21 July, 2017

NDDC: INDEMNIFYING BOARD AGAINST ATTACKS


By CHIGACHI EKE

Two academics endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision in sending Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on peace tour of the coastal states. The first was Dr. Emmanuel Ufuophu-Biri of Delta State University who scored Osinbajo highly for going beyond the glistering capital city to the dark hovels of creek towns to see things for himself, “That he visited the... creeks to personally access the horrible situation is worth more than commendation. No Nigerian leader at his level has acted like this.” 

The second was Professor Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu who served in the Ledum Mittee-led Technical Committee on Niger Delta, TCND. According to him, General Yakubu Gowon was actually the first Nigerian leader to physically tour the creeks. Even when his boat, “Delta Enterprise,” broke down at Nembe the great general refused to call off his working tour, “General Gowon was the one cheering us up when we got stranded in the boat for hours. He could have called for a helicopter but he promised to pass the night with us in Twon.”

On Osinbajo’s tour this is what Professor Ekpebu had to say, “Nigerian leaders can learn a lesson or two from President Muhammadu Buhari’s action in sending Osinbajo to the Niger Delta to canvass for friendship. Power is not all about crush! Crush!! Crush!!! You can never succeed in crushing everyone in the Niger Delta. For a people producing the wealth of this country and long neglected, crushing becomes a tonic for resistance and therefore counter-productive. Simple human relations can achieve more than expensive military campaigns.” 

The region is peaceful today, due mainly to the Osinbajo magic. But what may eventually endanger this peace could still be his threats to jail defaulting contractors with the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. Before Edo stakeholders Osinbajo had declared, “I will be working with the NDDC and the Niger Delta Minister to ensure that we get all abandoned projects on track and that we get defaulting contractors to account....We are going to ensure that any contractor who has taken money and abandoned the project is prosecuted.” This hard line approach could bring the Managing Director Nsima Ekere-led NDDC into direct confrontation with the offending contractors. History is a teacher. 

What almost crippled Ibim Semenitari as Acting Managing Director of NDDC, 2015-2016, was not ineptitude as she was eminently competent for the job. It was the activities of faceless petition writers in the payroll of same NDDC contractors. Full page adverts in leading dailies were contracted to advance reasons, reasons as malicious as they were false, why President Buhari must salvage his transparency campaign by urgently removing Semenitari from office. 

Semenitari’s problem with the petition sponsors was her refusal to be dictated to. Her insistence on verifying projects before payment did not go down well with these contractors who mobilised against her. It took the bold intervention of Iyerifama Godswill Jaja, Chairman Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Eastern Zone, for Seminitari to have peace and do the job President Buhari sent her to do. 

It is in the light of these expectations that the social consequences of avoidable distraction must be properly understood. The Presidency wants NDDC to track down and punish well-fed contractors. But those whom things have not changed, namely, widows, impoverished youths and communities whose economies were destroyed in the 2009 Oil War, are saying “No. That is not our priority. Save our souls first. The NDDC should urgently intervene in our daily realities in the same manner the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE, is empowering our northern compatriots.”

To neglect the plaintive cries of the people in favour of an improbable quest is a gross misinterpretation of the mood on ground zero. This could challenge the goodwill enjoyed by the board as illusion is dangerous among have-nots. The article aims to (1) Enquire why the projects in question were abandoned; and (2) Highlight the security implications of a possible backlash from defaulting contractors who may interpret NDDC’s “ultimatums” as “instruments of war.” Can’t this matter be handled differently without crisis?

There are many reasons why the projects were abandoned. Standing tall is the fact that some were awarded quid pro quo for peace by Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. The beneficiaries, mainly ex-warlords turned peace time “contractors,” faithfully maintained the peace in return. This is a well known fact and we must not lie to ourselves. If the projects were awarded as tokens, it is wrong to now see them as executable contracts. 

But we have a moral question here. Is tokenism not corruption by other name? No; not at all. Preferential trade, treaty, palliative, aid, tokenism, prisoner swap, religion, alliance, amnesty, etc, are internationally acceptable non-military means for achieving military end, according to world-class Professor Ekpebu whose “Africa and the International Political System” remains one of the best researched texts on diplomacy. Tokenism worked for past administrations, why reinvent the wheel? 

Finally, whereas the Judiciary left the agency alone, this cannot be said of former members of National Assembly and Federal Executive Council who monopolised contracts under past boards. Descending on Port Harcourt in the name of investigating NDDC, they sucked the life out of the latter with their expensive hotel bills leaving the trembling management with nothing with which to pay contractors. That no board outlived its tenure in recent times is no accident of history. 

A more feasible approach to dealing with abandoned projects is for Acting President Osinbajo to write them off as part of the larger regional liabilities his Principal inherited. Ekere and Adjogbe could use their initiatives to decide what can be salvaged and what written off, if Presidency gives them a free hand. They come from the region and are well informed on how weakness is balanced here. If Aso Rock asks their honest opinion, as against the present command-and-obey approach, they are likely to fault litigation as fraught with friction. 

But if the defaulting contractors must be docked then the first measure is for Presidency to grant immunity to board members expected to catch the shrew. It would be naive expecting the culprits to meekly turn the other cheek. If they can’t fight faraway EFCC then the nearby NDDC will do. Spread across ethnic and party lines, they may use the dailies and social media to fight back when not sponsoring endless protests at the Harold Dappa-Biriye House. 

Eke, a Public Affairs Analyst wrote in from Port Harcourt.

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Disclaimer: Comment expressed do not reflect the opinion of Isaac Yoma