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 NDDC has outlived its usefulness, scrap it

NDDC has outlived its usefulness, scrap it


DOGGED by scandals, the Niger Delta Development Commission is back in the news. In one salvo, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, practically declared war on the interventionist agency for its failure to provide the 50 per cent counterpart funding for the construction of the Eastern Bypass Road in Port Harcourt. In another, some interest groups renewed their clamour for the reconstitution of its board that was dissolved in 2020, and the sacking of the interim administrator that has been running its affairs since then. Both miss the point: the NNDC is an aberration, a monumental waste of public funds and a cesspool of corruption; it should be scrapped.

The NDDC reflects the failing Nigerian union. It is essentially a bribe to the oil-producing states. Instead of the minimum 50 per cent derivation and control over the crude oil and gas resources in their territory as practised in other federations, the state doles a meagre 13 per cent as derivation and set up the agency to provide infrastructure that federating units should do by themselves. Compounding it, the prevailing national elite culture of rent-taking, corruption, inefficiency and impunity has dogged it since its inception. It has been a disaster.

Wike’s grouse is typical. Though the NDDC had long agreed with the state government to jointly share the cost of the highway project, the agency has not provided a dime. However, the governor’s threat to make the NDDC uncomfortable in the state where it has its N16 billion headquarters complex does not address the fundamental issue.

Established by the Federal Government in year 2000, the NDDC was to accelerate infrastructural development in the Niger Delta region following years of agitation by the indigenes, incensed that despite hosting the crude oil, which provides about 90 per cent of public revenues, they were denied of its benefits, their land and water sources devastated and their farming and fishing livelihoods upturned.

Its mission statement states, “To offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” In this, it has failed woefully. It targets among others, transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.

The mission was sabotaged from inception. First, it has never been fully funded. By 2018, said the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, the government owed it a backlog of almost N1 trillion in budgeted but unremitted funds. In October 2021, BudgIT, an NGO, noted that the N198.7 billion capital vote for the NDDC was omitted in the 2022 Appropriation Bill.

The enabling law provides for its funding from contributions from the Federal Government and oil companies, 15 per cent of the allocations due to the Niger Delta states under the derivation principle; 3.0 per cent of the total annual budget of any oil company operating in the Niger Delta; and 50 per cent of funds due to the member states from the Ecological Fund.

The funds have never been fully released. And much of what is released is plundered.

In its defence, the commission claims to have delivered 14,363 projects since 2015, 60 per cent of them capital projects, and over 3,000 rural projects across the nine states in the region. But these claims are dwarfed by the industrial scale corruption there. A forensic audit report released in 2020 found that the NDDC received over N6 trillion between 2001 and 2019 with very little to show. It detailed bewildering evidence of grand corruption, brazen fraud and impunity. It uncovered 13,000 abandoned projects, most of which the contract sums were fully or partially paid for. The agency had 362 bank accounts that according to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, lacked proper reconciliation.

The looting spree has many partakers: federal officials, board members and executives, staff and contractors. Senators and members of the House of Representatives have also been named in the pillage. A former NNDC chairman was exposed after he paid over N800 million to a spiritualist to help him keep his job. A former Senate committee chairman and his House of Representatives counterpart were named in NDDC contract scandals. The executives’ award of N1.5 billion to themselves as ‘Covid-19 palliative’ in 2020 is a tip of the iceberg. Akpabio too has been accused of pursuing a private agenda using a cleansing campaign as cover. He strongly denies this. Since its dissolution in 2020 amid fresh scandals, the NDDC has had no board and is run by an administrator appointed by the minister.

This charade has to end. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should fulfil his vow to recover all the funds stolen, apprehend and prosecute the offenders. Like its predecessor. OMPADEC, the NDDC has not achieved its mandate. Instead, it is a conduit for massive looting. It should be immediately wound down. So should the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

The NDDC was never intended as a permanent agency. Nigeria should do the right thing; the 1999 Constitution should be replaced to facilitate resource control and 50 per cent derivation. While that process is ongoing, the consensus that facilitated 13 per cent derivation and resolved the onshore/offshore oil revenue controversy should be applied to expedite a graduated increase in derivation to crude oil-bearing states. This was one of the recommendations of the 2014 national conference. This should be accompanied by a vigorous liberalisation and private sector-led mining programme. The states should accord this top priority and be incentivised by 50 per cent derivation. States should then use their resources to develop their territories as they deem fit.

Meanwhile, the anti-graft agencies should get to work and bring all those who looted the NNDC funds to justice. Buhari should send a bill to the parliament revoking the NDDC Act.

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