By Olusegun Adeniyi
If taking public money was considered such a big deal, according to Joy Nunieh’s account, her colleague confessed he would kill anyone at the instruction of Godswill Akpabio before bothering to ask why the person had to die. But Akpabio has countered that Nigerians must not believe that story until we seek clarification from “all her (Nunieh’s) former husbands—at least four of them that she had married in the past”.
Video clips of allegations and counter-allegations by the Niger Delta Minister and the former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director may provide entertainment, but the real issue is the ease with which public trust is abused in Nigeria. Most unfortunate is that the NDDC scandal is simply one of the many we have dealt with in recent weeks. The ongoing investigation of the suspended Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu has become a media circus at the same time Hushpuppi, Woodberry and other alleged internet fraudsters are facing trial abroad and the Managing Director and two Executive Directors of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) had to be suspended, suggesting that our woes in Nigeria have been compounded by a new malaise of corruption-virus.
While we wait for how the Magu drama will end amid the suspension yesterday of 12 EFCC Directors, the spat between Akpabio and Nunieh speaks more to the challenge of development in the Niger Delta, regardless of whether or not a Minister received an uncommon slap from a Port Harcourt girl!
The NDDC Act was signed into law 20 years ago last Sunday (12th July 2000) by President Olusegun Obasanjo to find “a lasting solution to the socio economic challenges of the Niger Delta” while facilitating the rapid, even, and sustainable development of the region into one “that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful”. With a well-structured and statutory funding regime, sources of funds accruing to the commission include first line deductions from the Federation Account as well as contribution of a certain percentage of their profit by all oil producing (and gas processing) companies operating in the Niger-Delta area and mandatory contribution by the federal government.
From these sources, the commission has received approximately four trillion Naira in the past two decades. Available records reveal the following accruals between 2007 and 2016: 2007 (N64.721 billion); 2008 (N84.790 billion); 2009 (N141.575 billion); 2010 (N135.097 billion); 2011 (167.778 billion); 2012, (N140.605 billion); 2013, (N149.352); 2014, (N207.553); 2015, (N140.512) and 2016, (N181.637 billion). However, despite these enormous resources, the consensus among stakeholders is that there is little to show for it in the Niger Delta.
Nobody has captured the situation better than the man at the centre of the current storm. Shortly after he was appointed Niger Delta Minister last year, Akpabio made it clear that he was going to focus on the NDDC. “We currently have about 12,000 abandoned projects across the nine states of the Niger Delta. If those things were completed, you can imagine that the area would have been turned into an Eldorado,” Akpabio said before he added: “There is no way NDDC road can last (for) even two years. I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away. I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.”
Akpabio’s conclusion tallies with that of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) that has issued two detailed reports on ‘Revenues, Deductions, Analysis of Disbursements and Application of Funds’ on specified federal government agencies, including NDDC. In the 2013 report which examined years 2007 to 2012, for instance, key findings include among others, that NDDC had not prepared audited accounts for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 as at July 2013 whereas section 20 (1) of the enabling law requires the commission to submit such audited accounts to the president not later than 30th June of the preceding year; duplication of a total number of 22 projects and payment of mobilization fees of about N63.558 billion on a significant number of projects worth about N284.884 billion that were largely abandoned by ‘dishonest contractors’. Within those five years, according to NEITI, N963.7billion and $6.1 billion were expended by the commission.
The analysis and evaluation of the NDDC financial statements for the five years also “indicated irreconcilable differences between the additions of advance payment and interim payment certificates”. Whereas the project master list gave a figure of N175.823 billion as payment made, the financial statements indicated that N415.089 billion was paid within the period. “About 58 percent un-reconciled differences of N239.267 billion still exist. In 2007, a difference of N2.543 billion that is, 5 percent was observed; the year 2008, indicated N53.869 billion that is, 84 percent difference. In 2009, the difference was N38.899 billion that is 62 percent while the 2010 and 2011 indicated N45.521 billion and N98.436 that is, 44 and 74 percent difference respectively,” the NEITI report stated.
From the foregoing, if there is any value in the ongoing battle between Akpabio and Nunieh, it is the fact that Nigerians now know the quantum of resources in the NDDC and the level of mismanagement within a commission that seems solely preoccupied with the awards of contracts. Aside sharing N1.5 billion as ‘Covid-19 relief’ among staff almost like a bazaar, other projects recently embarked upon by NDDC include ‘community relations’ costing N1.072 billion; consultancy, N4.1 billion; duty tour allowances, N486 million; Impress (October 2019 to May, 2020), N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal services, N906 million; maintenance, N220 million; medicals, N2.6 billion; overseas travel (February to May, 2020 when we were all supposed to be on lockdown), N85.6 million; logistics, N61 million; condolences, N61.7 million; public communication, N1.121 billion; security, N744 million; engagement of stakeholders (February to May, 2020), N248 million etc. Even the Police got N475 million to buy face masks, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE) that should ordinarily be worn only by medical personnel!
