Doling out cash, not solution to restiveness – Adjogbe

Mr. Samuel Adjogbe is the Executive Director, Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He speaks in this interview with SONY NEME, on the agency’s efforts to meet the oil-rich region’s needs

When the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo toured the Niger Delta, he threatened to jail contractors who abandoned projects. How does NDDC hope to tackle the issue of abandoned projects that litter everywhere in the region without proper funding?

On the issue of the abandoned projects, we have tried to ascertain the reason why those jobs that we inherited were abandoned. One of the things we found out is that NDDC is owing some of these contractors.

They have worked, Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs) have been raised, but they cannot be paid.

Every contractor is a businessman. If you are a businessman and you invested N100 million into a business, and expecting to be paid N150 million or there about in return; if you have not been paid, you are not going to be comfortable in investing more money.

This is one of the reasons why contractors have refused to invest more money.

For them, until they are paid, there is no deal. Some never went to site.

They just got their award letters and ran away. What we have done is to also collate these categories of contractors.

We have assessed them and the Board has graciously, in our last meeting, approved that such projects should be cancelled. For contractors, who were not mobilized in the first place, we shall repudiate any of such contracts.

We will publish their names and projects, and their respective award dates.

For those that fall into the category of those mobilised, but never went to site or did some job not commensurate with what was agreed on, they have been given 90 days to return to site, because after the expiration of the ultimatum, they will be prosecuted.

The commission’s budget is so bulky, and we want to trim down the unnecessary projects to the barest minimum.

It is so because each year we continue rolling over lots of abandoned projects. They just make your books heavy yet they are not adding values. We will clean them up and bring it to a manageable level.

And another thing we are trying to do is to scale down on the number of projects we carry out yearly. Because we have over 8,000 projects since NDDC started. Those completed, those not completed, ongoing ones and those yet to start all add up to this volume.

It is good to bring contractors who absconded with mobilisation fees to book. What is the NDDC doing to get unremitted funds from the Federal Government?

When we came on board, we looked at our books lion naira is being owed NDDC by the Federal Government.

The way to go is engagement with relevant stakeholders such as the Federal Government, Federal Ministry of Finance and also we are working it through with the Senate Committee on NDDC. We have attended a public hearing with all the principal stakeholders invited to discuss on it.

And as at today, I think that discussion is gaining traction. We are hopeful that in a short time, some of the money will be remitted to us. The important thing here is that the Federal Government is responding.

How have you resolved the issues with Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) on the three per cent face off?

We have just one approach to things here, which is engagement of stakeholders. We have made out time to engage NLNG management but they did not listen, what they are interested in is playing hard politics. We said okay, let us leave it the way it is, and we will continue to engage stakeholders until we resolve it.

I am from the oil and gas sector. By the Act of NDDC, NLNG is a gas processing company, but they have said that they are not a gas processing company. Whatever definition they gave to themselves I don’t know.

Again tax holidays are never till eternity anywhere in the world. They were only given the tax holiday to encourage them to invest and recoup their money on time. That tax holidays was for a ten year period.

The last ten years should not be calculated based on the last train that was done. If your investment or expansion is so slow, that should not negate what you have been benefiting.

But that is what they are claiming.

However, the overall issue is that if NLNG decides to fold up today, whatever the environmental havoc they would have wrecked as a result of their operations, still remains with the Niger Delta region. Under the law, they are supposed to pay the three per cent. We did not as part of the executive arm of government go to initiate any form of amendment, so the issue of stakeholders should not arise.

The only body empowered to make laws by the Nigerian Constitution, which is the supreme law of this country, is the National Assembly.

If the National Assembly is the body empowered to make laws and they so desire to make new laws for the purpose of sustaining peace in Nigeria, in this case the Niger Delta region, to be specific, and they saw that there is a lacuna in the NLNG Act and they have seen the need to amend it, they can so do it.

That is the position they have taken. The Lower House has done it, and the Upper House I believe will also do the same thing. NLNG should pay the three percent so that we can have more money to develop the region. That is the position. And I tell you this, when Shell, Total, Mobil, Chevron and Agip among others came to Nigeria, they never anticipated the local content law.

But the local content law came for the international oil companies (IOCs) specifically. Laws are made to suit the situation at hand, just like they never anticipated the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has been signed into law and is now a valid law on how to do oil and gas business in Nigeria. If you can’t cope with it, you quit for those interested to come in.

All media wars they have embarked on, remains a mere charade that is, ironically, being orchestrated by Nigerians in NLNG. What we experience here in Nigeria doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world; a situation where Nigerians subvert the laws with impunity to suit their personal interests.

And I can tell you, NLNG will not go out of business if they continue to pay the three percent, even in retrospect they won’t go out of business. They are not drilling for the gas. The gas goes to them.

They process it by reducing pressure and temperature thereby moderating process parameters, get it in the liquefied form and ship it. There is another lame argument they are bandying; they have said that they pay tax to the Federal Government and IOCs also pay to the Federal Government before paying their three percent respectively.

You recently went on an assessment tour of the region, what would you describe as your challenges in moving the commission forward?

The challenges are many. First, is the processes, the second challenge is funding because no business thrives without money and thirdly, personnel.

Here, you have to thread very carefully, because we are coming from the private sector and this is a civil service environment. What we did initially for us to overcome some of these initial challenges was with funding as we have been engaging the Federal Government on how they can give us some money they owed. Then the processes, we try to strengthen the processes.

Today we will hear files are missing. We had processed a payment schedule till the point of payment, when we called for the project file, it couldn’t be found because of our own internal processes that contractor will be held because it is a requirement for the contractor to be paid.

We now decided to do things differently so that people’s files won’t get missing. We are also looking at project scoping and the way contracts are awarded. It shouldn’t be inverse integration, whereby we have to award the contract based on the budgeted amount, and we end it there, then the scope will now be developed to suit it. In the real sense we end up not doing the job very well.

On the part of the workers, most often, majority of them are not IT compliant. All you find here are files everywhere in this time and age.

The notion is that government systems are run with files. We said no, filing can as well be done in soft copies. We can do it because this is ICT age, which means we can do business online. So, the personnel have to be trained and retrained.

That way we would be able to change their traditional ways of doings things so that if I send a file, I should be able to know where it is at all times from my computer.

NDDC had hitherto tried taking out the youths from the streets through skills acquisition and small scale business empowerment, yet the problem persists as the beneficiaries are not getting values, what are you doing differently to solve this problem once and for all?

We have resolved not to be giving out cash to youths, because the funds are not even available in the first place.

We will try and continue with engagement by giving business opportunities on skill development and training.

What we have agreed on is that after training, we give them starter packs and follow up with post training services.

We have to oversee them for between six months and a year, depending on the area of need, to ensure that starter packs are not being sold.

Those who trained them will be going on oversight function by ensuring that these beneficiaries are running their respective businesses well enough until they get to a stage where they will appreciate the value of doing that business, instead of just selling the starter packs, squandering the proceeds and then again, they return back to the streets.

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