Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasnajo on July 12, 2000 signed the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act in an attempt to mitigate the socio economic challenges of the region.
The commission was mandated to facilitate rapid, even, and sustainable development of the region to propel economic prosperity, social stability, ecological regeneration and political peace. In fact, its sole mandate is to develop the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, but has it lived up to its mandate? Our correspondents look around states of the region and convey the people’s feelings.
Tongues are wagging over recent enquiries into the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which have prompted a Senate ad-hoc committee probe of alleged mismanagement of funds in the commission with a demand that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) refund all paid to staff of the commission which were deemed “unjustifiable.”
The senate panel also recommended that the commission should now report directly to President Muhammadu Buhari, even as it urged that the president dissolve the IMC and set up a board for the commission.
The recommendations read out by the chairman of the committee, Olubunmi Adetumbi, on Thursday came two weeks after the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Kemebradikumo Pondei, admitted that the commission spent N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’ at the investigative hearing on the N40 billion corruption allegation against the commission.
The senate had on May 5 set up a seven-man ad-hoc committee to investigate alleged “financial recklessness” of the IMC. They said within the last three months, the commission spent over N40 billion without established processes of disbursement which aroused suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region.
According to reports, the lawmakers also faulted the IMC’s “arbitrary use of executive power in an alleged wrongful sacking of management staff without recourse to established civil service rules and practice with the aim of allegedly concealing the fraudulent financial recklessness they have committed.”
The sources of funds accruing to the include first line deductions from the Federation Account as well as contributions of a certain percentage of profits by oil producing (and gas processing) companies operating in the Niger-Delta area and mandatory contributions by the federal government.
From these sources, the commission is believed to have received approximately N4 trillion in the past two decades. Available records show that it received between 2006 and 2007 (N64.721 billion); 2008 (N84.790 billion); 2009 (N141.575 billion); 2010 (N135.097 billion); 2011 (167.778 billion); 2012, (N140.605 billion); 2013, (N149.352); 2014, (N207.553); 2015, (N140.512) and 2016, (N181.637 billion).
However, despite these enormous resources, the consensus among stakeholders is that there is little to show for it in the Niger Delta.
Our reporter gathered from records that there was a duplication of the total number of 22 projects and payment of mobilization fees of about N63.558 billion on a significant number of projects worth about N284.884 billion which was abandoned by contractors, even as reports published by NEITI said NDDC received N963.7 billion and $6.1 billion within the period.
A pressure group in Rivers State, the Unity House Foundation, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint career civil servants to take over the commission.
The conveyer of the group, Wenenda Wali, said in Port Harcourt on the heels of calls to scrap the NDDC following startling revelations that it is still very strategic to the development of the region, though marred by top level corruption.
He said high level graft and theft has become the order of the day in the commission.
“What is happening in NDDC is not strange, it is a Nigerian thing but because of the vibrance you can call it energy or negative impact within the region, that is why it looks like it is something normal. The new normal in Nigeria is corruption and because that has eaten deep in our daily activities unfortunately for us NDDC is having issues because of the character of persons involved. It is embarrassing and quite regrettable that a commission set up to serve the people of Niger Delta has now become a charade, some kind of joke but at the same time I disagree with people that say NDDC does not serve any purpose.
“That is a big lie. If you go round the Niger Delta I’m sure you will see a couple of things that were done by the commission, now are those things comparable to the amount of money that has been allocated to the commission? The answer is certainly no. Have they done better? Maybe they should have done better but then the uncertainty that has become the pace of NDDC is the biggest challenge.
“You start with the board, one board comes in after the first board, another board comes in, I don’t think any board has completed its tenure. At the same point it became an institution for arming the political interests of a few people and people began to see it as a place to go and acquire funds further political agenda.
“The core mandate is totally ignored. I don’t know whether we should say they abandoned their mandate because I don’t think they had any mandate in the first place so if you look at the numbers that have been churning out and the level of brigandage that has been going on there you begin to ask yourself if anybody in the first place wanted to go and do anything there and when somebody tells you that he spends huge sums of money from consultancy to condolence visits, what I found most tragic was consultancy to people to do public enlightenment programs for COVID-19, not COVID-19 itself,” he said.
