Part of the title of this piece is borrowed from Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s protest music album, released in 1977, which got him into more trouble with the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The song was a depiction of the grotesque despoliation and brutality that trailed the junta’s incursion into, and destruction of Fela’s ‘Kalakuta Republic’ by ‘unknown soldiers’. The song was accused by Obasanjo of ‘inciting’ the public against the government.

At a time like this, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the experience of Fela in the hands of unknown soldiers, and that of the Niger Delta region where I come from, in the hands of faceless politicians and their murderous thieving collaborators. I will explain myself.

In 2009, I was selected alongside eminent Nigerians, including Prince Tonye Princewill, Barrister John Ntan-Ebaye, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Dr. Soky Amachree, etc., by then President Musa Yaradua, to draft the Nigeria Vision 2020 policy on Niger Delta and Regional Development. As part of our work, we conducted a detailed study of the Niger Delta: her strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

One of the great revelations from that onerous task was the lack of any meaningful commitment by stakeholders in the Niger Delta, to the much-needed turnaround that the region yearned and continues to yearn for. We purred through the Niger Delta Masterplan, developed earlier by the Timi Alaibe-led management of the NDDC and launched with fanfare by the government. We combed through the Nigeria Vision 2010 document. We reviewed the Amnesty Programme which was just gathering steam. We analysed memoranda and presentations by IOCs, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (then headed by the late Uffot Ekaette), Federal Inland Revenue Service and hordes of other important institutions. In the end, we submitted our report to the government with strong recommendations about the reforms that were necessary to give the region a new lease of life.

Part of our recommendation was the alienation of the NDDC from the frills and stranglehold of politics and ‘warlords’ who continued to sponsor the insurgency then, from illicit finances derived from less-than-holy activities within the region. We also recommended that the government should institute a deliberate policy to reform and integrate then burgeoning black-market crude oil distillation factories, that dotted the shoreline of the delta, from Ilaje to Okrika, and polluted the environment, to modern modular refineries that would improve the hydrocarbon value chain, provide employment opportunities to the teeming unemployed youth population and earn scarce foreign exchange.

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We recommended a social safety-net system, designed to attract and support the best brains within the region to reach for the skies in the form of merit-based scholarship, unemployment benefits, establishment of vocational educational institutions with the right incentives to attract students, reinvestment of the 13% derivation funds in oil-bearing host communities and the ceding of 5% of capital the shareholding of all oil companies operating in the region, to the host communities. We also recommended a revised needs-based development masterplan for the region, designed and modelled for Nigeria, using the Dubai success story as inspiration. Among other far-reaching recommendations.

As has been the misfortune of many things in Nigeria, that report did not see the light of the day. Indeed, the report perished as soon as President Yaradua died. President Goodluck Jonathan (a son of the region and indeed, the biggest beneficiary of the Niger Delta struggle), who was the Chairman of Vision 20:2020 by virtue of his office then as VP (and Chairman of the National Planning Commission), abandoned the concept and continued with business as usual. The outcome is the current decay, disrepair, mindless looting, pilferage, wanton destruction, bazaar and macabre dance at the NDDC.

The NDDC is just a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong in the highly endowed Niger Delta. The region which receives the highest allocation year-on-year from the federation account, holds the unenviable record of home to the poorest-of-the-poor in Nigeria. It also tops the national unemployment chart and poverty index. It is home to the highest concentration of HIV+ patients. Every known violent crime in Nigeria, originated from the bowels of the region. Yet, it also produces the finest of artists, activists, entertainers, authors, doctors and engineers, scientists, crude oil, monkeys and herbs.

I was a child when Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa, an intelligent author, playwright and entertainer was set up and brutally executed by the dark-goggled midget maximum dictator – General Sanni Abacha, for leading a campaign to demand for a share of the oil wealth from his native Ogoni land through the Movement for the Survival Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1995. He was hanged by the noose and his remains were reportedly dissolved with acid at the Port Harcourt Cemetery by the State. Before him was Isaac Adaka Boro, a native Ijaw man, and a Major in the Nigerian Army. He left his schooling at the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka where he served as SUG President, to lead an armed uprising against Nigerian State, demanding for a fairer share of the proceeds of the crude oil from the Niger Delta for the development of the Niger Delta. He formed the Niger Delta Republic through the Niger Delta Volunteer Force in 1966. The uprising was quelled within 12 days and he was jailed for treason. He died in the Nigerian Civil War that followed, in controversial circumstances.

