By Emmanuel Aziken
Abujaâ€”Gross under-funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as represented by the zero allocation from the Ecological Funds since 2001 is at the root of the commissionâ€™s problems, the Acting Managing Director of the agency, Mr. Power Aginighan, told the Senate committee on Niger Delta yesterday.
Likewise, the chairman nominee of the commission, Air-Vice Marshall Larry Koniniyan (Rtd.) at the Senate screening of the NDDC board nominees observed that whereas groundnut and cocoa enriched people from other geopolitical zones in the country, he said oil and gas have on the contrary devastated and pauperized the Niger Delta people.
Besides, Koninyan and Agininghan who was screened for the substantive position of Executive Director of Finance and Accounts of the NDDC the others screened yesterday were Senator Tunde Ogbeha (North Central) and Architect Esoetok Etteh (Akwa-Ibom) executive director projects.
Yesterdayâ€™s screening exercise was almost uneventful but for the notable walkout of Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PPA, Abia North) in protest against the committeeâ€™s decision not to ask Ogbeha questions.
Yesterdayâ€™s screening exercise was presided over by Senator James Manager, chairman of the Senate committee on Niger Delta had Senators Patrick Osakwe, Mohammed Adamu Bello, Chukwumerije, Gbenga Oguninya and Heninken Lokpobiri in attendance. Also in attendance were Senators Nicholas Ugbane, Lekan Mustapha and George Sekibo.
Koninyan who was the first to be screened yesterday said:
â€Groundnut enriched the local people, cocoa enriched the local people, palm produce enriched the local people (but) oil and gas do not enrich the local people, not only that oil and gas devastate the local environment.â€™â€™
â€œYou have a situation where you are not deriving the benefit of that wealth creating resource, yet you are also suffering the consequences of that resource,â€™â€™ Koninyan said.
Koninyan who said he served in the Nigerian military and very briefly in the secessionist Biafran Army lamented that the trillions of naira poured into the development of the Niger Delta have did not show the effort.
On the agitations in the region, he said:
â€œThe issue is I think here again we need to separate criminal activity and genuine agitation. There are issues of illegal oil bunkering that produces a lot of money for those involved in it. Illegal bunkering did not start with the Niger Delta question,â€™â€™ Koninyan said.
Aginighan in his response to questions on the funding situation of the commission said: â€Of a truth, the commission has not been funded strictly according to the letters of the law particularly the three main sources we have as provided for in section 14 of the Act, Federal Government to contribute an equivalent of 15% of the total allocation given to the nine member states of the NDDC, the oil companies to contribute 3% of their annual budgets and 50% of the funds given to the nine Niger Delta states from the ecological funds should be given to the NDDC.â€
These three provisions I am bold to say have not been fully complied with, particularly the contributions from the Federal Government from inception to date have not been in compliance with the letters of the law. Very, very gross under-funding.â€
â€œI want to say that we have not received any kobo from the ecological fund since the inception of the commission to date.â€™â€™
Aginighan in response to another question on the larger than life style of NDDC officials said that that the flamboyant lifestyle of NDDC officials was an affront to the people of the Niger Delta.
â€œFlamboyant lifestyle angers the people and once we give an example of modesty definitely negative perception in the eyes of the public will be erased,â€™â€™ he said as he noted that in the two years he spent as Acting Executive Director that he remained within the staff quarters of the NDDC.
â€œI have not moved into any mansion rented by the NDDC. In fact the directors who are answerable to me are staying in mansions paid for by the NDDC while I stay in the staff quarters I occupied when I was a deputy director.â€™â€™