Anger is currently brewing in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region over the alleged withholding of N600 billion meant for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The money, allegedly being owed the NDDC by the federal government has been a subject of litigation in the last years.
The Association of Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria (TROMPCON) had instituted a case against Attorney General of the Federation in pursuit of the withheld fund but the suit has suffered series of adjournments.
Again, at the last date which was yesterday, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court Abuja, Justice Ibrahim Auta adjourned to 6th March, 2014, a development which triggered reaction from Niger-Delta Peace and Development Movement (NDPDM).
The NDPDM accused the federal government of playing politics with the case even as it threatened that frustrating the traditional rulers could elicit a relapse of the relative peace in the oil-rich region.
At yesterday's court sitting on behalf of TROMPCON were HRM Eze Akuwueze Raphael Ikegwuruka, Ezeahuruke II, the Paramount Ruler of Mgbirichi/Abakuru land of Ohaji Egbema LGA of Imo state who is the current chairman of TROMPCON; HRH Eze Young Ogbonna, a former National Chairman of TROMPCON; HRM Pere Stanley Luke Kalanama VIII, the Pere of Akugbene Mein (Delta); HRM Barrister Anthony Ogbogbo, the Ovie of Ozoro(Delta) who is national legal adviser of TROMPCON and Augustine Seibi, national administrative secretary of TROMPCON
But shortly after the adjournment, NDPDM issued a statement condemning the development, saying the constant adjournment was deliberate.
"We have been constrained to draw the attention of the Nigerian Peoples and the international community to the criminal neglect of the development of the Niger Delta Region through all the successive federal government from 2001.
It is very provocative that the Federal Government that established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been alleged to have refused to comply with the provisions of the NDDC Act 2000 which requires it to contribute an equivalent of 15% of the monthly statutory allocation to the nine NDDC member States.
"This iniquity of the Nigerian State to the region that has shouldered over 80% of the burden of the Nation's budget for over 40 years moved our traditional rulers in the Niger Delta under the umbrella of TROMPCON to take the Federal Government to court to demand compliance with the law and effect the release of arrears of over N600billion shortfalls in contribution to the NDDC.
"While we do not endorse any act of corruption by officials of the Niger Delta main interventionist agency, the NDDC, we wish to warn that the continued denial of the legal rights of our people can only ignite the instinct to revolt in the youths of the region. If we allow this to happen, Nigeria will contend a new and more sophisticated set of Tompolos, Ateke Toms, Asari Dokubos and Boy Loafs", the statement signed by Okon Effiong and Oghenetega Okoro, president and secretary respectively said.
Former acting managing director of the NDDC Pastor Power Ziakede Aginighan, had stated that the Federal Government was owing the NDDC over N600 billion, saying that Niger Deltans will hold all Presidents, who have headed the executive arm of the various administrations from 2001 to date primarily responsible for the underdevelopment of the region if they did not comply with the funding provisions of the NDDC Act 2000.
The NDDC Act provides that: "there shall be paid and credited to the fund established pursuant to subsection (1) of this section - (a) from the Federal Government, the equivalent of 15 per cent of the total monthly statutory allocations due to member states of the commission from the Federation Account; this being the contribution of the Federal Government to the commission
"Three per cent of the total annual budget of any oil producing company operating on shore and off shore, in the Niger-Delta Area; including gas processing companies; from 2001 to 2013, all the annual appropriation bills sent to the National Assembly made arbitrary allocations as Federal Government contribution to the Niger Delta Development Commission".
But Aginighan added that as at 31 December, 2012, the NDDC had been underfunded by the Federal Government to the tune of over N600 billion. This is reminiscent of the very bitter history of Federal Government's pattern of creating and deliberately killing various agencies meant for the development of the Niger Delta region from the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) established in 1961 to OMPADEC established in 1992.