If taking public money was considered such a big deal, according to Joy Nunieh’s account, her colleague confessed he would kill anyone at the instruction of Godswill Akpabio before bothering to ask why the person had to die.
But Akpabio has countered that Nigerians must not believe that story until we seek clarification from “all her (Nunieh’s) former husbands—at least four of them that she had married in the past”.
Video clips of allegations and counter-allegations by the Niger Delta Minister and the former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director may provide entertainment, but the real issue is the ease with which public trust is abused in Nigeria.
Most unfortunate is that the NDDC scandal is simply one of the many we have dealt with in recent weeks.
The ongoing investigation of the suspended Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu has become a media circus at the same time Hushpuppi, Woodberry and other alleged internet fraudsters are facing trial abroad and the Managing Director and two Executive Directors of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) had to be suspended, suggesting that our woes in Nigeria have been compounded by a new malaise of corruption-virus.
While we wait for how the Magu drama will end amid the suspension yesterday of 12 EFCC Directors, the spat between Akpabio and Nunieh speaks more to the challenge of development in the Niger Delta, regardless of whether or not a Minister received an uncommon slap from a Port Harcourt girl!
The NDDC Act was signed into law 20 years ago last Sunday (12th July 2000) by 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”.
With a well-structured and statutory funding regime, sources of funds accruing to the commission include first line deductions from the Federation Account as well as contribution of a certain percentage of their profit by all oil producing (and gas processing) companies operating in the Niger-Delta area and mandatory contribution by the federal government.
From these sources, the commission has received approximately four trillion Naira in the past two decades. Available records reveal the following accruals between 2007 and 2016: 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.
Nobody has captured the situation better than the man at the centre of the current storm. Shortly after he was appointed Niger Delta Minister last year, Akpabio made it clear that he was going to focus on the NDDC.
“We currently have about 12,000 abandoned projects across the nine states of the Niger Delta. If those things were completed, you can imagine that the area would have been turned into an Eldorado,” Akpabio said.
“There is no way NDDC road can last (for) even two years. I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away. I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency,” he added.
Akpabio’s conclusion tallies with that of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) that has issued two detailed reports on ‘Revenues, Deductions, Analysis of Disbursements and Application of Funds’ on specified federal government agencies, including NDDC.
In the 2013 report which examined years 2007 to 2012, for instance, key findings include among others, that NDDC had not prepared audited accounts for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 as at July 2013 whereas section 20 (1) of the enabling law requires the commission to submit such audited accounts to the president not later than 30th June of the preceding year; duplication of a 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 that were largely abandoned by ‘dishonest contractors’.
Within those five years, according to NEITI, N963.7billion and $6.1 billion were expended by the commission.
The analysis and evaluation of the NDDC financial statements for the five years also “indicated irreconcilable differences between the additions of advance payment and interim payment certificates”.
Whereas the project master list gave a figure of N175.823 billion as payment made, the financial statements indicated that N415.089 billion was paid within the period.
“About 58 percent un-reconciled differences of N239.267 billion still exist. In 2007, a difference of N2.543 billion that is, 5 percent was observed; the year 2008, indicated N53.869 billion that is, 84 percent difference.
“In 2009, the difference was N38.899 billion that is 62 percent while the 2010 and 2011 indicated N45.521 billion and N98.436 that is, 44 and 74 percent difference respectively,” the NEITI report stated.
From the foregoing, if there is any value in the ongoing battle between Akpabio and Nunieh, it is the fact that Nigerians now know the quantum of resources in the NDDC and the level of mismanagement within a commission that seems solely preoccupied with the awards of contracts.
Aside sharing N1.5 billion as ‘Covid-19 relief’ among staff almost like a bazaar, other projects recently embarked upon by NDDC include ‘community relations’ costing N1.072 billion; consultancy, N4.1 billion; duty tour allowances, N486 million; Impress (October 2019 to May, 2020), N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal services, N906 million; maintenance, N220 million; medicals, N2.6 billion; overseas travel (February to May, 2020 when we were all supposed to be on lockdown), N85.6 million; logistics, N61 million; condolences, N61.7 million; public communication, N1.121 billion; security, N744 million; engagement of stakeholders (February to May, 2020), N248 million etc.
Even the Police got N475 million to buy face masks, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE) that should ordinarily be worn only by medical personnel!
Comrade Alex Kalejaiye, described as a community leader in Niger Delta, last year told a newspaper that Abuja is complicit in the problem of corruption in the NDDC, starting from inception when the Managing Director operated from the office of the SGF’s office.
