Niger Delta

Niger Delta: BudgIT unveils oozing corruption in States, NDDC; demands citizens action

A cross section of the participants at the BudgIT organized Cost of Corruption Workshop in Port Harcourt. Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

BudgIT, a civic technology organization raising the standards of transparency and accountability in public finance, organized a workshop to educate participants on the opportunity cost of corruption in benefits transfer to citizens in the Niger Delta region, as well as strategies for combating it.

participants were drawn from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), media organizations and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) like the Environmental Rights Action (ERA/FoEN), We The People, Accountability Lab Nigeria, CODAF, among others.

According to BudgIT, the organizers of the workshop, which took place on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, at Visa Karena Hotel, 3D, Wonodi Close, Off Olu Obasanjo Road, GRA Phase III, Port Harcourt, their objective is to build citizen movements for change in the extractive sector.

The organizers said the workshop is sequel to some interviews they conducted recently with artisanal miners in Mfamosing Community in Cross River state, which they hope would stir conversation on the emerging issues and ways to maximize the opportunities in the extractive industry in Nigeria, especially as it concerns development in the Niger Delta region.

To stir up conversation on the emerging issues, two papers were presented at the workshop: namely, “History of Corruption in Benefits Transfer in Niger Delta” by Engr. Adejoke Akinbode and “The Opportunity Cost of Corruption and Strategies for Combating It” by By Iniobong Usen.

In her presentation, Engr. Adejoke Akinbode lamented that the lack of transparency and accountability in the extractive sector remained a critical barrier to transfers of benefits to oil communities, especially as elites particularly, those from the region divert public resources into personal pockets.

“The level of development in the Niger Delta region does not commensurate with the funds so far allocated to the region.

“In August 2011, Farida Waziri, the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), disclosed that about 26 former governors in Nigeria were under investigation due to one corruption case or the other,” she added.

Engr. Akinbode chronicled come state-level corruption cases involving former Governors James Ibori of Delta State, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State and Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State, which were poorly managed.

Furthermore, she x-rayed the alleged corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a 21 years old federal government intervention agency which until recently was a commission in the Presidency, and observed that its administrators, and contractors have been accused of corruption and diversion of oil benefits meant for their own people.

In addition, Engr. Akinbode identified a plethora of white elephant projects scattered around the region. And they include: The Monorail Project in Port Harcourt, Rivers State; the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State; and the abandoned Bayelsa International Hotel in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

The second paper by Iniobong Usen harped on the opportunity cost of corruption in the Niger Delta region and recommended strategies for combating it.

Putting Nigeria in context, Mr. Iniobong Usen observed that Nigeria’s Human Development Index value for 2019 was 0.537 and lamented that that puts the country at the 161st position out of 189 countries and territories.

He showed that the HDI figures for States of the regions are not even better despite the fact that they receive more allocated revenues from the federation account.

Consequently, Mr. Usen articulated the following as Strategies for Combating Corruption in the regions:

Beneficial Ownership Reform, transparency around benefits transfer, taking action on identified corruption cases to serve as a strong deterrent, contract transparency, domestic revenue mobilization, and a single coherent Regional Development Strategy as strategies for combating corruption in the regions.

Participants also canvassed several strategies for combating the corruption which they agreed has become endemic, not only in the region but the country at large.

The Head, Public Affairs Directorate, Port Harcourt’s Zonal Command of the EFCC, Assistant Commander of the EFCC, ACE Dele Oyewale, in his contribution on behalf of his organization, admonished the CSOs in the country for not doing enough to ramp up pressure on the perpetrators of corruption. He consequently called on the participants, most of whom were anti-corruption advocates, to to intensify their efforts as that would make the work of the commission more effective.

“The broad- based reforms and radical onslaught against all forms of economic and financial crimes by the new leadership of the EFCC, require active involvement and commitment of CSOs to drive positive public response. The Civil Society needs to do more in mobilising Nigerians against the evils of corruption,” ACE Oyewale said.

He also called on the CSOs to raise the bar in agitation for good governance to minimise abuses and pillage of public funds.

Another participant, We The People Executive Director Ken Henshaw, while lamenting the endemic nature of corruption in the nation, recommended that campaigner try as possible as possible to humanize the opportunity cost of corruption messaging by putting a human face to the figures.

Kentebe Ebiaridor of ERA/FoEN observed that the potential for EFCC/CSOs collaboration is imperilled by the EFCC’s blind loyalty to government far above the people and that they need to work on that to make future collaborations possible and effective.

However, participants agreed to work with the EFCC to achieve greater results in the fight against corruption.