An ongoing investigation by SaharaReporters has revealed that former Education Minister Nyesom Wike and Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan, collaborated in a number of schemes that enabled them to loot the resources of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The commission, which was established to spearhead economic development in Nigeria’s oil-producing delta, has been left financially insolvent, unable for the first time ever to pay salaries to its staff or to meet its obligations to contractors.
Over a two-week investigation, insiders within the commission told SaharaReporters that Mrs. Jonathan and Mr. Wike, current governorship candidate of the People Democratic Party in Rivers State, caused a large part of the commission’s current woes.
A source at the commission alleged that its management gave Mrs. Jonathan N3 billion immediately after the National Assembly approved the commission’s budget. “They said the First Lady had facilitated the passage of the NDDC’s budget without delay by the National Assembly. That’s why they gave her such a huge sum. The payment was recorded as a consultancy undertaking,” the source said.
In addition, money drained from the agency is reportedly bankrolling Mr. Wike’s governorship bid. “Barrister Wike is using billions of naira from the NDDC to run his campaign. It is one of the major reasons that the commission has not been able to honor its obligations or pay salaries,” another source at the commission stated.
Numerous sources said Mr. Wike had handpicked Itotenaan Henry Ogiri as the agency’s executive director (in charge of finance and administration). The understanding was that Mr. Ogiri, a close associate of the Ikwerre-born governorship aspirant, would dip into the funds of the commission to help finance Mr. Wike’s campaign.
Bassey Dan Abia, a lawyer from Akwa Ibom State, heads the commission’s management, which is in its second year. Several disaffected staffers accused the management of financing other political projects across the Niger Delta, contrary to its mandate.
Mr. Wike’s campaign is said to enjoy a huge war chest from the commission’s funds. The former Education Minister, who is being backed by Mrs. Jonathan, showers tons of dollars, his preferred currency, on his supporters and underlings, including some ex-militants he has retained to intimidate supporters of his political opponents.
For the first time since then President Olusegun Obasanjo rebranded the commission in 2000, the NDDC missed the timetable to pay workers’ salary in January. In addition, senior staff of the commission said they were distressed that their housing, furniture and other allowances have not been paid for the first time since the establishment of the agency.
A long time staff of the commission said this was the first time in his experience that the agency had failed to pay salaries in more than a decade. “I was employed here immediately after I graduated from the University and the NDDC started the graduate-training scheme. We have never been owed salary ever. We used to receive our salaries no later than the 22nd of every month. But right now we don’t even know when it is coming,” he said.
Another staff said the board of the commission was filled with politicians who are bankrolling the political aspirations of their puppet masters.
“We got over 400 billion naira for our budget last year. But look at the situation we are in now. It’s so embarrassing,” the staff said. He said the board members were mere proxies who take orders on how to run the agency from outsiders who are only interested in what they can get from the commission.
“They are running this place like a fiefdom, and they receive orders from the politicians that put them here. They have given all the money to their political bosses and now we are in trouble here.”
Occupants of the commission’s top management posts, including its chairman (from Cross River State), its executive director for projects (from Delta State), and its managing director (from Akwa Ibom) were accused of funneling funds to partisan political candidates. The governors of their state of origin nominated members of the management board, except in the case of Rivers State, where Mr. Wike chose. President Jonathan and Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers have been in a long running political feud.
The NDDC was set up to fund projects designed to ameliorate the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta caused by oil exploration. The area produces more than 80% of Nigeria’s wealth.
A staff source said that, while their salaries have not been paid, the management of the commission was promising them a significant bump in salaries and allowances if Mr. Jonathan wins re-election on February 14.
“They keep telling us to expect a lot of goodies when the present president is returned as the country’s ruler, but does it mean we have to die of hunger because they’re doing election?” the source said.