By Mideno Bayagbon
TUE, MAY 19 2020-theG&BJournal- About 16 years ago, in my column in Vanguard newspapers, i called for the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, still tottering in its infancy, to be shut down. My grouse and those of many Niger Deltans then, was that the commission was becoming the centre of daylight robbery, of massive looting, of what we alarmingly thought then was unbelievable corruption. But in what has turned out almost like a joke, what we called corruption then was still in its embryonic stage, a mere disturbing whimpering of an infant, who today has metamorphosed into a blood thirsty brigand. Looking back, the corruption we wrote about then, like we say in this clime, is child’s play compared to the extensive looting in recent years.
My senior colleague and friend, Onyeama Ugochukwu, who was then the pioneer chairman, was so shocked, and taken aback by my article that he led a full management team of the NDDC, with truck load of documents, which included bulky copies of the supposed roadmap, they were designing for the NIger Delta region, to Vanguard to defend the activities of the management team. In the confused and diffused atmosphere of that time in the NDDC, the chairman operated more as an executive chairman.
One could see the sincerity in some of the actions and programmes of the management team headed by the Executive Chairman. Most of the programmes however, were poorly thought out leakage points. No one was in doubt that Onyeama, a former Daily Times Editor, was trying to establish a firm footprint for the then emerging commission. But he was not streetwise. His operating officers, mainly political appointees from Abuja, easily fooled him, serviced their pockets and greased some palms in Abuja who provided for them a shield.
Complementing Chief Onyeama Ugochukwu, at the helms of the management of the commission, was a former deputy managing director of the global oil firm, Shell: Godwin Omene, a first class graduate of Imperial College, London. He was appointed the pioneer managing director.
The appointive authorities had thought that with this calibre of men at the top of the commission, all will go well as planned in the envisaged development of the Niger Delta. This was not to be. Indeed, it turned out, not because of the incompetence of the two men, more because of their naivety, to be a very big mistake. This is because hungry politicians, Senators, Reps members, and young turks; willy political cowboys and financial scamming wizards appointed into the management of the commission, and some of their aides, soon turned the NDDC into one of the biggest bastions of corruption. Of course they soon got Onyeama and Omene into trouble, precipitating their early exits.
Looking back, one can safely say, that those were the saner days, the golden period of the troubled organisation. The madness which descended on the commission, established on June 5, 2000, in the last ten years, has been phenomenal and mind numbing. It has become an all-comers mesh of porridge: the honey pot for federal and collaborating politicians in funding elections. It is the go to place for settlement of whoever the authorities want to do a favour with tons of billions of Naira. The two Niger Delta committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate are some of the juiciest, most sort after. To be made for life is to get appointed to the commission. No wonder every managing director, and executive director, finance and administration, soon after appointment suddenly get drunk with an insane ambition to be governors of their states. The commission’s fund are anticipatorily looted to fund these obsessions.
Why am l going into this lengthy treatise on the NDDC today, one may ask. The answer is simple: the failure of the government to listen to mine, and other genuine calls for the NDDC to be scrapped or better focused, or restructured has led it to become one of the biggest mistakes, of all times, in the annals of Nigeria’s misgovernance debacle.
Today, there is no pretence to either intellectual or moral quality of the appointees; or to probity. There is no pretence by either the governing authorities or the appointees, to doing anything to better the lot of the generality of the ordinary people of the poverty stricken Niger Delta region. What is at play now is how to technically satisfy the whims of the appointing authorities while feathering the inordinate ambitions of the appointees and staff of the commission, who line their pockets with billions of the Niger Delta commonwealth. With over three trillion dubious debts hanging on its head, with nothing on ground worth even ten billion Naira, the NDDC stinks to high heavens, a mistake that should have been aborted in its infancy.
In comes the self adulating, former governor of oil rich Akwa Ibom state, Chief Godswill Akpabio. He is said to have a personal N108 billion fraud case with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC. Like a collosus, he sprang upon the commission a messianic desire to clean the augean stable that the NDDC has become. Akpabio, as we all know is a bulldozer, a man who once boasted that what money cannot achieve, more money can definitely conquer; an enigma loved and hated in equal doses. As governor, he ruled like an all-conquering warrior and to his credit, he left so many visible transformational, even if some are white elephant, development strides behind. He learnt under a humble master, the erudite radical, Obong Victor Attah. Attah it was who put the Akwa Ibom development plan in place; kick started it, built the five star Le Meridien hotel, the 18 Hole Golf Course, the Ibom Plaza, the Obong Victor Attah International Airport, (completed by Godswill Akpabio) and many other projects, not counting roads or bridges or the human capital re-engineering he performed on the psyche of Akwa Ibomites. Standing on this foundation, Akpabio, to his credit built more roads, fly overs, the e-Library, the stadium, the world class hospital, (which he refuses to use), among many other projects.
Not a man to play second fiddle to any one, Akpabio, as soon as he was appointed Minister over the Niger Delta ministry, of which the NDDC was never a part, went to work, underground, beat two other contending groups who wanted control over the NDDC, and moved the commission from under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, where it had traditionally been domiciled, to the ministry. He also confronted and won a second battle: making sure the new board appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, which was sponsored by Oshiomhole and Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, never got sworn in. The board was to have been headed by Oshiomhole’s former deputy governor, Dr Pius Odubu as chairman and the former Delta state finance commissioner, Bernard Okumagba as managing director.
Being the smart politician that he is, he moved close to the kitchen cabinet in Aso Rock, waved the massive looting and corruption in the NDDC before them and got victory over the two other groups, one led by Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and the other led by Oshiomhole and Omo-Agege. Since August 2019, Akpabio has had a full, unfettered control of the NDDC, changing the interim management committee twice. A forensic audit put in place which was to submit a report between three and six months, from the date of inauguration is still seemingly embroiled in the gargantuan pigsty.
While they are still foraging to bring out their forensic audit report, there has recently been a huge cry, of fresh allegations, of massive looting of the NDDC. The latest Interim Management Board are being called to question over how N50 billion in the NDDC account at the beginning of this year was surreptitiously frittered away. This and another allegation of a payment of N16 billion to a company for doing nothing, it is claimed, have sparked an inquiry by the Senate. But then like Carol Ojougboh, a surviving member of the Interim Management Team, has ably reminded all, Senators, especially some in the supervising committee in the Senate are some of those fingered in the forensic audit said to be going on. Ojougboh says then the Senate probe is then a ploy to harass and hamstring the audit.
Also, Joy Nunieh, the Godswill Akpabio appointed and sacked first interim MD, herself accused of massive aggrandisement, is also now singing a new song against her former master, Chief Godswill Akpabio. Others too, have flooded the media space with new information and are singing corruption blues which may or may not be true reflection of the goings on at the thoroughly abused and pillaged commission. Various well funded pro and con groups have suddenly sprung up beating their masters drum. And Nigerians are not deceived.
One thing that is clear, however, is that all the contending forces for the soul of the Niger Delta Development Commission are only after their own pockets and how they will fund their newly acquired opulent lifestyle, their 2023 presidential and gubernatorial elections, amongst a legion of reasons. It has nothing to do with the development of the Niger Delta or of ridding it off corruption. We all know that nothing meaningful will come out of the forensic audit. Hence like my call 16 years ago, President Buhari, if he truly cares about corruption, should simply send a new bill to the National Assembly abrogating the NDDC. Enough is truly enough.
Mideno Bayagbon, a former editor of Vanguard newspapers is the publisher of TheNewsGuru.com