The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been in the news for the wrong reasons lately. The ongoing probe of the Commission by the National Assembly has come with sordid revelations of alleged graft even as there have been accusations and counter accusations by the key players in the saga. In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, Niger Delta activist and Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, analyses the issues. He urges President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately disband the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Commission and inaugurate the Board, which he constituted and was screened by the Senate to bring the crisis to an end.
There has been some drama in the National Assembly following the ongoing probe of the NDDC by the lawmakers. What are your reflections on the issues?
The Presidency caused it and we had warned them. I warned them even through your newspaper and several other media outlets that if politicians would be in charge of the forensic audit of the commission, it would backfire. There is nowhere in the world where politicians carry out forensic audit. The right institution in this country to set up a forensic audit team is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC can even hire an internationally recognised audit firm to come and carry out a forensic audit of the NDDC. Look at what is playing out now. The people who said they were appointed to supervise the forensic audit were awarding contracts.
Let’s even go back to the beginning of all these. President Buhari nominated people to the National Assembly for screening to be Board members of the NDDC. While we were waiting for the board members to be inaugurated after the National Assembly cleared them, an Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission was announced. And we asked the president, ‘what do you mean by this? You have nominated people to the National Assembly who have been cleared and you are coming up with an IMC.’
They told us that the IMC was created to supervise the forensic audit but that was not what we saw. Instead, the IMC was awarding contracts, which was not their job. We cried out that the IMC was another parallel board. If the IMC was put in place to supervise the forensic audit, why are they awarding contracts to people? Are we now going to get another IMC to probe this IMC? The whole thing is like a child’s play. We are more knowledgeable than this.
I am one of the founding fathers of the NDDC. I took the Federal Government to court over the dredging of the River Niger because there was no environmental impact assessment. When that case was on, the idea of a development agency for the Niger Delta came up. Babangida gave us the Oil Mineral producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) during the military era. And where did the OMPADEC idea come from? It was from the Orka coup. Ninety per cent of those who were involved in the Orka coup were from the Niger Delta. After the coup, Babangida found out that Niger Delta youths were angry because of the level of poverty in the region. So, he came up with OMPADEC to appease the people of the region. When the military left, Obasanjo in his wisdom felt that there was need to continue with OMPADEC but under another name and with more states included. From that time, every state that is oil producing was regarded as Niger Delta. For example, geographically Imo and Ondo states are not Niger Delta. But we decided that protesting against the arrangement would delay the development of the region. So, we accepted it.
Those of us, who were in the struggle before the civilian administration came in, were asked to come up with suggestions on how to structure a new agency for the development of the region. We made a lot of submissions to the National Assembly that helped in the creation of NDDC.
From inception, people from the Niger Delta region have managed NDDC wholly. With what has been playing out in the National Assembly, the impression of many people is that the people of the region are the cause of their problems?
No! If you have a family, you are the head. If your children are misbehaving, you have to be firm as a father and call them to order. You don’t have to be telling them this or that; you have to be firm as the father.
What we are saying is that the president should do what is right. If Niger Delta people give the president a wrong advice, will he take it? As a husband, when your wife gives you a wrong advice, you have to be firm about it; you don’t have to take the advice because it came from your wife. You should do what is right.
Some people have been giving the president the right advices on this NDDC matter. He should disband the IMC because that is the root of this confusion at the commission. From what we have been seeing and hearing from the IMC at the National Assembly, those of us who said the board should be inaugurated while the EFCC investigates the NDDC have been vindicated.
Why are they not giving the forensic audit of the NDDC to EFCC? Why did they come up with an IMC for NDDC? Did they create an IMC to investigate the looting and criminal activities at the NNPC? As we speak, a former Group Managing Director of NNPC is facing corruption trial. There are some directors at NNPC that are being investigated. Also, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) is under investigation as we speak. The other time, a former minister of the FCT and his son were arrested by the EFCC. Did they set up an IMC for that? Did you not give their problems to EFCC to handle?
We are not against setting up a probe panel to do what is right in NDDC. But they are bringing politicians who failed elections or who want to sponsor candidates for elections to go and be forensic auditors. You cannot get what is right from that kind of situation.
But what the National Assembly is dong is quite different from the forensic audit ordered by the president, which we understand is yet to commence?
No! The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio said that forensic audit is going on. It was the immediate past managing director of the IMC of the NDDC that revealed that nothing was going on. So, Akpabio was telling lies. This is a man we know as a politician. He has his vested interest. That is why the IMC is giving out contract. Is that their work?
As I recently said on some television programmes, God said in the book of First Samuel, “I regretted making Saul a king.” The president should now reverse his decision to set up an IMC for the NDDC. Law does not know the IMC; it is not in any of our laws. But the law recognises the NDDC board.
Even the beginning of the whole thing shows that a minister used somebody who is very influential in Aso Villa to deceive the president to come up with an IMC after he had sent the list of nominated NDDC board members to the National Assembly for screening. During that screening, the immediate past managing director of the IMC, who was nominated to represent Rivers State on the board, refused to appear before the Senate. That was an insult. If we are in a sane society, that woman was supposed to be arrested for refusing the order of the president but nothing happened. Somebody must have told her that an IMC was being planned; that the board the President had formed would not see the light of the day and that she would be appointed the managing director of the IMC. How could a woman who refused to appear before the Senate for screening as a member of the board of the NDDC be appointed to head a parallel body to manage the affairs of the same commission? It happened in this country. Is this a real banana republic? Is it fair? Should those of us who suffered for the creation of NDDC keep quiet while this childish drama is playing out? Look at the revelations coming from Akpabio and the woman today. They fell out and we are seeing all the secrets. This is why countries like Ghana laugh at us.
