‘How EFCC sat over NDDC’s billions of dollars’

High Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe is the National Coordinator of the South South Leaders Forum and former spokesman for the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF). In this interview on the state of the Niger Delta, Sara-Igbe asks President Bola Tinubu to ensure, that no matter what happens in the trial of Abdulrasheed Bawa, the suspended Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, he (Bawa) accounts for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) statutory funds collected by the EFCC under him


On NDDC Master Plan, NDDC is 23 years old. At the time it came out, then-President Olusegun Obasanjo invited all governors of the coastal states to a meeting in Abuja and the first Niger Delta Development Master Plan was approved. 23 years after, that plan has elapsed and nothing came out of it. The Federal Government has been interfering with the management of the NDDC which had been set up as a child of circumstance. At the time its establishment bill was sent for Mr President’s accent, he refused. That led to the first veto in the 4th Republic.

It came from the Niger Delta. Senators from the region vetoed Mr President and signed it into law. Since then, government has refused to obey the law in full. It is not only government disobeying the law. What about oil companies that are supposed to provide 3% of their operational cost in statutory funding? They are not contributing.

On EFCC as NDDC funds collecting agent

What about EFCC that has been collecting NDDC money from oil companies for many years now? Have they released the money to the NDDC? What has happened between NDDC and EFCC? These are the problems we have, otherwise NDDC would have done better. EFCC has not remitted all the statutory contributions they have so far collected from the oil companies to the NDDC. We want Mr President to call EFCC to order and to also make them refund all the money collected.

We also want oil companies to reconcile their accounts with the NDDC so that we know how much they are yet to contribute, so they can remit accordingly. It is not the norm. Under President Buhari, forensic audit came up and NDDC management suspended. Oil companies do not obey the laws. The only body they fear is the EFCC. The President ordered the EFCC to collect the money.

But they were not remitting same to the NDDC. We were not bothered because we know most of them (NDDC caretakers) are thieves. We all saw the drama that took place in the National Assembly (NASS) when people claimed to be fainting or dying. They also publicly accused the NASS members of complicity in the frauds. As leaders of the region, we are now asking the EFCC to release this money to the competent leadership of the NDDC. It is a huge amount running into billions of dollars.

The (oil) companies should reconcile with the EFCC so that we know how much they have remitted. Payments started the day President Buhari announced forensic audit. EFCC invited and locked up some oil companies’ chiefs for failing to pay the money. Some companies are yet to pay up while the EFCC is also holding on to the bulk of the money.

The police and the courts should come in to ask why some persons are not obeying the laws of the land. Let the embattled EFCC boss tell us how much of our money is unremitted before they let him go.

On incessant board dissolutions

We know the law is not being followed and we were worried when all the boards including that of NDDC were dissolved. But we were excited when President Tinubu retained the MD of the NDDC and his team. The South/South Leadership Forum, PANDEF and various ethnic groups came together and thanked Mr President for retaining this team (Ogbuku led caretaker). We are grateful for the retention of this team because the Managing Director was one of us as an activist in the region. He was Secretary General of the IYC when then-President Obasanjo came to Port-Harcourt to discuss the NDDC.

On snatching microphone from OBJ

That was precisely when Asari Dokubo snatched microphone from President Obasanjo and threatened that Niger Delta will boil. The man at the helm of NDDC affairs today knows all the nooks and crannies of the Niger Delta. Finally, a man from where oil was first discovered, Oloibiri, now moribund after all the oils have been extracted is now heading the NDDC. This is the first time somebody from that locality is becoming the MD of the NDDC.

That is the kind of man Niger Delta needs in the NDDC. It’s a volatile area. We need a leader who can communicate. The whole place has been very peaceful since he came in. He knows the activists, knows those in power. We are also very proud of him because he went to school up to the PhD level despite his activism. We know he can manage men and materials. We believe Sam and his team will bring peace to the Niger Delta.

The Federal Government will also benefit because oil production will increase, bunkering will reduce. Under Buhari, the Federal Government borrowed a lot, using the Niger Delta oil as collateral. We are not happy Nigeria has a railway line to the Niger Republic but we do not have any here. East West Road is uncompleted after 20 years. We urge Mr President to shop for someone with required charisma and experience to also handle the Amnesty Programme. He should also fund the Ministry of Niger Delta, same way they fund the Federal Capital Development Authority. If he does that, we will co-operate with him to ensure everywhere is peaceful in the region.

