By Osa Director
SINCE the formation of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, on June 5, 2000, by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo with the sole aim of developing the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and address its peculiar developmental challenges, the commission has unfortunately been bedevilled by underperformance and, in extreme cases, non-performance.
Many believe that the agency’s principal objective of meeting the yearnings and aspirations of Niger Deltans has been largely unfulfilled. Since inception in 2000, NDDC has received at least $40bn (N15 trillion) for projects in the oil-rich Niger Delta, yet failed to achieve the Niger Delta Regional Development Masterplan to lay the foundation for transforming the region into Nigeria’s Dubai.
With the lack of evidential development strides, not a few stoically maintain that NDDC has failed. That is not because the motive and principles which engineered its formation were bad and unfounded. But, it failed because the principal drivers of its operations have shortchanged the process to the extent that development has failed to trickle down and affect positively the living conditions and standards of the downtrodden masses of the region.
Over the years, the existential reality of the region shows that the operators appointed to administer the commission have turned it into a cash-cow to service personal political gains and interests. Rather than empower the broad spectrum of Niger Deltans, especially the youths of the region, the commission has created a desperate ring of emergency portfolio carrying contractors who when mobilised to site, ironically mobilise themselves to luxuriate in five-star hotels around the globe, marrying more wives, acquiring concubines and state-of-the-art cars and property. Meanwhile, Niger Delta continues to rot and decay with the youths restless and intellectually immobilised.
For this band of glory seekers, the NDDC is a mere launch pad to foster their nests and realise their outlandish political ambitions.
Available record shows that almost all past managing directors of NDDC have contested the governorship seats of their states at one time or the other. Granted that it is the constitutional rights of anyone to aspire and contest any position of his or her choice in the land, but, apparently using the NDDC platform for self-promotion to the detriment of the development of the region is totally unacceptable and contrary to the purpose of establishing the agency.
This is not to mention the fact that such desperate political ambitions create acrimony, vicious infighting and bitterness which divert attention from the primary objective for establishing the commission. Sadly, while use of resources of the NDDC for political patronage were going on with reckless abandon in the past 20 years, no government took the bull by the horns to squarely confront the perpetrators until recently.
Therefore, even if anyone claims not to be an admirer of the present administration, one cannot help but commend President Muhammadu Buhari for the bold initiative to conduct a forensic audit of the account of NDDC since its creation. Kudos must be given to the Buhari-led government for setting up the Interim Management Committee, IMC, to oversee the forensic audit.
However, no sooner the IMC was constituted that naysayers and obvious beneficiaries of the skewed NDDC past management went to work, trying to derail the process and return to the status quo. Herein, President Buhari must be commended for insisting that it will no longer be business as usual. The IMC must be encouraged and supported to ensure a decent and transparent forensic audit of the commission. As they say in Niger Delta parlance, “the forensic audit will let breeze blow through the anus of the fowl for everyone to see!”
The biggest masterstroke by the government in setting up the IMC was the appointment of a non-partisan, no party card-carrying member, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, as managing director. This has sent shivers down the spines of the leeches who wrecked NDDC through the years. All their attempts to blackmail the managing director and members of the IMC have met with a brickwall by forces who are bent on restoring sanity to the commission, all in the overall interests of the people of Niger Delta region.
So far, the unbiased disposition of Professor Pondei who is not a politician, and has, indeed, declared his enthusiasm to go back to academics after this national assignment, is candidly refreshing. Therefore, the desire to stockpile resources from NDDC to prosecute any political warfare and agenda in the future does not arise.
In spite of that, one strongly advises the IMC to be transparent and accountable in the execution of its duties in order to gain the trust and support of the people of the region that have been raped for over 20 years! The IMC must see its mission as a historic one.
Hence, it is advisable that antagonists of the IMC should sheathe their sword and allow the process to run its full course peacefully without fear or bias. Consequently, all the hue and cry orchestrated against the IMC and also the Minister of Niger Delta ministry, Chief Godswill Akpabio, should abate and be set aside until the logical conclusion of the IMC assignment.
For the organic growth of any organisation to solidify, there must be a periodic assessment of the plans, methods and strategies in order to identify the gaps and loopholes with the singular duty to fixing it, if any. Only such will promote a holistic growth process and development. That is the purpose and intention of the IMC: simply to fix the commission and put it on track in order to be able to address the onerous developmental needs of Niger Deltans.
Engaging the teeming and vibrant youths of Niger Delta productively is an important task that must be taken seriously. Also, it is an enterprise that must be genuinely supported by all men of good conscience across the length and breadth of Niger Delta, and indeed, Nigeria!
Osa, a journalist and lawyer, is based in Lagos.