Leaders of development institutions are more likely to be accountable and to rein in bureaucratic excesses when there is a threat or possibility of local, proximate countervailing reaction from the immediate community and when there is no possibility of federal protection from the wrath of stakeholder communities.


The corruption scandal at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is not an argument or a strike against the imperative of restructuring, devolution, and decentralisation. It is more of an argument for restructuring than for the maintenance of the de facto unitary state structure Nigeria practices, even as it falsely calls itself a federation.

I understand the temptation for advocates of unitary government, for those who espouse the idea that “the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable,” and for proponents of other Nigeria-at-all-cost ideologies to gloat and invoke the unfolding NDDC sleaze as exhibit A against restructuring.

Already, some commentators can’t help themselves and are gleefully analysing Akpabio-gate as a counterpoint to restructuring.

I strongly disagree with this perspective. If anything, the scandal strengthens the case for restructuring, devolution, and decentralisation. The reason for the lack of accountability in the NDDC is the overbearing and overarching influence of the Federal Government and its so-called federal might on the Commission.

The Commission is controlled by the all-powerful, revenue-appropriating and allocative agency of the Federal Government and the Presidency.

The managing director is usually a party man/woman appointed by the president and his people in the Presidency to superintend the huge pool of funds going to the Commission. His/her informal mandate includes funneling some of these funds to powerful people in government and in the party in power. This is a neo-patrimonial system run from Abuja, with little to no reference to the people of the Niger Delta.

The management board of the Commission, moreover, is constituted by the Presidency from the rank of the ruling party, with no input from the people of the Niger Delta.

The people of the Niger Delta have no say in how the Commission is run and in deciding who runs it. Because the head of the Commission is appointed by Abuja and is only accountable to the minister of Niger Delta affairs (himself/herself a political appointee of the president) and by extension, the Presidency, the people of the Niger Delta are cut off from the bureaucratic operations of a Commission ostensibly established to address their developmental needs.

Strip away Abuja’s control, immunity, and protection and the Federal Government’s control of security forces and other instruments of coercion and the people of the Niger Delta would be able to hold the Commission and its officials to account and use whatever means are available to them to fight for accountability and the original mission of the Commission.


The result is that the Commission bears the name of the Niger Delta and is headquartered there, but it is actually an appendage of the unitary Federal Government. This means that its officials and its supervising minister are not accountable to the people of the Niger Delta but rather to a distant Federal Government that the people of the region can neither engage nor hold accountable.

As long as the officials of the Commission and the supervising minister are in the good graces of Abuja, they can steal all the funds allocated to the Commission and neglect its developmental remit and nothing will happen. The people of the Niger Delta may complain but they can do little beyond that.

More depressingly, this means that what makes the Commission such a cesspool of corruption is the protection and informal political immunity that the Commission’s MD and its supervising minister enjoy from Abuja — the Presidency.

Strip away Abuja’s control, immunity, and protection and the Federal Government’s control of security forces and other instruments of coercion and the people of the Niger Delta would be able to hold the Commission and its officials to account and use whatever means are available to them to fight for accountability and the original mission of the Commission.

The minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, has been acting like a god with the funds of the Commission, precisely because he knows that he is protected from and is outside the scrutiny of his fellow Niger Deltans. He knows that his loyalty is to Abuja, not to the people of the Niger Delta, that only Abuja can hold him to account, and that the denizens of the Presidency would not do so, as long as he remains loyal to them and the party.

Evidence of this phenomenon is in the confidence with which Akpabio has been strutting around defiantly in the face of the ever deepening credible allegations of corruption against him and his handpicked Interim Management Committee. Where does this confidence come from, other than the knowledge that the security of his job and the possibility of judicial consequences for any misconduct are ultimately in the hands of the all-powerful Federal Government, which has overriding authority over all security, judicial, and political matters?

Another example is the recent deployment of a police squadron to arrest the former managing director pf the Commission, Joi Nunieh, at her home on a day she was scheduled to testify in the ongoing House of Representatives probe of the NDDC. Some Nigerians have blamed the manoeuvre on Mr. Akpabio, who clearly did not want her to testify. The plot, scripted from Abuja and executed through the state police command, which is controlled from Abuja, would have succeeded had Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, not intervened to extricate Nunieh from the siege.

By the way, when Akpabio goes back home to the Niger Delta, he can explain his corruption and failures away to his people plausibly because he has a ready alibi: He could simply claim that it’s the Presidency and those who appointed him that are hampering his effectiveness by dictating policies to him and demanding “returns.”

The only compelling insight deduced from the scandal so far, in my opinion, is the one advanced by commentator, Charles Ogbu, who argues that the revelations demonstrate that the problem of Southern development/underdevelopment resides in the South and not in the North.


In this way, Abuja is both an obstacle in the way of subnational development and a convenient but believable alibi for the failures of those responsible for driving this development.

This is where the problem is – unitary government, over-centralisation, and the stifling, overbearing, and suffocating power and control of the Federal Government. The solution is decentralisation, devolution, and subnational self-determination – or restructuring in Nigerian political lingo.

The only compelling insight deduced from the scandal so far, in my opinion, is the one advanced by commentator, Charles Ogbu, who argues that the revelations demonstrate that the problem of Southern development/underdevelopment resides in the South and not in the North.

This is a sound diagnosis. It means that the developmental problem of the Niger Delta, like that of other regions, is a local, internal problem. Therefore, only local solutions derived from, and policed and monitored by, the people of the Niger Delta in a truly federal system would work.

You do not set up a token regional institution, sublimate it to the over-centralised Federal Government and when its activities predictably mirror those of the larger federal governmental bureaucracy, you point to that as evidence of how local institutions are not the solutions to Nigeria’s problems. The institution in question was never local or decentralised to begin with.

Local problems are more effectively tackled when direct stakeholders and invested communities are leading the struggle or have a prominent voice, and battles over local developmental issues are better fought out at the local level by familiar local actors.

Leaders of development institutions are more likely to be accountable and to rein in bureaucratic excesses when there is a threat or possibility of local, proximate countervailing reaction from the immediate community and when there is no possibility of federal protection from the wrath of stakeholder communities.

Solutions and bureaucracies crafted, implemented, and controlled from a distant, stifling, unitary federal government are doomed to failure.

Moses Ochonu can be reached through meochonu@gmail.com