The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established in 2000 with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. The Niger Delta is today defined officially by the Nigerian government as an area that extends over and about 70,000 km2 (27,000 sq. mi) and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria’s land mass. Historically and cartographically, it consists of present-day Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States. In 2000, however, Obasanjo’s regime included Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River State, Edo, Imo and Ondo States in the region. It is typically considered to be located within nine coastal southern Nigerian states, which include: all six states from the South-South geopolitical zone, one state (Ondo) from South West geopolitical zone and two states (Abia and Imo) from South East geopolitical zone. Of all the states that the region covers, only Cross River is not an oil-producing state.
The Niger Delta is a very densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. The area was the British Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 until 1893, when it was expanded and became the Niger Coast Protectorate. The delta is a petroleum-rich region and has been the center of international controversy over pollution, especially caused by oil exploration within the region with the claim of lack of necessary precaution and requisite provisions that could mitigate the ecological disaster occasioned by the oil exploration. The Niger Delta and the South-South geopolitical zone (which contains six of the states in Niger Delta) are two different entities. The Niger Delta separates the Bight of Benin from the Bight of Bonny within the larger Gulf of Guinea. The area was the British Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 until 1893, when it was expanded and became the Niger Coast Protectorate. The core Niger Delta later became a part of the eastern region of Nigeria, which came into being in 1951 (one of the three regions, and later one of the four regions). The majority of the people were those from the colonial Calabar and Ogoja divisions, the present-day Ogoja, Annang, Ibibio, Oron, Efik, Ijaw and Ogoni peoples. The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) was the ruling political party of the region. The NCNC later became the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, after western Cameroon decided to separate from Nigeria. The ruling party of eastern Nigeria did not seek to preclude the separation and even encouraged it. The then Eastern Region had the third, fourth and fifth largest indigenous ethnic groups in the country including Igbo, Efik-Ibibio and Ijaw.
In 1953, the old eastern region had a major crisis due to the expulsion of Professor Eyo Ita from office by the majority Igbo tribe of the old eastern region. Ita, an Efik man from Calabar, was one of the pioneer nationalists for Nigerian independence. The minorities in the region, the Ibibio, Annang, Efik, Ijaw and Ogoja, were situated along the southeastern coast and in the delta region and demanded a state of their own, the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) state. The struggle for the creation of the COR state continued and was a major issue concerning the status of minorities in Nigeria during debates in Europe on Nigerian independence. As a result of this crisis, Professor Eyo Ita left the NCNC to form a new political party called the National Independence Party (NIP) which was one of the five Nigerian political parties represented at the conferences on Nigerian Constitution and Independence.
A new phase of the struggle saw the declaration of an Independent Niger Delta Republic by Isaac Adaka Boro during Nigerian President Ironsi’s administration, just before the Nigerian Civil War.
This new era of resistance in the Niger Delta and local communities led to the demands for both environmental and social justice from the federal government, with Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni tribe presenting themselves as the leading figures for this phase of the struggle. Cohesive oil protests became most pronounced in 1990 with the publication of the Ogoni Bill of Rights. The indigenes protested against the lack of economic development, e.g. schools, good roads, and hospitals, in the region, despite all the oil wealth created. They also complained about environmental pollution and destruction of their land and rivers by foreign oil companies. Ken Saro Wiwa and nine other oil activists from Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) were arrested and killed under Sani Abacha in 1995. Although protests have never been as strong as they were under Saro-Wiwa, there is still an oil reform movement based on peaceful protests today as the Ogoni struggle served as a modern-day eye opener to the Peoples of the region. When long-held concerns about loss of control over resources to the oil companies were voiced by the Ijaw people in the Kaiama Declaration in 1998, the Nigerian government sent troops to occupy the Bayelsa and Delta states. Soldiers opened fire with rifles, machine guns, and tear gas, killing at least three protesters and arresting twenty-five more.
Since then, local indigenous activity against commercial oil refineries and pipelines in the region have increased in frequency and militancy. Recently foreign employees of Shell, the primary corporation operating in the region, were taken hostage by outraged local people. Such activities have also resulted in greater governmental intervention in the area, and the mobilization of the Nigerian army and State Security Service into the region, resulting in violence and human rights abuses. In September 2008, MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Deltans) led by Asari Dokubo, a former Law student at the University of Port-Harcourt, UniPort, released a statement proclaiming that their militants had launched an “oil war” throughout the Niger Delta against both pipelines and oil-production facilities, and the Nigerian soldiers that protect them. Both MEND and the Nigerian Government claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on one another. In August 2009, the Nigerian government granted amnesty to the militants; many militants subsequently surrendered their weapons in exchange for a presidential pardon, rehabilitation programme, and education.
Since the formation of NDDC in year 2000, its mandate has remained: –
• Formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area.
• Conception, planning and implementation, in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.
• Surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development.
• Preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the Commission.
• Implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the Commission.
• Identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region.
• Assessing and reporting on any project being funded or carried out in the region by oil and gas companies and any other company, including non-governmental organizations, as well as ensuring that funds released for such projects are properly utilized.
• Tackling ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta region and advising the Federal Government and the member states on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution.
• Liaising with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control.
• Executing such other works and performing such other functions, which in the option of the Commission are required for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and its people
For the Commission to be able to achieve all or most of those aforementioned objectives and make the region to be on a sustainable development, the NDDC has collected almost N2tn (Two Trillion Naira) from both the Federal Government, the oil companies operating within the region and internal revenue from taxes, sales, etc. According to the former Acting Managing Director/CEO of the Commission, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, the Federal Government has, since its inception in 2001 to 2015, contributed a total of about N521BN (Five Hundred and Twenty-One billion Naira) to the NDDC while the total contribution of the oil companies is over N940bn (Nine Hundred and Forty Billion Naira) and other sources of revenue, including the internally generated, stands at over N7bn (over Seven billion Naira). She also disclosed that over 8,000 (Eight Thousand) infrastructural projects and five hundred and ninety-four (594) programmes were carried out within same period. Upon all these huge resources so far made available to the Commission, she disclosed that over N900bn (Nine Hundred Billion) Naira remains as shortfall in Federal Government’s contributions to the Commission from inception to date while the commission is yet to receive any contributions from the Ecological Fund since inception and issue as contributions from Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) from gas processing remains cloudy.
With this much in focus, governors of the states that make up the NDDC, led by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, met with President Buhari at the State House, Abuja within the week and complained about the mammoth corruption and secrecy that have characterized the operations of NDDC, thus robbing the region of its much vaunted goal of setting the region on sustainable development and growth. This prompted the President to declare his intention in ordering a forensic audit of the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from 2001 to 2019, following persistent criticisms of the operations of the organization by various stakeholders within and outside the region. Since this declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari, many Nigerians have hailed the government for taking this bold step in sanitizing the operations of the NDDC, currently led by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba and called for complete overhauling of its operations to reposition it for capabilities and result. We cannot but agree with this general opinion that the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, as a child of necessity that birthed during a most checkered history of the region, though has achieved some remarkable feats since inception; but like most good things ever created in Nigeria, has been tainted with corruption in its operations thus denying the region the grace of its full benefits. This is why we expect all stakeholders, particularly from the region, to be more proactive and eschew any bitterness towards ensuring that this golden hen that lays the valued egg gets its due share of modernity and social development on all required fronts. That could only be the minimum target from this presidential order on the forensic probe of its operations since inception.