Probing NDDC

Following persistent outcries over alleged non-performance of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the commission. The audit is expected to cover the operations of the NDDC from inception. Although it was established in 2000, it started working in 2001.

The NDDC has, over the years, been accused of endemic corruption in its activities along with endless internal squabbles. The projects it has executed in the Niger Delta do not justify its annual budget of N300 billion. The Niger Delta states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.

The allegations are many: Powerful individuals have been treating NDDC as their ATM. Some of its workers are owed 15 years’ salary arrears. Some genuine contractors have not been paid for more than 10 years. Contracts are hawked in the streets of Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and other cities. Consequently, the Niger Delta is littered with barely started projects, even as some contractors have received full payments for them. Crooked politicians, especially those from the nine Niger Delta states, feel they are entitled to something from the honey pot.

On the other hand, however, the management staff of the NDDC has, over the years, complained that the interventionist agency is underfunded, since it does not get its full allocation as prescribed by law.

A “forensic probe” of NDDC’s activities is therefore a step in the right direction. At a time agitations for resource control or justice for the goose that lays the golden egg have become strident, derailing of NDDC’s mandate of developing the region would be a calamity.

President Buhari had, in August, approved a new 16-man board for the commission.  Tocreate an “enabling environment” for the audit,  however, the minister of Niger Delta affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has named a three-man committee to oversee the management of the commission: Gbene Joi is the new acting managing director; Cairo Ojougboh, acting executive director, projects; and Ibanga Bassey, acting executive director, finance and administration. They are to discharge their duties” without fear or favour”.

Recent revelations by a member of the interim management committee (IMC), Ojougboh, are instructive. He said that an unnamed senator was handling 300 of the NDDC’s jobs, and that 120 of the contracts have been paid for, even though the “contractor” has not mobilised to site for these 120. He added that the commission is owing N3 trillion in contracts awarded, expressing hope that the forensic audit would help to uncover how the debts were incurred. “It is these phantom contractors that are preaching and making noise to stop the probe. All they want is for the stealing to continue,” Ojougboh said. “Our job is to make sure that we avail the auditors all the necessary documents and information, all the necessary help they need, because we are not protecting any interest but to help the auditors do their job as it is required.”

We hope Ojougboh has spoken for the IMC.  The committee should try to keep its promise. Let the audit uncover the culprits and let them face justice. If experience is anything to go by, probes rarely achieve much in Nigeria because of so many hidden interests. Often, the reports of investigative panels are left in the archives. At times, another panel is appointed to probe the first panel.

This one should be different. And all eyes and ears are anxious to see and hear the outcome of the NDDC probe in the near future.

— With The Oracle Today

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