He said the federal government should look at a better way of improving the leadership quality in the commission such as allowing career civil servants to take over the top management.
He said that when a career civil servant who has put in about 25 years service is allowed to occupy a top management position such person would put in his or her best.
A member of the House of Representatives representing Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Dekor, described the NDDC as a sham.
Dekor who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday said he regretted that the commission that was established to address the multiple development challenges of the Niger Delta has ended up as a conduit pipe to siphon funds into private pockets.
He described the many years of the establishment of the commission as a waste, with practically nothing meaningful to show for all the funds earmarked for development of the region.
“If the president is interested in ensuring that NDDC functions and they want to do a proper audit, I don’t think most of these characters who are running the place and who are even supervising them are supposed to be doing that,” Dekor said.
He urged the federal government to look for true Niger Deltans who have the competence and integrity to get into the place.
“If not, what we see now, we are just like wasting our time,” he added.
The Executive Director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, said he supports the ongoing forensic audit of the NDDC.
“The ongoing investigation by the National Assembly is very important as it is critical and expository, leading to the exposure of endemic corruption in the NDDC with names of those who have surcharged the people of the Niger Delta through the commission gradually coming out.
“The saga between the former Acting Managing Director, Dr. Joy Nunieh and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpobio, is not only corruption fighting back but God’s will for the NDDC and people of the Niger Delta as it would lead to more groundbreaking revelations in the days ahead that if the president takes it seriously, the findings would reposition the NDDC to serve the purposes for which it was set up.
“For a thorough investigation to be carried out, we call for Senator Akpabio to step aside as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs while the investigation lasts. Advocacy Centre thus calls on President Buhari to take the investigation very seriously and ensure that it gets to a logical conclusion,” he said.
Abandoned, completed projects everywhere in A/Ibom
Many projects started by the NDDC can be found across the 31 local government areas of Akwa Ibom State.
Such road projects include the Abak Road Federal Housing Estate road, Aka road, Oron road and the permanent site of the University of Uyo, among others, including classroom blocks and the donation of table and chairs to some secondary and primary schools in the state.
However, there are many more abandoned projects like hostels and classrooms blocks at the University of Uyo.
Some of the abandoned roads started by the NDDC in Uyo are the Ifa Iko Okpong-Use offot road, Ifa Ikot Okpong-Ifa Attai road, Archibong street, Ifa Ikot Okpong, etc, while four streets started in Ifa Ikot Uboh along Oron road axis have been completed.
Mr. Patrick Titus, a resident of Oron road in Uyo, told our correspondent that almost all the road projects started during the 2019 elections were abandoned.
He said this had caused a lot of hardships for the people, adding that it seems the projects were used as a political tool to get the votes for a particular political party.
He said; “A lot of people are suffering, some people who lived in Ifa Ikot Okpong-Ifa Attai road have relocated. The road is water logged, especially with the rains. It has also affected the economy of the people.
“Ifa Ikot Okpong-Use Offot road has become waterlogged and when it rains many houses are flooded. The unfortunate part of it now is that in all these roads, nothing is going on. Construction work stopped immediately after the election, nobody knows the fate of the road now.
“It appears the All Progressives Congress (APC) government through NDDC initiated the construction of the roads just to deceive people to get votes, especially during the 2019 governorship elections when Nsima Ekere contested. When he lost, work stopped on the construction of the roads till today, no contractor is on site.”
When our correspondent contacted Mr Dennis Udonte, the Public Relations Officer in the NDDC office in Uyo to give the budgets for the various projects, he said only the Director of the Project Monitoring unit in the Port Harcourt office of the commission can give such information.
Worries over abandoned projects in Bayelsa
Residents of different communities in Bayelsa State have expressed concern over abandoned projects initiated by the NDDC in almost all parts of the state.
Though most of the projects ranging from school renovation, construction of roads and bridges, installation of solar street lights, water treatment plants and shore protection were abandoned at various states of execution by contractors, residents are hopeful that they could still return to complete the projects.
