On 28th October 2019, the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, on its Good Morning Nigeria show brought in a certain crop of distinguished Nigerians to discuss the management of the resources of the Niger Delta. That distinguished panel consisted of Omotaya Olasoadura Olasore Honourable Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Ita Enang, SA to Mr President on the Niger Delta, Senator Magnus Abe, a Senator from Rivers State and the Rev David Ugolor, Civil Society Activist, and executive director of the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice, ANEEJ. All four panelists are Niger Deltans, and the topic for discussion itself, the irresponsible management of the resources allocated to the Niger Delta, was most interesting. Judging from the level of interactions and contributions they made during the programme, it can be safe to say that they thoroughly understood what issues and challenges have made it almost impossible for the Niger Delta to develop, and in spite of the trillions which have been allocated to the region.
Yet, that panel of distinguished Niger Deltans on the NTA show brought to mind a similar one involving a town hall meeting in Edo state in March 2017 between then acting president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, and stakeholders in the Niger Delta. Two things stood out at that meeting between the Acting President and the stakeholders: one was the realization that in spite of the large sums allocated to the region through the interventionist bodies – NDDC, DESOPADEC, EDSOGPADEC, OSOPADEC and all the other padecs, poverty, unemployment, massive underdevelopment was rifer than rife. A second thing that came out of that meeting was an interesting position adopted by the Rev Ugolor (and which the acting President strongly supported), that if there was anyone to be held responsible for the poverty and underdevelopment in the Niger Delta (in spite of the humongous monies received from the Federal Allocations), those would be the political elite – the governors, the lawmakers, traditional and religious rulers and their ilk in the Niger Delta.
As a matter of fact, that the resolution taken at that meeting (a review of all contracts awarded, together with the arrest of the managers of the banks that colluded with the contractors) did not see the light of day seemed to have lent some credence to the position of the Rev Ugolor. CERLSI does not have proof but we know that monies for development of the region end up in the deep pockets of the political elite who use those public funds to oil their political machines, prosecute elections, erect grandiose personal mansions and purchase expensive cars rather than for purposes that these monies were allocated.
We recall at that time too that that meeting between the Acting President and Niger Delta Stakeholders held, there was a report credited to ANEEJ and its sister organization, LITE-Africa – Citizen Report Card on Niger Delta Institutions – (2015), which reviewed all the projects purportedly carried out by the Niger Delta Institutions. What was obvious from that report was that all the development contracts that were awarded were abandoned, incomplete, ‘ongoing’ or outrightly substandard. We put the report to the test to ascertain its validity by making calls to communities where projects were said to have been awarded and completed. We drew blanks in all cases. One such community is Uzere in Isoko South Local Government area of Delta State. Of the nearly 200 oil wells in Nigeria, Uzere has two oil fields with a total of 43 oil wells producing about 53,000 barrels per day and contributing to the national purse. Yet its roads, health centres, schools, and social infrastructure are some of the worst in Nigeria. Members of the community told us that projects that were published in newspapers and websites of interventionist organizations as complete were actually abandoned, incomplete and if completed are low grade.
We believe one reason why most of the contracts were abandoned, ongoing or substandard is the very dangerous motif wound around the concept of the 13% derivation accruing to the region, to wit: the money na awa money – that the monies allocated to the interventionist agencies are not, as a matter of fact, monies for the development of the Niger Delta, but for the political elite. The thinking is that these political, religious and traditional elite who petitioned the Yar’Adua government for the establishment of the NDDC should be direct beneficiaries first before considerations for the development of the region. And so when the monies are allocated, bogus contracts (for instance for clearing water hyacinths) and bogus contractors and very many interest groups just emerge from within the communities to carry out bogus contracts awarded with millions of naira. That notion is bolstered by revelations making the rounds that a Senator in the Niger Delta has over three hundred contracts awarded to him by the NDDC.
Therefore, listening to the gentlemen on that NTA Good morning show, we remember that popular adage among Niger Deltans that if brothers get into a room to discuss family matters and emerge smiling, chances remain they did not speak the truth to one another. It made sense that the panelists invited by the NTA were all Niger Deltans and are were all political and religious elite, and seemingly genuinely interested in belling the cat that interventionist agencies like the NDDC, OSOPADEC, DESOPADEC and EDSOGPADEC have become. But we ask: who is going to bell the cat? How is the Niger Delta going to go about the Forensic investigation of all the contracts awarded from inception to date? If some of the political, religious and traditional elite have been direct or indirect beneficiaries of the scams in the awards of contracts in the Niger Delta, how could they audit each other? How do you prosecute members of a ruling political party who were awarded contracts solely on the condition that they belong to the party in power, and have rendered services to the party? How do you audit members of the party in power who have made returns to the party from NDDC contracts but who abandoned such contracts? Who as a matter of fact is going to carry out the said audit – the EFCC, ICPC, the police or the DSS?
Among the panelists, only one of them (the Rev Ugolor,) put forward the idea that touches a nerve with CERLSI – the idea of an independent Forensic Audit side by side the proposed Forensic Audit of the NDDC by the government. What makes the idea novel is that it would involve credible persons or institutions with track and proven experience in such matters of monitoring and evaluation of public funds. If there are two audits – a citizen forensic one and another carried out by government, issues of conflict of interest will not arise and the real thieves among the Niger Deltans who have been feathering their nests with communal funds will be unmasked. Stakeholders have suggested that the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, NEITI, should carry out that forensic audit. First, it is not a government agency. Second, it is backed by law and third it represents a multi-stakeholders framework with technical capacity to carry out investigations of the scale of the audit being mooted by the government. CERLSI endorses this idea.
Etemiku is deputy executive director, Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative, CERLSI.