By Mike Ozekhome, SAN

Introduction

Last week, we commenced our discourse on this very sour and sore topic. The NDDC has become a “Fuji House of Commotion”, a cesspool of gargantuan corruption that spits on our faces. It is like the “kalo-kalo” machine that you put money into and it swallows all. No meaningful impact has the NNDC ever had on the people of the Niger Delta. At the 2005, 2009 and 2014 National Conferences which I attended, the usual argument of Northern delegates was that the oil-bearing region did not need a higher derivative principle because even the 13% given to them was not being properly accounted for. We always beat them back by countering that it was not for them to dictate to the Niger Delta people how they used their money; and in any case, no one asked them how they used income from hydes and skin, cotton and Kano groundnut pyramids in the pre-1966 military putsh. But, inwardly, we knew the argument on both sides was strong. After all, it is better to first drive away the fox before blaming the foul for wandering too far into the bush. Our argument was that we should be allowed to deal with our errant NDDC officials. Now is the time to walk the talk.

The damning NEITI report

According to NEITI report, the analysis and evaluation of the NDDC financial statements for the five years earlier discussed “indicated irreconcilable differences between the additions of advance payment and interim payment certificates”. Whereas the project master list gave a figure of N175.823 billion as payment made, the financial statements indicated that N415.089 billion was paid within the period. “About 58 percent un-reconciled differences of N239.267 billion still exist. In 2007, a difference of N2.543 billion that is, 5 percent was observed; the year 2008, indicated N53.869 billion that is, 84 percent difference. In 2009, the difference was N38.899 billion that is 62 percent while the 2010 and 2011 indicated N45.521 billion and N98.436 that is, 44 and 74 percent difference respectively.”

In furtherance of the brazen heist at the NDDC, N1.5 billion was allegedly shared as ‘Covid-19 relief’ among staff, like a bazaar. Other inexplicable projects recently embarked upon by NDDC include ‘community relations’ costing N1.072 billion; consultancy, N4.1 billion; duty tour allowances, N486 million; Imprest (October 2019 to May, 2020), N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal services, N906 million; maintenance, N220 million; medicals, N2.6 billion; overseas travel (February to May, 2020 when we were all supposed to be on lockdown), N85.6 million; logistics, N61 million; condolences, N61.7 million; public communication, N1.121 billion; security, N744 million; engagement of stakeholders (February to May, 2020), N248 million etc. Even the Police got N475 million to buy face masks, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE) that should ordinarily be worn only by medical personnel. This is insanity unlimited.

Recent scandal at the NDDC

As a result of the stench emanating from the NDDC, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and supervising Minister of the NDDC, Obot Godswill Akpabio commissioned a forensic audit on the accounts of the NDDC, presumably to arrive at a solution.

However, the commissioning of the forensic audit appears to have opened a can of worms and indicted many , not only in the court of public opinion, but also before the NASS.

For example, a former NDDC acting Managing Director, Dr Joy Nunieh, alleged that Akpabio, the Minister, had hijacked the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.

There is the allegation that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC squandered N40 billion within three months. The former NDDC MD, Joy Nunieh, also accused the Minister of trying to inflate the NDDC budget. According to her, the minister directed her to include some projects from the Refugee Commission in the NDDC budget. “Akpabio wrote me to put a list of projects from the Refugee Commission in the budget of NDDC. Refugee Commission is another Federal Government commission for IDPs. How do you tell me to put some of their projects in the NDDC budget when we have so many things to do in Niger Delta? How do you explain that?.

Ms. Nunieh also alleged that the Minister engineered her removal because she refused to do his bidding. Nunieh further alleged she slapped Akpabio for sexually harassing her, said Akpabio asked her to change the dollars in the NDDC account; sack the head of the legal team who is from the North; remove all directors who refused to follow his instructions, and also implicate Peter Nwaoboshi, Chairman of the Senate Committee on NDDC.

In response, Akpabio dismissed Nunieh’s allegations and accused her, amongst others, of not being qualified; being highly temperamental, and having four different husbands. Gosh!

The House of Representatives set up a committee to probe the corruption allegations against Akpabio and members of the IMC. However, during one of the sessions of the committee, The Acting Managing Director NDDC, Prof. Daniel Pondei, collapsed in a most theatrical, if not hilarious manner, while responding to allegations of misappropriation of 1.5billion naira.

