FUEL FOR THOUGHT: THE TRAGIC CYCLE OF NON-PERFORMING REFINERIES, FUEL SCARCITY, AND ENDLESS CORRUPTION

Nigerians are witnessing the starkest economic inequalities, social alienation and political despondency in the history of the country, and this is a product of a corrupt system that has dismantled the economic, social and political foundations of the country. This nauseating development has rubbed off on all sectors of the economy and the downstream sector is not immune to it.

Nigeria boasts of four state-owned petroleum refineries in Warri, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt, yet these refineries have been dormant and unproductive for many years. As a result, the country imports refined petroleum products from other countries like the Netherlands, etc. The saddening part is how the government claims to spend billions of naira annually on the purported maintenance these non-performing refineries. According to report by Business day, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) wasted N604.127bn in maintaining the refineries in 2017, this waste of taxpayers’ money was done without any meaningful output from the comatose refineries and this waste has continued even to present time. It is obvious that these refineries are used as a conduit to drain the national purse.

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“THE LEVEL OF CANCER IS TOO MUCH”: COMMUNITY REPORT OF OGONI POLLUTION CLEANUP AND REMEDIATION

Social Action presents the views of members of polluted  communities in Ogoniland who decry the failure of the Nigerian government to provide emergency services such as clean water a decade after the UNEP Report. Ten years after the UNEP found high pollution levels, including scandalous amounts of carcinogenic substances in groundwater in Ogoniland, the Nigerian federal government commenced some water projects in 2021, with implementation slow and tardy.

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GRANT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL AUTONOMY; ACTIVISTS URGE NASS

GRANT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL AUTONOMY; ACTIVISTS URGE NASS

Social and development activists in Nigeria have called on the Federal Government and National Assembly of Nigeria (NASS) to grant local governments in the country financial, political and administrative autonomy as a matter of urgency. This call was made on Monday during a one day virtual Town hall meeting on, “Addressing Obstacles to Local Government Independence in Nigeria” organized by Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action with support from the United Nations Democracy Funds.

Speaking at the event, Comrade Akeem Ambali, National President of NULGE said the major obstacle to Local government autonomy in Nigeria is the lacuna in Section 162(6) of the 1999 constitution as amended; “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State”.

Operating a joint account with the state, according to the Comrade does not favour the local government as the state political actors cash into this opportunity for private enrichment. “The heavy corruption, greed and insatiable appetite for immense wealth by state political actors are major obstacles to achieving LG independence in Nigeria”, he said. To address this bottleneck situation, local governments should be funded directly from the federal allocation.

Comrade Ambali suggested a bottom-up approach to governance in Nigeria.  Along with financial autonomy, the local government should be given political and administrative autonomy. Rather than the state electoral commissions, Independent National Election Commission (INEC) should be allowed to conduct unbiased and transparent elections for local governments.

He further stressed the need for community policing and the entrenchment of Local Government Service Commission to ensure quality assurance and a proper audit system in LG operations. These strategies would not only break LGs from the shackles of the state governments but also strengthen democracy tenets in Nigeria and create employment opportunities at the grassroots, Comrade Ambali asserted.

In her summation, Comrade Hauwa Mustapha, a development activist, said it is sad to note that the local governments are seen as appendages to the states, rather than as a tier of government. This dis-functionality has led to a breakdown of governance and facilities, reduction in human capital and extreme poverty at the grassroots. She, therefore, called for a proper definition in the constitution on the roles and power of local governments as a tier of government. She also called for a collective movement for local government autonomy in Nigeria. This movement she stressed will advocate for citizens’ rights at the grassroots, gender empowerment, fiscal and resource control and an accountable Local government system.

Other members of the panel, Barrister Che Oyinatumba of Kubwa Express and Dr Udy Akpan of Youth for Change Initiative also called for behavioural and structural changes in Nigerian local governments. According to them, a lack of accountability in the local government will continue until its structure is unattached to the State.

