Defusing the bombs at NDDC

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17 Oil firms owing NDDC N72bn, $273m


Editorial

The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is largely seen by regional stakeholders as a house of commotion where anything goes. This is evident in the commission’s lack of focus geared towards the development of the region bedevilled by environmental pollution, insecurity, joblessness and pollution-related health hazards since its inception.

Several heads of the commission have made it a point to fatten their pockets, those of their families and their cronies while remaining just a little for the people whose plights necessitated the establishment of the commission in the first. Thus, in the last 20 years, it has seen an increase in mindless political manipulations and looting to soothe the aspirations of regional forces for their political gains.

The commission has become a bone in everyone’s throat and has laboured hard to miss the point each time it is called upon to deliver. The multinationals who contribute a sizeable amount to the commission have often complained that despite dumping trillions on the commission, it has failed to live up to its expectation.

Politicians who are appointed to head the NDDC divert monies meant for developmental projects to electioneering franchises either for themselves or for those who nominated them, and despite the commission existing for almost 20 years, one cannot point to a good hospital, connecting bridges or schools it has built. Its projects usually die the moment they are announced in the media, never to be heard of again.

But within that same 20 years, past managing directors and directors at NDDC have become billionaires by carefully manipulating the system. Past MDs have also prosecuted elections for themselves and their cronies, leaving the region still gasping for breath.

The revelation during the Senate committee probe last week and the House Committee probe showed that the commission has become nothing but a cesspool of corruption and a misplacement of priorities is the latest in series of scandals that it has come to be known for. Many observers were not in any way disappointed, the reason there was no outburst just jokes about a Professor of Medicine fainting close to another doctor who seemed to catch the joke before the rest of us did.

The confrontational turn the crises at the commission took in the past weeks is one of the many indications that as long as the commission is thrust in the hands of politicians, it will, just like Nigeria, never make any headway in addressing the mountain underdevelopment that has crippled the region. The NDDC has been gifted so much yet it has achieved a little. Nigeria has taken even much more than what NDDC was given from the Niger Delta and yet nothing has been achieved. Beyond the hues and cries about NDDC, look at the bigger picture; Nigeria is also not working. NDDC is only but a symptom of the disease called Nigeria. Nevertheless, at this particular juncture, a change of approach is required coupled with a developmental plan that would turn around the fortunes of the Niger Deltans.

Niger Delta needs urgent fixing and the NDDC might not, after all, be the hands that would carry out the repairs. It seems like it was specially designed to fail and it now solely, in the absence of good structures and fiscal federalism, depends on the type of Niger Delta that the federal government wants. If the federal government could convert a barren savannah to its capital territory, it can convert the Niger Delta to Dubai.

The master plan for Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was developed by International Planning Associates (IPA), a consortium of three American firms: Planning Research Corporation; Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd; and Archisystems, a division of the Hughes Organization, according to Wikipedia. The master plan for Abuja defined the general structure and major design elements of the city that are now visible. More detailed design of the central areas of the capital, particularly its monumental core, was accomplished by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, with his team of city planners at Kenzo Tange and Urtec company. Kenzo, an architect won the 1987 Pritzker Prize for Architecture, an equivalence of the Nobel prize in Architecture. This was the level of commitment the Nigerian state put into Abuja but the region that produced the wealth used in developing Abuja has not gotten the kind of attention that Abuja got and continues to get. NDDC is a distraction without a masterplan and proper regulations. It is a distraction from the yearning of the people.

Why? The way the NDDC was set up has made the level of misappropriation by politicians from the region take a different turn. The governors are also in a race to keep the region below average despite the 13% derivatives. But as a financial expert, Kalu Aja would argue, Niger Delta will not make progress with NDDC or 13% derivates just like Abuja was not built with 13% Derivation or Abuja Development Commission. Abuja was built by taking oil money and giving it to contractors like Julius Berger to carve out a new city. A new Niger Delta can emerge if the government can replicate what it did in Abuja. The region needs tens of bridges to connect its many riverine communities. It also needs quality roads.

The Federal Government must realize it can’t eat its FAAC and have it. Everyday FAAC is being shared, but no capital infrastructure is being built. It needs to auction the FGN and NDDC projects to companies to lock in their tax obligations. This is shown in the N120 billion Bodo-Bonny road which the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company, NLNG is contributing 50 per cent funds to achieve.

These projects can be packed as a reverse bond, a zero-coupon bond, redeemable by retirement with fiscal obligations, thus, if Shell wants to construct a bridge from Andoni to Akwa Ibom, it buys the bond but it pays no cash to the FGN. Every year, Shell then pays its taxes by giving the FIRS coupons from the bond until the original sum is retired. In effect, Shell is paying its taxes in advance and is not affected by any increase in tax rates. With that, the underdevelopment bombs at NDDC will effectively be diffused. It could be turned to a regional planning commission with no budget since the politicians do want to develop the area.