Similarly, while responding to questions from members of the House Committee, Mr. Akpabio vigorously asserted that members of the NASS were the greatest beneficiaries of numerous contracts awarded by the NDDC to execute projects, which are nowhere to be found. According to him: “For me, I am not against it (payment to genuine Contractors who did their job), because, of course, who are even the greatest beneficiaries? It is you people”.

In response to Akpabio’s grievous allegations against members of the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, challenged Akpabio to produce a list of House members who obtained NDDC contracts, or face legal action. He also ordered Akpabio to reveal the sum of contracts; locations and companies used to win the contracts, failure to comply which will be met with consequences.

Not to be outdone by the House of Representatives, Akpabio pointedly listed a couple of National Assembly members who benefitted from NDDC contracts.

The ugly truth

The truth is that the NDDC has become an Augean stable that requires drastic deodorization. What is even more pathetic is the fact that despite the significant capital flow accruing to the NDDC from inception, little or nothing has changed in oil producing communities in the Niger Delta. Roads are still death traps. Clean drinkable water remains scarce or totally a mirage.

Environmental degradation remains rampant. Schools with government presence remain a rarity. Crime retains a prima donna position in the region. Acid rains still fall from never-ending gas flaring. Of course, poverty remains pervasive in the lives of the people. Many oxymorons here: the people live by the river but still wash their hands with sputum. They remain poor in wealth; weak in strength; hungry in plenty; sick in health. Blimey!

Akpabio, Nunieh, Pondei and all stakeholders involved in the ongoing NDDC scandal certainly occupy the stage today, but ultimately, the people of the Niger Delta inhale the collateral damage.

Finally, beyond the huffs and puffs and the harsh but impotent rhetorics of “fighting corruption” in Nigeria, the President must develop the political will to clean up the Augean stable in the NDDC. Fighting corruption and even jailing some people alone will not solve the Niger Delta problem. The NDDC must be completely overhauled, reformed and retooled, to work for the overall interests of the Niger Delta people. The selfish interests of political jobbers must be halted. Without any far reaching reforms, the problems in the NDDC will persist and worse scandals will emerge sooner than later.

Nunieh, before the final session of the Senate Ad hoc Committee, had stated that no payment was made by the NDDC under her watch without the knowledge of Akpabio; and that only N8 billion was expended by NDDC during her tenure between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020.

The Chairman, Senate Adhoc Committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, had said that, based on records supplied to the Committee by the IMC, NDDC had so far spent N81.5 billion; and of this, Nunie-led IMC spent a whopping 22.5billion, while the current IMC bed by Pondei has so far spent 59.1 billion. God, where are these billions?

Meanwhile, Peter Claver Okoro Esq., NDDC Director of Legal Services, in a letter dated July 28, gave Nunieh seven days to refund N1.96 billion in compliance with the order of the Senate.

The interim management committee

By the way, where does the Interim Management Committee (IMC) come in? it is not a statutory body. Even president Buhari has publicly indicted it, by saying some of his appointees have abused trust by misusing their offices for personal aggrandizement. So, what are they still doing there? To continue to pillage the people’s commonwealth?

Senate’s recommendations

The Senate Adhoc Committee on the allegations of corruption and financial recklessness at the NDDC had made far-reaching recommendations which were adopted by the Senate in plenary on Thursday July 23, 2020, to wit: “that the IMC be disbanded and made to refund the sum of N4.923 billion; that the substantive Governing Board of the NDDC be sworn in to manage the Commission in line with the provisions of the Law; that the NDDC be moved back to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in the Presidency for proper supervision; that the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation supervise the forensic audit to “guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise,” and that “the President with advice from the Auditor General should appoint a renowned, internationally-recognised forensic auditor to carry out the exercise.” I concur with all these recommendations.

Conclusion

I watched the Senate proceedings. I was shocked that a government that made fighting corruption one of its tripodal mantra could condone such brazen display of glaring corruption without dire consequences for an obvious illegal contraption that has become a conduct pipe for robbing the people. The NDDC Governing Board provided for by statute should be inaugurated immediately. This will breath in fresh oxygen of seriousness, transparency, credibility and professionalism, all leading to prosecution of its core mandate.

Thought for the week

“Where do the evils like corruption arise from? It comes from the never-ending greed. The fight for corruption-free ethical society will have to be fought against this greed and replace it with ‘what can I give’ spirit.”

(A. P. J. Abdul Kalam)

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