Participants also suggested that pressure be put on the state Houses of Assembly to assent to bills regarding local government autonomy.

Responding to this, Prince Edegbuo of Social Action said the campaign for local government autonomy continues and hinted that a massive campaign will be launched on Twitter. Edegbuo, therefore, encouraged all to join Social Action and partners in this “storm” as well as other social and traditional media campaigns for local government autonomy. This he believes will give room for accountability of the local government system and improved service delivery.

While the moderator of the event, Comrade Jaye Gaskia thanked panellists and participants for their contributions to the program, he reminded all that local government autonomy is a must and so is inclusive governance. He, therefore, urged all to rise up and defend the local government.

 

 

 

COMMUNIQUE OF THE REGIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY CONFERENCE 2022: BEYOND THE FORENSIC AUDIT – REPOSITIONING THE NDDC

Communique of the Regional Accountability Conference 2022: Beyond the Forensic Audit – Repositioning the Niger Delta Development Commission for Inclusive and Effective Service Delivery

 

PREFACE

Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) with support from the MacArthur Foundation successfully organized the 2022 Regional Accountability Conference with the theme, Beyond the Forensic Audit – Repositioning the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for inclusive and effective service delivery. The conference, which was held at Visa Karena Hotels, Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday, February 24, 2022, was attended by various stakeholders from anti-corruption agencies and committees, traditional rulers, civil society groups, community groups, and the Media.

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POOR OVERSIGHT AND SUPERVISION BY THE PRESIDENCY/MND/NASS: THE BANE TO ACCUNTABILITY IN NDDC

At the just concluded Social Action’s Regional Accountability Conference on “Beyond The Forensic Audit”, development experts, anti-graft agencies, duty bearers, academia and community groups have all identified poor oversight and supervision by the Presidency, the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the National Assembly as main enablers of corruption and are primarily responsible for the failure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to live up to its mandates. This view is contained in the Communique issued at the end of the conference and released to the media by Social Action in Port Harcourt on Thursday 24th February 2022. The conference which aimed at ensuring how effective collaboration between duty bearers, anti-graft agencies, civil society and other critical stakeholders can contribute to repositioning the Niger Delta Development Commission to the path of prudence and accountability, urged the citizens to take up the responsibility of fighting corruption in NDDC by working closely with relevant anti-graft agencies and public institutions like the Bureau of Public Procurement.

Launching of the Citizens report on budget and projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission by the Director Advocacy of Social Action flanked by dignitaries from the public and private sectors

While presenting the welcome address, Vivian Bellonwu of Social Action noted that the NDDC has lost its purpose of creation and has failed to keep up with its social contract. She, therefore, calls for all hands to be on deck to bring about a complete overhauling of the NDDC system. In the same vein, the Public Relations Officer of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),  representing the Zonal Commandant, Mr. Dele Oyewole noted that “there is no way we can achieve effective service delivery in NDDC without the participation of everybody in the Niger Delta”. He emphasized the need for public ownership of the fight against corruption, citing the fact that abandoned projects are sited in environments where people lives and so should collaborate with relevant authorities to end the menace posed by corruption. Corroborating the statement of the EFCC representative, Mrs. Ekere Usieri, the Zonal Director of Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) affirmed that her agency is willing to work with the citizens and the NDDC to put an end to the deep-rooted level of corruption in the NDDC.

While presenting a paper on Strengthening Service Delivery through Effective Procurement Process in Public Institution, the representative of the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement, Mr. Adebowale Adedokun referred to the CSOs as credible drivers in the process of strengthening service delivery in the NDDC. He called for a change of approach and the need for citizens to acquire prerequisite skills in carrying out projects monitoring and to stop unscrupulous contractors from stealing public resources.

