By: Akanimo Sampson
Some dissatisfied traditional rulers in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s polluted oil and gas region, are likely to wage a “traditional war’’ with 2023 power seekers and their sponsoring political godfathers who are troubling the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC).
There are concerns in the region that the Commission is more of a festering nest of corruption than an interventionist agency.
The obviously disturbed Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities in the Niger Delta, (TROMPCON) does not want the oil region’s political warlords to keep using the NDDC as their diamond field.
TROMPCON’s Secretary-General, Chief Frank Okurakpor, has already warned against turning the Commission into a breeding ground for politicians, a seeming veiled indication that the rulers might be forced to act traditionally against politicians plundering the agency.
The veiled warning is coming as the National Assembly in the first week of this month passed a resolution to probe an allegation of N40 billion rip-off against the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC.
The Red Chamber of the Assembly, the Senate raised a seven-member ad-hoc committee to look into the worrisome allegation.
The resolution was sequel to a motion sponsored by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Thompson Sekibo. The Senate is interested in knowing how the IMC spent N40 billion within three months.
The ad-hoc the committee, headed by Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi, was given a month to look into the financial transactions and report back to the Senate.
Members of the committee are Senators Jika Dauda Haliru (APC Bauchi Central), Mohammed Tanko Almakura (APC Nasarawa South), Abdulfatai Buhari (APC Oyo North), Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North), Ibrahim Hadeija (APC Jigawa North East) and Degi-Eremienyo Biobarakuma (APC Bayelsa East).
The Senate equally directed its Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, headed by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, to within one month investigate the appropriateness of the alleged arbitrary sack of the management staff of NDDC.
Sekibo, in the motion entitled urgent need to investigate alleged financial recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission, alleged that reports from the commission revealed financial recklessness which must be halted and investigated.
According to him, while President Muhammadu Buhari set up the IMC to co-ordinate forensic audit of financial transactions carried out by the dissolved board of the commission, reports emanating from IMC indicated financial recklessness by the new management.
Adding, he said aside financial recklessness by the IMC, it is also indulging in an alleged arbitrary sack of the management staff of the commission.
According to Sekibo, “President Buhari’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedeviled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission.
“Within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund without recourse to established processes of fund disbursements, which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta region.”
Apparently rattled, the NDDC in a swift reaction says such ‘’baseless’’ allegations pose grave threat to the success of the forensic audit of the commission, directed by President Buhari, following a widespread request by stakeholders, including governors of the oil-bearing states.
In a statement, NDDC’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, dismissed the allegations, claiming that the IMC and the Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio, were ready to attend any public hearing on the matter.
Odili also said the total amount received by the IMC is N33 billion, “out of which it has since spent a total of N22 billion,” adding that the amount has been used to fund expenditures such as payment of “salaries and contractual debts”.
“The detractors of the commission are now hiding under the resolution of the National Assembly to trash the reputation of the IMC. We wish to state that there is no N40 billion fraud in NDDC. The total sum received by the IMC is N33 billion, out of which it has spent N22 billion. The expenditure includes payment of staff salaries, service providers’ debts and contractual debts of N50 million and below.’’
However, Okurakpor, the TROMPCON scribe has asked those that want to vie for any political office to do so from elsewhere and not from the NDDC.
He took advantage of the flag-off ceremony of the distribution of medical supplies, relief Materials and Public Enlightenment Campaign to contain the spread of Coronavirus Disease, COVID-19, across the Niger Delta in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to deliver their message to politicians.
While the monarchs lauded NDDC for coming up with the initiatives, the commission’s Acting Managing Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, lamented the poor state of health facilities in most states of the Niger Delta, a major constraint in the fight against COVID-19.
“No doubt, the disease has also taken its toll on the socio-economic well-being of citizens, especially as most small and medium scale businesses have been affected with the lockdown imposed in the states”, he says, noting that the economic wellbeing of the people was further dwindled due to the series of lockdowns imposed by governments to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Continuing, Pondei notes that NDDC is always desirous to support the government and peoples of the oil region in the area of quality health care delivery. “The Commission looks forward to strengthening the relationship with the states in the region in the area of health care for the good and well-being of the residents.
“The good relationship between the governments of states in the region offers an opportunity for synergy in efforts geared towards providing a lasting solution to the socio-economic challenges of the people in the region,” he says.
According to him, NDDC needs to complement the efforts of the nine states covered by its mandate in response to the directive of President Buhari: “All the nine NDDC states were supported with funds. In addition funds were also given to women and youth groups as palliatives.”
“Funds given to the states were utilised for the procurement of medical equipment such as special diagnostic equipment, critical care equipment, including ventilators and consumables. Others are various food items, beverages, sanitary materials and disinfectants.
“Also provided were support needs for the physically challenged, such as wheelchairs and crutches. The funds also cover sensitization and public enlightenment campaign as an important measure to contain the spread of coronavirus in the Niger Delta.”
Chairman of the NDDC Palliatives Committee, Soboma Jackrich, described the ceremony as a laudable and historic event: “When you put square pegs in square holes, you should expect good results. Members of the IMC, are people that mean well for the region, I thank the IMC for finding youths worthy of being involved in the programme.”
The Amamgada X11 of Rebisi, Eze W. Akarolo, commended NDDC for its development efforts in the Niger Delta and welcomed the intervention of the Commission in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
A youth leader, Jonathan Lokpobiri, expressed gratitude to President Buhari for approving the distribution of palliatives to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on the lives of vulnerable people in the region, adding, “My appeal to the management of the NDDC is that we should jettison politics and focus on the development of our people.”