There is only one research document on abandoned, substandard and ‘ongoing’ projects in the Niger Delta. It is titled ‘Citizen Report Card on Niger Delta Institutions’, and it is ascribed to two Civil Society Organisations, the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice (ANEEJ) and Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment (LITE-Africa). The document was published in 2015. As part of housekeeping both organisations took a disclaimer on the contents of the document to make clear that the information presented in the research document was a product of focus groups and key informants in 24 communities in the Niger Delta who freely gave the data contained in the report.
We have gone through the document and found that it contains information which those in positions to effect the changes we need in the Niger Delta should take a listen and study carefully. For instance, on its summary of key findings, the report said, inter alia, that “in communities in Edo State, 100% of the schools visited lack water supply…in Warri North and South LGAs, 100% of the primary schools do not have toilets or water facilities, while in Akpabuyo LGA in Cross River State, 100% of the primary schools have toilets but lack water for sanitation and hygiene purposes. In terms of health infrastructure, public electricity and potable drinking water, general infrastructure and development projects, there was a general condition of either neglect, outright abandonment of projects, or that the projects are ‘ongoing’.”
On the 13th of February, 2023, I had the fortune, shall I say, of running into Lauretta Onochie, former Chairman of the Board of the NDDC, at a meeting in Abuja. Madam Onochie confirmed that the scale of abandoned, substandard and ‘ongoing’ projects in the Niger Delta was one that she had taken especial note. According her, the NDDC was going to take a census of all those projects with a view to prioritizing the ones that are ‘beneficial’ to the Niger Delta for eventual completion. For some of us in the room with Madam Onochie on that day, we agreed that this was going to be the best approach to tackling the reproach of abandoned projects in the Niger Delta. Our fear however was that Madam Onochie’s appointment as Chairman of the Board of the NDDC came at the twilight of the Buhari administration, and therefore the incoming administration may fire and replace her with one of theirs. That is exactly what has happened with the NDDC, and as we speak, that plan to make a compendium of abandoned, substandard and ongoing has been abandoned.
The Niger Delta of Nigeria has nine states – Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Imo, Rivers, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers States. To take care of the development needs of these states commensurate with revenue accruing from them, the Nigerian system has introduced the 13% derivation in addition to provisions of Section 162 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That apart, there are several Niger Delta Institutions – the Oil Mineral Producing States together with a Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, MNDA. It is very common knowledge that till date, the monies that the Niger Delta States have collected for the ‘development’ of the Niger Delta is in the trillions, and tragically does not match the development out there.
Strong interest brought to abandoned, substandard and ‘ongoing’ project by erstwhile NDDC board chair is dead. So is interest in the report of a government inquiry on a forensic audit on the NDDC. When submitting the NDDC report to Mr Buhari, Senator Godswill Akpabio said that ‘the Forensic Auditors established the exact status of all contracts for projects and programmes in all constituent states during the period under review classified into completed, ongoing, abandoned, terminated, taken-over and non-existence’. Sen Akpabio added that 13,777 contracts for projects and programmes were awarded to contractors and consultants in all Niger Delta States from 2001 to August 2019, at a total final contract value of N 3,274.206,032,213.24. After that, everything seems to return to the inevitable status quo. We have confirmed from sources that the comprehensive compendium of abandoned, substandard and ‘ongoing’ projects in the Niger Delta, that the NDDC planned on putting in place did not see the light of day.
On September 23, 2023, we reached Alhaji Abubakar Momoh, current minister of the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs. We did not reach him from whim. We found a report on him while he ran for Senate for Edo North Senatorial District in 2019. According to the 32-page document, the Minister, a two-term member House of Representatives, and an engineer to boot had initiated and executed many development projects in Edo North ranging from water boreholes, installed power transformers for local communities, constructed bridges and roads, and renovated dilapidating primary schools.
Our expectation was that a personage as this would be eager to engage the public on his plans to bring the benefit of his expertise on project completion to bear on the fortunes of abandoned projects in the Niger Delta. But no. So we visited the website of the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs, MNDA, to find it as abandoned as many of the projects that litter the Niger Delta region. And that is why we use this opportunity to call on Mr President to release the 2021 Forensic report on the Niger Delta. The Buhari administration covered up the monumental scam that are the development institutions, apparently because the report seems to indicts him and his cronies. Monies for development are being stolen right, left and centre, and if Mr Tinubu does not have the nerve to take on this unacceptable heist of Niger Delta development funds, then I do not see how anyone in Nigeria or abroad should ever take him any seriously as President.
*Etemiku is deputy executive director, Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative (CERLSI).