Comrade Alex Kalejaiye, described as a community leader in Niger Delta, last year told a newspaper that Abuja is complicit in the problem of corruption in the NDDC, starting from inception when the Managing Director operated from the office of the SGF’s office. “The implication of this is that you will bring projects to them and say ‘Oga this is for you, Oga na you get this one’, as if you are bringing returns. It’s like a sergeant bringing returns to the DPO at the police station” said Kalejaiye who also blamed the civil servants who have been at the commission from the start and the NDDC contractors he considered a special breed who have perfected the art of collecting money without doing the work.
However, when I spoke to one the contractors, he placed the blame at the doorstep of the political authority in Abuja. “Go and look at the people they appoint as either MD or Executive Directors in NDDC. They are always politicians with ambition to run for governor or senate. So invariably, what they are telling those people is, ‘go and make money in NDDC’. There is also hardly anybody appointed into the NDDC without a godfather or godmother to whom such a person will be making returns”, the contractor said as he recounted his experience. “I have been a contractor in NDDC for more than13 years and I can tell you that upfront, you yield 20 percent of the contract sum to these politicians and NDDC is a place where collecting money after you have done the work is not a right but privilege. You have to beg to be paid and in the process, you negotiate. So contractors now know they are not expected to do any work, it is all about sharing money. But whether you believe it or not, most of this money also goes to service people in Abuja. That is why there is so much recklessness in the place.”
Whichever way you look at it, the NDDC is just one of several ways in which the people of Niger Delta are being short-changed, despite the huge resources that have gone to the region from the federation account since the 2002 Supreme Court ruling on onshore/offshore dichotomy. In year 2008 for instance, the allocation to Akwa Ibom State alone (then governed by a certain Godswill Akpabio) was N204.5 billion. To understand how enormous that is, the allocation to the entire five states in the South-east that year was N176.2 billion! When you then add the figures for NDDC, the hundreds of billions of Naira that have been voted for the amnesty programme, the 13 percent derivation and the Ministry of Niger Delta, it is obvious that the people of the region have long been short-changed by those who feed fat on their misery. We can of course say the same for the country.
A NEITI analysis of the disbursements by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for the year 2019 is quite revealing. Five states, according to NEITI, received above N100 million: Lagos (N117.76 billion), Bayelsa (N139.69 billion), Rivers (N158 billion), Akwa Ibom (N171.43 billion) and Delta (N218.58 billion). “Four of the top five states were in the Niger Delta region. This owes largely to the impact of 13% derivation,” says NEITI in an analysis of the FAAC allocations to the 36 states. “While Osun State had the lowest disbursed figure of N24.14 billion, Delta State had the highest of N218.58 billion. This implies that Delta State received over nine times the amount that Osun State received.”
While poor governance is not restricted to the Niger Delta region, the story of NDDC in the past 20 years is that of waste, monumental debts (N2 trillion, according to Akpabio) and abandoned projects. The Isaac Jemide presidential committee report, covering between 2005 and 2011, listed a total of 609 projects spread across just three states (Cross River, Edo and Rivers) that were abandoned at various levels of completion, as at that period. Some of these projects, according to the committee, were completely outside the statutory operational scope of the NDDC. We can also glimpse that from what is already coming out of a senate committee investigation.
Although Akpabio is making a song and dance about some ‘forensic audit’ he has commissioned, what the situation at NDDC requires is a more fundamental structural reform. In his paper ‘From the OMPADEC to the NDDC: An Assessment of State Responses to Environmental Insecurity in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’, Shola Omotola argued that given the performance of both OMPADEC and the NDDC, these agencies remain inadequate and ineffective because they are not disconnected from “political influences, corruption, unrepresentativeness, and other underlying structural problems that render them cosmetic.”
It is sad that the NDDC has in the past 20 years been very notorious for scandals. But we must also come to terms with the fact that an ad hoc arrangement like the one currently in place is antithetical to the promotion of accountability. Incidentally, it was Akpabio who came up with this Interim Management Committee (IMC) arrangement after the Senate had confirmed the presidential nominees for the NDDC board. He was the person who brought Nunieh with whom he is now at daggers-drawn. In his statement yesterday, Akpabio said the allegations against him were meant to “kill the forensic audit, and continue business as usual at the NDDC”. But there is nothing in the law establishing the commission which provided for some administrators with elastic mandate.
