As the Interim Management Comm ittee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) continues to make headlines on a matter that was initially alleged to be missing NGN 40 billion but which midstream altered to allegation of reckless spending of NGN 81.5 billion, one is inclined to argue that the allegation served the ends of propaganda more than the altruistic concerns of the well-being of the Niger Delta region in particular and Nigeria in general.
What exactly is propaganda? Propaganda in contemporary application, suggests the propagation of information that is defective in quality and thrives more in the inversion of truth. Propaganda engages a complex range of dissembling, confusion and information overload as what was witnessed in the sound and fury about the loss of, first NGN40 billion, then NGN81. 5 billion, which fell into the contrived caveat of reckless spending. Because propaganda is a strategy of dishonest communication, intended for belief manipulation, and targeted at the credulous, the purveyors achieved their sinister objective as a section of the society is sheepishly goaded into mass hysteria about the bandied figures than the moral imperative of asking the right questions about the amount said to have been expended.
One of the major tools of propaganda is the use of false statistics to befuddle and subordinate truth while highlighting and emphasizing lesser areas of attention in furtherance of the deceitful ploy. In the ongoing rumblings in NDDC, in the matter concerning how the IMC superintended over the affairs of the Commission in this period of forensic audit, and how a humongous sum of NGN81.5 billion is said to have been spent by the IMC, so much has been said with rumours swirling unhindered. But those behind the propaganda have modified and manipulated public perception to the extent that nobody has bothered to find out who spent what and for what purpose. All that dominates public space and psyche is the amount and the word “spend”, which in Nigeria, is almost an interchangeable lexical equivalent of “corruption”. And in a country where poverty has become the closest human companion, the mention of such sum with the perception of corruption so well painted, the psychological trauma experienced by the impoverished populace is enough to call for the crucifixion of the managers of the fund, even when no malfeasance was knowingly committed and culpability established.
The Interim Management Committee in its life span so far, has had two persons at its helms of affairs as managing directors. The first managing director was Ms. Joi Nunieh who assumed office on October 29, 2019. She was relieved of the office on February 19, 2020 on allegations of false claims of certificates which border on perjury, having claimed on oath to possess the said certificates. Following a petition from some whistleblowers, this act of dishonest claims was unraveled and Nunieh lost the coveted office.
Having spent about four (4) months in office, Nunieh’s administration incurred the following capital and recurrent expenditures. A breakdown shows about NGN12 billion as recurrent expenditure which covered salary, staffers’ claims, leave grants and cost of running the office. About NGN9.2 billion is said to have been expended for capital projects, putting the total expenditure recorded by the Nunieh administration at about NGN22 billion.
It bears stating that the aforestated sum is part of the so called reckless spending that is under investigation. But to show the mischief intent in the trumped up allegation, nobody has mentioned the Nunieh administration in the entire hullabaloo of this reckless spending. Curiously, she is seemingly on the other side of the divide, accusing the IMC she also headed not long ago of reckless spending and those joining her to hurl salvos at the IMC, carefully excluding her name in the equation. As it stands, the current IMC has to take vicarious responsibility of explaining the entire financial activities of the body, including that of Nunieh while she sides in kid gloves conspiracy against the same person or successor that is expected to defend her expenditure. What a time to be a Nigerian watching the one that should be hunted, being the hunter in irrational default.
Another managing director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei who succeeded Ms. Joi Nunieh and assumed office from February 20, 2020 is said to have spent about NGN51 billion between February 20 and May 5. A breakdown of the expenditure by the Pondei administration shows that about NGN35 billion was spent on capital expenditure while about NGN16 billion was on recurrent expenditure. The Capital expenditure included debts to contractors and beneficiaries of these payments had their names published in national newspapers. As at the time of writing this piece, no report disputing the claim of payment by the Commission has been reported or published. There have, however, been spurious claims making the rounds that some contractors were coerced to pay kickbacks before payment of their contract sums, but the management committee has since debunked such claims with a challenge that any contractor with such experience should come out to state so publicly.
To avoid any misunderstanding, it is important to throw a flicker of light on the terms capital and recurrent expenditures. Recurrent expenditure consists mainly of expenditure on wages, salaries and supplements, payments for goods and services and consumption of fixed capital (depreciation). Capital expenditure is money an organization or corporate entity spends to buy , maintain or improve its fixed assets , such as building, vehicles, equipment, or land or payment to contractors.
While yours truly is totally averse to corruption of any guise and consistently views it as the singular reason for the nation’s underdevelopment, it is my considered opinion that those saddled with the duty of righting wrongs in some of the Nation’s public sectors that have been so identified , must divorce such avowed mission from witch-hunting. The needless exertions we are witnessing in the probe of the IMC have too many vested undertones contending with public good. The propaganda introduced into the equation has beclouded many beyond rational thinking to the point that we are willing to throw away the dirty water in the bucket with the baby. The forensic audit when completed, would help us reinvent a new template in the operations of NDDC. And when that is done, it would be for our common good. Calling for its abortion even with the perceived misgivings, is not in the best interest of the Niger Delta region. Let the forensic audit go on and let NDDC remain in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs with Akpabio as the minister. An aggregate of all these would best serve our interest better than any other option in this material time.