According to the introductory note to the Act establishing it, the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was conceived to “use the sums received from the allocation of the Federation Account for tackling ecological problems which arise from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger-Delta area”. The NDDC replaced the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission (OMPADEC), following protests from the people of the region, against the monumental corruption and incompetence of that entity. In the establishment Act, the functions of the NDDC are as follows:
# to formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger-Delta area;
# to conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger-Delta area in the field of transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, water supply, electricity and telecommunications;
# cause the Niger-Delta area to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures which are necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development;
# prepare a master plan and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger-Delta area and the estimates for the cost of implementing such master plans and schemes;
# implement all the measures approved for the development of the Niger-Delta area by the Federal Government and the member States of the Commission;
# identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger-Delta area and assist the member States in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger-Delta area;
# assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the Niger-Delta area by oil and gas producing companies and any other company including non-governmental organisations and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised; and
# tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger-Delta area and advise the Federal Government and the member States on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution.
By section 2 of the NDDC Act, the power house of the Commission is its Governing Board, comprising a Chairman, one person to represent each of the oil producing member States of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers; three persons to represent the non-oil producing geo-political zones, representatives of the Federal Ministries of Finance and Environment, one representative of the oil producing companies in the Niger-Delta nominated by the said companies, the managing director and two executive directors. They are to hold office for a period of four years, subject to renewal and to operate as part-time members. By virtue of section 4 of the NDDC Act, the office of the chairman of the Governing Board shall rotate amongst member States in alphabetical order, whilst section 12 makes the offices of the managing director and the two executive directors rotational, in the order of the highest production quantum of oil amongst the member States. The oil production quota for the member States are: Akwa-Ibom (31.4), Delta (21.7), Rivers (21.4), Bayelsa (18.1), Ondo (3.7), Edo (2.1), Imo (1.1) Abia (0.7). All other member States have occupied the offices of Chairman, managing director and executive directors respectively, except Ondo and Imo States. Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta States have produced the Chairman of the Board in the past and by the rotational principle established under section 2 of the NDDC Act, Edo State should produce the next chairman whilst Ondo State, going by the oil production quantum principle established under section 12, should produce the managing director. Failure to comply with the precedence laid down in the NDDC Act has led to several cases filed in various courts against the NDDC Board currently being proposed and it is good that the President seemed to have taken the hint to step it down for now. But the issues with the NDDC is far beyond the mad struggle for juicy positions by the member States.
The NDDC and indeed OMPADEC before it, were all conceived as interventionist agencies to address the critical problems of pollution and degrading of the ecosystem of that region, all resulting from the oil exploration and production activities going on there. This struggle has consumed so many lives and destinies, including that of Isaac Adaka Boro, Dr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, etc. One is therefore surprised that the people of the Niger-Delta see the NDDC as a goldmine, to be deployed to line the pockets of militants, ethnic warlords and regional politicians. What has happened over the years is that projects are deliberately cooked up without any intention to execute them and the people are short-changed year in year out, through the NDDC. I have never seen a people who hate and work against their own selves and interests, as those of the Niger-Delta area. They know these phony contractors, who are their brothers and sisters, they live with them in the same creeks and mangroves and yet they cannot stand up to challenge them and hold them accountable for the humongous funds allocated for fake projects.
There is no transparent procedure for the award of contracts in the NDDC, there is no verifiable means of monitoring the projects to ensure execution and even when projects are ‘delivered’, there is no correlation between what was awarded and what has been executed, in terms of quality and specification. It is unthinkable that the NDDC has been in existence since 2000 and yet, there is no major project that is recorded against its name as tangible and durable. Let me give an instance. The people of Ilaje Local Government of Ondo State have for many years been battling sea incursion which has wiped away many of their communities. A few years ago, NDDC claimed to have award a shoreline protection contract for over four billion naira. Though the contractor was said to have been mobilized for the project, it never moved to the site and nothing has been done till date. It makes mockery of the whole resource control campaigns if at the end of the day, the outcome thereof will be to turn greedy individuals into emergency millionaires. Lagos State was similarly faced the same challenge but its leaders rose up to face it and they succeeded in pushing the ocean back and even confronted it with a new Eko Atlantic City. How can the Niger-Delta people be so short-sighted, to be devouring their own seeds?
There are enough provisions in the NDDC Act to safeguard against corruption and mismanagement but because those who find their ways into its board are politicians who are close to power, the willpower to dig deep into the rot in the NDDC is lacking. Recently, the House of Representatives conducted a public hearing into the contracts so far awarded by the agency and the figures that were mentioned are simply mind-boggling. Close to four thousand projects had been awarded without any record of execution or completion. And they run into trillions of naira, whereas the people and the region remain neglected, abandoned and undeveloped. Let the elders of the Niger-Delta rise up and look people in their faces, let the intellectuals take up their pens and dig deeper into the suffocating rot in the NDDC, let the activists rouse themselves to confront the demons of corruption, nepotism and incompetence that have become the lot of the NDDC, because this just cannot continue. It is so bad that several years after its establishment, the NDDC is still operating from rented quarters, with its corporate office totally abandoned.
The NDDC Act places the burden of constituting its board on the President and the National Assembly, so the buck stops on the President’s table. An agency set up to address physical development of the region that is producing the wealth of the nation cannot and should not be a tool for political patronage. How did the federal government build the federal capital city, to make it desirable as the seat of power? Who are the contractors that laid the foundation for the infrastructure of Abuja? The President cannot afford to stand aloof and leave NDDC in the hands of politicians who have captured the agency as their cash cow, or else we make a mockery of the whole anti-corruption war. Let us immediately spread the dragnet, to cover all the member States of the NDDC, to dig out phantom projects and abandoned contracts. The other point is that of criminal diversion of NDDC projects. The NDDC Act states clearly that only member States can benefit from all projects to be executed by the Board, but what we have in practice is that politicians, especially the governors, have perfected the style of diverting NDDC projects to their domains, particularly in those States like Abia, Imo, Edo and Ondo, where oil production and exploration are not visible in all the local government areas.
As a matter of urgency and deliberate policy, the President and the National Assembly should institute a judicial commission of inquiry into the affairs of the NDDC from inception to date, interrogate all its financial transactions and probe all contracts awarded, to determine their authenticity and alleged execution. The plight of the people of the Niger-Delta is very unfortunate indeed, when it is considered that it is the same wealth they sit upon that is impoverishing them and to make matters worse, their own sons and daughters have now conspired with their oppressors, to milk them dry. We were born in the creeks and the region has remained like that ever since, with critical infrastructure such as electricity, water and good roads, all missing in the region. In addition, the annual budget of the NDDC should be subject to public scrutiny, in order to take stock of the projects itemised in the said budget. Upon its approval by the National Assembly, the NDDC budget should be uploaded on its functional website, it will thereafter be summarised and printed for distribution to all stakeholders in the Niger-Delta area, to assist them in monitoring the performance and execution of the said budget.
By year 2020, the NDDC will be marking twenty wasted years of perfidy, failure, incompetence, stealing and shameless corruption and yet, the people are busy filing cases in court to scramble for executive positions in the Board, without as much lifting a finger, to hold accountable, an agency that has become their albatross. It is sad.