The occasion of the Regional Accountability Conference was used to launch a report by Social Action, “Pond of Crocodiles: Citizens Report on Budgets and Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission”. The report contains the analysis of the NDDC 2019 Approved Capital Budget and reports of coordinated field monitoring of NDDC projects across five states of the Niger Delta. The findings of the budget monitoring exercise by Social Action, its partners and community monitors, revealed several issues inhibiting the effectiveness of the NDDC including questionable funds allocations, project abandonment, delay in annual budget passage and over-ambitious and unrealistic projects pursuits, oversight and supervision complacency among others.

While summarizing the findings of the report, the Programmes Coordinator of Social Action, Isaac Botti revealed that some 172 projects were monitored across five states of the Niger Delta, out of which 47% were not existing, 38% abandoned, 22% completed and 4% still ongoing. He further stated that frivolous expenditures in the regional allocation in the 2019 budget of the NDDC amounted to N31 billion. Social Action’s, Vivian Bello while unveiling the report, charged attendees to take advantage of the veritable information contained in the publication to engage the government and the NDDC on inclusive and effective service delivery. She stressed that the report is a detailed, well-researched document with pains-taken field observations that should not just grace the table or shelves in our offices and home but should be used as advocacy tools.

Key recommendations from the report include the overhauling of the NDDC by constituting the substantive board, ensuring open budget and transparency of operations, strict adherence to procurement procedures laws and standards and active monitoring of financial and procurement activities of the NDDC by anti-graft agencies. Others are an improved legislative and administrative oversight of the Commission, strengthened community engagement and participation in budget and project implementation and multi-stakeholder partnership to constantly monitor the activities of the NDDC.

The Conference advised the President Muhammadu Buhari government to take decisive action on the forensic audit of the NDDC and prosecute those found culpable for malfeasance and collusion leading to the abandonment of over 12,000 projects and diversion of trillions of naira meant for the execution of development projects in the Niger Delta.

POND OF CROCODILES- CITIZENS REPORT ON THE BUDGETS AND PROJECTS OF THE NIGER DELTA DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION (NDDC)

POND OF CROCODILES contains analyses of the 2019 budget of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as approved by the National Assembly to identify trends and patterns in budgetary allocations. The report also contains findings of participatory monitoring of NDDC projects to determine the level of implementation and the effectiveness of such interventions and their impacts on the social existence of beneficiaries, particularly women and other vulnerable groups.

This report identifies several contributing factors to explain the massive corruption in the NDDC and the failure of the federal agency to deliver on its mandate, revealing that 22% of the tracked projects are abandoned, over 47% are non-existent. So far, the NDDC is only able to complete 26% of its projects while 4% are ongoing.

Read Full Report Here

Synopsis of the CITIZENS REPORT on Budgets and Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)

Synopsis of the CITIZENS REPORTon Budgets and Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is a summary of the detailed Citizen Report on the capital projects embarked on by the NDDC in their 2021 budget.

The report is a simplified, summarised finding of capital projects executed by the Commission in Akwa Ibom, Delta, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States

Read Full Report Here

SOOT IN RIVERS STATE: IMPENDING HEALTH DISASTER BREWING AND THE NEED FOR GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION

Every nation has an abiding commitment to promote environmental justice which includes ensuring the people have access to clean air and limited exposure to dangerous chemicals and impurities in the atmosphere such as carbon particulate matter also known as soot as the case is in Rivers State. But in the case of Nigeria and Rivers State in particular, the state and federal governments have failed to meet that commitment in the past and even in the present. Recently, there has been increased public outcry to the rising level of soot in the state. While this is not new, it once again, has received little or no concrete attention from the state government.
Soot is a mass of impure carbon residue coming from oil exploratory activities in the oil-rich state, especially from gas flaring and illegal oil refineries, also known as artisanal refining. It also contains Sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen dioxide, which cause acid rain when combined with moisture. This has left the state with a major public health and environment danger brewing.

