WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
For 60 years, the Nigerian state has been having the misfortune of being maltreated by its citizens. Whether in government or out of government it has been their unbridled appetite for dismantling state structures, monumental stealing of resources, demeaning state capacity for growth and development, and watching her groping for life. I have over time pondered the possibility of a nation like Nigeria, developing in the midst of colossal daily atrocities perpetrated by Nigerians – without end – against the country from all corners of the country – without remorse. It is impossible for any nation, ours inclusive to develop in the real sense of developing when the sole concern of majority of its citizens is constantly how to personally benefit from the country; a consideration that obviously has resulted in a scenario where, without doubt, over 90 percent of the nation’s permanent and recurring resources are either directly owned by few individuals or are positioned to be continuously siphoning to them at an unbearable high cost to Nigeria and the masses.
2015 was supposed to be the defining year for Nigeria; the commencement of a new era of healing and redemption for the country, but no, it is not. Nothing much has changed in the treatment Nigeria gets from its citizens, particularly the highly corrupt ones. The nation, though began a similitude of what is ideally expected of a sane and patriotic system but it couldn’t sustain it for the singular reason that we mistook the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari for all that is needed to transform the country. It is certain now that we need more than the President to start the new Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari is a single individual with an impeccable track record of a corrupt-free reputation, hatred for corruption and unmatched desire to fight corruption. But ours is a crooked system as everyone can not deny. At a point in the history of Nigeria, certain men came to the realisation that they could become the owners of the country by controlling its resources and by implication the people. That was when the concept of usurping the position of power and authority to become rich without consideration for the effects on the nation and the rest of its citizens became a popular idea among politicians. Since then, the concept has grown in monstrosity.
Since then the demarcation of the Nigeria population along access to the nation’s wealth has produced two distinct groups. The first group constituted less than 2 percent of the entire population of the country but controlled over 90 percent of the entire wealth of the nation, just by being in the corridor of power or close to it. In this group, you have almost all the politicians in the country; and it is easier for them to be multi-billionaires without any business that adds value to the nation – just by being politicians, and if you like, with the title, ‘honourable.’ They flaunt the wealth with reckless abandon and make hard work undesirable among the population who see them become rich without sweat. The other group constitutes the rest of Nigerians that are either living in penury or barely surviving.
The population of these few men and women impoverishing the entire nation is what constitutes the system ruling the country. And the reason why the President is not winning the war against corruption and most likely would not win it, or be able to achieve his noble dreams for the country is because as the leopard does not change his color, so also are the bulk of the people working with him not willing to let go of the perennial culture of corruption. The President is mostly alone in this fight, along with a few appointees; while the rest, just like the men of the Jonathanian administration are busy strategising to continue the perpetration of their atrocities against the country.
For them, just as ever, allocated resources for national developments must be cornered and shared among them while projects either remain paper works or abandoned across the nation. Contracts are awarded and paid fully for when the job is either not done at all or abandoned halfway on rare occasions.
The last few weeks has been monumental in huge and odd revelations of certain citizens’ unpatriotic dealings with the commonwealth of the Nigerian nation. The NDDC age-long financial misappropriations and bastardisation of the region by the same few Nigerians who chose to elope with all resources earmarked for the development of the region as contained in the founding objectives of NDDC. The drama in the National Assembly investigation of the alleged corruptions in the corporation; the ongoing attempts and counter attempts to cover up and tactically end the investigations like every other ones before it; and the unbecoming silence of leaders of the Niger Delta region who are hitherto known for their unsolicited vulgarity and outspokenness on national issues, especially when it has to do with maligning the President and his fight against corruption. Much more, is the worrisome disposition of Nigerians to the issue; who are expected to arise unanimously and speak against the clear incident of abuse of power and positions by these rogue leaders. Alas, Nigerians were more preoccupied with mundane issues such as Big Brother Nigeria. We spend time crying against non-development of regions in the country, and castigate the President for non-performance but keep mum when reality of what transpires and who and who are responsible for the ruts of the nation is laid bare for all to see.
I have had the opportunity to visit and see firsthand the underdevelopment of the states of the Niger Delta region; from Bayelsa to Ogoni in River state; I saw the inhuman treatment the populace has been subjected to because of lack of necessary amenities and bastardisation of the environment despite huge provisions for the same by the federal government on a number of interventions. Today, focus might be on NDDC, but the reality is that the region is provided for – with allocations – on much more platforms. The 13 percent derivation allocation and the Ministry of Niger Delta have always been there; and are as infected, infested and corrupt as NDDC.
From the beginning and right from the metamorphosis of OMPADEC to NDDC, the goal of the federal government has been the prioritisation of the development of the Niger Delta region of the country. Unfortunately, since then and till now, there has not been any significant improvement in the region to justify the continuous massive allocations and investment in the region. The reality is that less than little of the capital allocation to the region via NDDC is actually spent on genuine, viable and visible developmental projects; the more money is released to the region, the more impoverished the region becomes and the richer the few who are referred to as the leader of the region become. Shame on them! NDDC by default appears to be excluded from control, oversight and financial auditing since its creation; a revelation that begs for question as per how that could be.
