…Ledun Mitee, AnnKio Briggs , Ekiyor, Omare, others speak
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Egufe Yafugborhi, Davies Ihemnachor, Perez Brisibe, Ozioruva Aliu and Paul Olayemi
SOME Niger Delta leaders and crusaders, including a former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Mr. Ledum Mitee; Ms. Annkio Briggs; Coordinator of the Niger Delta Peace Coalition, NDPC, Mr. Zik Gbemre, and a former National President of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Eric Omare, are peeved at the turn of events in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
A former Commissioner in Delta State, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, and Executive Director, African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Rev David Ugolor, on their part, said the agency’s Interim Management Committee, IMC, was programmed to fail.
This came as host oil and gas producing communities under the auspices of Oil Mineral Producing Areas Stakeholders Forum, OMPSTAFOR, cataloged what they described as missing funds in the NDDC, starting from the former President Shehu Shagari era when the prevailing agency for the development of the region was 1.5 per cent ‘Presidential Committee’.
Chairman of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, and prominent Niger Delta leader, Mr. Mitee, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, described the ongoing forensic audit in NDDC as a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that the Commission was a patronage agency of the Presidency.
Mitee, erstwhile Secretary of Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum, PANDEF, said: “The core of the issue lies in the very conception of the NDDC as an agency of the Presidency through which patronages are dispensed.
“Thus, instead of the laudable provisions in the 1998 OMPADEC Decree promulgated by former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, and which charged the agency with the primary responsibility of developing the oil producing communities, according to the priorities set by the communities, (a laudable bottom-up approach), the NDDC Act, which repealed that decree, charged the commission with the responsibility of developing the region according to priorities set by the federal and state governments, and then provides in Section 7 (3) that in carrying out its functions, the Commission shall be subject to the control, direction and supervision of the President.
“”The Commission has thus been acting as the patronage agency of the Presidency and it has been progressively been doing a fantastic job at that.
“That explains why the struggle has always been whom should NDDC report to and, for several years, it was located in the Presidency through the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government, SFG, and, in later years, it was now brought under the Niger Delta Ministry.
“Since then, it has become the only preoccupation of that ministry to the extent that its flagship project – the East -West Road – has been abandoned and impassable in some sections.
“The so-called forensic audit is, in my view, a whitewash attempt to divert attention from this fact.
“Any credible audit of the NDDC would amount to auditing the role of the Presidency in developing the Niger Delta.
“Besides, there are in existence sufficient audit and other reports that already tell anyone all you need to know that it’s just a patronage outfit.
“NEITI under me and even currently have churned out impressive audit reports that document this fact and copies of these are by law always sent to the President and the National Assembly.
“So do we need to reinvent the wheels? The sad fact is that the only losers are the communities of the Niger Delta.”
NDDC affair not about Akpabio, Nunieh – AnnKio Briggs
Rights activist, AnnKio Briggs, observed that the current controversies trailing NDDC was as an issue of systemic corruption beyond the personality of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, and a former Managing Director of the Commission, Dr Joi Nunieh.
Briggs, who also described the agency as a cesspool of corruption, stated that the people of the region should stop seeing the Commission as a developmental agency, but an interventionist agency between the Niger Delta people and Federal Government.
She said: “The people involved and controlling the corruption in the NDDC are not majorly Niger Delta people. The Niger Delta people are involved, but the level of corruption was set up long time ago with the creation of the NDDC itself and silently inbuilt in the system.
“The NDDC is neither controlled by the Niger Delta people nor from the region. From the word go, the NDDC was set up not to succeed, but to be placed in a position that the people are the ones fighting themselves on behalf of people who are not Niger Deltans.
“The fact that the management of the NDDC has to be appointed by any President is one major place where this corruption takes place as it becomes a political appointment, hence contrary to its main reason of its being set up.
“Though we are frustrated to the point of saying the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs should be scrapped, it does not really mean to us that it should be scrapped, but changes must be made on how they are being run.
“What we are witnessing today in the NDDC is not about Akpabio or Nunieh, but an issue of systemic corruption to deny the Niger Delta peoples anything to do with development, justice and equity in the region.”
Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition (NDPC), Zik Gbemre, on his part, said: “It is funny. When we thought we have seen the worst of fraudulent activities by public office holders entrusted with our collective wealth to make life better for the masses, Nigerians are constantly being faced with most horrible financial atrocities.
“What a shame and disgrace to our nation, these unfolding NDDC self-indictments have become?
“President Buhari aggravated the problems by not inaugurating nominees duly cleared by the Senate without any wrong doing and impulsively appointed a needless IMC.
“Buhari should also take responsibility for all that have gone wrong in the NDDC.