“The implication of this is that you will bring projects to them and say ‘Oga this is for you, Oga na you get this one’, as if you are bringing returns. It’s like a sergeant bringing returns to the DPO at the police station” said Kalejaiye.
He also blamed the civil servants who have been at the commission from the start and the NDDC contractors he considered a special breed who have perfected the art of collecting money without doing the work.
However, when I spoke to one the contractors, he placed the blame at the doorstep of the political authority in Abuja.
“Go and look at the people they appoint as either MD or Executive Directors in NDDC. They are always politicians with ambition to run for governor or senate.
“So invariably, what they are telling those people is, ‘go and make money in NDDC’.
“There is also hardly anybody appointed into the NDDC without a godfather or godmother to whom such a person will be making returns”, the contractor said as he recounted his experience.
“I have been a contractor in NDDC for more than 13 years and I can tell you that upfront, you yield 20 percent of the contract sum to these politicians and NDDC is a place where collecting money after you have done the work is not a right but privilege.
“You have to beg to be paid and in the process, you negotiate. So contractors now know they are not expected to do any work, it is all about sharing money.
“But whether you believe it or not, most of this money also goes to service people in Abuja. That is why there is so much recklessness in the place.”
Whichever way you look at it, the NDDC is just one of several ways in which the people of Niger Delta are being short-changed, despite the huge resources that have gone to the region from the federation account since the 2002 Supreme Court ruling on onshore/offshore dichotomy.
In year 2008 for instance, the allocation to Akwa Ibom State alone (then governed by a certain Godswill Akpabio) was N204.5 billion. To understand how enormous that is, the allocation to the entire five states in the South-east that year was N176.2 billion!
When you then add the figures for NDDC, the hundreds of billions of Naira that have been voted for the amnesty programme, the 13 percent derivation and the Ministry of Niger Delta, it is obvious that the people of the region have long been short-changed by those who feed fat on their misery.
We can of course say the same for the country.
A NEITI analysis of the disbursements by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for the year 2019 is quite revealing.
Five states, according to NEITI, received above N100 billion:
- Lagos (N117.76 billion),
- Bayelsa (N139.69 billion),
- Rivers (N158 billion),
- Akwa Ibom (N171.43 billion) and Delta (N218.58 billion).
“Four of the top five states were in the Niger Delta region. This owes largely to the impact of 13% derivation,” says NEITI in an analysis of the FAAC allocations to the 36 states.
“While Osun State had the lowest disbursed figure of N24.14 billion, Delta State had the highest of N218.58 billion. This implies that Delta State received over nine times the amount that Osun State received.”
While poor governance is not restricted to the Niger Delta region, the story of NDDC in the past 20 years is that of waste, monumental debts (N2 trillion, according to Akpabio) and abandoned projects.
The Isaac Jemide presidential committee report, covering between 2005 and 2011, listed a total of 609 projects spread across just three states (Cross River, Edo and Rivers) that were abandoned at various levels of completion, as at that period.
Some of these projects, according to the committee, were completely outside the statutory operational scope of the NDDC. We can also glimpse that from what is already coming out of a senate committee investigation.
Although Akpabio is making a song and dance about some ‘forensic audit’ he has commissioned, what the situation at NDDC requires is a more fundamental structural reform.
In his paper ‘From the OMPADEC to the NDDC: An Assessment of State Responses to Environmental Insecurity in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’, Shola Omotola argued that given the performance of both OMPADEC and the NDDC, these agencies remain inadequate and ineffective because they are not disconnected from “political influences, corruption, unrepresentativeness, and other underlying structural problems that render them cosmetic.”
It is sad that the NDDC has in the past 20 years been very notorious for scandals. But we must also come to terms with the fact that an ad hoc arrangement like the one currently in place is antithetical to the promotion of accountability.
Incidentally, it was Akpabio who came up with this Interim Management Committee (IMC) arrangement after the Senate had confirmed the presidential nominees for the NDDC board.
He was the person who brought Nunieh with whom he is now at daggers-drawn.
In his statement yesterday, Akpabio said the allegations against him were meant to “kill the forensic audit, and continue business as usual at the NDDC”.
But there is nothing in the law establishing the commission which provided for some administrators with elastic mandate.
Now that he and Nunieh are fighting dirty in the public square, President Muhammadu Buhari has a responsibility to intervene on the side of probity.
And the only way to do that is to constitute a proper board, as demanded by law, and put in place measures to reform the NDDC that is now for all practical purposes a huge slush fund!