Godswill Akpabio
Senator Akpabio

BY EMEKA EJERE

These are not the best of times for all those that have managed the affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between 2001 and 2018. They are to undertake a herculean task of proving their unlikely innocence in the alleged gross misappropriation of funds in the interventionist agency.

On Friday President Muhammadu Buhari, ordered investigation into about N6 trillion expended on projects and sundry investments in the commission since 2001. This came a day after Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, received the forensic audit report from Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, on behalf of the President.

Akpabio had disclosed that the auditors have concluded examination and documentation of 13,777 contracts for projects and programmes awarded to contractors and consultants in all Niger Delta States from 2001 to August 2019 at a total value of N3.274 trillion, which were abandoned.

While receiving the report, the President said everyone who would be indicted for shady deals in the NDDC would not be spared, no matter how highly placed adding: “Everyone will be made to account for his or her own deed. No one will be spared.”

The President disclosed that N3.375 trillion was given to the NDDC through budgetary allocations, while another N2. 420 trillion was provided for the commission through statutory allocations.

He expressed dismay that the commission maintained 362 bank accounts as conduit pipe through which funds were used to pay contractors for either unexecuted or abandoned projects, describing it as unprecedented.

Buhari had ordered forensic audit of the commission’s activities from inception to August 2019 in response to the yearnings of the Niger Delta region to reposition the NDDC for the effective service delivery.

The president had argued that only a probe of the finances of the agency could explain a huge gap between projects on the ground in the region and the humongous amount that had so far been disbursed.

The establishment of NDDC was part of the recommendations of a United Nations’ Secretary General Mission to Nigeria after the execution of Ogoni human rights and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen by the Abacha military junta.

The interventionist agency was created in 2000 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in replacement of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to address the dire developmental needs of the Niger Delta, as well as oil-producing states.

The commission was put in place to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into an economically viable, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and a politically peaceful region.

However, findings show that instead of bringing development to the region, the NDDC has become notorious for creating a few billionaires through the award of bogus and phoney contracts that are never meant to be completed.

Evidences abound that political actors whose proxies have controlled the affairs of the agency since inception have stripped the Niger Delta of resources meant for its development. In her about 20 years of existence, NDDC, an agency that awards contracts for capital projects, operated from a rented eight-floor building on 167, Aba Road, Port Harcourt, belonging to Rivers state government, parting with huge rent annually on the imposing property.

Under Godwin Omene, the first chief executive of the commission, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP) was initiated and developed by GTZ. The sketch believed to have provided a very comprehensive plan of how the region could be developed across various sectors, estimated to cost some $50 billion over a 15-year period. But 20 years down the line, implementation of the master plan is yet to commence.

Akpabio had vowed that the forensic audit would be done by reputable firms in line with international best practices, without fear or favour.

Speaking on Friday, Buhari said: “The federal government will apply the law to remedy the deficiencies outlined in the audit report as appropriate. This will include but not limited to initiation of criminal investigations, prosecution, recovery of funds not properly utilised for the purposes they were meant, among others. In all actions, legal due processes will strictly be followed.”

He stated that the report would be forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Justice for a legal review and relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government would be engaged to do justice to the findings accordingly.

The President further stated that over 13, 777 projects were substantially compromised in the region, adding that the federal government was also concerned about the 362 bank accounts and lack of proper reconciliation of the accounts.

Calling for Justice

Reacting to the audit report, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), stated that it has been vindicated that funds have been mismanaged and warned that culprits in the alleged 13, 777 compromised project should not be spared.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said it was commendable that the report had been submitted to the presidency, but that the forum would carry out a thorough study of the report to know if some content would be unacceptable by the region.

However, the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide (IYC) has called on the President Buhari to immediately sack Akpabio, for his alleged manipulation of the NDDC. It also demanded that the names of contractors indicted in the audit report be published and that the contractors should be prosecuted.

In a statement on Friday, the IYC President, Peter Igbifa, called on the President to set up a panel of inquiry to probe what transpired in the NDDC within the period of the audit.

He said, “We appeal to the President to first publish the names of persons and companies behind this collective rape and destruction of our commonwealth.

“We want their names to be made public. We are challenging the presidency not to allow this to slide and end up as one of the empty threats consumed by the lack of political will.”

The IYC also accused Akpabio of deliberately mismanaging the audit process by allegedly deploying delay tactics, saying sacking him would pave the way for the inauguration of a substantive board of the commission, following the submission of the forensic audit report on the NDDC.

The IYC President said, “We were told that Akpabio ensured that selfish recommendations were smuggled into the report. If these recommendations are implemented, they will deny states adequate representation on the board and give Akpabio more time to continue running the NDDC with a sole administrator.

“For instance, we learnt that there are recommendations for a part-time board and reduction in the number of board members. These suggestions are not feasible because they are designed to extend the sole administrative regime in the NDDC. They require amendments to the Act establishing the NDDC and this will take at least six months to achieve.

“Besides, how can you think of reducing the board members? Which state are you going to exclude from the board? Or do you think IOCs should not be part of the board?

“These are obviously selfish recommendations and we are calling on the Presidency to be careful to avoid promoting one man’s selfish tendencies ahead of the collective interest and development of the Niger Delta.

But the National Youths Council of Nigeria (NYCN) and civil society groups (CSOs) have canvassed immediate implementation of recommendations of the forensic report.

Speaking at a joint media briefing in Abuja, the groups urged President Buhari to ignore all distractions that might be sponsored against full implementation of the report, in the interest of the Niger Delta region and Nigerians.

Solomon Adodo, who led the groups, expressed hope that the era of corruption in the form of extensive contract frauds, procurement law infractions, non-budgetary and extra-budgetary spending, audit violations, cronyism, fiscal recklessness and flagrant disregard for procedure, as well as other financial malpractices should end with the implementation of the audit report.