JOHN ODHE, Yenagoa
To cushion effects of the flood, a peace advocacy group, Movement for Sustainable Development of the Niger Delta (MSDND) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to hearken to the agitations of the people of the region to lift restrictions and allow the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to urgently commence payment to hundreds of its contractors across the region.
The group which is made up of traditional rulers, youth and women bodies said this would mitigate the hash effects of the flood which is ravaging communities with hundreds dead, while millions of persons are displaced in the Niger Delta region and other places.
According to the MSDND, though the National Assembly through the Federal House of Representative Committee Chairman on NDDC, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is on the right track to question the legality of payment due to the delay in the defence of the commission’s budget, there was need for urgent commencement of payment to contractors to ameliorate the biting hardship and sufferings of the people across the region amidst the crushing effects of flood devastation and hunger in the region.
The group requested that the management of the NDDC should be cleared to urgently commence contractual payments to hundreds of NDDC contractors.
It urged Buhari and the house committee chairman to work in synergy with the Federal Ministry of Finance to release the over ₦200 billion of NDDC funds that has been withheld by the ministry of finance within the past years, in order to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the Niger Delta and for the sustainable development of the region.
MSDND in a statement issued via electronic mail and signed by its National Coordinator, Chief Ayibatekena Olodin, said “in spite of the support for the National Assembly committee to ensure proper corporate governance, accountability and probity at the NDDC, there is the need to urgently commence payment to contractors while the perfection of the NDDC budget defence is ongoing.”
Olodin called on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana O. Umana and the management team of the NDDC to urgently seek presidential approval for the previously approved ₦46 billion in partnership with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for emergency procurement of housing facilities, food and medical assistance for millions of displaced families across the Niger Delta states.
“We are calling on President Buhari, the National Assembly committee on NDDC to urgently work to end the sufferings of Niger Delta Contractors who have lost so much as many of their businesses and properties have been confiscated by banks for failure to repay the loans they took to fund their NDDC jobs. The House Committee should lift payment restrictions and allow the management of the NDDC to pay hundreds of suffering contractors for the contracts executed for the commission.
“The Niger Delta stakeholders will continue to request that the NDDC pays for services rendered by competent and performing contractors of the NDDC.
“However, we are saddened by a situation where contractors will not be mobilized by the NDDC to execute projects, instead, contractors will use their personal properties as collateral to borrow money from banks at high interest rates to execute projects, yet they will be owed by the commission for five years and more without payment.
“These debts have accumulated over a period of eight years. Many of these contractors took bank loans to implement their projects. Many of them have died due to health related complications developed during the agitations for the payment of debts owed them. Their widows, dependants and families are now being sacked by the raging flood in the region.
“President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana O. Umana, and the Federal House of Representatives Committee Chairman on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Hon. Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo should as a matter of urgency hearken to the agitations of the people in the region to lift payment restrictions to contractors and expedite the commission’s budgetary process. They should work in synergy to make emergency funds available, because millions of your constituents are suffering as hunger and diseases loom from raging floods,” the group added.