Now that he and Nunieh are fighting dirty in the public square, President Muhammadu Buhari has a responsibility to intervene on the side of probity. And the only way to do that is to constitute a proper board, as demanded by law, and put in place measures to reform the NDDC that is now for all practical purposes a huge slush fund!
The Burden of a Columnist
Last week, I goofed big time. And I was flogged mercilessly on Twitter. A campaign of calumny was also launched against me on WhatsApp. Since I do not expect to be judged by a standard lower than the one with which I pass ‘Verdict’ on this page, I took them in stride. But let me tender my apology to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and former Defence Minister, Lt General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd). My sources failed me on information that the duo were victims of power-mongering by the now-suspended EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu. Rather than make excuses, let me also apologise to Magu and my readers who I do not take for granted.
The experience has taught me several lessons, including how seriously many take the views expressed on this page. That is significant considering how this column started 23 years ago and a quick reflection may be necessary here. I was essentially a political reporter until one afternoon in 1997 when my then editor (and current Lagos State Commissioner for Environment), Mr Tunji Bello broached the idea. After nominating me as his deputy to replace Mr Sam Omatseye, FNAL (current chair of The Nation editorial board) who had left for the United States, he also asked me to take up the column Omatseye was writing in the Sunday paper. “You cannot write like Sam so don’t even try. But you have your strengths. You are a reporter with a nose for gist. You are a good story teller. And you have humour. Play to those strengths,” he told me that day. So, right from the outset, my column has always been reportorial, based essentially on ‘field experience’. Incidentally, it was my friend and colleague, Louis Odion who suggested that the column be called ‘The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi’.
I left Sunday Concord in December 1998 and joined THISDAY in January 1999. Shortly after, the Chairman decided the backpage would be taken up by in-house columnists and he allocated to me Thursday. I ‘resumed’ The Verdict and decided to continue with the reportorial style. From the mundane to the serious, I tried to reflect everyday reality. If I interacted with a yam seller it could be a subject of my column. Ditto if my engagement was with the richest man in Africa. And I travel a lot in order to speak to people on ground whenever a major event occurs. I am well aware that some readers are put off, especially if the subject of my intervention is a ‘big man’. But feedback suggested I had my followings too, until the column went on ‘sabbatical’ in May 2007.
I returned from government older and more mature in my approach to issues when I resumed the column in June 2011, and resolved to use the benefit of my experience in government and wide network of contacts to proffer solutions. Meanwhile, the style and character of the column remained the same. But I am human. In writing about the ongoing crisis within the EFCC last week, I spoke to several people in government as I always do, before drawing my own conclusions. While my intervention provided insights, what some remember are the anecdotes that added no real value to the narrative and turned out to be incorrect. That provided an opportunity for those who had vested interest in the ongoing EFCC tragicomedy and the perpetually angry social media mob to hit back at me.
My long held belief is that a columnist with a measure of following carries a huge public burden. My genre of reportorial commentary makes such a burden even greater and I accept it even with its hazards of source reliability. As in all public roles, a columnist cannot expect universal acclaim. The best that anyone can crave is a consensus of tolerance. I am content with that. But the responsibility of a columnist cannot be diminished by occasional lapses of judgment or the pressures of circumstance.
WTO and Okonjo-Iweala
When I saw the list of eight candidates vying for the position of World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General, it was obvious that President Muhammadu Buhari took a wise and strategic decision to replace the earlier nomination of Yonov Frederik Agah. By nominating Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the president has strategically positioned Nigeria. That the two other African countries (whose nationals are also in the race) tried to prevent the substitution is because they know the weight of the Nigerian candidate. In terms of qualifications, experience and exposure, there are fewer people within the continent who would match the stature of Okonjo-Iweala.
Sadly, at a time we should be doing everything to promote our candidate, cowards are circulating false but damaging allegations against Okonjo-Iweala. I have seen quite a few on WhatsApp. But linking her with the Indegenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) is not only cheap, it betrays the mindset of those running the campaign of calumny against her. In two instalments on why Okonjo-Iweala is an ideal candidate to head the WTO and why Nigeria needs to mobilise around her, Dr Reuben Abati has raised several critical issues. Two stand out. One, the propensity by some Nigerians to subvert the elevation of the best and brightest of our people. Two, the envy with which other African countries relate with Nigeria. Until we deal with the first, the second will always be a problem.
President Buhari did the correct thing by nominating Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO job for which she is eminately qualified. What remains is to put all our support behind her nomination. It is in our interest as a nation. And also for Africa!
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com