It is obvious that we, as a people, enjoy noise and noisemaking. Some Nigerians will celebrate with hysteria a fraction of what a goat will see and yet lie idly chewing its cud. More often the noise is just to distract attention from the issues at stake. It is meant to create confusion in the minds of those who either do not have the capacity to interrogate issues or do not just want to, because such accords with their perceptions. The noise merchants often succeed with their wares in the circumstance; that is why they keep coming back.
On a fairly continuous basis, over some time now, public peace has been severally disturbed by issues pertaining to fraudulent activities in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Nothing new really! From the days of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) till now (rechristened NDDC), the Commission has been suffering from bad news. Not out of deliberate intentions though, but because of the consistent indulgence of the Commission in acts that has rendered its core mandate nugatory. Instead of intervening in the challenges of the region for which it was meant, NDDC has transformed into a farmland for fraudulently minded individuals and groups.
Unfortunately, some of these individuals are also among those who parade themselves as elders and leaders of the region. They mindlessly plunder the resources of the area, create more challenges for the zone and benefit from the spoils of instigated crisis. They also use youths of the area who, because of theirmorbid sense of entitlement, kow-tow to the whims and caprices of those they see as leaders. To them squandering of resources is normal, because “it is our oil money.”
If the volume of funds that has passed through OMPDEC/NDDC since inception had been judiciously applied, the entire Niger Delta region would have been in the same league with Dubai. But this is one region where you find people who should have been regarded as traitors in some climes living in gilded homes and commanding cult followership. These are the same people who speak on national issues with all sense of wisdom and righteousness, but who deliberately refuse to be bothered about the mess they have created at home.
It is often disheartening seeing otherwise enlightened people being taken-in by petty distractions when very serious issues of pillaging the region’scommonwealth by a few people is being mentioned. Why should such distractions be given any impetus? It is more so when those who do not want to be probed are the ones eager to probe others accused of similar indulgence. It is disheartening because the eventual losers in this sordid game often fail to see through the pranks those in league are playing on them. They fail to perceive that it just distraction, distraction and more distraction.
Eventually when the storm generated by the distraction game settles, as it often does, the players and their cheerleaders jog home with their trophy hoping for the next season when the people will still be groping as apprehensive spectators and eventual losers of a foul-infested game. It has become a seasonal league championship where the final clash is always between the National Assembly (NASS) members from the region and officials of the Commission.
Within the last two months, the two chambers of the NASS have threatened to probe the Interim Management Committee (IMC) currently supervising a forensic audit of the Commission’s finances; the acting Managing Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, has accused the NASS committees of “classically” padding NDDC’s 2019 budget; and the Executive Director of Projects in the IMC, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, has accused ranking NASS members of being behind monumental fraudulent activities at the NDDC.
In climes where fraudulent acts are viewed seriously, these would have provided feedstock for serious interrogation of all the issues raised by the three parties. The government and in particular the people of the region should have been deeply interested in the thorough investigation of the allegations made by the parties in the mudslinging game. Some of the issues bother on why the Niger Delta region has remained in a perpetual state of underdevelopment in spite of all the funds pumped through the Commission. Instead, what do we have? Bile-pouring, threats and taking sides!
Curiously some Niger Delta groups which were quick to urge the NASS to probe the IMC based on a purported petition lost their voices when the alleged illicit acts of the NASS committees and ranking members were raised. As fundamental as the issues against the NASS and its members are, compared to the allegations of the NASS against the IMC, the groups pretended they heard nothing. So where is the sincerity? The obvious fact is that some of those in the groups are complicit in the poor health of the region and are apprehensive the diagnosis of the forensic audit might unveil their association.
The IMC is accused of squandering N40 billion within a very short period and attempting to cover the act with a virement sent through the supervising ministry to the NASS committees. The routing through the ministry was said to be suspicious, oozing something hideous. The IMC dismissed the routing claim,insisting that what went to NASS was just a copy of what was forwarded to the Presidency; and it was on the request of the NASS committees.
The issues raised against the IMC are pretty straight forward. Areas of alleged breach were listed, bothering largely on unauthorised and over-bloated spending. If the allegations have substance, for goodness sake invite the leadership of the IMC to the relevant committees of the legislature, ask for explanations and if unsatisfied, refer the matter to the appropriate prosecutorial agencies for diligent investigation and prosecution. The threats and noise are quite unnecessary.
The leadership of the IMC also raised issues that should attract serious attention from those who are interested in the development of the region, including budget issues. The acting Managing Director claimed that the 2019 budget which was released only recently by NASS was so padded that those who prepared the budget could no longer recognise it. Secondly, it was returned to the Commission just as that fiscal year was running out. He claimed the refusal of the IMC to work with the padded budget sparked a contention between the two bodies.