Billowing smoldering black gasous incumbustible particulate matter discharged into the atmosphere by artisanal refiners in Port Harcourt
Billowing smoldering black gasous particulate matter discharged into the atmosphere by artisanal refiners in Port Harcourt

The high atmospheric concentration of soot in the state is alarming. This was the pivot of the April 2018 popular #stopthesoot campaign in Port Harcourt organized by the civil society and other concerned organisation and widely attended by hundreds of citizens in Port Harcourt. The state government had responded by setting up a technical committee led by then state Commissioner for Environment, Professor Roseline Konya to implement the report submitted by the scientific committee. This scientific committee was earlier commissioned to investigate the causes and likely solutions to the environmental hazard. According to the committee, the most probable causes of the soot were discovered to be illegal refining by crude oil thieves and the distasteful act of torching seized crude and refinery facilities of illegal refinery operators by security officers. Other causes include the burning of old tyres, production activities at the fertilizer and petroleum refinery companies, meat roasting with used tyres, asphalt plants, and devious burning of refuse. Unfortunately, according to several investigations and reports, government officials, lawmakers, ex-militants, security personnel, including the military, are involved in the oil bunkering industry. Security guards are thought to be employed by oil bunkering alliances in order to carry out their criminal activities unimpeded.
Medical experts say Inhaling the soot, especially the tiny one of the range of 0.25 microns. penetrates deep into the lungs and can lead to serious health problems including acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children and old ones. The particulate matter can also lead to cancer as well as developmental disorders, heart attacks, strokes and even premature death. Speaking at the “Stop the Soot” Conference organized by Rotary International Port Harcourt, Dr. Dienye Briggs elaborated the effect of the soot on even unborn babies and how they immediately start to exhibit respiratory disorders immediately they are born, using his own child as a typical reference. He painted a gloomy picture for the resident of Port Harcourt when he declared that the lungs of a resident who has been inhaling the soot for five years now is darker and more inflamed than the that of an average smoker. Other health complications that are attributable to the soot according to research carried out at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, is the rise in infertility in men residing in Port Harcourt.

 

#StoptheSoot march in Port Harcourt 2018

Two years after the inauguration of the technical committee and nothing concrete to show as a way of actionable plans except blame trading from the state governor; laying all the faults and responsibility on the Federal Government and her agencies. Repeated calls have been made to the state and the federal government to intervene, but this has received only cosmetic reactions that achieve nothing at elevating the situation which had been on for over five years. This is characteristic of the insensitiveness and inaction of the government.
There is now an awareness hashtags on social media generated and driven by health professionals and activists such as #EndTheSootProblemPH and #StopTheSoot used to draw the attention of the government to this issue as a matter of emergency. Signatures are being gathered and there’s the inevitability of a mass protest against palpable negligence and insincerity of the government. This renewed call must be met with action and speed from the government on a scale commensurate with the need to avoid setting Rivers State on a dangerous trajectory of catastrophic damage to public health and the environment. The social cost of soot on the human health, and on the environment is devastating

Artisanal refining “Kpo Fire” business in the Niger Delta

To tackle and bring an end to this environmental danger and it’s devastating health implications, fast and coordinated action is needed. To guarantee this, both the Rivers State Government and the federal government have the major obligation. Ending illicit refining in the state and taking on every organization engaged is one method to do this. Rather than looking for every occasion to blame the federal government, Gov. Nyesom Wike should show commitment and respond to this call and intervene in a timely manner to protect the people against this environmental health hazard that pose risks to the health of the people.

There should be routine check on illegal oil refining and monitoring of air quality in the state The government should muster the political will and articulate stringent policies and control measures to mitigate this public health nuisance rather than express deep concerns and make bogus promises in elaborately organized government functions. While this is done, cellular, rather than modular, refineries should be encouraged and supported to harness the resources and legitimize these illegal artisanal refineries through training and licensing. If properly done the over 40% component of the crude oil waisted in the coarse refining process could be turned into useful products that could enable these cellular refineries legally purchase their crude oil and pay tax to the government. This would also align with the net zero target which was extensively discussed during the last 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) which held in Glasgow this year. As other countries accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nigeria must not be left behind; government at the national and sub-national levels must show the political will to protect public health and the environment. The government must act now to put Nigeria on a sustainable climate pathway to protect Nigerians from harmful environmental cum health impacts of soot and environmental related challenges as part of the country’s climate solution.