Most of the abandoned projects traced by Daily Trust on Sunday were awarded several years ago, from early 2000 by successive managements of the commission, but even the ones executed in the recent past have not been completed.
In 2017, the NDDC disclosed that it awarded 941 projects in Bayelsa State, out of which 233 valued at N38.8 billion have been completed and inaugurated.
The then Director, Corporate Affairs, Ibitoye Abosede who disclosed this, promised completion of the N24bn 25.7km Ogbia-Nembe road before the end of the year, but the road is still uncompleted.
During a House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC tour of uncompleted projects late last year, the federal lawmakers urged the contractors to return to sites.
They visited the Orthopaedic Centre, Children and Maternity Hospital, Otuoke, the 14km Market Access Road with drainage which was awarded in 2016, 4km Bayelsa Palm-Otuoke road with drainage, 150m Afa bridge which was awarded in 2010 and the 1km internal road and shore protection of Onuebum community.
Others included the Federal University, Otuoke, and a 16km road awarded in 2012 that was reduced to 6km at Otuoke, all in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
The member representing Ogbia Federal Constituency in the House, Mr. Fred Obua who led the team during the tour, said the inspection was necessary to ensure that the spate of uncompleted projects by the NDDC was curtailed.
Obua said, “We have moved round and have seen the level of work and uncompleted projects. We have gathered that most of the projects were uncompleted due to financial difficulties.
“We are assuring the people that appropriate measures will be taken to bring the contractors back to site.”
One of the NDDC contractors, Jeremiah Menidien, said his company was ready to complete the job, noting that some projects had achieved some level of completion, especially the roads with drainage and sand filling.
Recently, the people of non Polaku community raised alarm over non completion of the Kolokuma- Sabagriea –Polaku road.
They said many years after the award of contract for the road, it’s delay was giving them cause for concern.
The road project which was said to have been designed to connect communities in Yenagoa and Kolokuma-Opokuma local government areas and provide an alternative route from the East- West road into the state capital, is still impassable.
According to the paramount ruler of Polaku, Chief Barnabas Tarila, the non completion of the road is affecting the people.
An indigene of the community, Elder Oyoro Izon-Owei, noted the potential socio-economic benefits the people would have enjoyed with the road.
Despite the financial mismanagement allegations by successive managements of the NDDC, several citizens of Bayelsa State claimed that the benefits of the commission to the oil bearing communities overwhelmed the corruption therein.
Nothing to show in Edo as governor queries fund disbursement
Residents of Edo State say most of the NDDC projects in the state which are mostly road projects have either been abandoned or are uncompleted while completed one are substandard.
Governor Godwin Obaseki had during a visit by the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on abandoned NDDC projects to his office called for a probe of the untilization of N20 billion meant for projects in the state.
He said most of projects were sub-standard, particularly the Apostolic Street off Sokponba road project which led to flooding in the area.
But it was learnt that NDDC road projects in the state include Namayo road in Ipoba Okha Local Government, Ekosodi and Adolor roads in Egor Local Government.
It was gathered Namayo road was awarded at the cost N248m while Adolor road was awarded at N240m.
A resident, Osayuwamen Charles, said there is nothing beneficial from the NDDC as it’s project in his area were all abandoned.
“Go to Namayo road and see the state of the road, once it rains vehicles find it difficult to pass the road,” he said.
He said he only heard that billions of naira was embezzled in the name of projects but all they see there are abandoned projects.
Also speaking, another resident, Lucky Isibor, said though some roads were constructed in the area, many others were abandoned and substandard.
“The Aikowa street road at Upper Sakpoba road has been abandoned by the commission. The people are really suffering and to come out of the area to the main road is between N150 and N200 a drop because of the bad nature of the road.
“Also, there is a road in my area in Esan land from Ewohomin to Uromi that they were constructing but it has also been abandoned for over five years now.”
Efforts to speak with NDDC’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Mr Charles Odili, on the abandoned projects did not yield any result, as he did not respond to text massage sent to his phone.