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Pondei alleged that recently while investigating the 2019 budget, which was sent to NASS since last year, the IMC discovered that billions of naira was appropriated for non-existing projects. This is a budget that was supposed to terminate last month (May 31); and without any project being executed in the region during the fiscal year. He said “…what was sent back to the Commission was no longer recognisable. The budget was classically over-padded with almost 500 new projects inserted into it, when it was sent back to us.” That this was not good enough to raise eye-brows in the Niger Delta region beggars belief!
The Federal Government had been facing a similar situation as alleged, with its annual budgets. Before the current National Assembly came on stream, budgets will get into the National Assembly and return with so much “bruises” the owners would no longer recognise them. Who cares! If the Executive raises alarm, the Legislators will scream “the National Assembly is not a rubber stamp;” and members of the public will echo, “Yeah! Yeah!! The National Assembly is not a rubber stamp”. And life goes on there!
Incidentally, when projects are not delivered as a result of the limping nature of the battered budgets, the executing body becomes the fall guy. The public will scream and the same NASS, in a sanctimonious posture will, on the face of it, act as technical adviser, admonishing “government” and pointing the way forward. The NASS would do this not minding whether there is capacity to carry out the prescription within the contemplation of the battered budget.
Dr Ojougboh in a recent interview opened what would aptly pass for a can of worms on some ranking members of the NASS. Surprisingly, the revelations did not receive the kind of angst expected of a people who claim to have suffered deprivation because of paucity of development funds. Their leaders and elders heard nothing else apart from the alleged petition before the National Assembly.
Different strokes rule the waves. Very typical of the Nigerian situation; things are never seen from the same perspective, no matter how glaring. That is why there are always different reactions to given situations even where the variables are the same. And that is why the vultures often have a field day because there will always be droppings from the mess.
Emphasising why the IMC must be probed over the N40 billion fraud allegations, one of the groups concluded that the officials are “not stealing money, they are stealing the blood of the people of the Niger Delta;” and that “one needed to see what the people of the Niger Delta are passing through”. Really! Oh, so the Niger Delta people just started going through hell with the arrival of the IMC? Where was this lover of the Niger Delta people when the pillage was going on before the inauguration of the forensic audit? How come this and other lovers are not also interested in the revelations of the audit team?
Some of them claim it is because the IMC funds are freshly stolen and must be returned to the people. To boot, they added: “We can’t continue like this.” Obviously we cannot continue like this if we are to make meaningful progress. Same way, we can’t also continue to tolerate the pretentious gestures of fraudulent entities, including civil society organisations (CSOs), which pretend to be sympathetic to the Niger Delta but who in deed are racketeers. You cannot be shedding crocodile tears on the grave of those who were pummelled to death by the strong arms of your paymasters. Sincerity has a particular scent and can be perceived from afar. It is obvious some of them are wearing the hand of Esau whereas the voice is obviously that of Jacob.
The energy with which they push and present their wares often betrays their neutrality and sincerity; some clearly smelling of a putrid agenda. Take for instance the petition against the IMC. Is this what should generate the kind of hysteria and avalanche of media hypes that followed? If there was sincerity on the matter, the NASS should have followed a simple legislative procedure to deal with it. Why the noise? Why the smear campaign? Why the pretentions about acting on a petition? Petition by who?
For those who have been following events in our democratic dispensation, these things are crystal clear. Once there are issues, CSOs spring up, some never heard of before. They start with raising hell and end with making direct accusations, labelling people even when the allegations are yet to be substantiated. They behave as if they love Nigeria more than the rest of the people whereas their intentions are as crystal clear as moonlight on a summer night. They smile away afterwards and dissolve into thin air the moment the job is done.
Nigerians should learn to allow the relevant agencies do their work. They should desist from unnecessary outbursts. Some will say if we keep quiet, they will sweep the matter under the carpet; how are we sure it is not the waves from the hysteria that sweep matters under the carpet. The issue is not just the noise; it is more of the sincerity of the noisemakers!
All those mentioned in the NDDC bazaar whether in the IMC, NASS, NDDC office or others, must face clinical investigation on the issues levelled against them. This attitude of getting away with blue murder must not be further condoned! Those found culpable must be diligently prosecuted. It is the only potent way to start talking about deterrence and fighting corruption. But we must allow the relevant agencies do their work, devoid of interference and distractions.
•James, a communications consultant, lives in Abuja([email protected])