So, Buhari’s press secretary should read the NDDC Act to him and advise him to disband the IMC and inaugurate the board of the commission. If he does that, it will not diminish his integrity as president; instead it will show that our president is a listening leader. If God Almighty reversed himself in the bible in the case of Saul, if Buhari reverses himself in respect of the IMC, especially with all he has seen and heard in the last two weeks, everywhere will be silent.
Look at what he did during the leadership crisis that engulfed the APC. When he saw all the court cases and the danger ahead if nothing was done immediately, he ordered Oshiomhole to step down with other National Working Committee (NWC) members and everywhere became silent and everybody was praising him. The IMC that the president set up is not in the interest of Niger Delta people. Politicians are now fighting themselves there. He should disband the committee now.
Don’t you think that the president simply disbanded the board because of the opposition that trailed its composition?
Who were the people that opposed the composition of the board? We are not children. We are talking about the president doing the right thing. We are taking everything for granted in this country. Look at the insecurity in the Northeast; look at the banditry in the Northwest. We take everything for granted until we are forced to adopt a fire brigade approach to solve problems.
What we are telling the president is that nobody is perfect. He has made a mistake by setting up this IMC that is not known by law. Now that he has seen the billions of naira the IMC has squandered in about four months and how they are fighting and exposing themselves, he should dissolve the committee. Law does not know it; he should follow the law. He should handover the forensic auditing matter to EFCC and let them do their work.
There have been calls for the scrapping of the NDDC amid the present challenges the commission is facing. What is your take?
That is nonsense. Did they dissolve the NYSC when the scheme ran into troubled waters? When Buhari first came as military head of state, the first thing he exposed to the whole world was the corruption in NYSC. Is NYSC not serving Nigeria today? Like I said before, a former GMD of NNPC is currently facing corruption trial. Did they scrap NNPC? Let me even ask; is there a cabal somewhere that wants to blackmail the Niger Delta people by calling for the scrapping of the NDDC?
NNPC has been there for decades with crisis upon crisis. It is still there serving Nigeria. So, why would someone now say that because NDDC that is less than 20 years is having crisis, it should be scrapped. Have we dissolved NNPC that is more than 50 years with all its challenges? There are many managers and directors in NNPC that have gone to jail. So, if anybody is a problem to NDDC, let the person face the EFCC and the law. They take other matters to EFCC but when it gets to NDDC, they bring in politicians so that when they are fighting themselves, they will seize that opportunity to be talking of scrapping the commission. We will not accept that.
But why has it been difficult for Niger Delta people who have been running the NDDC over the years to use the commission to develop the region?
Let me give you the example of the East-West road. It is one of the most important economic roads in this country. It was a single lane road. The NDDC is working on it. All we are saying is for the NDDC to do better; we want the funds available to the commission to be fully deployed into the development of the Niger Delta.
We have seen trials of the headship of other establishments. If that had happened in NDDC, it would have checkmated some of these problems. We cannot on our own decide to go and lynch those who had been at the helm of affairs in NDDC. We know what happened in Ogoni land some years back. Some youths simply decided to deal with leaders who they saw as betrayers. That was what led to the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
The government has institutions like EFCC, ICPC and DSS, among others, to deal with security matters and people who are siphoning funds meant for development. So, it is not the problem of Niger Delta people again since there are people employed to do that job. Why are we always blaming Niger Delta people? If these institutions were put in place to deal with civil servants or political appointees so that they will be above board, why are they leaving those at the NDDC to be lawless? We want these institutions to investigate the NDDC and prosecute anyone found wanting. If that is done, others who will serve in the commission will be very careful. That is all we are looking for. We don’t want politicians to come and be accusing themselves so that they will be using that one as delay tactics on matters concerning the region.
As we speak, the 2020 budget of the NDDC has not been passed because of the crisis. We are presently in the month of July, more than half of the year. So, if we keep quiet, these politicians will be dancing this ajasco dance for the whole of this year and there will be no budget for the commission in 2020. If that happens, then nothing will be done in the region this year. If not because of this crisis, we would have seen appreciable level of work on the East-West Road project. There are many roads they are constructing. NDDC is also building hostels in universities. But we are saying that, that is even less than 50 per cent of what the NDDC is supposed to achieve with the money given to them. That is why we are insisting that the Federal Government should make them to be above board by disciplining some people through the EFCC. It is not to bring politicians, who have been the problems of NDDC all these years, to come and judge other people. They don’t have the moral right to do so. The people in the IMC are the same politicians that have been causing problems in NDDC over the years.
Do you think the transfer of the supervision of the NDDC from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has a role in the current challenges facing the commission?
That is the biggest problem. The budget of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is about N30 billion. NDDC’s budget is about N200 billion. With that alone, do you think the minister will seat down in the office of Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs?
From day one, the NDDC was not meant to be under the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs. When a former president wanted to do that, we resisted it. In 2007, we carried out an opinion poll at the end of which we advised late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua not to place the NDDC under the Special Adviser on Petroleum or Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs because politicians will destroy the commission. That is what is happening now. We knew the things that could cause confusion and as it is rightly said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. This crisis is delaying our development. So, what we are saying now is nothing personal against Akpabio.