By Emmanuel Onwubiko
These days if you watch the global news as channels, the likelihood is very high that you would hear and see proffs that the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil is depleting at an alarming rate no doubt.
However, much of The World’s political and media powers are on this matter. The clamour and advocacy campaigns for the protection and conservation of the natural environment of the Amazon rainforest have intensified and have added some frenetic flavour and impetus since the advent of the CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC in the World.
Look at what some scientists wrote about the Amazon rainforest: “Not only does the Amazon encompass the single largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world, it also houses at least 10% of the world’s known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna, and its river accounts for 15-16% of the world’s total river discharge into the oceans. The Amazon River flows for more than 6,600 km, and with its hundreds of tributaries and streams contains the largest number of freshwater fish species in the world”(wwf.panda.org). Like the Amazon rainforest that is strategic to the survival of the World’s ecosystem, the Niger Delta Region is one place that virtually 98% of the Nigerian crude oil reserves and the foreign sources revenues largely comes from there but sadly, that place is the most marginalised section of Nigeria.
We may not therefore be exaggerating if we say here is Nigeria is another resource rich region that can be compared to the Amazon rainforest known as the Niger Delta Oil Producing communities in the Southern axis of Nigeria.
This Axis of Oil mineral resources has been turned into Axis of corruption by political office holder in Abuja and the nine states that make up the region.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that was created by previous federal government to address the crises of infrastructures deficits afflicting these crude oil producing States in the Niger Delta Region has since become the bastion of filthy lucre and outright theft of public funds meant to advance and develop that massively neglected and marginalized region and the population making up that region.
When it became clear that the NDDC couldn’t play her roles thoroughly to evolve developmental blueprints and carry through with the implementation, the then Umar Yaradua federal administration set up the Ministry for Niger Delta Region.
However, both the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission have since become cesspool of corruption and money laundering by politicians.
The governors of the State of Niger Delta Oil Producing States are some of the worst predatory thieves that have ever been seen anywhere in the World followed by those of the North whereby 80% of the kids are out of school.
The current minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the management team at the much abused Niger Delta Development Commission are battling grave allegations of corruption.
The heavy stench of massive scale of corruption in the political agencies that ought to develop Niger Delta is disturbing. The entire political elites in Nigeria are using the Niger Delta Region as the football pitch for phenomenal corruption even as the people of that crude oil producing States have become some of the most impoverished communities anywhere in the Country.
These issues were exactly what gave rise to militancy and armed struggles that culminated in the setting up of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme that was set up by the Umaru Musa Yaradua/Goodluck Jonathan administrations and has been sustained by the current government. The only strong deficiency of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme was that it was meant to train local manpower and human resources frim these crude oil producing States so these trained and skillful locals would be given opportunities to be employed in the crude oil servicing companies and the publicly owned Nigerian National Petroleum corporation but it was not to be because the same bureacraic bottlenecks and Financial Crimes associated with most government businesses was brough to bear in the administration of that Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. Ghosts trainees were lined up and only very few real persons from that region benefited whereas billions of public fund were siphoned by the officials running that Amnesty Programme. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari suspended his Special Adviser in charge of the Amnesty Programme for Niger Delta over alleged corruption.
Metaphorically, it can be stated that politicians of all hue and persuasions who have controlled federal power over the Years including the military coupists who took over power and ruled for forty or so years, have turned the Niger Delta affairs into Political corruption affairs thereby exposing both the topography and the people of the Niger Delta Region poorer and systematically excluded.
For example, the Senate which in this dispensation has lost its independence because of how submissive they have become and the leadership of the National Assembly made up of lackeys of President Muhammadu Buhari came out of its political hibernation and expressed shock over the stunning revelation that the Nigerian Police Force and the staff of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) shared N3.14 billion as palliatives for the COVID-19 pandemic. Such is the lowest point of filth that the Niger Delta affiliated government interventionistic agencies have reached.
Specifically, as reported in the media, the NDDC officials shared N1.5 billion as COVID-19 palliatives while the Police got N475 million to buy face masks and hand sanitizers.
The Chairman, Senate ad-hoc Committee investigating the alleged N40 billion illegally expended by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC, Olubunmi Adetunbi (APC, Ekiti North), noted the expenditure at the commencement of the investigative hearing at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.
This was as the NDDC Director of Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, accused Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on NDDC of hijacking the 2020 budget of the agency. So allegations and counter allegations of corruption are what the Niger Delta affairs have become since 2015.
Senator Adetunbi pointed out that the expended fund was contained in the document submitted to the committee by the Managing Director of the IMC, Kemebradikumo Pondei.
