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NDDC, Niger Delta Affairs ministry and gross untruths
By Idowu Akinlotan
IT is doubtful whether anyone in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger Delta Affairs ministry can paint an accurate picture of the contract and financial bazaar unnerving and overwhelming the two institutions. The forensic audit team put together to unearth the sordid facts relating to the sleaze will give it their best shot; but even they will likely end up tilting at windmills. The House of Representatives is also probing the bazaar, but the drama that has suffused the probe, especially the fainting spells and brickbats enacted before the public by both the minister, Godswill Akpabio, and boss of the commission, Keme Pondei, has made Nigerians increasingly sceptical that something clarifying and cathartic will emerge from the effort to sanitise the distressed public institutions.
Already the disclosures and counterattacks in the media and legislative hearings have forced a tentative stalemate. The stalemate began when former boss of the NDDC, Joi Nunieh, crossed swords with Senator Akpabio, complete with unearthing sleazy financial deals and malfeasances, and tantalising the public with ancillary stories and allegations of a lovesick and lovelorn minister as well as a vixenish and duplicitous woman passing off as a prude. As if these were not damning enough, no one is even sure what figures of financial malfeasance everyone is talking about. Is it N81bn that has been squirreled away into some rat holes, or is it trillions of naira, or the more modest — by Nigerian standards — N41bn? What is indisputable, however, is that smaller billions of naira, some of them a little more than one billion, and others a little bigger than two or three billions, have been proved to have been taken brazenly from both approved and unapproved budgets of the commission.
While Nigerians were still trying to decipher just what was taken away unlawfully from the NDDC till and by whom, they were cruelly called upon to also determine who was telling the truth between the national lawmakers probing the bazaar and the ministry and commission officials called to testify before the committee of the lower house. It got worse. It turned out, according to Sen Akpabio, that a significant portion of the deals scarifying the objectives and building blocks of the commission was actually authored by the legislature purporting to probe the putrid deals. In testifying before the committee, the voluble Mr Akpabio who seldom gives quarter to his adversaries, as Ms Nunieh probably knows by now, was both cynical and ruthless in his accusations. But stung to the quick, and regardless of one recusal or the other, the combative lower chamber has fought back to reclaim their pride. They asked the glib Mr Akpabio to name names or recant. He has recanted in terms that are so feeble as to pass for reiteration.
What is not in doubt is that a bazaar took place, and that many top Nigerians, including national lawmakers and the police, helped themselves to the soup pot almost without restraint. The details of the bazaar are disgraceful and despair inducing. For instance, in pursuing Ms Nunieh into the dead of the night, the police have insisted that they had a petition to work with for which they needed the harried former NDDC boss to help them unravel details. They were not ruffled by the fact that they seemed to have taken sides, nor explained why they invaded her residence everyone else slept. Many more people will take sides, for no one knows where the trails lead. In fact, a hasty panel has recommended the scrapping of the Interim Management Committee of the commission in order, as they suppose, to allow unhindered investigations into the affairs of the agency.
It is also clear that the Niger Delta has been short-changed. Both the ministry dedicated to their affairs and the NDDC were designed to ameliorate their deplorable social and economic conditions. But both have failed spectacularly, not because they were irredeemably defective in their structures, but because the country’s superstructure and its woefully incompetent and expensive system of government both make the tragedy inevitable. The NDDC is not the only marker for the national fiasco confronting and numbing Nigerians. After all, that institution is Nigerian and run by Nigerians. Virtually every institution and organisation, particularly those saddled with the responsibility of ameliorating the conditions of poor Nigerians and empowered with tons of cash, have been profaned by their administrators in collusion with the top elite. There is no exception.
It is a poor reading of the problem to put the fault down solely to those appointed to manage the affairs of infrastructural development and poverty alleviation institutions, regardless of the connivance of higher-ups in every stratum and arm of government. The bazaars did not begin yesterday, and for all anyone cares, will not end tomorrow until Nigerian leaders read their country’s developmental problems correctly and take firm and progressive steps to curb them. But there is little chance that a correct reading of the problematic issues will happen soon. There was some initial enthusiasm that with the change of guards in 2015, new leaders with keen, altruistic minds and sense of history would take charge, men hungry for name and a place in history. That hope was sadly betrayed as soon as the crown settled around their ears. It was necessary that they define the problem first, then design a new philosophy of government and governance, away from the prebendal and primordial past, and finally go at the issues hammer and tongs.