BAYELSA COMMUNITIES RENEW COMMITMENT TO THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST CORRUPTION IN THE NDDC

Attendees at the Consultative Forum on Strengthening NDDC- Citizens relationship to promote transparency and effective service delivery in the post-audit Era

The part of citizens in demanding accountability and transparency in a commission that was solely established to foster development in the Niger Delta region cannot be overemphasized. The NDDC functionality must reflect the interest of citizens. For this to happen, there must be a cordial relationship between the citizens and the commission. To foster this relationship and encourage citizen interest in the NDDC, Social Action with the support of the MacArthur foundation organized a Consultative forum on “Strengthening NDDC- Citizens Relationship To Promote Transparency and Effective Service Delivery In The Post Audit Era.”

CROSS-SECTION OF ATTENDEES AT THE FORUM
A cross-section of attendees at the consultative forum

 

In his welcome address, the Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Ekpere spoke on the shortcomings of the Commission since its inception and how it has operated without any form of scrutiny or checks and balances. For him, there is no better time to have this conversation and demand transparency on the financial affairs of the commission and the accessibility of these fiscal documents to the public. He also tasked the antigraft agencies to be up and doing to ensure all those who have misused funds from the Commission be made to face the wrath of the law.

In his presentation on “NDDC and Citizens Relationship: Challenges and Opportunity for Collaboration Engagement for Inclusive and Effective Service Delivery” The Executive Director of We the People, Ken Henshaw remarked that NDDC money is being stolen daily by a group of persons. The people no longer know what the role of the NDDC is as it has failed to respond to the issues of development in the Niger Delta region. The Commission, which he termed ‘a crime scene’, is now a settlement ground. He emphasised the need for us as citizens to criminalize corruption by recognizing it as a crime and demanding the release of the forensic audit report.

Discussants at the panel session

A panel session that focused on “Towards An Inclusive Citizens/Community-led Development Approach Panacea for Curbing Corruption in the NDDC had Comrade Maxwell Ati and Comrade Princess Egbe as co-panelists. Others were Dr. Tare Dadiowei, Evangelist Duke Fekeregha and was moderated by Ken Henshaw. Dr Tare Dadiowei urged the Niger Delta people to fight for their rights as the responsibility of drawing their own map lies within them. He cautioned that the people cannot continue to live as if nothing is at stake and expect that things will change. We must demand the change we desire, he said. While Comrade Maxwell Ati blamed the communities for refusing to put an end to an abnormality that has become a norm, he noted that it is time to make a move towards the demand for accountability and transparency from public duty bearers. Comrade Princess Egbe in her remarks pointed to the fact that the people must swing into action, campaign with one voice and demand change as the only way forward. While Evangelist Duke Fekeregha spoke on changing our mentality of a short-term personal gratification to a long term communal benefit as a way to engender endearing values and conditions that foster development in our communities.

The attendees who spoke during the interactive session also suggested ways the campaign and demands for accountability and transparency for effective service delivery in the post-audit era can be achieved. One of such ways include to:

  • Take the message to the grassroots and sensitize them on the need to buy into the ownership philosophy as the NDDC ‘money of the money’ of the people and they should be concerned about what happens there.
  • Work as a group, strategize and work towards implementing recommendations made in the forum and intensify all that has been said and keep the conversation ongoing
  • Hold our community leadership accountable, use the structure of leadership to drive home the point and make leaders more responsible and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Niger Delta region.
  • Demand for environmental Impact assessment to be carried out before projects are implemented.