“Even with all the allegations so far, President Buhari has kept mute and has pretended as if all is well in NDDC.
“A leader, especially one who has supposedly taken a stand against corrupt practices in the country, should be seen to always timely take aggressive position on issues of this nature”.
Omare, a former President of IYC, also speaking, said: “The NDDC show of shame is a deliberate creation of officials in the present administration and under the direct supervision of President Buhari.
“Some of us saw this long time ago, hence it is not coming as a surprise to us. We knew all along that the forensic audit with IMC to supervise it was not a noble intention.
“The architects of the whole drama knew what they wanted to achieve from the beginning and they are achieving it.
“I would not advise President Buhari on what to do because he gave the nod for the ongoing show of shame.
“The signs were obvious from the beginning, but because of the endemic corruption in the system, it was allowed to continue.
“I would only say that I am sad and disappointed in the way the Buhari administration has treated agencies that have something to do with the Niger Delta region”.
Meanwhile, Ugolor, Executive Director of ANEEJ and environmental activist, who berated Buhari for setting up a body to audit the NDDC when there are agencies like EFCC, ICPC, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, said NEITI could be used to manage the activities of the Commission.
His words: “What is happening is clear that the law that set up NDDC, the NDDC Act, if properly implemented, the purpose for the Act will be achieved, but what has happened since NDDC was established is that government hardly followed the Act and so NDDC became an opportunity to compensate politicians, who perhaps are in support of the ruling government. “It is not just about APC, it also happened in the PDP era; so the NDDC has become a platform to advance the interest of the ruling party and that is why you see that once you are announced as the NDDC Chairman or Managing Director, the next thing is to see how you can become the next governor of your state.
“It creates an opportunity for them to now use the Commission for political agenda and so the line that is drawn is not solid and, because of this, nothing happens,
“So, the controversy we are seeing did not start today, it started in the PDP era. It is not what you say that it is because of the APC, there is a problem and the problem is that the law that set up is not being obeyed.
“The President should learn to use existing institutions to fight corruption. I should have expected that the President should dig into the NEITI Act and one of the objectives of the Act is to scrutinise the utilisation of the oil revenue in this country.
“So, if you have such an institution with a rich record of doing such work, why set up an independent forensic audit to waste tax payers’ money?
“We advocated that the President should look into NEITI to do this work. It will need fewer resources and there will be institutional memory within the government because tackling corruption, as it is in the NDDC, is not a one -off thing, it is a continuous process.
“The President has chosen to deal with corruption in an ad-hoc manner and what you get is systemic corruption. The President is responsible for what is happening in the NDDC.
“In bringing development to the Niger Delta, APC government has failed and they need to be told clearly because the reason Nigerians voted out PDP was because of the commitment of Buhari that development will come to the region but I can tell you that APC government has failed the region”.
Ekiyor, a former Commissioner in Delta State, said the President should sack the entire structure in the Commission, adding: “I have no regret that the management should be dissolved and investigated and anybody found culpable should go in for it.
“That Minister should be removed from supervising the agency and NDDC returned to the Presidency because the level of irresponsibility that they are displaying is appalling.
“Imagine them saying they should first benefit before Niger Deltans. What did they do specifically that they should benefit before other Niger Deltans? “Because they appointed them on salaries and allowances, they must share money at our expense? This is the most undisciplined management I have seen”.
Actual missing funds
Oil Mineral Producing Areas Stakeholders Forum, OMPSTAFOR, led by Prince Maikpobi Okareme, in a memorandum submitted to the National Assembly, and obtained by Sunday Vanguard, said: “There is actually no missing N40 billion. For something to be declared missing, its existence and ownership status must be established.”
Okareme disclosed that NDDC funds have been missing beginning from the time of former President Shehu Shagari era.
His words: “There has been a long history of missing funds meant for the development of the oil producing areas. “During Alhaji Shehu Shagari civilian regime, the under-funded 1.5% Presidential Committee was created.
“It took the court case instituted by the late Prof Ambrose Alli-led Bendel State government before the Federal Government decentralized the 1.5% Presidential Committee and some of the withheld funds were released after the court judgment.
“The figures obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Federal Ministry of Finance showed that OMPADEC, which was established by General Ibrahim Babangida, was owed over N40 billion by the Federal Government as at December 31, 1996.
“During former President Olusegun Obasanjo era, the NDDC Act made provision for the payment of 15 per cent of the equivalent of whatever the member states of the Commission received from the Federation Account by the Federal Government to the NDDC.
“This amount is in addition to 50 per cent of the ecological funds due to member-states.
“While there is no record of the payment of the ecological funds to the NDDC, the Federal Government underfunded NDDC to the tune of about N500 billion between 2001 and 2009.
