By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
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 minerals 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. Two weeks ago, the President announced members of the Board of NDDC, with names that sent shock waves across the Niger-Delta region. For emphasis, section 12 (1) of the NDDC Act provides as follows:
“There shall be for the Commission a Managing Director, and two Executive Directors, who shall be indigenes of oil producing areas starting with the member States of the Commission with the highest production quantum of oil and shall rotate amongst member States in the order of production.”
President Buhari has nominated Mr. Charles B. Ogunmola for the position of Executive Director (EDP) of the Commission, as one of the representatives of Ondo State on the NDDC Board. Mr. Ogunmola is from Owo in Owo Local Government Area, a non-oil producing area, as the oil producing areas in Ondo State are all located in Ilaje Local Government. With his nomination, President Buhari jumped Ilaje, Okitipupa, Odigbo, Ondo, Akure and other local governments to seek to impose Mr. Ogunmola on the oil producing communities of Ondo State. It is contemptuous of the entire people of the oil producing areas to impose representatives on them. As the director in charge of projects, does the President expect Mr. Ogunmola to be the one to decide on the type of project that will benefit the people of the oil producing areas, even when he is not an indigene and cannot feel what they feel? The whole essence of the NDDC Act will be defeated if non-indigenes are being imposed on the oil producing areas in the name of politics. It is not only a disservice but also a great injustice to the entire people of Ilaje Local Government to give the erroneous impression that there are no qualified persons from among them to occupy the position of executive or managing director of NDDC. Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta States have produced the Chairman of the Board in the past and by the rotational principle established under the NDDC Act, Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State should produce the managing director of the agency. But the issues with the NDDC are 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. The major road leading to the main communities in Ilaje Local Government has been abandoned for years after the exit of the Olusegun Agagu administration and it takes prayers to undertake a journey on the road. President Buhari has now compounded the problems of the NDDC by setting up a Panel to undertake a forensic audit of the agency, without the liver to release the report, ostensibly for political reasons, as the 2023 election is around the corner. 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.
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 review the current list being proposed for the board of the agency to ensure proper representation and full compliance with the enabling act setting up the Commission. 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. 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. By year 2023, the NDDC will be marking twenty three wasted years of perfidy, failure, incompetence, stealing and shameless corruption and yet, the people who have the responsibility to reposition the agency are busy positioning their cronies in juicy appointments ahead of the coming elections. It is rather unfortunate, I dare say.
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