By Emmanuel Oladesu
Oil, the black gold, is a major source of revenue for the Federal Government. Paradoxically, the politics of oil spells doom for the endowed, but deprived Niger Delta region. Oil has become a liability and major source of poverty for the producing areas.
When will the Niger Delta enjoy its full proceeds? When will the vast coastal region and indeed, Nigeria, get out of the corruption drama?
Oil, since its discovery, has been the main politico-economic issue, often exploited and mismanaged. Should it remain a sort of blessing to all Nigerians and at the same time a monumental curse to the goose that lays the golden egg?
To cater for the special infrastructural needs of the neglected, marginalised, brutalised, and pauperised region, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was created. Its impact has not been felt beyond the empowerment of the coastal elite. Also, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was created as an intervention agency. Its performance has been doubtful. It has continued to only intervene in the lives of local barons who are always eager to sustain the tradition of exploitation to the peril of the poor Niger Deltans. This makes the NDDC a disaster.
The region is devastated by its own antics. The self-oppression is ironic and worrisome. The ministry and agency are exclusively managed by Federal Government appointees of Niger Delta origin. Who therefore, is to blame for the plight of the riverine areas?
Reminiscent of the controversial Oil Minerals Producing Development Commission (OMPADEC), NDDC has become a racket and a huge joke; a fraudulent parastatal parading vague accomplishments. The more money that is allocated to the commission for regional development, the poorer the region, no thanks to the culture of theft and graft and the officials’ penchant for “steal and go.”
The leaders of the South- South have been very vociferous in their clamour for the ownership of the resources. But, if there is resource control by the oil-producing states today, would they not follow the path of the interventionist agency that now symbolises sleaze?
After many years of protests and demand for investigation into the activities of the well-funded, yet unproductive and financially reckless NDDC, President Muhammadu Buhari recently agreed to beam the searchlight on its activities. Curiously, the account of the agency has not been audited in the last 15 years.
But, what will be the outcome of the National Assembly/Akpabio/ NDDC drama? Will the so-called forensic probe achieve the desired result? Are the hunter and the hunted not the same of the same?
Nigerians were taken aback by the disclosures by the NDDC handlers at the on-going probe. Despite the Buhari administration’s avowed commitment to the anti-corruption battle and the prosecution of culprits by anti-graft agencies, many top functionaries are undeterred. It is worse that these privileged and dubious officials also rationalise their corrupt behaviours and openly defend the looting of the treasury.
The NDDC requires a complete overhauling. It is retarded by some acts of commission or omission on the part of the Federal Government. Many of its officials have taken turns to loot the agency, owing to the flawed appointments. The temporary appointment may have often disposed them to embezzlement. The refrain appears to be: “make haste and grab what you can in NDDC.”
In violation of the NDDC act, a sole administrator was appointed for the agency. The acting managing director said she failed, based on the weight of pressure from the supervising Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio. Mrs. Joy Nunieh raised very serious allegations which should have made the minister to resign in saner climes. She was later booted out for alleged lack of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate.
Then, another illegality was erected on the flawed process. An interim management chaired by Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondel was set up by the president instead of a substantive board. The interim management also soiled its hand in graft, allocating a large chunk of the money to the staff to cushion what it described as the effects of Covid. Only in NDDC can billions be set aside for Christmas and Covid palliatives. But for who in particular? As agency officials were sharing money, the generality of the people meant to be served by the commission were abandoned in starvation.
The former sole administrator denied the existence of any forensic probe. She alleged that Akpabio frustrated her through sexual harassment and other directives that bothered on fraud. The ebullient and forked tongue minister denied the allegations. But, his disclosure on how N4.2 billion was spent in a day by NDDC is confounding. On what? On imaginary projects.
The only hope therefore, was the National Assembly probe. But, the investigation only got messier. The NDDC Executive Director of Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojoughoh, was on the prowl. He cried foul, saying that the agency had become a lottery. Then, another bombshell. Senators and House of Representatives members, Ojoughoh said, meddled in contracts awards and execution. The agency had become a scam, the rot staring the bewildered nation in the face.
The minister reinforced Ojugboh’s claim. He said the chairmen of the National Assembly Committees on NDDC were beneficiaries of scandalous contracts. In fact, Prof. Pondei walked out on the chairman, Olubunmi Ojo, who later recused himself from the public sitting.
The minister lent credence to the claim of the NDDC helmsmen. Akpabio, who was a senator until last year, merely validated the subsisting allegations of parliamentary padding. The House Committee acting chairman did not like the response that committee members may have soiled their hands. He asked the minister to stop the dirty linen in the public. To Nigerians, the move paled into face saving tactics.
From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. But, when the heat was turned on Akpabio by legislators, he recanted. It was not a visceral denial, by hypocritical rebuttal.
The NDDC MD later became a laughing stock. His strategy instantly produced a result that boxed the panel into confusion. Unable to properly defend his interim board over corruption allegations, Pondel fainted. It was the end of the probe. The defence mechanism paid off. Attention momentarily shifted from public scrutiny to personal illness. House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said the professor will not reappear before the committee, advising the federal legislators to rely on the documents he submitted to draw conclusions.
The Senate Ad Hoc Committee was furious. It called on the president to dissolve the NDDC interim board. It is long overdue. Besides, the Senate recommended that those who made the agency funds to develop wings should be brought to book in the spirit of the anti-corruption war. It is a core advice the president cannot afford to ignore in the interest of Niger Delta.
Are the labours of Adaka Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa and Obong Victor Attah in the Niger Delta not in vain today? They endured the pains of struggle, fought for derivation and demanded special economic assistance for the far flung zone. The fruits of their labour are ending in private pockets. The unscrupulous elements who now torment the region through mindless looting are sons and daughters of the Niger Delta and few opportunistic collaborators from other zones.
As they persist in their nefarious activities, the masses of Niger Delta continue to wallow in penury. They continue to suffer from pollution, environmental denigration, ecological problems, infrastructural deficits and permanent psychological pains.
It is an interesting time in the Niger Delta. As the controversy rages, prominent indigenes; elder statesmen, rights activists and leaders of militant groups are keeping mum. It is a new dimension to the drama.
Who will salvage the injured region?