“When dialogue failed, we took the Federal Government to court through TROMPCON in 2001.
“We sought for the release of the full N687 billion as against the paltry sum of N202 billion for the first eight years of the NDDC’s existence.
“The suit was settled out of court in 2014, hence the average yearly budget of NDDC increased from N35 billion in the first six years to about N300 billion in the last six years. It has also been established that the oil companies have not been living up to their full funding obligations to NDDC.
N98 bn flaring penalty funds
”HOSTCOM has been following up the issue of the penalties imposed on oil producing companies for the flaring of gas in the region.
“The Federal Government agreed with us that about N98 billion which accrued to the gas flare fund as of 2015 should be paid directly to the host communities.”
“However, since gas flare is continuous, it is our desire that when the legislative framework is completed, an audit of that account in CBN shall be made and total reconciled figures released accordingly.
“From the perspective of the host communities, the greatest amount of money that can be classified as really missing is the derivation funds that run into several trillions of naira.
“As published in the Vanguard of August 22, 2017, oil producing states received N7.06 trillion for 18 years, from 1999 to 2016, while, from January 2017 to August 2018, the amount disbursed from the federation account was N602.37 billion.
“Although some states have set up Oil Producing Areas Development Commissions to manage a certain percentage of the derivation funds for the benefit of the host communities, we are not even allowed to see the budgets.
“For example, in Delta State, DESOPADEC was established to receive 50 per cent of the derivation funds accruing to the state.
“The state government contemptuously refused to fully implement the law.
“We were able to calculate from the figures released by the Accountant General of the Federation that DESOPADEC was underfunded by more than N230 billion between 2008 and 2013. The matter was taken to Delta State High Court and the five different judges that handled the case were not bold enough to deliver judgment.
“In view of the above details of what we consider as our missing funds, we wish to state as follows: The National Assembly should support the executive decision to thoroughly audit the activities of NDDC from inception.
“The report of the forensic auditors should be given to the National Assembly in January 2021 for further legislative actions.
“When NDDC budget is submitted to the National Assembly, the review should be done to ensure that projects and programs are listed in line with the enabling law, particularly with regard to the principle of production quota.
“The 2020 budget of NDDC should be focused on completing all on-going projects, principally those located in the oil producing areas.
“Since the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission now has a complete Board, the National Assembly should demand for the report from the Commission as stated in the Constitution for a new revenue allocation formula.
“The revenue bill should accompany the report, which should still treat the derivation funds as special funds that must not form part of the consolidated revenue of the states.
“Rather similar structures should be established to administer the derivation funds which are actually host communities’ money.
“NDDC should represent us in FAAC (Federation Account Allocation Committee) in order to participate in the monthly sharing of our resources.
“Finally, we request that the current National Assembly should put on the garb of the 1999 Senate and House of Representatives that stood solidly behind the wishes and aspirations of the people of the Niger Delta”.
Akpabio, Nunieh controversy
Factional chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Delta State, Chief Cyril Ogodo, told Sunday Vanguard that the war of words between Akpabio and Nunieh was being fueled by some persons outside, who do not want the IMC to do their work.
“As far as I am concerned on this issue, somebody is out there fueling this matter”, he said.
“For somebody who has left office close to six months to come and start laying allegations against a body that has been instituted by the President is very unfortunate.
“I can see the hand of Jacob and the voice of Esau. There are some people who think that without them the NDDC will not move forward, that ‘if it is not me, it cannot be anybody else’.
“This is not good for democracy; man seeks woman’s hand in relationship every day, or even marriage. It is left for the woman to say ‘no, I am married’ or ‘yes, or I am not interested in you’. Why all these allegations after five months or so.
“There is somebody there that is playing the band that this bird is dancing to. There is somebody out there who does not want anybody to go to NDDC to succeed if not them. If we continue like this, we will not go forward”.
On what Buhari should do regarding Akpabio, Ogodo added: “The IMC should be left alone to do their work. I tell you this is corruption fighting back; you are attacking the Niger Delta Minister who means well for the country because he wants to expose the fraud in the Commission”.
Factional President General, Urhobo Progressive Union, Chief Joe Omene, who said the altercation between Akpabio and Nunieh was unnecessary, said: “If the woman is lying against Akpabio or Akpabio is lying against the woman and they are not satisfied, they should go to the court, only God knows who is speaking the truth.
“The IMC should be left alone to complete the forensic auditing; if the IMC is found to be guilty of the alleged embezzlement, they should be removed, but let total investigation take place.
“The people calling for the IMC’s removal want to put their own persons there, every person is fighting for his pocket.
“If you allege that I stole money and you are asking me to break down how the money was spent, if I do not explain, it means I actually embezzled it. Let them conclude the investigation before anything.”