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Before Isaac Boro was Sir Henry Willink’s , who headed a commission on minorities, inaugurated at the twilight of the colonial regime in 1957, to find solution to the Niger Delta. The commission specifically recommended a special development agency for the region as panacea for the troubles and cries of the minorities. In the latter days, we’ve been through Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF led by Asari Dokubo), MEND allegedly led by Henry Okah now in jail in South Africa, Niger Delta Avenger (NDA) whose leadership is still unknown, etc.

The Niger Delta Development Commission came as a response to all the sorrow, tears and blood from the Delta. It was a fulfilment of the Willink’s recommendation. Indeed, it is the only agency of government that was established by the National Assembly without the assent of the President. We remember that President Obasanjo vetoed the NDDC bill, and the National Assembly overturned the veto to establish the body that everyone thought, would solve the problems of the area.

In the last couple of weeks, the nation’s soul has been seized by the sky-high revelation of grand theft, sexual perfidy and wanton looting by a group of people chosen by President Buhari to oversee and overhaul the agency. Allegations of billions of Naira brazenly looted from the coffers of the agency fill the public space. Some say N92 billion was spent in 5 months. Some say N40 billion. Others say N81.5 billion. Yet, others claim it is much more. The IMC MD, Prof. Pondei, who fainted earlier today while struggling to answer questions regarding the sleaze, confirmed that the money he used to “take care of the staff” as Covid-19 palliative was only “N1.32 billion Naira”. Not N1.5! When asked to link it to the Commission’s budget, he fainted! Such is the audacity of the crime.

My brother Senator Godswill Akpabio, an old war horse himself who is not new to controversies, spiritedly mounted the stands to defend himself. Where he could not provide enough defence of the phantom figures, he roped unclean members of the panel into the sleaze. Revelations of undone jobs, paid for by the IMC which contribute to the bogus unholy figures spent in the recent past are as scary as they are mind-boggling. Akpabio boldly told the lawmakers in their faces that they all partook in sharing the blood money of the Niger Delta. They scrambled to mute his microphone to stop him. But they could not dare deny the charge! We all stole is the verdict.

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As it stands, the drama may continue to get more and more sordid with more numbing revelations and very little outcome to show. I know that the ignominy in the NDDC did not start yesterday. Not even in the life of this administration. Or the one before. The entire idea was a grand house of sleaze from the start. Little wonder that every CEO from Timi Alaibe to-date, always has sufficient cash to pursue governorship election, after short stint with NDDC. It is a house of evil bones.

The President must act decisively to arrest the commission from the hands of ungodly crooks. It is unthinkable that after 20 years, the region is now ticking all the negative boxes for human development in the ocean of so much money. I had course to write a long essay about a bridge that swallows pregnant women and children in my community in 2019. As I write this, more of children of the Delta have died needlessly from the simplest of ailments like malaria and typhoid. The bridge and the adjoining road have been completely cut off leaving everybody at the mercy of boats and pontoons. Schools are still items of luxury to the majority. 70% of the people still drink from dirty polluted streams and rivers. Health Centers, where they exist, cannot even hold dead bodies. Electricity is a heavenly miracle that flashes for few hours in a year, where they exist.

I can go on forever. I really hope that the government would take the NDDC from politicians and hand it over to conscientious, upright and godly human beings to restart the process of rebuilding from scratch. Even as I hold the faint hope, I know that the circus at NASS would lead nowhere. It is clear that all have sinned and come short of the glory of NDDC. This would most likely go the same way as the Ndudi Elumelu and Farouk Lawan still-born probes. It is a sad day for all of us!

Celestine Mel writes from Abuja, FCT.