Forensic Audit of NNDC: Niger Delta Youths Behind Buhari

. . . Intervention Agency Has Nothing To justify Existence


Southern Atlantic Polytechnic Offers Both Practical And Theoretical Knowledge To Prepare Students For Challenges Ahead

The President of Southern Youths Development Forum, Pastor Bassey James, is a criminologist and General Overseer, Royal House of Faith and founder, Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State. He speaks about President Muhammadu Buhari’s probe on the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), opening of Eastern Ports and his new polytechnic in this interview with Crystal Express.

You are a major commentator on Niger Delta affairs. How do you feel about Mr. President’s order to probe NDDC’s operations?

President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation and 90 per cent of Niger Delta people are with the President on this matter. The youths, elders and poor masses of the region who have watched the money released for the development of the Niger Delta region being misused for worthless things that do not advance the cause of the people, while the people continue to live in abject poverty and pains. Over the years, NDDC has not done intervention projects as it should be done. Rather the money has been siphoned into private pockets. So the President’s order to probe NDDC is a plus for his administration, a plus for the Niger Delta people and a plus for the South-South region.

We bear the brunt of NDDC mismanagement, in spite of the fact that we contribute immensely to the federal purse. If you go through Niger Delta states, local governments and the communities, you will hardly see any development in comparison with the amount of money released to the intervention agency, which runs into trillions. We have watched this happen helplessly, hopelessly and it pains us because we are incapacitated. We don’t have the power to do anything. It is only the Federal Government that has the capacity to call for the probe. The people of Niger Delta have cried out over the years and I think that our cries have reached God and God has touched Mr. President to do what is right and needful.

Hopefully those who will come to run the affairs of the NDDC will be cautious and will know that the money does not belong to them or their cronies. Mr. President should go further to order that all the works done from 2001 till date be published so that the real beneficiaries will be known. You will discover that most of the jobs were given to non-indigenes of Niger Delta. They take the money and abandoned the job because they are not from the region. They are actually desensitized because they have nothing to lose; all they care about is to take the money and abandon the jobs. For me this is the right time for the probe. Every Niger person should celebrate and give Mr. President kudos. We see some people in Niger Delta becoming so rich and powerful rather than see the region making progress. Where are the projects? The NDDC is an interventionist agency set up by the Federal Government to support the growth of the Niger Delta people. We continue to live in pains. All we see is that our money is being siphoned, misused and even outrightly stolen. Where are the bridges? Show me the roads done by the intervention agency. Ninety per cent of the projects given to non-indigenes are abandoned and nobody is saying anything. So we are behind Mr. President. We are praying for him. I want to tell the Niger Delta people to be rest assured that this is one issue that Mr. President will see to the end. I am saying this because there are lots of fears that the probe will be abandoned. But I am happy that the President ordered for a forensic audit of NDDC’s account.

How far do you want the probe to spread its dragnet?

Let the account be audited state by state, local government by local government and village by village so that the people of Niger Delta will know what each of the local governments received. I come from the oil producing community of Mkpat Enin. I cannot see what the NDDC has done in my community in the last 29 years. It did not finish any of its intervention projects.

For the first time in the history of NDDC, Mr. President has appointed an indigene of Mkpat Enin local government and people must know that NDDC is not meat pie that people go to eat and throw the pieces to the dogs. The Niger Delta is owned by people and the money coming to NDDC should be for the people. I have been to NDDC and have seen that there are 99 per cent non-indigenes working there and taking our resources. From the gate one can feel the impact that this place has been hijacked for political gains, manipulation and for whatever reason.

But over the years, indigenes of the Niger Delta have occupied the topmost positions at NDDC. How do you reconcile that?

The issue is not whether they are our brothers, sisters or relations. The issue is, what have they used the money to do? How much has come to the Niger Delta from 2001 till date? If the money that is due to Akwa-Ibom State is given to Akwa-Ibom, for instance, or to any of the core oil producing states of Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa, you will see real development. There is insecurity and absence of development in the Niger Delta. The creeks have been abandoned. Everything is politics. The road network is bad, the water projects are not seen and all you see are NDDC signboards everywhere; no jobs. Even when the jobs are done it is very poorly executed with substandard materials that cannot stand the test of time. Otherwise how can one explain that a road that is constructed gets bad within five months?

Now the chicken has come home to roost; we are asking Mr. President to x-ray the Niger Delta and make sure that what was taken away from the people is returned. Let the money be used to develop the Niger Delta. If that is done Niger Delta states will be like Dubai. What does it take to develop the Niger Delta? It is the money, the people’s money; and our money is being used to build structures in Lagos and Abuja to develop other places. As Niger Delta indigenes, it takes months even years for you to be allowed to enter the gates of NDDC. Even when one eventually succeeds, one is told ‘to go to the top and get a letter.’

Do you mean the top of NDDC or top of what or where?

