THE Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has become the arena of a scandalous drama since the former Managing Director of its Interim Management Committee (IMC), Joy Nunieh, addressed the press after appearing before the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the commission. During the press briefing, she had levelled sundry allegations against the Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, including abuse of power and pressuring her to take an oath of loyalty. Since then, there have been accusations and counter-accusations concerning corruption and the mismanagement of over N81.5 billion of NDDC funds by the IMC that was reconstituted in February 2020.
The highpoint of the drama occurred at the National Assembly Complex when the Acting Managing Director of the IMC of the NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, convulsed and lost consciousness as a House of Representatives committee probed allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud at the commission before cameras that beamed the incident on national television.
At the heart of the incident are two issues. The first, which is really the main issue, is the forensic audit of the NDDC which was ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2019 following a meeting he had with nine governors of the Niger Delta states in October 2019 where the latter requested a forensic audit. The meeting was called because of widespread concern about the abysmal performance of the NDDC. The media had been pervaded with stories of corruption, flagrant abuse of due process, abandoned projects, and poor project delivery, among others, at the NDDC. According to BudgIT Nigeria, a civic organisation involved in promoting transparency, citizen engagement and accountability, the NDDC has received over N15 trillion for projects in the oil-rich Niger Delta without coming close to achieving the Niger Delta Regional Development Masterplan since its inception.
The second issue relates to the legal status, place and role of the IMC in the effort to carry out the forensic audit. The IMC has been challenged as a tool to derail the audit. Its status in the organisational architecture of the NDDC is questionable. Not a few believe that it is an illegal contraction. Indeed, questions have been asked about the failure to activate the monitoring and advisory bodies of the commission in relation to the preference for an IMC. The issues around the status of the IMC have been further strengthened by the crisis that has dogged it, which culminated in the fainting incident. We recall that the IMC was first instituted in October 2019 with Nunieh as MD, but she was removed in February 2020 and replaced by Pondei. Between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020, the IMC reportedly incurred a total expenditure of N81.495 billion.
Under Pondei a number of officials of the NDDC were sent on mandatory leave with full benefits, pending the conclusion and outcome of the ongoing forensic audit. According to Pondei, the staff sent on mandatory leave fell into three categories: those indicted by security agencies like the police, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for acts of impropriety; those whose acts were the subject of investigations by the forensic auditors, and those who held key and sensitive positions in the commission during the period covered by the forensic audit, and whose continued presence in the commission could interfere, impair, undermine or compromise the objective of forensic auditing of the affairs of the commission. Yet, without these key staff, the Pondei-led IMC which started work on February 19 and had operated under the Covid-19 lockdown environment had expended N3.14 billion, paying the IMC and staff of the commission the sum of N1.5 billion as Covid-19 relief.
The IMC members got N10 million each and expenses incurred during the IMC’s courtesy visit to the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike. The sum of N3 million was given to each of 148 other staffers; N1.5 million each to 157 other categories of staff; N1 million each to 497 others and N600,000 each to the last category of 464 other staffers. The sum of N475 million was given to the police for the purchase of face masks and hand sanitisers for men and officers across the nine states in the Niger Delta Region. Other spending included N1.3 billion for community relations, N1.956 billion for Lassa fever, N23.8 billion for consultancy fees, N486 million for duty travel allowance and N85.6 million for overseas travels.
The unfolding drama in the NDDC is a strong pointer to the cesspool of corruption that it has become. It is no wonder that it has failed in its mandate to facilitate the “rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” Simply put, the NDDC has been utilised as an agency for self-enrichment by those who run it, together with their friends and associates. The forensic audit, therefore, stands very limited chances of seeing the light of day as a result of vested interests that reach to the political echelon of the Niger Delta and the Federal Government. We call on President Buhari, who ordered the forensic audit and has persistently mentioned anti-corruption as his flagship programme, to protect Nigeria by protecting the interests of the ordinary Niger Deltans who have been deprived of the laudable dividends that would have attended the effective implementation of Nigeria Delta Development Masterplan and associated projects. Such an intervention could have positively transformed their lives.
The audit must be carried out and those found culpable held to account. It is heartening that the Federal Government and the nine governors of the Niger Delta states are committed to reviewing the activities of the NDDC. They should provide the necessary support required by the forensic audit team to carry out the assignment. It is indeed scandalous that it has taken 19 years for such a forensic audit to be carried out on the activities of the commission.
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