NDDC began full operation in 2001 with an initial annual budgetary allocation of N10 billion. By the end of 2009, the commission had collected and spent a total of N426 billion in total from the federal government.
NDDC has become synonymous with awarding contracts that are not meant to be done or at best, abandoned midway, without benefit to the citizens while the contractors become stupendously rich by the day. Sometimes in 2015, a contract worth billions of naira was awarded for a three months twin certification program; a fibre Optics/Telecom and Oil spill management training for the youth in the region. About two weeks into the commencement of the training, the two programs were abandoned by the contractors, leaving the 200 trainees stranded in various hotels in Owerri and Portharcourt, and till today, nothing is heard of the contract or the full payment made for jobs not delivered.
The International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) reports that from 2007 to 2016, the NDDC revenue stood at N1.413 trillion, with a receipt of a sum of N593.96 billion from mineral and non-mineral sources in the period from 2007 to 2011 and N819.81 billion from 2012 to 2016. Over the same period of time, the Commission’s expenditure was reported as N961.94 billion from 2007 to 2011 and N932.632 billion and $6.107 billion from 2012 to 2016; totaling N3.03 trillion, using the prevailing exchange rate of N181/$1. These homonguous allocations were made to NDDC to cover expenditures on projects to reverse the genuine claim of projects deficit in the region as a result of years of government neglect and environmental degradation as a result of decade-long oil exploration and production. Today, the development crisis of the region is as it was before the establishment of NDDC and the huge capital commitments.
In the ten years period, the expenditure of the Commission surpasses its revenue as it is still happening till now; an unbelievable negative balance of N1.6168 trillion was recorded. The implication of this negative balance is that NDDC always has claims of debts to some phantom contractors without evidence of completed contracts to justify the spending. That was the same scenario that presented itself in 2019 when the Commission awarded over N1 trillion contracts in 7 months against a budget of N400 billion and yet no projects to show.
The drama began with the order for a forensic audit of the Commission’s entire existence by the President. For the first time it became public knowledge that NDDC has over 12,000 awarded and abandoned projects spread across the entire Niger Delta region since inception, with payment mostly fully settled. It has since been reported that Senator James Manager, a bonafide son of the region single handedly got 300 contracts from the Commission without executing a single one; whereas, accordingly, he has received full payment for 120 projects.
It then became news how N3.7 billion was paid by the Commission for the supply of “plastic chairs” and the few chairs that were delivered were delivered to a warehouse belonging to the same company that got the contract. Interestingly, the company and the warehouse belong to the current chairman Senate Committee on NDDC; the same man chairing the National Assembly investigation of the Commission.
Then, the acting chairman of the Commission, Kemebradikumo Pondei suddenly slumped to evade answering questions at the House of Representatives’ public hearing on corruption in NDDC. And that was it, he is no more to appear before the investigative Committee; since our representatives were satisfied despite not answering pertinent questions.
And then, the bombshell from the Honourable Minister, another son of the region that over 60 percent of all NDDC contracts were taken by members of the National Assembly. Then, it begins to make sense why Mr. Pondei apparently fainted and was given an perpetual relief from appearing before the House. Why the Minister was prevented from continuing his testimony by the same; and why as we speak, the NDDC case is becoming a stale issue as the National Assembly seem to deliberately make it so, begs for answers.
How do we explain 30 members of the House of Representatives alone receiving contracts worth over N100 billion from only NDDC without implementation? These are individuals who are already draining the country without remorse and care for the rest of the citizens; collecting humongous allowances for doing exactly nothing for the country beyond their selfish aspirations. These people still abuse their position by taking contracts that could have enabled the private sector to function and provide jobs for the common man on the street, and the macroeconomic multiplier effect.
How do we explain the atrocities being committed against the people of the Niger Delta region by the same people who are supposed to be looking out for their welfare? While the region continues to groan under the weight of poverty and total lack of basic infrastructures, their leaders and elders of the same region are daily feeding on the commonwealth of the entire region. As the practice has been since 2001, these mind blowing revelations take the man inhumanity to man perpetrated by these men to a completely new level. The interim management of the Commission spent N81.5 billion as sundry expenses, inclusive of graduation ceremonies abroad at a time the nation was under lockdown, when no such activities could ever take place. Then, they spent N3.14 billion on Covid-19 palliatives, not for the citizens of the region but for themselves, while the citizens are totally ignored; then you have the N1.3 billion of non-existing community relations, whatever that may be; N85.6 million for travels during the lockdown; N122.9 million on condolences between February and May, 2020; N23.8 million on consultancies; N790 .9 million as imprest; N2.6 billion on medicals; N1.9 billion on Lassa fever without any recorded cases of Lassa fever in the region; N706 million on legal services; N1.121 billion on public communication. In all these, there was not a single record of what was spent for the people of the region, for whose purpose the Commission was set up.
