Stakeholders across political divides and the academia in Akwa Ibom State have spoken in unison against calls in some quarters that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) be scrapped following revelations from the probe by the National Assembly. Instead, they have clamoured for the proper reorganization of the commission with professionals taking up appointments in their areas of specialization.
As an interventionist agency meant to change the Niger Delta region for the better, they argue that appointment of management and board members should not be based entirely on political consideration or compensation, but on professionalism. They have therefore called for the immediate dissolution of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), noting such arrangement was illegal to known laws of the country and the Act setting up the commission.
Even though they are agreed that the messy situation playing out at the commission has slowed down its day-to-day running, they are of the opinion that those found culpable should be made to face the music, by ensuring that they refund monies they collected or have their properties seized. Others are entirely against going to court to prosecute any culprit, as such a process, from experience, takes years before justice could be delivered.
According to Prof. Robert Dole of the Department of Political Science, University of Uyo, the drama is a distraction and waste of time, noting that while officials of NDDC are busy running the place aground, the North East Development Commission is busy delivering on its mandate for the zone.
“The Niger Delta Development Commission was set up as an interventionist agency to see to the development of a region known as the Niger Delta. The expectations of Niger Deltans are that NDDC would have supported the state governments to bring some level of development to their states. As I’m talking to you now, a street along Afaha Oku that was to be constructed 10 years ago, just to construct two new gutters and the street, is now worse than what it was before they came and removed the top soil.
“The expectation was development but now what we hear is talk about the huge amounts that have come in and gone out. So whether they are painting NDDC black or NDDC is trying to paint the National Assembly black is not our concern. As a professional, if we can finger those who have messed up, please name them so that they can be shamed.
“The stories, for some of us, are nothing but distractions. Everything about NDDC has been suspended for over eight months, which is not supposed to be so. The North East Development Commission is working and here we are hearing stories of this and that. Some of us are Niger Delta citizens and we are not interested in these distractions. NDDC should not be scrapped. What you need is to overhaul the commission and the way to do this is to bring professionals into its operations. It is an interventionist agency; it is not a place for political compensation. The critical areas must be manned by professionals and must not be compromised.
“The IMC should be scrapped immediately because it is illegal. Let the board be sworn in. The problem of NDDC is not NDDC; it is how the commission has been mismanaged. Look for credible technocrats, specialists and bring them in without political considerations.”
According to a political stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Mr. Etim Etim, what is happening in NDDC was fuelled by some politicians, past management staff of the commission because of the proposed forensic audit by Mr. President.
“This controversy has been raging for the past 10 months and it started immediately when the president announced the establishment of a forensic audit,” Etim said. “Immediately that happened, some people got offended, especially former and current management staff of the commission, contractors of the commission, politicians in the region and National Assembly members, who are also contractors or involved in some deals with the commission. They are the people waging this war, especially that the forensic audit should not take place, that the minister should be removed and the IMC disbanded. That is the summary of the messy situation we are seeing.
“They believe that if they succeed in this, the president will sack Akpabio, the IMC and they will stop the forensic audit. That is the reason for what is playing out today. For me, the forensic audit should be completed and those found culpable be sanctioned. If they took money, they should return it; those who took contract and collected money but abandoned the work should either complete the work or return the money to the government.
“I am not interested in people going to jail; you know how long it takes to send somebody to jail in Nigeria. It can take up to 16 years. I am not interested in prosecution. If you have taken N90 billion to build a classroom block and you have not done it, return the money to the government and such people should be given time to do so or their property seized instead of going to court.”
According to Professor Emmanuel Onwioduokit of Department of Economics, University of Uyo, also a former commissioner for economic development in the state, “NDDC should not be scrapped. Instead, everybody connected to the messy situation should be removed and a new set of persons brought in. Those that have failed should be removed and prosecuted and new people brought in with a clear mandate.”
Also contributing on the kind of NDDC the people of the region deserves, the Uyo Senatorial District Youth Leader of All Progressives Congress, Mr. Imoh Enang, stated that since the Minister of Niger Delta has challenged the National Assembly and vice versa, the people of the region and Nigerians at large want to see the final outcome before deciding on the fate of the commission.
He said, “Everybody is interested in seeing the outcome. But notwithstanding, the IMC should not last more than necessary. The main board of the commission should be constituted, so that the much-needed development in the Niger Delta would be achieved. The NDDC has been in existence for about 20 years, but we have not seen what it has done. What we are seeing now is because of Mr. President’s fight against corruption and a lot of things have been revealed.
“Instead of scrapping the commission, they should get to the root of ensuring that when a particular project is budgeted for, it should have a specific period of completion and commissioning; you should not do one project for 10 years and another for 20 years. I do not support those calling for the scrapping of the commission.”