I don’t know what they mean by the top; and you don’t have anybody at the top. But they will tell you to go to the top or the highest level to get a letter for you to be considered for a job in NDDC. I know that Mr. President is committed to the development of the Niger Delta. He has started it with the cleaning up of the Niger Delta; we must commend him for taking the steps.

Are you saying that the people running the affairs of the NDDC are richer than the Niger Delta?

Yes. If you check the life style of the people put in charge of the NDDC over the years, you will see that they are either richer than the NDDC states or they have not used money for the purpose it was meant for. The other day so much billions of Naira was found in the bank account of just a Personal assistant. This probe is long overdue. I use this medium to appeal to Mr. President that further appointment into NDDC should not be based on political leaning. Let the Niger Delta people also make contributions to those who will serve them in NDDC. The President should reshuffle the entire NDDC and hand the intervention agency back to the people because it was made for the people.

How would the opening up of the Eastern Ports which had remained moribund over the years because of government policies rob off our national economic as well as enhance development of the Niger Delta region?

I think that the President is dancing back gloriously to the people’s yearnings. I am aware that Ibom Deep Sea Port will be opened very soon. Approval has been given to Calabar Sea Port. Onitsha River Port will also come on board, and I also learnt that Onne Sea Port has been doing well. I want to categorically say that opening of the ports in the South-East, South -South and Delta regions without putting unfair limitations on their operations will change the economy of Nigeria. All the goods that are handled at Lagos Sea Ports pass through the ports of Calabar, Port Harcourt, Delta and Eastern ports before they enter the water channel to Lagos. Also 90 per cent of the importers of finished products and raw materials are from the South East and South-South regions. It means that it will decongest the roads in Lagos, the containers falling and killing people will stop; the (NPA) will be active in that region, jobs will be created and development will take over the region. Now, the cost of moving a container from Lagos to Onitsha and Aba will reduce.

Aba doesn’t have a port. The closest to Aba is Calabar and Port Harcourt ports. It will also benefit the northern part of the country because the distance between Port Harcourt and Calabar ports to Makurdi and to other parts of the North is just a matter of few hours. Then you don’t need train or spend more money. All you need is to build the super highways which Governor Ben Ayade has already conceived to link the regions with relative ease and there will be more activities amongst our peoples. The cost of imported goods will reduce, development will shoot up and that will calm tension among the citizenry.

Why are you so passionate about the probe?

I was kidnapped at my Polytechnic site in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State just before the 2019 general elections. I suffered a lot; it cost my family a fortune before they could secure my release. But that is the least of the reasons for what you call my passion. I discovered during my captivity that my kidnappers were young graduates. They told me that they are compelled to take to kidnapping. And they are very unhappy because society has left them with no choice.

Their grouse is that government taps invaluable resources from their community (Niger Delta region) without making commensurate contribution to the welfare of the Niger Delta people. If NDDC had done well over the years, the case would have been different; the youths would have been properly engaged in meaningful ventures. That is why I am passionate about the probe.

What prompted you to establish Southern Atlantic Polytechnic?

It is a private institution and business school committed to developing very high standard of entrepreneurship. We are bringing professors, PhD holders, captains of industries, entertainers and all class of Nigerians who have made it in their various fields of endeavor to come and build a new crop of leaders.

Through the school, we want to mentor our youths, retired public servants, young Nigerians who are aspiring into leadership positions, people who want to go into businesses and who want to become entrepreneurs.

So we are building an enterprise centre that will re-engineer and reconstruct the life style of our people to give them a sense of business.

If you saw the number of young men and women running around political leaders during the 2019 elections, they are graduates, bachelors, masters and PhD holders. The elections not only opened my eyes but also gave me a lot of burden.

Whether in Akwa-Ibom, Abia, Sokoto, Abuja, APC or PDP, APGA, you have the same thousands and millions of followers. At the end of the elections, governors have emerged; ministers and legislatures have also emerged. But we will not have as many as 50 ministers, we will not have more 36 governors and there is no state that will have up to 300 personal assistants. The others have fallen back to the streets. And so, we want to lay emphasis on entrepreneurship and business development.

There are obviously many private polytechnics. What makes Southern Atlantic Polytechnic different?

If you go to Alaba or Idumota markets today, you will see young men who are millionaires that didn’t go to school but they went through tutelage.

They were trained by various masters right there in the market place. Southern Atlantic Polytechnic will train young school leavers and at the end of the day send them to acquire practical trading experience under experience traders.

Again, if you go to Ariaria Market in Abia State today, you will see that the people are less concerned about who becomes the governor because everybody is busy there. From that point of view, I am moving Ariaria Market to Akwa-Ibom State, to my polytechnic.

I am moving the traders, the shoe makers, the fashion designers and the furniture makers. In fact, it was in Ariaria Market that I discovered the secret of producing exquisite furniture, which we have started producing in our school.

We are going to import knowledge from the Diaspora and from our people. If you go to churches, 80 percent of young people are unemployed; we are telling them that we will give them a means of livelihood.

Such people should come to Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, to our business team. We will change them and give them a new way of thinking; we want to build capacity.

