By Udo Silas.
I was there sometime in the year 2000 when the national assembly caused into being the Niger Delta Development Agency, NDDC. No I was not a senator nor a Representative. I was the senate correspondent for Thisday newspaper. I broke a couple of exclusives on the nature of the act including the chosen state to house the headquarters of the commission, but as Niger deltan I was particularly hopeful that the agency would at last provide succor to our people.
Over 16 years later, I once again find myself writing about the NDDC and the role it has played in our region’s development.
The news peg was a story credited to the managing director, Nsima Ekere. Amongst many others, Ekere
…. Lamented the N1.2 trillion debt burden facing the NDDC
… How the over $40billion received by the commission in the past 10 years was frittered away
… That there is little evidence to show for the sums spent
… Decried failure to implement the Niger Delta master plan, which originally required $50billion over a 15-year period, even though past management received 80 percent ($40bn) of the cost
Ekere made this important conclusions at a three day retreat held at Onne, Rivers state in a paper titled; “Dangerous Beasts and How To Tame Them: The 4-R strategy”
I do not have the privilege of the full text of the address to know if Ekere identified the ‘dangerous beasts’. It sure would have enriched my discourse if such definitions were made.
But Ekere did not say anything new. At the confirmation of the Christian Obo led management of the NDDC, then senate president, David Mark had described the NDDC as a total failure. He had lamented that the commission has been turned into a personal goldmine by successive board members, thereby short-changing the region. As far as he was concerned, the commission has failed in its statutory responsibility of infrastructural and social development in the region. Hear him “NDDC has been a failure up to this point in time and there is no point mincing words at all. The individuals who have been put there have decided to make their own personal interest the priority of the commission. It is hoped that the new group would not do the same.
“If they do not perform in the next six months the same fate that befell their predecessors will also befall them. So, it is clear that nobody wants to allow money allocated to Niger Delta be taken away by individuals”
We do not need a revisit of how the Obo led management ended. But Mark did not end there. He also had a word or two for the Senate committee on NDDC. “The responsibility of oversight function of the commission is on NDDC committee of the Senate. If they supervise that commission properly, we would not have found ourselves in the position we find ourselves today.
“So, whilst we urge the members of the commission to make sure that that they do their work properly, it is imperative that the committee that oversees the commission also does its job properly. The two have to work together to ensure that the dividend that we expect from the commission is delivered to the people,” he said
We could go on and on, quoting and referencing varied opinions from different groups and stakeholders on how and why the NDDC has failed. But the expose from Senator David Mark does hit the mark, especially in relation to the paper delivered by the NDDC MD, Nsima Ekere.
It is instructive to note the grandstanding of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, senate committee chairman of the NDDC at the retreat. “The Senate Committee would do everything within its powers to ensure that you (oil companies) obey the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…if you respect the laws of the country from which you are coming from, I don’t see how you cannot obey the laws of our country” he said.
Ekere need not look very far in detecting the main dangerous beast that has rendered the NDDC comatose. Nwaoboshi should save us the rhetoric’s and grandstanding. The National Assembly as rightly pointed out by David Mark, is the major impediment to the growth of the region. How does Nwaoboshi intend to ensure the oil companies obey the laws of the land? The law has been in existence for over 16 years and the Senator is only just talking now of ensuring the oil companies obey the law? Where has the Senate been in the past 16 years?
Just in case the Senator has forgotten, the NDDC law mandates ‘3 percent of the total annual budget of any oil producing company operating, on shore and off shore, in the Niger-Delta Area, including gas-processing companies’ as part of the financial provision of the NDDC. How much of this sum has the NDDC collected over the years? How come oil and gas companies have felt so comfortable to breach this law? Can the NDDC please inform Niger-Deltans how much it has collected from oil and gas companies for the past 16 years?
The oil and gas companies can never take us seriously because they know we are not serious. The monies collected from the federal government is enough to line the pockets of our Senators, House members and politicians, so they care less whether oil companies comply or not with our laws. It is not a secret that all committee members in the Senate and House have projects imbedded in the NDDC budget since 2000. So they care less whether our laws are breached. All they wait for is for the budget to be passed so they collect their project allocation. Of course the N1.2billion contingent liabilities on the NDDC balance sheet is and must be related to projects allocated to politicians who care nothing about completing these projects.
Oil and gas companies would only react to serious minded people. Lets take an example from India. India promulgated the Foreign Exchange Act of 1973, which made it mandatory for foreign companies to dilute their share shareholdings to 40 percent. Coca-Cola, the acclaimed soft drink refused to adhere. Coca-Cola had to leave India. They only returned to India in the 1990’s. But before it returned, the Indian government had nationalized them and launched Thumbs Up as a state owned brand. ‘When Coke was allowed back into the market they had to buy this brand and it is still produced to this day!’
So it s laughable the grandstanding of Nwaoboshi and his kith and kin at the national assembly. In October 2016, the House of Representatives moved to amend the section of the NDDC law as it relates to the oil and gas companies. The premise was that the oil companies lacked the commitment to develop the communities in which they operate. It resolved to amend the NDDC act to include the representatives of the oil ventures in the NDDC board and ensure effective participation and remittances for the development of the region.
How would sitting on the board of NDDC by oil companies ensure remittances? How would it ensure effective participation? There is already a law in existence for crying out loud. The law is clear on what oil companies should do. If they have not done it, then mete out the Coca Cola treatment. But they cannot. They alone know why.
Without a doubt, the so-called traditional rulers constitute the second class of beasts that eat the flesh of the region. All of a sudden they have assumed the toga of infallibility as far as issues of state, government and the people are concerned. They pretend to wear the garb of the communities when all they crave is for themselves and their families. It is to them that the politicians run to for blessings. They have become the pastors and preachers of communal Pentecostalism dishing out blessings for filthy lucre. They too have their projects in the NDDC budget. They have their allocation. Edwin Clark said this much in an interview in the Punch of Sunday “In 2001, militants held a meeting where they criticized the IOC’s and the federal government for causing troubles in their areas when there is compensation to be paid. Instead of paying the compensation to the communities, they pay it to an individual and that individual would now have trouble with the community. I know of a situation whereby about four million naira (in those days) was paid to a traditional ruler and he failed to deliver the money to his people. They did not just kill him; they dragged him into a Volkswagen and burnt (him) dead. The Kingdom just had another traditional ruler”
More than this however, Ekere’s paper served as a major indictment of all past boards and management of the NDDC. I have waited to see these past officers make a rugged defense of their tenure but none has been forthcoming. Not even the immediate past management. How come over $40 billion has been collected over the last 10 years and nothing to show for it? Where are the roads, health centers, schools and others allegedly built in this period? Where is the evidence of human capacity developed over this period? How come no one is coming forward with evidence of how they spent monies collected in their time?
Ekere can swim today in rhetoric’s. But in the end, the beasts of the region would surely consume him. There is very little he can do. The NNDC is held in a death grip just like all other agencies of state. He can only succeed if he calls the bluff of the beasts. But can he?