When invited to the rostrum to give explanations on the fund, which was captured on the subtitle “emergency payments”, Pondei admitted before the ad hoc committee that N3.14 billion was spent by the NDDC to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on staff of the agency. Can you beat this level of crass irresponsibility and insensitivity?
The infuriated legislators were further inundated with the incredible claim that part of the money was paid to the Police, youths, men and women to cushion the negative effects of the pandemic and to forestall violence that might erupt in the Niger Delta region.
The visibly angry Senator who gave the breakdown on how the money was spent, said that from the records in the document submitted to the committee by the NDDC, out of the total sum of N3.14 billion purportedly spent on COVID-19, N1.5 billion was shared among the Police and staff of the commission across the nine states of the Niger Delta.
He pointed out that N475 million was paid to the Police from the money to purchase face masks and hand sanitizers.
He also said that N10 million was paid to an unnamed top management staff of the commission (believed to be the MD) while N7 million each was given to two other senior staff of the NDDC.
Adetunmbi further hinted that 148 NDDC staff got N3 million each, 157 staff received N1.5 million each, 497 staff were paid N1 million each while 464 staff were paid N600,000 each as COVID-19 relief.
The legislator read further from the documents, and said: “The NDDC IMC expended on other issues, including COVID-19, to the total of N81.509 billion, from October 2019 to February 2020, and from February to May 30th, 2020, the reason of this investigation.”
Here are the breakdown of how the NDDC management frittered the N81.509 billion as follows: “Community relations: N1.3 billion; condolences: N1.2 billion; consultancy: N3.8 billion; COVID-19: N3.14 billion; duty tour allowances: N486 million.
“Impress (October to May, 2020): N790 million; Lassa fever: N1.956 billion; legal services: N900 million; logistics: N31 million; maintenance: N220 million; medicals: N2.6 billion; overseas travel (February to May, 2020): N85.6 million; projects payment: N38.6 billion; public communication: N1.121 billion; security: N744 million; staffing related payment (October to May, 2020), including payment of salaries and other allowances: N20.9 billion; engagement of stakeholders (February to May, 2020): N248 million; and travels: N56.5 million” respectively.
Adetunbi further explained that out of the total N81.509 billion, “the first IMC spent N22.5 billion from October 2019 to February 2020 while the second IMC spent N59.1 billion between February and May 2020.”
He said: “It is on this expenditure that the Senate has called for this investigative public hearing.”
As expected, while defending the spending of the agency, the NDDC Director of Projects, Ojuogboh, posited that the “Commission has not misapplied any kobo” as being alleged by the National Assembly.
The medical doctor turned career politician while responding to questions from the members of the Assembly, Ojuogboh stated that the IMC inherited a debt of N3 trillion, claiming that the National Assembly hijacked the 2020 budget of the agency.
“We have no problem with the National Assembly, but we have a problem with chairman of the Senate committee on Niger Delta. No one kobo is misapplied since the coming of NDDC IMC.
“The 2020 budget of NDDC has been hijacked by the two chairmen in the Reps and Senate. We submitted the budget since 2019 and nothing has been done on it,” he said.
On the allegation that the IMC unilaterally and arbitrary sacked some staff of the NDDC, the director said that no single staff was sacked.
“We have sacked no staff and all workers on leave have been paid their full salaries. So, anyone who is claiming to have been sacked should bring the sack letter,” Ojuogboh stated.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said that allegations of financial recklessness and misappropriation of funds levelled against the IMC of NDDC were unacceptable, and that propelled the Senate to investigate the activities of the commission.
“Financial recklessness is not an attribute that anyone can afford, whether rich or poor. It is even worse with the poor, or for the organisation or a country with limited resources,” Lawan said.
The quantum of crimes going on against the people of Niger Delta Region are as grave as those environmental degradation and abuses going on in the Amazon rainforest except that the case of the Niger Delta Region is much more severe and the issues are not attracting the same scale of global attention like those of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The ugly thing about all of these cases of monumental injustices and crimes against humanity going on in the Niger Delta Region is that a lot of these issues are self inflicted because majority of those who rob the resources of the people are from the same region even when the crude oil resources are rapidly diminishing. So if at this age and time that petroleum is still a hot cake that the people of the Niger Delta Region aren’t benefiting holistically from the returns and revenues accruing there from, is it when petrol becomes economically non viable that these neglected communities and people can get justice for those grand scale misapplication of their God given resources? We need to punish all those thieves stealing the resources of Niger Delta Region to avoid the disasters that will be unleashed the moments the true patriots of Niger Delta become mobilised and organised to demand for answers for these cocktails of theft of their resources.
Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria; he firstname.lastname@example.org