Interrogating the NDDC N346bn Budget

Joy Nunieh and Akpabio

The Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission appeared before the senate last week to defend its budget proposal, reports Deji Elumoye

The Senate Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) led by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, last Wednesday, played host to the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission during, which the Acting Managing Director, Dr. Joy Nunieh, presented the Commission’s N346 billion budget estimates for year 2019. 

It took some time for the NDDC to be invited over by the Senate committee due to issues associated with identity and legality of the management team. 

As at last November, the Senate was still having issues with the management team led by Dr. Nunieh. 

In fact, a decision not to have anything to do wit the committee was taken at one of the sittings of the Senate. The upper legislative chamber had then emphasised that it had no business with the Commission’s illegal management team headed by Nunieh. 

It specifically insisted that the 15-member governing board, whose nominations were forwarded to it few weeks back by President Muhammadu Buhari, screened and approved by it, should be the one to relate with.

The Senate stand was sequel to Senate President Ahmad Lawan’s referral of the 2019 budget of NDDC received from President Buhari to its committee on NDDC, headed by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi for consideration. 

Specifically, the Senate President, after approval by Senators through voice votes, for the budget to be forwarded to the Committee on NDDC, warned that only the approved board should be recognised for that purpose. 

“The Senate Committee on NDDC should ensure that only the 15-man Governing board forwarded to the Senate by Mr. President, screened and approved by us, should be related with as far as the budget of the agency was concerned and other official matters,” he said. 

Members of NDDC Governing board recognised by the Senate included former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu as Chairman; Bernard Okumagba from Delta as Managing Director; Otobong Ndem from Akwa Ibom State as Executive Director, Projects; and Maxwell Oko from Bayelsa as Executive Director, Finance and Admin.

It took the Senate three months for its decision on the NDDC interim management team to be reversed based on a formal letter to that effect from President Muhammadu Buhari. 

The President had in the letter dated December 23 hinted that a new Board for the NDDC would be constituted soon and sent to the National Assembly for confirmation. 

According to the letter, the earlier Board duly confirmed by the Senate will be put on hold to allow the Interim Management Team carry out a forensic audit of the Commission. 

The one-page letter read at plenary on January 28, 2020 stated: “I write to intimate the Senate of developments concerning the appointment of the board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

“The Senate may wish to note that after the dissolution of the Board of the NDDC, an Interim Management Team was set up to manage the affairs of the Commission before a new board was composed and sent for Senate confirmation. 

“The Senate is invited to note that while the process of composition and Senate confirmation of the appointment of the Board was ongoing, I had directed that the forensic audit of the Commission be carried out, which is being overseen by the constituted Interim Management Team.

“Based on this, and in order to allow for uninterrupted process of the Forensic investigation, the Board appointment confirmed by the Senate has to be put on hold to allow the Interim Team continue to manage the Commission pending the outcome of the Forensic Audit. Thereafter, a new Board of the Commission will be recomposed for confirmation by the Senate.”

The President’s letter now created room for the Senate to formally relate with IMC of the NDDC, which culminated in last week’s presentation of the Commission’s budget proposals.

Speaking during the Commission’s budget presentation, NDDC Acting Managing Director, Nunieh, revealed that some contractors were awarded contracts before their companies were registered. 

She admitted that, there were a lot of misplaced projects in the board’s current budget, saying her board was struggling to correct those anomalies in the budget.

According to her, some of the companies working with NDDC were not registered yet they have fake Interim Payment Certificates (IPC). 

Her words: “Some contractors got awarded contracts before their companies were registered. Some of them are not registered. They have so many fake Interim Payment Certificates (IPC). Almost everyone you see in Nigeria has an IPC. 

“Everyone has a photograph of a job that is well-finished. Sometimes, I get the same photos for different projects. In submitting the list to the governors of the nine states, we have found out duplications”. 

She went further to say, “People have collected contracts for the same roads from the state government. They have collected from FERMA and then they come to NDDC and collect the same road project. If I have a friend doing Road A at a place and I know about, I come to NDDC and collect funds for the same road. 

“We have also someone who has over 55 IPCs or blocs for the same contract, I think it is in Cross River or Akwa IBom State. That contract has been awarded 55 times. I would like to say that we are particular about the environmental impact assessment. We want to ensure that when NDDC gives to a community to do a project, they should be able to provide proof that the plot of land has been donated to the Commission. Some residents later come to claim a plot of land after a structure has been built.” 

She told the committee that the board has been under so much pressure and blackmail to pay contractors even when they have not satisfactorily completed their work. She, however, assured the committee that the board was not going to pay contractors that have not performed. 

“We have started verification exercise. A lot of embarrassing things have happened. There is no emergency job that has the stated sum on the award letter. So, they awarded a contract without an actual sum. We have contacted the council of Quantity Surveyors and the likes to look at these projects with our teams that we have put together.”

Nunieh further assured the committee that all documents relating to NDDC’s emergency projects would be made available on Tuesday.

She impressed it on the Committee members that the Commission in all its current activities was strictly being guided by the next level agenda of President Buhari’s administration in terms of transparency and accountability on all projects executed.

On its part, the Senate said it supported the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) ordered by President Buhari, even as it lauded the on-going forensic auditing being carried out on the accounts of the agency by the executive arm of government 

Nwaoboshi pointedly stated: “The Senate supports the ongoing forensic auditing going on in NDDC and by extension not against the IMC running the agency now. We are here to consider and approve the agency’s budget proposals for 2019 as forwarded to the Senate by President Muhamnadu Buhari in December last year.

“However, in doing that, we shall be guided by policy thrust of the government on budget proposals, implementation and performances”, he noted. 

The senator stressed that in line with submissions made by the President on October 8, 2019, while presenting the 2020 budget, performance status of projects in previous years, would be considered in giving appropriation to any proposal.