While we are importing technology from China, Korea and America and from other parts of the world including Dubai, we also want to import the technology that is in the nearby state. The technology in Ariara Market in Aba is enormous.

We are bringing the technology in fashion to combine with what we have because our Fashion Department and design will be a brand. We are going to go into fashion programme like a factory.

We will build capacity that will enable us train fashion designers, who will not just develop fashion styles for the school but we are going into corporate and massive production of all kinds of fashion.

Our engineering and carpentry workshop is the first of its kind. We are building our carpentry department to be able to produce all classes of furniture, kitchen items and closets. We are also bringing in a special machine that can design any kind of doors and chairs.

Once the entrepreneurship is commissioned next month, we will go into massive productions of furniture for schools, universities, corporate bodies, individuals and governments.
On Information, Communication and Technology (ICT}, we have over 200 computers and we are deploying millions to train young school leavers, civil servants on ICT, web design and other areas of telecommunication and ICT in modern business development.

You must be able to have both practical and theoretical knowledge so that at the time you don’t use your theoretical knowledge you use your practical knowledge.

What extent have you gone with getting requisite accreditation for Southern Atlantic Polytechnic today?

A team from the Ministry of Trade and Commerce and National Board of Technical Education (NBTE) came to inspect the polytechnic recently; I am happy that they came. The team saw what we have on ground and was impressed. We want to do more because we want Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, Uyo, to be one of the best in Nigeria.

We have what it takes because we have large land mass of over 15 hectares which is able to take in the polytechnic, hostel and other facilities. Now we are working on other structures like the banking hall, supermarket and of course we have a Police Station by the side of the Polytechnic.

We have also completed the science lab tech; our library is one of the best. In terms of electrical and electronic department, we have unique equipment and our manpower is up to date.

I want to thank the executive secretary of NBTE for sending the team to Uyo for inspection of our school. The speed at which they came was wonderful. It is a great encouragement from the executive secretary and members of the team.

I must say that team represents a different kind of civil servants structure in Nigeria. After they left, we have been able to put up three more structures on ground.

How much of the physical projects have been completed?


The Entrepreneur and Business School is 90 per cent completed and the extension of the science lab tech is 90 percent completed too. Our engineering department, physics department are completed and we have ordered for more equipment to give the school 100 per cent because at the time the NBTE team came, we had about 85 per cent of our equipment requirement.

We have already ordered the remaining 15 per cent, from China and the goods have also arrived Akwa Ibom State. After installation, we will invite NBTE again for ratification.

But the beautiful thing is that our school is well positioned. It is situated within 10 minutes’ drive from Uyo Airport and 10 minutes’ drive away from Uyo town. So we are in the middle of the town to serve those who are coming from outside Akwa Ibom State and those who are not even Nigerians coming from other parts of the world.

What courses are currently available for take-off?

There are about five to six courses the NBTE has given us a letter to work on, which of course they have come for inspection. They have given us approval for science lab tech in which we have the best equipment today. We have electrical electronic, computer science, computer engineering, public administration and general Administration.

On the public administration course, we have built a strong network with so many professors and heads of departments of different universities and they are coming to develop a curriculum for the training of civil servants, for the empowerment of the local governments, especially those who are in protocol management and those who are serving at all levels of governments in the federal, states and local government.

We are developing this programme in order to train and retrain those who are going to assist in the governance of the state. Public administration is a very important course that can be used for the development of both the local government workers and state workers, including those in the academia. In the electrical electronics department, we have the best.

Our machines are there but we are going to do lots of things in business development and we are going to offer scholarships to those who are not capable of paying school fees.
Based on my background as a pastor and as a man who came from a very low background, I will work more to see that scholarships are given to people who deserve it.

We have also opened discussions with other bodies such as security agencies in the states, Police and army officers and all the agencies of government to see how we can collaborate with them in training their wives and house helps in dress making, cake making, ICT and catering so you can in the comfort of your office learn a trade.

We have also opened discussions with churches and mosques in Akwa-Ibom and neighboring states to see how we can move entrepreneurship development to their door steps.
The idea is that if you have 5- 10 people in your house, locality, church, mosque or in your environment, our team of engineers and experts will come to interact with you, train you in any area of your need and give you the wherewithal and support before you come for the school.

So we are building a relax system of training which is the first of its kind. In our entrepreneurship at your door steps, we want to build housewives, house-helps into entrepreneurs. It’s very easy and achievable. There is no age limit in learning, we will come to you; we will train you, also equip you and send you forth to become a great man or woman.

I want to see how we can share our knowledge, bring people from business world, the academia and those who have already been doing practical things to share knowledge with them so that as you leave the school environment you go straight into something. We want to build people.

It is not enough for people to finish school, spend one year in the national youth corps and yet nothing thereafter. So we are saying before you come out you must go and do something. There is also what I call the Young Entrepreneurship Scheme, where we bring in secondary school leavers who want to go into businesses, who want to learn one trade or the other and train them and build them into trading businesses.

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