AS a result of revelations from the recent legislative inquiry into affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the South-South Study Group, 3SG, a think-tank made up of professionals representing the diverse South-South Region, believes it is imperative to express its strong views as it relates to the region.
The truth is, there is no amount of resources (irrespective of the quantum and even if said funds are not misappropriated) that the NDDC receives, that will be sufficient to address the developmental needs of the region.
Suffice to state that the unfortunate revelations emanating from the NDDC are not peculiarly representative of the South-South culture but a condemnable and emblematic national culture where unscrupulous individuals see government institutions as fair game for plunder.
Recently, and to the embarrassment of most Nigerians, this invidious perception has worsened to the point where some political groups have developed the act of looting the national wealth into a system of privilege reserved only for their families, ethnic or geopolitical kith and kin.
The NDDC, like most national agencies, is a caricature of the national culture of disdain for public accountability.
In any event, as stakeholders and supposed beneficiaries, the Niger Delta remains undaunted by the on-going setbacks and continues to hope that the Federal Government will overcome the challenge.
How can this be achievable when political office holders continue to collect revenue and disburse same without regard for due process? The question that readily comes to mind is: should there be legal provisions for the oil-bearing communities to be directly involved in the process?
The Niger Delta deserves equity, fairness and justice. Therefore, going forward, the Federal Government must ensure that all revenue accruing to the NDDC be judiciously and equitably channelled to benefit the people directly.
And there should be consequences for abuse by Federal Government appointed functionaries. It is most unfortunate that this cry for justice by the Niger Delta dates as far back as the Henry Wilkins Commission of 1958.
Sixty two years later, all we hear is egregious, rambunctious and uncontrollably exuberant bad behaviour by Federal Government appointees. This is nothing but a crying shame.
The NDDC was established as a Federal Government agency for the singular purpose of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta which continues to be the revenue lifeline for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But in spite of the quantum of revenue generated from the region, the area has not only suffered from devastating environmental degradation, howbeit, the region can be regarded as the ‘slum’ in terms of social and economic infrastructure. But this was not the intent of the law establishing the Commission. The law clearly states thus:
“Establish a Commission with a reorganised management and administrative structure for more effectiveness and for the use of 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 and for connected purposes.”
The Law, an enactment of the National Assembly, clearly spells out the functions and powers of the NDDC, including but not limited to the formulation of policies and guidelines, and the conception, planning and implementation of projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta Area.
Also established in the Act is a Monitoring Committee whose members shall be appointed by the President with functions, among other things, clearly stated thus:
“The Monitoring Committee shall (a) monitor the management of the Funds of the Commission and the implementation of the projects of the Commission and (b) have access to the books of account and other records of the Commission at all times and submit periodical reports to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.”
It is pertinent to reiterate at this point that the NDDC remains a Federal Government agency under the management and control of the President. We will not be distracted by current events but will remain focused in our duty to highlight key issues which can motivate a turnaround for those genuinely interested in the development of the geopolitical zone,
and thus bolster the capacity of the NDDC to meet its mandate and service delivery expectations to the suffering people from the neglected and devastated region.
In this regard, we call on the Federal Government upon which the final accountability for all the NDDC appointees rests, to account for the full amount of statutory funds due to the NDDC since its inception, including actual allocated funds and those to date unpaid.
By 2009, it was published in public records that the Federal Government owed the NDDC over N308 billion as unremitted funds statutorily due to the Commission.
Many credible sources insist that if the funds statutorily due to the NDDC is compared with the actual funding made by the Federal Government and purportedly received by the NDDC, a wide embarrassing gap in trillions of naira owed to the NDDC will be found. The current shameful revelations in the NDDC serves to reinforce the position of the South-South that the over-centralisation of governance in a Federal Government has failed the nation and in particular the people of the South-South.
While the NDDC has failed to significantly impact the region with development from the resources already provided it, the Federal Government has also failed to provide the enabling environment to make such development possible by failing to provide adequate security, stable and regular power supply, functional ports and connecting rail lines to name just a few.
Moreover, the control mechanisms to ensure accountability and transparency by the NDDC and other government entities are non-existent as illustrated by the current events.
Since the Federal Government appoints all the key actors heading and managing the NDDC without reference to the people of the region and without transparency whatsoever, the failure of the NDDC rests solely on its shoulders for which it must singlehandedly take responsibility.
These failures are further supported and amplified by the gross social injustice and administrative asymetries that characterise governance in the deliberately distorted federalism system practised in Nigeria.
Nigeria must be one of the few democracies, and worse still, one with a segmented society comprising very diverse nationalities, that has a Constitution created by narrow internal and external interests which imposes a unitary institutional imprimatur of a warped Exclusive List upon a so-called federal union of diverse federating units.
Several National Conferences have affirmed these abnormalities but at the point of implementing reforms to reverse these settled abnormalities, a deliberate political impasse continuously emerges (in order) to perpetuate the political deformities while enabling and exacerbating a callous and insensitive mode of governance to reinforce the status quo. Current developments substantiate this insensitivity.
Whereas the South-South geopolitical zone has always demanded for resource control as envisaged and largely practiced after the Lancaster House Agreement was enacted, years of erosion of this right by several governments has stripped the oil and gas host communities of their derivation rights.
Yet, despite recent initiatives to lift this economic ‘choke hold’ by encouraging the initiative of modular refineries in the Niger Delta, the insensitive asymmetries persist, and the modular refineries were stalled while, at the same time, government was reported to have offered mining rights to unstated entities to mine gold through the PAGMI project, a unilateral distortion of the Exclusive List without consultation with other Federating Units.
To this extent, it is clear to objective observers that the much distorted Exclusive List is operated with regional bias, wherein Federal authorities cherry-pick what suits their regional agenda. The South-South, therefore, sees the NDDC revelations for what they truly represent: a bad sign of a dangerous disease, the ‘disease of failed Federalism’, in a manner of speaking.
Dan-Princewill, member of the South South Study Group (3SG), wrote from Port Harcourt