Beaming Searchlight on the NDDC

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and Senator Ahmed Lawan

The Niger Delta Development Commission is in the eye of the storm as the National Assembly, last Tuesday, resolved to investigate the alleged N40bn fraud in the commission, report Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu

Since its establishment in 2000, the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) have been synonymous with controversies. Over the years, several allegations of corrupt activities, bordering on fraud, misapplication or misappropriation of funds had trailed the Commission.

In recent times, the presidency had discouraged the award of new contracts to enable the Commission address the issue of abandoned projects and sanitise the system.

Back in March, a group known as the Niger Delta People’s Movement Against Corruption And Injustice, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to act swiftly and halt the alleged corruption being perpetrated by members of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC in the interest of the region.

Raising a series of corruption allegations against the Interim Management Committee in an open letter to the President, the body noted that the appeal had become imperative in order to prevent further underground looting and unprecedented frauds presently going on in the commission.

In the letter signed by its Executive Director, Dr. Tamuno Torulagha, the body also faulted the setting up of Interim Management Committee and the submerging of NDDC under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, describing both move as a gross violation of the act establishing the commission as an interventionist agency.

The recent revelations of fraud against the Interim Management Committee of NDDC has been a great cause for concern across Niger Delta region, with the people watching to see what the administration would do with the available evidences.

In November 2019, the House of Representatives had ordered an investigation of the Commission over alleged illegal expenditure without appropriation. The House also invited the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and the board of the NDDC to explain the unapproved spending.

The House further mandated the House Committee on the NDDC to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the financial activities of the commission and report back within four weeks.

This resolution followed the adoption of a motion titled, ‘Call for an investigation of the alleged failure and refusal by the NDDC to submit its budget for 2019 to the National Assembly for approval’, moved by Hon Benjamin Kalu.

Before the motion was put to a voice vote, the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said he really did not want to believe that the NDDC would be making expenditure without appropriation, adding that sometimes, it could be an indictment on the House itself.

Again, at the resumption of plenary last Tuesday, members of the National Assembly passed a resolution to investigate an allegation of N40billion fraud against the IMC of the NDDC.

While the Senate raised a seven-member ad-hoc committee to look into the allegation, the House summoned the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, and the IMC to explain to the House the plan of the commission to ameliorate the effect of the present economic situation on the region.

After debating a motion sponsored by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Thompson Sekibo, the Senate passed a resolution to investigate the allegations on how the IMC spent N40billion within three months.

Sekibo, in the motion titled “Urgent need to investigate alleged financial recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission,” alleged that reports from the commission revealed financial recklessness that must be halted and investigated.

According to him, while President Muhammadu Buhari set up IMC to co-ordinate forensic audit of financial transactions carried out by the dissolved board of the commission, reports emanating from IMC indicated financial recklessness by the new management.

He added that aside financial recklessness by IMC, it also indulged in alleged arbitrary sack of the management staff of the commission.

“While President Buhari’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedeviled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission.

“Within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40billion of the commission’s fund without recourse to established processes of fund disbursements, which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region,” he alleged.

Debating the motion, Senators Bala Ibn Na’Allah and Ajibola Basiru, through different constitutional points of order, said the motion was based on allegations and tried to stop it from being adopted.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, in constituting the seven-man ad-hoc committee asked the committee members to determine the veracity or otherwise of the allegations against NDDC management.

The ad-hoc committee, headed by Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi, was given a month to look into the financial transactions and report back to the Senate.

Other members of the committee are Senators Jika Dauda Haliru (APC Bauchi Central), Mohammed Tanko Almakura (APC Nasarawa South), Abdulfatai Buhari (APC Oyo North), Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North), Ibrahim Hadeija (APC Jigawa North East) and Degi-Eremienyo Biobarakuma (APC Bayelsa East).

The Senate also directed its Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, headed by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, to within one month investigate the appropriateness of the alleged arbitrary sack of the management staff of NDDC.

Also discussing the alleged sleaze in the Commission, the House directed its Committee on NDDC to investigate all procurements and financial transactions of the commission for this fiscal year to ascertain compliance with relevant provisions of the law.

The committee is also to investigate adherence to the Act setting up the commission, in the layoff and engagement of key management personnel and report back to the House. This was sequel to the unanimous adoption of a motion, titled, ‘Need to Investigate the Alleged Financial Malfeasance and Other Activities in the Niger Delta Development Commission,’ sponsored by Hon. Peter Akpatason.

Presenting the motion, Akpatason raised the alarm on claims that the commission had spent over N40billion without a corresponding effect on the region.

He said 70 per cent of the funds were allegedly spent on emergency projects and completion of the commission’s headquarters building, without due regard to fiscal governance as encapsulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 and other extant financial regulations.

The lawmaker also said contract was allegedly awarded for the supply of Hilux vehicles and medical consumables to the tune of N4.8 billion in clear breach of sections 19, 25, 41 and 42 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

Akpatason expressed concern that the forensic audit for which the IMC was set up is most likely to become a conduit for forensic looting. He raised further concern on the plethora of petitions and write-ups both in the mainstream and social media outlets against the current management of the Commission’s imprudent spending of scarce financial resources.

“The Committee on NDDC is inundated with petitions from contractors, stakeholders and public interest groups regarding alleged personnel layoffs and replacement with unqualified and inexperienced persons to man strategic offices in the commission, thereby hampering efficiency and productivity.

He was also concerned about the negative consequences on the perception of the NDDC as a profligate commission and the obvious need to obviate community concerns that could arise due to frustration caused by a combination of these factors and to arrest imminent breakdown of law and order having regard to the volatility of the area.”

He added that the trend, if not arrested, could worsen an already pathetic situation in the Niger Delta Region post Covid-19. It, however, took the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs three solid days to respond to the N40billion fraud allegations against the NDDC, which it supervises.

Akpabio, however, debunked claims by the National Assembly, saying no N40billion fraud was perpetrated in the NDDC. Akpabio, whose ministry supervises the NDDC, in a statement titled, “Re: National Assembly probes alleged N40bn corruption in NDDC”, issued on Friday by his Chief Press Secretary, Anietie Ekong, explained that under the supervision of the Niger Delta Affairs ministry, no corruption has been recorded in the NDDC.

According to the release, there has been an upsurge in attacks on the Commission, the Interim Management Committee and the Minister through spurious and unsubstantiated allegations since the commencement of forensic audit of the Commission. Unfortunately, these phantom allegations have found their ways into the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.

The Commission, the statement said, had explained that the Interim Management Committee has only approved the total payment of Eighteen Billion Naira for contractual claims.

“The NDDC under the supervision of Senator Akpabio will not be distracted, neither will the ongoing forensic audit of the Commission be derailed through blackmail and intimidation.

The Minister will remain focused on the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari to reposition the Commission for sustainable development of the Niger Delta region,” the statement stated.