Events of the past few weeks, regarding the probe into the alleged irregular N40 billion expenditure in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and N100 billion misappropriation by the North East Development Commission (NEC) have raised serious concerns to whether Nigeria still needs Development Commissions.
The NDDC was established in 2000 during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, comprising the nine states oil producing States namely, Cross River, Edo, Delta, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, River, Akwa-Ibom and Ondo.
One of the core mandates of the Commission is to train and educate the youths of the oil rich Niger Delta regions to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity.
Unfortunately however, the Commission had in about 20 years of existence not lived up to its mandate as most of the infrastructural projects are either abandoned or poorly executed after huge payments running into trillions are made while its scholarship schemes are nothing but scams.
Another hallmark of the NDDC is alleged endemic corruption by the operators of the agency and patrons from the region which recently caught the attention of the executive and legislative arms of government at the federal level.
While the executive, represented by President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered for forensic audit of the Commission, the legislature, particularly the House of Representatives had embarked on full investigation of interventionist agency.
Buhari had in a recent tweet said: “I have ordered a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission. With the amount of money the Federal Government has allocated to the NDDC, we’d like to see the results on the ground, those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues”.
This was just as the House of Representatives had two months ago adopted a motion seeking an investigation into the alleged irregular expenditure of N40 billion in the NDDC and mandated its committee on NDDC to undertake the probe.
After preliminary investigations, the House Committee on NDDC started public hearing on the issue during which the Committee’s Chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo revealed that the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) spent N81.5billion January to May this year.
Tunji-Ojo gave breakdown of the expenditure as follows: community relations, N1 .3billion; condolences, N122.9million; consultancy, N83million; COVlD-19 , N3.14 billion; DTA , N486million; Impress, N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal services, N900million; maintenance, N220million; overseas travels, N85.6 million; project public communication, Nl.121 billion; security, N744million; staffing related payments, N8.8 billion and stakeholders engagement, N248million.
The drama-parked probe in which the Acting Managing Director of NDDC, Kemerbrandikumo Pondei staged a walk out on the Committee only to reappear and collapsed while the Committee’s Chairman, Tunji-Ojo stepped down from presiding over the hearing, opened cans of worm of corrupt practices in the Commission as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio said most contracts in NDDC are awarded to National Assembly Members and denied later.
It was in the middle of this multi-billion financial imbroglio in the NDDC probe that the House of Representatives resolved to investigate the alleged sleaze and misappropriation of N100 billion at the North East Development Commission ( NEDC) and mandated the Committees on Finance, Procurement and NEDC to exhaustively investigate the allegations and report back in eight weeks.
The House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu who moved the motion of urgent public on the need to investigate the N 100 billion misappropriation in the NEDC said the Commission which was set up to ameliorate the sufferings of the people in the Boko Haram ravaged North East Zone is alleged to be enmeshed in serious corrupt practices by the management .
Elumelu noted that the corrupt practices includes high handedness by the managing director Mohammed Alkali, over inflation of contracts, awards of nonexistent contracts, massive contract splitting and flagrant disregard for the procurement laws in the award of contracts.
He expressed concern that the N100 billion so far disbursed to the Commission by the Federal Government is said to have vanished under a year without any visible impact on the refugees nor any infrastructural development credited to the name of the Commission in the whole of the Northeast.
The Delta lawmaker expressed worry that there are allegations of how the Managing Director and his close associates diverted funds meant for the commission to purchasing of choice properties in highbrow neighborhoods of Abuja, Kaduna and Maiduguri to the detriment of the suffering refugees and infrastructural development.
He was also: “worried that there are allegations of how the minister of Humanitarian affairs and disaster management, Sadiya Umar Farouk was said to have entered into an unholy deal with the managing director of the commission to illegally withdraw the sum of N5 billion from the account of the commission to purchase military vehicles without any recourse to the board, an act which completely disregards the country’s procurement laws and must be seriously frowned at.
“Disturbed that though the Managing Director single handedly procured all Corona virus materials and supplies to the tune of N5 billion without an approval from the board, there is said to be another massive corruption scheme on the verge of being implemented in the name of housing scheme in Maiduguri without the board’s knowledge.
