NDDC’s Forensic Audit: Good proposal on wrong mindset

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By Ifeanyi Izeze

It would have just been okay to stay comment on all the ramblings concerning the Ministry of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) but for the fact that the people of the region are being deliberately helped to divert from core issues that has completely disabled the interventionist agency instituted to correct years of outright criminal neglect of the region by the centre, the oil companies, and a few privileged natives.

Good as it sounded that General Mohammadu Buhari has recognized and acknowledged that endemic corruption is the major problem in the agency and ordered a forensic audit of its financial dealings, but is he going about it the right way?

Does it surprise anybody that even as we talk, the Interim Management Acting Executive Director Projects, Cairo Ojougboh has been carrying on as if he is the forensic auditor, ICPC, and the EFCC all in one. He has already sentenced hundreds of people in his mind by his unguarded statements.

In what supposed to be more of an intelligence gathering assignment, Ojougbo has been running manifests of hundreds of projects criminally awarded and paid for with threats of “heads rolling” from his investigation. It ought not to be so because by so doing, the interim team is creating enemies among people whose cooperation the committee may critically need in the audit proper if we are really serious about sanitising the organisation.

It is very pathetic that we always squander every opportunity to right the wrongs of our past in the Niger Delta. The interim team was only asked to create the   “enabling environment” for the audit proper and not to become the auditor and the prosecutor.

More importantly, how can you have an Interim Management Committee without a deadline for its assignment? By implication, they could be there for as long as those who appointed them desire. Is that how to go? This is an outright breach of the Constitution and should be seen as such.

Also, within the pendency of the reign of the Interim Management Team and the actual forensic audit, what happens to the funding of the NDDC and its projects? Does the interim team have the constitutional rights to receive monies on behalf of the commission and engaged in project execution and/or new contract awards? If yes, to me it sounds more like the familiar patronage for party loyalty. And if the answer is no, then there is an issue of what happens to the agency’s funds.

Without denying that corruption has remained a major drawdown to the effectiveness of the agency in delivering on its original mandates, making it look as if the problem was created by the people of the region, to me is an outright mischief to steer away from the epicentre of the evil that has been bedevilling the spirit and intent of the supposed interventionist agency.

By the NDDC Act, the Commission was supposed to give annual and quarterly report to the President about its activities and expenditures. Has the Commission been doing that before now (2020)? If yes, we may need to know what was reported to the President. If the agency has not been doing that, we also need to know why the Presidency did not compel them to submit such briefs. Effective supervision could have helped a lot in checkmating the corruption in the NDDC system.

Nigerians particularly the Niger Delta people need to know the sum total of the amount of money that was supposed to be given to the commission within the period under review (even to this year). Was the money released to the agency as at when due and if not, we also need to know why the balance was withheld and where the withheld money is kept.

Some Nigerians may think it’s not necessary to ask the above questions but my people, that is where the major problem of corruption and misappropriation in the NDDC is being bred.

Without mincing words, the failure of NDDC to live up to its mandate is attributable to its structure of governance where what happens in the commission is dictated from Abuja by a political class dominated by people from outside the Niger Delta. This is the truth!

Clearly, the major problem of the NDDC is the manipulative exercise of power by those who maintain proximity to the Presidency for self-serving interests.

The Commission has merely become an agency for enriching political party loyalists from all sections of the country rather than an organisation set up to deal with the fundamental issues of the development imbalance of the Niger Delta region that has been bearing the full brunt of the adverse effects of producing oil and gas to sustain the entire country.

Honestly, it should be vexing to any genuine indigene of the Niger Delta region that in spite of all the efforts (real and cosmetic) to develop the region, and after billions of naira have been pumped into the region by government and corporate donors, the development imbalance in the area rather than improve, is becoming worse as all indices of development continue to point south-south.  How do explain that despite that fund for hundreds of projects have been collected by those who were supposed to do the jobs, the region is littered with huge numbers of abandoned projects and shabbily completed ones? But this is just one half of the pathetic story of this failed interventionist agency.

The other half is that there seemed to be a deliberate sabotage of the entire concept by people who have been in and around the corridors of power in Abuja. If my people know how NDDC contracts are racketeered at the Presidency and National Assembly, nobody from the region would have ever accepted any job contract that had to do with NDDC projects.

The patronage disposition of the successive boards of the commission and the monumental corruption that characterises their activities clearly depicted the sorry fact they were unilaterally appointed by the Presidency in Abuja to service loyalty and not the Niger Delta region and its peoples.

Of a truth, the focal point of corruption and project racketeering that has bedevilled the NDDC is domiciled in the Presidency. Most of the contractors or service providers that work for the Commission in the Niger Delta only get a percentage of budgets for project contracts awarded them. So what do they do? They just mobilise to the sites and also use just a meagre percentage of whatever they got from the Abuja racketeers to do as much as the marked down fund can go. This is the main cause of why we have thousands of abandoned projects littered all over the region.

Now let’s look at it: when the Commission came into being in January 2001, it was expected to be funded from 15 per cent federal allocation to the nine oil producing states of the region, 50 per cent of ecological fund due to the nine states, and three per cent of annual budget of oil producing companies. How this was to be implemented remained at best blurred and at worst obscured.

For whatever reasons, those that packaged the funding concept including representatives of the various interest groups in the region were blind to the structure being handed them.

It was an outright mischief by the Presidency to have demanded 15 per cent of the federal allocation to the nine oil producing states of the region as part of the funding arrangement for what was supposed to be a federal government interventionist operation in the oil states.

Also, if the core idea of a special development intervention for the oil producing region was to compensate and/or correct years of neglect by the federal government, how come the various state governments of the region has to forfeit 50 percent of their entitled allocation from the National Ecological Fund? So what makes the idea of special attention to the region in this arrangement when other states of the federation that are not as battered as the states of the region continue to receive 100 percent of their monies from the Ecological Fund?

The bigger problem lies in the oil producing companies being asked to bring 3 percent of their annual budgets to co-fund the NDDC. Have they been doing it? The answer is no! It is a near impossibility to get the actual funds from these foreign operators who are masters in the act of voodoo budgeting and expenditure manipulations. For the oil companies, it has become convenient for them to hide under the excuse that managers of the Commission need to account for monies received before getting new doles.

Whether anybody wants to hear this or not, the NDDC was structured to fail. The Presidency was so mischievous that they could not muster enough political will power to be honest in the packaging of the entire idea of declaring a development marshal plan for the victimised oil producing region. So to rid the agency of the plethora of malaise infesting it and to make it to become effective as originally intended, the governance structure must be reworked. The Steve Orosanye Panel Report had very descent recommendations along this line and the Presidency should revisit the report.

(IFEANYI IZEZE writes from Abuja: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)