On unconstitutionality of Caretakers

The NDDC management is supposed to have a tenure of four years but no one has spent two years. We are not happy with the over-interference in NDDC affairs. And we blame the Federal Government and not the NDDC for the slow pace of development in the Niger Delta. When Ibim Sementari was Acting Managing Director, she was arm-twisted to move funds from NDDC to develop other parts of the country. Her refusal was the cause of her sack.

The drama between Godswill Akpabio and Joy Ndue is fresh in our minds. What we expect in NDDC is to set up a proper board and management team for four years. If one person is culpable of a crime, single the person out for punishment and replacement, not to outrightly dissolve the board. These are the issues and we are not happy with these developments.

On Wike labelling NDDC a cash cow

It is a case of kettle calling pot black. Wike was governor for eight years, collecting 13% Derivation. But as we speak, oil producing communities in Rivers still live in squalor. He has not been able to develop those communities despite all the money he collected as governor. How dare he come to judge NDDC, another body saddled developing the region? If he performed well, he will be justified but not when he failed woefully. His successor awarded a contract of N195 billion but, at the same time, asking the NDDC to take part of same contract already awarded. That contract alone shows that every kilometre of road in the Niger Delta takes N4 billion. Divide N195 billion into 23 Local Government Areas and you find that each gets almost N8 billion. That amount will do a lot, go a long way for a Local Government Area. If he has spent most of the money building flyovers, why is he harassing the young man (Gov Sim Fubara? I will also appeal to him to leave Sim alone.

‘Wike acting like he’s still governor’

Sim (Fubara) was elected by Rivers people as governor. Wike’s eight years have elapsed. What we saw days ago (flag off of PH Ring Road) was shameful. He, Wike, to the dismay of all present did not follow protocol. He still behaves like a governor. Sim should be allowed to be the governor. He should stop intimidating the man and allow him to work. Nobody appointed Commissioners for Wike during own tenure. Why did he break protocol at an official event? He was the last to speak instead of the Governor as protocol demands. If Sim does well, we applaud but if he doesn’t, we will also criticise him. Let Wike stop parading self as governor of the state. Rivers belongs to all of us, not Wike alone. He should allow the governor do his work, without being stampeded or intimidated.

On why Amnesty Programme needs new leadership

Amnesty Office was constitutionally tasked to mop up all the arms in the Niger Delta, train the bearers and re-integrate them into the system. For years, the programme has not recovered enough. That is why we still have problems in the Gulf of Guinea. For peace to reign in the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger Delta, we need a body that can strategically mop up these arms and usher peace to the region. The Amnesty Office was meant to de-radicalise, educate the freedom fighters and militants in the creeks.

The challenge is that there is a lot of fraud in that office. We need it be re-organised under the leadership of a proper activist and intellectual to manage. There should also be continuous target to mop up arms. Due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, arms can come in easily. The arms so recovered should be sent to the central armoury. There should also be constant training and empowerments for the people. The attention of the youths should be diverted into productive activities like farming, other industries and education. This way, there will less people left behind to do crime. Once this is done, NDDC and the Amnesty Office can now begin to collaborate on more productive ventures. Lagos is the 4th largest economy in Africa. But the whole of Niger Delta, with our oil and gas, is not even 10th in Africa. We want to become a major economic force in Africa by allowing productive activities to take place in Niger Delta.

Niger Delta interventionist opportunities concentrated on pleasing the violent, despising law-abiding youths of the region. The beauty of the Niger Delta militants, unlike some other criminals in other regions in the country, is that they have names and they communicate with their leadership. That is why we say the Amnesty Board, by which ever name it is called, should be allowed to take care of not just militants but everybody. Societies get more of what they encourage. It should be for everybody. If we invest in lives of law abiding citizens, it also sends a clear message to criminals to leave their crimes and embrace legitimate, more rewarding and productive lifestyle through education and training.

Amnesty Programme has produced many professionals in various fields. You do not expect pilots, doctors and lawyers to go back to criminality. If we get this body strengthened with law and proper management, it will continue to produce more of these trained people until criminality gets massively reduced in the region. I have been in PANDEF and witnessed their chain of command. When we say stop, they stop. But if this government, like the previous one, refuses to listen to us, how then can we calm the people’s angry nerves?

We want peace but we have genuine demands too. Someone builds a railway line from Nigeria to Niger Republic but we do not have schools and hospitals here. The communities are in squalor. How will they be happy? Poverty, neglect and lack of access to the basics are what fuel the agitations. Some communities pay teachers in public schools.

If that is what we had back then, some of us will not be here today speaking for the Niger Delta or Nigeria. We are saying that only seasoned activists and professionals should man these offices. These are the ones who know why these offices were set up in the first place.

Source: The Vanguard


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