STAKEHOLDERS DISCUSS THE EMERGENCY PROVISION OF WATER AND HEALTHCARE BY HYPREP IN A TOWN HALL

What do we drink in Ogoniland? Discussants looks at the progress of HYPREP in implementing the UNEP report in Ogoniland

What do we drink in Ogoniland? This is the question stakeholders sought to answer as Social Action brought together members of the Ogoni community, representatives of civil society organisations, relevant government agencies and the press, to discuss progress made by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in implementing emergency measures as recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme. The town hall which was held in Bori on the 15th of December 2021 was supported by Development and Peace Caritas.

In his welcome charge read by Peter Mazzi, Communication Coordinator, the Executive Director, Dr Isaac Osuoka was concerned that 10 years after the release of the UNEP report and 5 years after the flag-off of the clean-up, there is still no clean water for the people of Ogoniland to drink. Dr Osuoka emphasised the need to implement the emergency phase tenure of activities to address environmental contamination in Ogoniland which include recommendations for providing access to clean water and organising health audits. These emergency measures are to provide immediate relief in the face of life-threatening contamination of the environment in preparation for the full-scale environmental remediation process, which may last for up to 30 years.

Peter Mazzi giving the welcome speach on behalf of the Executive Director Dr Isaac Osuoka
Peter Mazzi, giving the welcome speech on behalf of the Executive Director Dr Isaac Osuoka

Comrade Celestine Akpobari in the first presentation of the day faulted the method used by UNEP in conducting the research as not far-reaching enough and without the expected wide consultation with community people. He, however, was disappointed that even the report release has not been implemented by HYPREP as recommended. He expressed sadness that since the establishment of the HYPREP Project Coordination office, the first genuine attempt to provide portable water in Ogoni happened in March 2021 when water contract of N6.4 million naira was awarded. He presaged that people have seen HYPREP as another money-making venture and warned that people must be watchful and not allow gold-digger to compromise the cleanup process.

Emem Okon looked at the gaps and loopholes in the implementation of the cleanup by HYPREP in her presentation and faulted the methods and intentions of the project. In a presentation made on her behalf by Comrade Pius Dukor, she observed that needs assessment was not carried out before vocational training and capacity building was carried out for youth and women groups in Ogoniland. She also noted that the remediation measures are not done with all sincerity and intentions to clean up the pollution and make life better for the people of the impacted communities.

Panelist consisting of Chiefs, comrades, woman and youth representatives

In a panel session moderated by Comrade Pius Dukor, the panelists consisting of Chief Magnus Edooh, Chief Cletus Mbari Bekor, Stella Amanie, Noble Worlu and  Akobuto Friday, deliberated on how crucial an emergency provision of water and healthcare (health audit) is, as recommended by the UNEP report. Panelist were unanimous on the notion that HYPREP is not treating the matter of water supply as an emergency with the urgency that is required. They decried the situation whereby the helpless people of the impacted communities still drink from the same sources of water the report had designated as contaminated because of a lack of alternatives.

Contributing to the discuss in an interactive session, community members present at the audience corroborated the opinions of the panel and added that there has been a disconnect between HYPREP and the communities they claim to be remediating. They doubted the sincerity and capacity of the contractor executing the projects and lamented that people have been dying every day in these communities as a result of the contaminated soil and water which are supposed to be sources of life.  They demanded that proper medical audits be conducted on patients in the hospitals and medical centres and proper diagnosis and therapy undertaken.

At the end of the meeting, observations and resolutions were documented in a communique which was read by Peace Agbo, a Communication Officer of Social Action. They include;

  • The setting up of an alternative team of CSOs to ensure the water project meets international standards using best practice
  • HYPREP should construct modern facilities instead of refurbishing old, outdated, and rusty facilities
  • Immediate supply of potable water should be made as a matter of urgency
  • Technical partners should be involved in the implementation of the UNEP Report since this is a novel clean-up in Nigeria
  • The people should come together to stop them whenever HYPREP is carrying out their health outreach instead of recommended health audit
  • CSOs should form a strong independent team to closely monitor work going on at the remediation and water projects to ensure they meet international standards using best practice