By Yinka Odumakin
I RECALL a phone call I had with elder statesman and South-South leader, Chief E.K Clark in 2009 when then President Umaru Yar’Adua mooted the idea of a Niger Delta Ministry when agitations from the oil-producing zone reached its crescendo. I did say that Niger Delta should not think that a ministry would address its concerns as the Ministry of Education has not given us education and that we lack electricity despite the Ministry of Power.
Papa spoke some words of wisdom to me that day upon which we agreed to let the idea be. I will need his permission to divulge the things he told me in private discussion. A 2016 ministerial technical audit committee on the contracts awarded by the Ministry of Niger Delta between 2009 and 2015 confirmed our fears when it said most of the contracts awarded by the ministry in the oil-rich region had no impact on the people.
It also revealed that only N427 billion, representing 60 per cent out of N700 billion, budgeted for the ministry during the period was disbursed. “Sadly, very insignificant numbers of projects have reached practical completion to provide the sense of belonging expected by Niger Deltans across board,” the committee said in the document. “About 80 per cent of the projects are either on-going, abandoned after payments, total abdication or refusal to deliver as in the case of Youth Capacity Building Programmes.”
It said: “In other words, between 2009 to 2015, about 60 per cent of contracts awarded were paid, but approximately 40 per cent of work was practically achieved”. While juxtaposing its finding from the project sites against fact retrieved from available documents domiciled in the departments that supervised the projects, the committee observed that there was violation of contract award processes.
It lamented: “The way billions of naira are mentioned in construction projects value in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has become so banal that very soon, it is believed that they are likely to escalate to trillions of naira, even though the values do not appear realistic vis-à-vis the value added to the region through such contracts.”
It said right from the cycle of procurement planning to contract award, inconsistencies were noticed in provisions of vital aspects of the Procurement Act. Prominent among other issues of violation, it stated, were indiscriminate award of contract by initiating and benefiting departments without the leading and guiding role of the procurement department. “Awards never took cognizance of availability of funds and annual appropriation provisions,” the committee said. “The structure and content of some contract agreements were loose for checks and balances, indeed hardly protect the interest of the ministry in case of disputes.”
On delivery and capacity, the committee said the imminent picture of abandoned and uncompleted projects was as disturbing as the retinue of projects that extremely exceeded the dates of completion.
It said: “This manifestly, emanated from inconsistency in government annual budgetary provision and lack of capacity to deliver especially where funds released do not correspond with performance. Most contracts were awarded with specific dates of completion but were not captured in subsequent appropriations. This further exacerbated contractors’ poor performance and inability to achieve project objectives. Consequently, no capital project was completed within the stipulated time frame.”
The committee said obviously the “ministry and its consultants alike had neither well-structured, nor coordinated monitoring or evaluation (M&E) mechanisms, which ought to have been pre-scheduled and followed tenaciously. “
It said in some cases, Engineers Representatives (ER) and the Consultants as well as the Planning, Research and Statistics Department (PRSD) had broad discrepancies in performance, certification, dimension and quality of delivery, “As a matter of fact, the Ministry’s State Coordinators had little or no knowledge of projects scopes and locations.”
Traces of the afflictions of Niger Delta Ministry are found in Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and will not be in short supply in North East Development Commission the day an audit is carried out. The wastefulness that has characterized the NDDC came to the fore recently when President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a full forensic audit of the commission set up in 2001.
He gave the order in Abuja, following the persistent criticisms of the operations of the agency. Receiving governors of the states that make up the Commission, led by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, the President directed that the audit should cover the operations of NDDC from 2001 to 2019.
He said what was on the ground in the South-South region does not justify the huge resources that have been made available to the organisation. “I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions, especially the NDDC,” President Buhari was quoted as saying in a statement released by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina.
“With the amount of money that the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on the ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues. The projects said to have been done must be verifiable. You just cannot say you spent so much billions and when the place is visited, one cannot see the structures that have been done. The consultants must also prove that they are competent.” he declared.
President Buhari admitted that developing the Niger Delta area required enormous resources compared to other parts of the country with firmer lands. He said, “I am acutely aware, with my experience, that projects in your area are very expensive; that is why if any job is given, we must make sure that the company is competent and has the capacity to do it well with experienced consultants.”
The President, however, said he would wait for the report of the audit before deciding on the next line of action regarding the organisation. We all know Abuja is not capable of formulating any line of real development for any sector in Nigeria today as it has become a cesspool and only a roadblock to the development of the federating units.
Governor Serake Dickson of Bayelsa who led the Governors expressed the disappointment of other governors with the operations of the NDDC. According to him, the operations are characterised by the poor choice of projects, shoddy handling, uncompleted jobs and lack of the required support for efforts of the states and local government administration in the region covered by the organisation.The expected outcomes of centralization.
The governor, therefore, called for the repositioning of the NDDC in order to achieve the objectives for which it was set up. The failure of central planning in Nigeria has made demands for development commissions to be so attractive from all regions of Nigeria. As we speak, there are before the Senate bills for South West Development Commission (sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun), South East Development Commission (sponsored by Senator Stella Omu); North Central Development Commission (sponsored by Senator Mohammed Musa ); and North West Development Commission (sponsored by Senator Jibrin Barau).
Only people without understanding would not be able to deconstruct the meaning of these bills from all corners of Nigeria. The first point is that all sections of Nigeria crave development which central planning and execution has denied them over the years. The second significance is that in the age of self-determination that we are, globally, there is the awareness that development can only be engendered where locals are allowed to formulate and executive their plans to develop.
For these reasons, sponsors of these bills should be commended and all sections of Nigeria must insist on these bills for as long as Nigeria remains a unitary contraception as they serve the purpose of pointing us on the path of decentralization. But we are not under any illusion that commissions without autonomy for the federating units would fast track development across Nigeria. These commissions will be afflicted the same way it has done to NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry.
The unitary hold on Nigeria is suffused in corruption and whatever it sets up will always be a conduit pipe. Anything based on allocation of resources is bound to fail. The way to go is for Abuja to surrender control of resources across Nigeria to the federating units to tap and pay agreed taxes to run common affairs at the centre. We won’t need any fleecing anti-corruption agency running after selected thieves as locals would hold leaders accountable when resources are locally generated.
Communities who want thieves to run their lives would do so culturally and by choice. We will see competitive developments like we saw in the years of of federalism in Nigeria as against “My Mercedes is bigger than yours” of our years of centrally planned plundering.
Waiting for Malami
FOLLOWING national and global outrage over the crude invasion of a law court by the Department of State Services, DSS, in a bid to rearrest Omoyele Sowore, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has taken over the prosecution of the case against the detained journalist and activist.
Curiously the AGF also announced that the Federal Government will probe the DSS over the violent invasion of the court against the earlier statement by media aide to the President, Mallam Garba Shehu justifying the barbaric act and other assault on the sensibilities of decent Nigerians.
Nigerians cannot trust any investigation by the executive into the DSS action that is turning Nigeria into a pariah state once again. Only a judicial inquiry would do at this stage. But they can still hope Malami will follow the rule of law in Sowore’s case as against that of thumb the gestapo has been has been executing.