Oil-producing communities in Akwa Ibom State have continued to lament over underdevelopment despite the over $5.8bn mandatory payments by oil and gas companies to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between 2011 and 2020.
The communities disclosed this on Friday during a Town Hall Meeting in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, organized by Policy Alert, a Civil Society Organisation promoting economic and ecological justice in the Niger Delta in partnership with BudgIT Foundation.
Senior Programme Officer of Policy Alert, Mfon Gabriel, said NEITI Oil and Gas audit reports revealed that the NDDC received over $5.8 billion as mandatory payments by oil and gas companies operating in the country for three percent of their annual operating budget in the 10 years between 2011 and 2020.
The civil society organization said the payments were in addition to other funding streams through which the NDDC received finances for their programmes and activities.
The organization lamented the absence of a transparent system in the Commission for either managing these revenue flows or accounting for their effective utilization.
Policy Alert said the absence of this transparent system of accountability has denied the people of the region to see tangible development projects on the ground to justify the huge inflows to the Commission.
The NDDC Act 2000, which is the law establishing the Commission, the group pointed out, requires that oil-producing and gas-processing companies operating in the region contribute 3 percent of their annual operating budgets to the Commission’s Fund for the development of the region.
However, stakeholders at the meeting lamented over what they described as a “high level of poverty and neglect” in the region owing to the failure of the NDDC to carry out its mandate to facilitate the sustainable development of their communities, despite multiple revenue streams, including the mandatory 3 percent payment.
They also complained about their exclusion from the NDDC’s needs assessment and budgetary decision-making processes, while also decrying the high rate of abandoned projects in their communities.
In the Communique issued at the end of the meeting, the community representatives called for a review of Section 14 of the NDDC Act 2000 to place the management of the 3 percent mandatory payments under a Trust in a manner similar and complimentary to the Host Communities provisions in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021.
They urged the oil companies to promptly publish their annual budgets and their payments to the Commission on their websites each year to enable civil society and communities to monitor their compliance and also hold the NDDC accountable.
The stakeholders further called for disclosure of the detailed NDDC budget and asked the federal government to discontinue the practice of sending the NDDC budget late after the rest of the annual budget had been deliberated and approved by the National Assembly.
The practice of delaying the submission of the NDDC annual budget for approval by the National Assembly, Policy Alert noted, always discourages citizen participation and accountability.
They also tasked the Commission to reactivate the now moribund NDDC Project Management information system to ensure regular and timely provision of information and updates on projects implementation by the Commission.
On the report of the NDDC forensic audit submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since 2022, the meeting called on the President to make good his vow to recover every stolen kobo and ensure that the law takes its course against all those found culpable.