid and embarrassing sights we have seen on TV screens in the last few weeks. The development of the Niger Delta is a serious business and has very little room for clowns and charlatans.
Recommendations for President Buhari
In view of the foregoing, the following recommendations must be brought to the table of the president, Muhammadu Buhari for his kind considerations.
To be fair, the president must be commended for his commitment to the development of the region, for mustering the political will to institute a forensic audit of the agency and for publicly expressing his determination to get to the root of the rot in the NDDC with a view to fast tracking the development of the region.
To begin with; the minister of Niger Delta affairs must be made to understand that he is not responsible for the day to day running of the affairs of the NDDC. He has his job cut out for him and if he is unclear on what his roles in government are beyond seeking to micro-manage the NDDC, he must be made to seek audience with his employer to understand what he should spend his waking hours on.
The allegations by the former acting managing director of the agency, Joi Nunieh that Senator Godswill Akpabio, the minister was “monitoring” and dictating who she greets and who ignores at the airport is as embarrassing as it shows how petty political squabbles can undermine the genuine intentions of fast tracking the development of the Niger Delta region which the NDDC was set up for.
One would suggest that henceforth, the NDDC should be brought directly under the presidency with the Special Advisor on Niger Delta Affairs coordinating with the MD of the Commission to implement development agenda and critically evaluate projects that would have direct bearing on the economic and social wellbeing of the Niger Delta people.
Returning the NDDC to direct presidential supervision anchored by the presidential adviser on Niger Delta affairs would promote transparency, due process in contract awards and payment for completed projects and even more importantly, reduce the overbearing influence of the national assembly members in the affairs of the Commission.
One may wish to recall that when he appeared before the House of Representatives Probe Committee on Monday, Godswill Akpabio pointedly told the legislators that he has documents which prove that majority of the contracts awarded by the Commission went to the National Assembly members. This author may not have all the facts but what is not in doubt is that a greater number of these alleged beneficiaries simply pocketed the funds and refused to do the job. If the agency comes under the supervision of the presidency, then certainly, one can be certain that there would be some sense of circumspection thereby reducing the arbitrariness.
Wanted: reliable point man in the Niger Delta
The above now leads to another interesting and equally critical issue: the absence of a presidential advisor on Niger Delta affairs and coordinator of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme.
One may wish to recommend to the president to dig deep and find an individual with the character, intelligence profile, goodwill and exposure to manage the Amnesty Programme, tackle some of the development and social challenges and promote peace and harmony in the region to occupy the vacant office.
It is time to start on a clean slate and nothing can be more critical at this point than bringing on board, an individual who can rise to the demands of managing the Niger Delta situation to promote genuine economic development, youth integration and a turnaround in the fortunes of the region.
The president will be writing his name in gold if he can effectively leverage the opportunity presented by the unfolding drama to champion the development of the region by restructuring the operations of the NDDC for greater effectiveness and even most importantly, appointing as a special advisor on Niger Delta affairs, an individual who has the smarts, experience in intelligence gathering and counter terrorism affairs to steady the ship and open a new chapter in the development trajectory of the region.
We must also keep in mind the other forms of economic sabotage happening in the region including pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft. Channeling the operations of the NDDC to presidential supervision with the adviser on Niger Delta affairs running point for the president will be the tactical equivalence of killing two birds with one stone- we tame the activities of economic saboteurs and fast track infrastructural and human capital development in the region in one breadth. This is doable. The president must be encouraged to seriously look at a holistic approach to tacking this age-old abuse and bring lasting peace and development to the region.