The earliest intentions made to stem the tide of underdevelopment of the Niger Delta were made some 18 years ago by President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was a genuine response to the agitations for justice and closure against oil and gas extraction land degradation, flora and fauna despoliation and massive unemployment in the region. Indeed the hen that lays the golden eggs for the Nigerian economy deserved “a fair reward’. Led by Shell Nigeria and some of the oil multinational majors, a Master Plan was designed and which had a multi-sector remediation action plans set out and committed about $10million to the study.
The plan had a wholesale development and transformation of the Niger Delta content not only to assuage the issues of degradation and deprivation but to scale up the Niger Delta as a Model of Development to be copied by the rest of the country. It was also to impact on the National Economy. That the idea was novel and a good model has spurned “North East Development Commission bill”, South East Development Commission Bill, South West Development Commission bill” and even “North Central Development Commission Bill”.
Years after however, what do we see of the NDDC? Nothing but wild and wide scale “rape” of the taxed income that ever came into the coffers of the Commission; over inflated and over invoiced contracts, large scale corruption by “insiders”, staff and Management as well as by politicians of all hues and third rate projects. There are road projects that cannot last a rainy season, health centres poorly conceived and equipped, imported medical equipment left unsupplied and left to rot inside NDDC warehouses, uncompleted and abandoned rural projects unnecessary duplication of projects between the agency and some local governments and State Governments, an agency used by politicians as pre-election ATMs, a more or less an intervention agency rather than a development agency. To put it mildly, the NDDC is a sinking hole delivering nothing and a far cry from its founding philosophy.
The din of noise around the NDDC has lately became so loud that it is difficult to ignore anymore. The Executive Director Projects, Dr. Caro Ojugbouh once said that the NNDC owes “phantom” contractors and that 12,000 contract jobs had been abandoned. At another forum, you hear of a serving Senator who alone has 300 contracts with contract fees money paid up front and work not done. Also since 2017, there have been no budgets approved for the Commission while 1000 emergency contracts have been issued. All these allegations sound familiar. But no one has lifted a finger to address the bleeding in the NDDC, at least until now, when President Buhari called for and instituted a panel to carry out a forensic audit of NNDC on its last 10 to 25years. And everyone in the Niger Delta hails the “Search Inquiry” and rightly says it is about time to stop the rot in the Commission.
These well-known failures have been persistent has led some concerned Niger Deltans to think of alternative models to stem the failures and the rot. Some have suggested that instead of making the NDDC, a reclining chair for politicians, why don’t we appoint strictly technocrats to the table who would then apply the Master Plan strictly and supervise service delivery for quality and account to the Presidency? Again, it has been suggested that if the current model persists, it would be helpful that State Governments in the region should actively decide on whatever projects are undertaken and that their officials should supervise and sign off on the projects before NDDC may claim any project is concluded and declare it a success.
In the meantime, whether a poor model or better model, what now is at stake is clearing the Augean stable and resetting the button through a thorough audit of the management and finances of the NDDC. And the alarm bells have rightly been sounded by President Buhari, who himself has ordered a forensic audit. However while all of it at the surface sound good, it smacks of politicians asking themselves to do a cleansing job which never works to everyone’s satisfaction in these climes.
Bearing that in mind, and bearing in mind a discussion programme on the NDDC, on the NTA a few months ago, we dare say the suggestion being put forward for a Citizen Forensic Audit by ANEEJ (an NGO) certainly makes sense. It has called for a coalition of Niger Delta NGOs to order its own parallel forensic audit which will pander to no one except to the interest of the Niger Delta.
For example, ANEEJ in conjunction with LITE-AFRICA had embarked on an “Independent CSOs Monitoring of NDI projects in 3 Senatorial Districts on each of the nine Niger Delta States” and published the report in December 2017. Earlier in 2013, it had studied and published a “National Disaster Management Strategies in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria “and in 2015 published a “Citizen Report Card on Niger Delta Institutions covering Cross Rivers, Edo State, and Ondo States and many more such reports. The attraction of a Civil Society forensic audit is that it will not have any political influences and coloration. As a matter of fact, NGOs in the Niger Delta State are passionate about genuine development and from current studies globally, getting citizens to participate in politics, improves economic outcomes as democracy and economics in themselves do not solve anything.
Rather than politics, they believe they should be engaged in a process which would concentrate on long term benefits rather than the cycles of elections. Finally, the anchor for a civil society forensic audit is based on the fact that given the trust deficit in Nigerian governments by the citizens, a citizens forensic audit report would carry a greater weight of credibility and could improve the future shape of NDDC. A Federal Government’s instituted audit is likely to have exonerations, political tinkering and possibility of a delay in its publication. The only major worry is that a Civil forensic audit may not have a force of law and which means it may only raise concerns and possibility galvanise Niger Deltans to “shine their eyes” and engage the Commission. Even though it may bite as there cannot be indictments but then, it could produce unintended consequences; expose alleged wrong doers who could be sued by the citizens and the direct communities of any malfeasance and misdemeanors. Even though there may be no telling the final outcome, the Federal Government may seize the “Citizen Forensic Report Card and act in the interest of justice and the Niger Delta peoples.
*** Tony Abolo is a broadcaster and development expert based in Benin City Edo State.