“Further disturbed that these consistent abuse of procurement laws if not put to check may defeat the purpose for the establishment of the commission, hence the need for an urgent investigation”.
Like NDDC, the NED also has impactful objectives embedded in the law establishing it. The NED Bill was signed into law in October 2017 by President Buhari to replace other initiatives such as the Presidential Initiative on Northeast (PINE) and Victims Support Fund (VSF) and the board of management inaugurated in May 2019.
The Commission was established with a mission of coordinating funds accruing from the federation account and donor agencies for the purposes of rehabilitating and resettling of victims of insurgency, reconstruction of homes, infrastructural development and tackling of illiteracy in the Northeastern part of the country.
Obviously, arising from the objectives encapsulated in NDDC and NED Acts, there are pieces of legislations at various stages in the National Assembly, seeking to establish Development Commissions in the other geopolitical zones to address their peculiar developmental challenges.
Prominent amongst these are: the South East Development Commission Bill which has been passed and is awaiting presidential assent, the South West Development Commission and the South-South Development Commission Bills which have both passed second reading in the House of Representatives.
The South-East Development Commission is to serve as a catalyst to develop the commercial potentials of the South-East, receive and manage funds from allocation for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, reparation for houses and lost business of victims of the Civil War and address any other environmental or developmental challenges.
The South West Development Commission would be charged with the responsibility to among, others; receive and manage funds from allocation of the Federation Account and to receive donations and gifts for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads, houses and other infrastructural damages suffered by the region as well as tackle the ecological problems and any other related environmental or developmental challenges in the South West States.
Also the South-South Development Commission is to serve as a springboard for the engagement, integration and development of the South South region as well as resolve issues of infrastructural deficit, militancy, communal crises as well as the ecological problems and (any) other related environmental or developmental challenges in the region.
The sponsor of the South Development Commission Bill, Awaji-Inombek Abiante amongst others argued that the NDDC was created merely to replace the OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission) and for the development of oil producing area which include areas and communities from States in the South East (Abia & lmo) and South West (Ondo) and most recently Lagos (where oil was discovered in 2016).
As the lofty as the ideals of these Zonal Development Commissions, are the difficult question is whether Nigeria still need them with the recent revelations that those already in existence: NDDC and NED are nothing but conduit pipes, doing more harm than good to the national treasury.
Responding to this, Deputy National Leader, Young Progressives Party (YPP) Solomon Gbenga called for the NDDC and NED to be scrapped while the Bills seeking to establish other zonal Development Commissions should be discarded.
Gbenga told BDSUNDAY that what Nigeria needs is even development of all sections of the country and not establishment of regional or zonal agencies, hence such could become ‘cash cows’ for some political actors and their surrogates in management of those organisations.
“Our leaders have gotten it wrong in this country. It is not supposed to be a Regional Commission, we are supposed to fix the Niger Delta where the wealth of this nation comes from. That was why Obasanjo in 2000 established the NDDC, but a lot of leaders have come now and turned it into a cash cow.
“I don’t see the need for any Regional Development Commission to come up because every other region is benefitting from Niger Delta. Nigerians should begin to wake up to realities because if you open up the South East Development Commission that will be the way for the Igbos to begin to fight for contracts and amass wealth.
“Nigerians should begin to understand that we are one nation. There is no need to be having the South East Development Commission, the North East Development Commission, the North West Development Commission, etc, we are already beginning to break the nation.
“We are already a federal system, let us run a federal system. If we are running a regional system, let us run a regional system. We cannot run federal and regional system at the same time because some people will begin to fight. All these Regional Commissions and the NDDC should be scrapped,” he stated.
In his opinion, a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Benue State University, Makurdi, Donald Ende argued that zonal Development Commissions are not only gradually returning Nigeria to the era of regionalism but they are opening more avenues for corruption by the ruling class.
Ende said the multibillion naira scandal in the NDDC and NED should not be swept under the carpet but be taken to a logical conclusion for the reorganization of the Commissions or doing away with them and rather allocating more funds for developmental projects in each state of the federation.
He suggested that: “Such projects should be supervised or monitored strictly by the President or the Minister of Special Duties”, adding that the perceived failure and corruption in the existing zonal Development Commissions called for caution in: creating more of such conduit pipes.” Business Day