Instead, Nigerians were shocked to be confronted by the cruellest return to the ethnic and religious cleavages of the past, one in which policies were designed to promote exceptionalism. Opportunities were, therefore, missed, and appointees were promoted and made untouchable on account of their connections and even births. When situations compelled a revisit of the country’s agrarian policies years back, the review prompted warped policies that protect and promote a few against the interests of the many. Whole villages in Plateau and Benue have been wiped out, resettled and even renamed, but the government has feigned disinterest or ignorance. Government is a sacred trust, so scared as to transcend even religion. But it has been impossible for those who find themselves in government designing national policies and implementing national paradigms to divorce themselves from their ethnic and religious roots. Witness, for instance, the grand conspiracy bathing Southern Kaduna in blood, and the quibbling heroics of the state’s self-righteous and cocksure governor Nasir el-Rufai. The federal government is not getting it right, so too are the states.
Many analysts subscribe to the dubiety that once you expose and jail those who misuse public funds the country would be sanitised. This is far-fetched, as indeed Nigerians are gradually and helplessly reconciling themselves to, especially given the allegations of graft levelled against the Justice minister and even some heads of the anti-graft agencies. The problem is hydra-headed and much deeper than previously imagined. Neither the Muhammadu Buhari government nor its predecessors, including the somewhat patriotic and assiduous Olusegun Obasanjo government, has produced a governing philosophy for the country. Nigeria, put simply, does not have a raison d’être. Its core, despite plagiarising and crudely grafting the United States constitution upon itself, is hollow through and through. Its leaders have not given the country a reason to be together, and have, despite decades of frictions and wars, done very little to work on those reasons. The country’s ambition is low, and its leaders desperately mediocre.
It is, therefore, not surprising that without a concise and inspiring philosophy of government, and regardless of its cut-and-paste constitution, its national government, state governments, lawmakers, and sundry appointees have absolutely no emotional connections with the country, and no sense of obligation to its great and noble causes. Put different people in the NDDC, even scrap it and replace it with another similar organ, or put it under the presidency, the outcome, as is evident from the disorder and looting rampant in other institutions dedicated to lifting the poor from hopelessness, will remain the same. The whole NDDC probe exercise is a waste of time. Why don’t they probe NNPC? It is clear now that few people in government owe Nigeria any obligation. They will continue to purloin its wealth and rape it over and over again. Is this pessimism? Certainly not. Can propaganda help induce some form of patriotism in citizens? Arrant rubbish. They tried many national orientation programmes in the past, and failed miserably. It should be clear by now that something cannot be built on nothing.
Despite the Donald Trump aberration in the US, America knows what it wants, first with itself as propounded by the framers of its constitution, and then for itself as it fortuitously discovered after World War I. Since the chairmanship of Mao Zedong, China has had both a keen sense of history and an even keener sense of manifest destiny. Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Britain, France, among others — and for reasons explored several times on this column — know what they want and can define themselves within the context of themselves and their histories as well as their regions. They may not always demonstrate it expertly, but Ghana, Egypt and Libya had also at one time or the other also demonstrated some competitiveness, under Kwame Nkrumah, Gamel Abdel Nasser, and Muammer Ghaddafi respectively. But what does Nigeria want? And has it defined itself, let alone know what it wants? Why is she shocked by the killings in Kaduna and the gibberish of its governor, the land grab in the Middle Belt, the alienation of the Southeast, the rape of the Niger Delta, the subversion of the judiciary and legislature, the politics of exclusion and intrigues in respect of the presidency, the wholesale looting of high-budget institutions, the promotion of ethnic exceptionalism and religious bigotry by cynical national manipulators who have very little or no leadership quality?
But the question is not whether the current government will do something about these issues or rise to the noble heights expected of it, but whether the next presidency will find ways of merging a newly curated national political structure with a high-quality governing philosophy. The current government cannot produce the needed magic, for it is too steeped in the past to even try. The danger is whether, like its predecessors, this government will also not try to birth a successor moulded in its own ineffective and disabling image.
Nigerians should enjoy the NDDC probe theatre for all it is worth and while it lasts, as a side attraction that produces mirth and relief from the humdrum of eking out a daily existence in an unforgiving country. If they can, let them look at the politics of 2023 as probably the last chance to produce a president who, while not necessarily being a saint, possesses the visionary depth and power of imagination to remould Nigeria and imbue it with a sense of purpose, and with a regional and continental manifest destiny.
In the name of God, the killings and institutional subversion going on should drive all Nigerians to abandon the nativism that has served them very badly, and to embrace the higher ideals that deflate their divisions. Maintaining the present course will set the country up for inevitable fragmentation; for no country can so recklessly and foolishly fly in the face of providence, as Nigeria has done for decades, without attracting grave and irreparable consequences.
NDDC, Niger Delta Affairs ministry and gross untruths