NDDC and The Ill Fate of Niger Deltans

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The euphoria that greeted the evening of 15th January 1956, was unprecedented in Nigerian history, when the British government announced the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta, for the indigenes of this region and Nigerian citizens it was a blessing that sparked optimism and invigorating energy that later won independence. Unfortunately, it came with a curse, the curse of mono economy and grandiose corruption!

How did a region which contributes 90% of the Nigerian economy and 4.1% of the total world’s crude oil export became miserable? Well, the answer lies with the government, but maybe not the government, the leaders of the region may hold the keys to opening this Pandora’s box.

To fully understand the gamut of the current saga engulfing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta, there is a need to retrospect on the journey so far and how we got into this mess.

The current probe goes again to show the permeation of corruption in the paraphernalia of Nigerian sector and its trickle down effect can be felt among the people of the Niger delta region and Nigeria at large.

At the primordial of oil discovery in the late 50s the percentage of oil revenue allocated to the Niger Delta region was 50%, after independence, the percentage started plummeting with the rise of civil war came a plummet in oil revenue, the military government of General Yakubu Gowon had to reduce the percentage in order to keep up with economic realities.

The post civil war Nigeria saw a rise of coups and counter coups, with every regime came its different policies and sharing formula. So much that it plummeted to 2% during the General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime.

As the percentage plummets, the more the people were forced to face a harrowing environmental devastation and poverty. An economy which was dependent on farming and fishing was confronted with existential threat because of environmental degradation due to crude oil production. This in turn led to various movement and the proliferation of various armed groups.

After the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa by the Abacha’s notoriously led military junta, came an inundation of various armed group, which were involved in violent skirmishes against the government. A serious conflict ensued within the region, in an attempt to quell the various uprising, more States were created in the region in order for more palpable representation that can fasten the development of the region. All these efforts failed to yield a positive result, until the transition to civilian government in 1999.

The final transition to civilian rule, herald a new era for Nigerians, after a brutal epoch of millitary transition marked by suppression and gigantic corruption. for the region, a new age beckons, but unfortunately nothing tangible really changed it was just a transition to a more sophisticated form of corruption.

The first step the newly civilian government led by Obasanjo took, was to attempt to restore normalcy and peace to the region, and these includes: a raise in the sharing formula for the region to 13% and a new commission led by the top regional actors to fast track growth and development and  also come up with strategies and new policies that can be implemented in order to quell subsequent uprisings and protect the environment.

After a turbulent passage in the national assembly, the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) although rejected by many people of the region since the bill didn’t address directly their agitation for resource control and revenue allocation, many skeptics viewed it as a body meant to aggravate the corruption in the region.

The NDDC act establishes a governing board for the commission, a representative of each of the nine oil producing states and 3 other states, a representative of the oil companies and representatives of various federal government department, in order to allow checkmates and transparency. The commission was to be run by a managing director, funded by the federal government and the oil companies.

The commission kickstarted its operation with a proposal of N40billion, which a large part of it was approved. While the commission continued its job it failed to live up to its expectations as armed group continued to wreck havoc, vandalism and kidnappings became a lucrative venture in the region, despite its funding, it couldn’t pinpoint to a tangible development program. Until 2008 when the newly elected government formed the Ministry of Niger Delta. Yar Adua was able to deploy pragmatism, by granting amnesty to the various armed groups and provided scholarship abroad to some of them. While this helped quell the instabilities of the region. It became a pathway to more corruption.

The recent tantrum throwing between Joy Nunieh and Godswill Akpabio has unveiled the veil of corruption in the NDDC. since the inception of the Ministry of Niger Delta affairs, its sole responsibility was to guide the NDDC and monitor projects. NDDC became a subsidiary of the ministry for Niger Delta affairs, with the two bodies collaborating to implement projects that will aid the development of the region.

The recent saga came after the federal government ordered a probe into the ministry after it failed to live up to expectations. While the various uprisings have been kept at bay, the major job the commission was saddled with can not be felt.

This led to the removal of Joy Nunieh as the acting chairman of the commission and the installation of Professor Daniel Pondei as the acting chairman of the commission.

The removal of Joy led to an altercation between her and Godswill, with various allegations of fraud, padding and sexual harassment raised by the erstwhile chairman, the minister resorted to ad hominem in trying to clear the air about her allegations, raising public cynicism. A forensic audit into the commission shows that the commission had spent 40billion naira from January to July without any palpable project, this led to the invitation of Pondei and his boss, Godswill, to the national assembly probe.

However, 45 minutes into the probe the acting chairman of the commission fainted in a public show of shame that got the whole country talking. Nigerian politicians are popular for using different gimmicks and antics to prevaricate probes and justice. From Dino Melaye to Olisa Metuh to Fayose. The travesty of Nigerian politics continue to unveil itself. Pondei has taken the steps of his predecessors but who is next? How long do we continue to thread on such a precarious path of public accountability?

The damage of corruption in our nation continue to unveil itself. The depth to which corruption has deeply eaten into the Nigerian society is yet unknown, but this current issue will definitely lead to more discovery.

Many pundits have always attributed the problem of Niger Delta to the federal government leadership, but what happens when the people saddled with the responsibility to develop their own region end up siphoning the funds meant for that region? Who else do we shift the blame too?

Are we losing the war on corruption or is there something inherently wrong with us as a people? Are we biologically wired to be corrupt? Or there is a force acting behind the surface that has kept our mind in the dungeon of corruption?

While we continue to reflect on these questions, apparently, something is obvious, “culture” matters. Culture in this context doesn’t imply our traditions, or dress or language. It embolden our paradigm and our modern working mechanisms.

The culture of corruption in Nigeria can be traced to the Shagari government which was the second civilian government. During the years of oil boom, we had the money but the leaders were bereft of ideas so much that  Yakubu Gowon said in a public interview that “Nigeria has more money than it can spend”. Such, was the mentality of the pioneer leaders of this country.

At a time when other oil producing nations were investing in tourism, Nigerian leaders were busy looting petrodollar, so much that Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of Britain, threatened to release the names of Nigerian who have so much money in the UK that can fund Nigerian budget. The ripple effect of this age long “chop make I chop” mentality is what we’re currently witnessing.

These mentality trickled down from the upper echelon to the citizens and it became a culture And it has continued to breed more corrupt citizens. While corruption hinders economic progress, it is also worthy of note that China vehemently fought against its corrupt class and stumped it out.

To cancel the culture of corruption requires will and paradigm shift, in other to halt the mechanism that fuels it; first they must be an extreme punitive measure in place to dissuade people, not the weak measures we have. Secondly, a total shift in our daily culture, how we interact with the law enforcement, our financial dealings and utmost honesty coupled with strong work ethics. A nation where people pay bribe  to get government jobs will continue the endemic thread, because automatically the whole job was gotten based on corruption, you can’t fight the system that produced you.

As the probe continues we await a judgement from the panels, but in all, even if it takes a menial and a slow process, we must not relent in fighting the monster that has retrogressed us, we must always hold our leaders accountable and continue to imbibe the habit of strong ethics that can’t easily be broken. Until then the unfolding drama of this event must continue, in order to open a new chapter for us, so we can make headway as a country.

– Sunday Jude Abah, a writer and freelance journalist.


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