And how do we respond to these as a people? Who are those who should speak out against the grim rape of the region and the continuous dwindling of the chances of survival of the over 50 million Nigerians inhabiting the region? The Nigerian youths in their number would rather enjoy Big Brother Nigeria and spend their time and money participating in cheering and voting participants in the non-benefiting venture than expending their energy in taking a stand against a system ravaging their chances at survival as a people.
When the Acting Managing Director of NDDC listed the contracts that members of the National Assembly forced on the Commission’s annual budget before they would agree to pass its budget, and subsequently arm twisted the Commission to pay upfront for all the phantoms projects even when there are no plans to execute any of them, the expectation and of course the normal is that Nigerians and most especially the youths would get angry and demand both explanations and reparations from their representatives at the National Assembly, but no, nothing of such is happening; rather, we kept mute as we rather accuse and abuse the same government and President who is making efforts to unravel these gruesome atrocities and rid the nation of these continuous perpetration. These projects we are referring to here are necessary infrastructural projects that are needed by communities where they are deceitfully placed and unplaced by non-execution, and by implication, may never have it again because by record, they already have it.
The elders and leaders of the country especially those from the Niger Delta region who should be the focal point of response to these atrocities and its correction have also gone so quiet. Suddenly, it becomes that these elders are not interested any longer in issues of national relevancies. But that is not true, their previous disposition doesn’t match their current silence. They have always been in the forefront of all attacks against the President’s handling of the nation’s anti-corruption fight, insecurity and every other topic that could present an opportunity to insult the President until now, when they suddenly chose the convenient silent response. Why? These same elders and leaders – or dealers? are also partly responsible for the atrocities we are witnessing across the nation’s economic and security problem-spaces.
Imagine the likes of TY Danjuma, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, the self-acclaimed leader, Edwin Clark and many in their calibers are in the country but chose to pretend not to be aware of the ongoing corruption explosions in the Niger Delta region. They wouldn’t talk because they are most likely part of the rots and inclusive among the names that took the un-executed contracts from NDDC and other agencies and ministries of government. I once read an alleged statement credited to a one time Niger Delta Minister, of how he gave Edwin Clark a contract to develop the region, how he took the job and the money but didn’t do the job. I also recall a petition on a failed contract submitted to EFCC against the same Edwin Clark and his company, Panama Construction Limited in 2013. The company was awarded a 10.3 km Aladja- Isaba road project in Delta state in 2006 for N595 million. Seven years later, the job was not executed and the company was asking for a variation that would drag the value of the project to over N1 billion so they could collect more money while the job remained abandoned. Till today, the contract has not been executed nor delivered.
This is the reason why the likes of Edwin Clark would support the militants waging war against the rest of the country and why the supposed elder statesman will not condemn or even make a statement on the massive explosion of corruption at NDDC.
Believe me, Edwin Clark is just but a case study. The region boasts the richest governors in the history of Nigeria. Their political leaders are stupendously rich fellows; yet the population of the region has never looked inward when they want to air their grievances.
However, this rot is not limited to elders from that region alone, it is a phenomena evenly spread across the nation. Corruption, an untamed monster tramples the nation from all angles. It is in our country that a bank mistakenly paid a huge sum of N573 million into a bank account of a pastor connected to the head of the anti-corruption agency of the country only to realise the error after four years after being summoned before an investigation panel to account for the transfer.
TY Danjuma has been busy shouting poverty and insecurity in the country, yet as a respected elder in his state and region, there exist no evidence of any action he has taken in the past or is currently undertaken to resolve the perennial Tiv-Jukun clashes that is ravaging his own people; though there have been various allegation of his sponsoring of the same feud. Shouting poverty, yet his company operates in the country, benefiting from the country without paying its dues to the country. Pan Ocean Nigeria, his company reportedly owes the country N240 billion. Recently, the government had to terminate OML 98 license held by the company while AMCON won a case to sell off all assets of his company to recover the N240 billion.
The country is in a dilemma. The hope of reparation is dim. Corruption seems to keep having the upper hand regardless of sincerity of the fight against it; those who ought to support the Administration in the fight are as much interested in the regime of corruption and are only sabotaging the efforts. We already know how the NDDC investigation and probes would end. The National Assembly and the power blocks involved in the control of the wealth of the Niger Delta region would very soon began the blackmail game to stop the executive from proceeding with the investigation; the House and Senate Committees would naturally drag its feet until the investigation is overtaking by events and naturally died as the norms have been with all other before it. And Nigerians would as usual remain the perpetual losers.
I would restate the fact that to win the war against corruption, this country needs not just a president willing to fight corruption but a citizen population that wants to fight and end corruption. Until we get that needed combination, we would continue to breed corruption and corrupt elements who would continue to take us all and our commonwealth for a graft ride.
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!