Chris Udoh, Country Director of Global Centre For Good Governance states that the proposal by Senator Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to have the probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission shown on live television may be a smokescreen
It is common knowledge in the public sphere that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission has been accused by several persons and organizations of engaging in fraud, looting, pillaging and ransacking of the scarce resources belonging to the Niger Delta region. The supervising Minister of the commission, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio has equally been severally accused of executing an agenda of grievous larceny, greed and revenge.
We, as an organization founded on the ideals of good governance but operating in a society bombarded with daily dose of disconcerting public sector news prefer excessive caution to indifference because of the hysteria-prone ultraconservative way of our political thought. However, the lingering public outrage against the IMC and Senator Akpabio regarding their (mis) management of the affairs of NDDC has made it mandatory for us to speak up as stakeholders in the good governance project. Senator Akpabio and the IMC are alleged to be running the commission in secrecy while running away with money belonging to the region. It is our duty to seek clarifications and that’s why we are here.
That there is a deficit of professionalism and competence in the commission because of the power grab and revenge schemes of the IMC and the Minister. Competent Directors and Heads of Departments who questioned the abuse of processes were redeployed in large numbers to state offices and replaced with pliant surrogates and puppets so much so that contract award letters signed by the Head of Procurement Department are regularly disowned and disparaged by the commission. There are many other allegations too numerous to mention.
The IMC and Senator Akpabio’s Defence
The IMC and the Minister have reacted by urging the public not to be misled by what they call spurious claims on unsubstantiated award of phantom contracts and unauthorized payments. Their exculpatory narrative is that disgruntled elites who are uncomfortable with the forensic audit of the commission have mobilized resources to demonize them. The Minister claims that only duly authorized and certified payments of N18b have been made by the IMC and that he would be glad to have the probe proceedings shown on live television.
It is apposite to state without equivocation that we lack any discernable interest in the likely outcome of the imminent probe of the allegations by the National Assembly. It is however germane that we raise concern regarding the loud murmuring in the public space that the Minister has been boasting that he will be cleared of all allegations and commended for a job well done not because he and the IMC would not be found wanting, but because he is said to have perfected a scheme to compromise the entire process. The Minister is said to have as his chief talent the uncanny ability to throw money and more money at challenges until they give way. He is said to be bragging that he will deploy his wide contacts in the innermost recesses of Aso Rock power base to call the National Assembly to order since according to him politicians are sworn companions of the wind. The members of the IMC are said to have assured their collaborators not to worry because the Minister has already “settled” the matter hence his statement that he would like the proceedings to be beamed on live television.
Another source of worry is the claim by those with insider knowledge that since the COVID-19 contract scandal broke out, the IMC has been engaged in massive destruction of contract documents, displacement of files, alteration of payment schedules and persuasion/intimidation of some of their collaborators to disappear from the scene during the pendency of the probe so as to frustrate any evidential value they may offer. This is absolutely very disturbing.
The Probe by the National Assembly
We salute both chambers of the National Assembly for rising up to the challenges of exercising its oversight functions on the NDDC. The alleged crimes at NDDC are accumulating at an alarming rate. The actors at NDDC must be made to appreciate that they can be restrained by the limiting structures and facilities of oversight powers of the National Assembly. The National Assembly should deploy all tools available to it to “follow the money”. This can be easily achieved by collaborating with the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit and the Central Bank of Nigeria to ascertain the true amount of money that has been paid out since the Minister assumed his supervisory role over NDDC and where such money ultimately ended.
There is gold and there is fool’s gold. Those who acquired fool’s gold at the expense of the poor masses of the region under the IMC must all be called upon to answer questions. All contracts documents must be produced and complete TSA Schedules tendered. Evidence of delivery of supplied items not only to the NDDC stores but to end users with dates and acknowledgments must be made available. The National Assembly must engage in rigorous examinations, even to the point of brain scan that would reveal lying, doubts and the smallest hesitation. This has become necessary because the stories coming out of NDDC in the last three months are very disheartening.
The National Assembly should go a step further to determine the veracity or otherwise of the alleged reprisal and retaliation attacks on the staff of the commission who are being mandated to proceed on compulsory leave or retirement. The powers of the IMC to issue such a sweeping order must be reviewed in accordance with the provisions of the law. If the IMC lacks such powers, the order should be rescinded immediately and the IMC officially reprimanded. If this is the case, then, there would be need to review the engagement of the lead auditors on whose purported advice the IMC acted as they would have shown themselves as puppets in the hands of an unseen conductor.
Recommendation’s and Conclusions
It is our recommendation that only accomplished facts not speculations should be investigated and decisions reached on the basis of probable confirmations and possible contradictions. If the maelstrom of allegations against the Minister and the IMC turn out to be irresponsible and callous attempts to smear and tar them, then, the unreserved apology of the public should be extended to them. If, however, at the end of the investigation it is discovered that something terrible and powerful, something that is beyond our ken has surreptitiously taken over the levers of power at NDDC at the expense of our collective interest simply because its money tastes like the nectar of the gods, then our only demand would be that the guilty be severely punished and all the wrongs made right. In that case, we would urge the National Assembly to recommend to the appropriate authorities that the IMC and the Minister recuse themselves from further administering the affairs of the commission, the Minister instructed to restrict himself to his ministry instead of ignoring the area of his primary assignment and fixing his gaze on NDDC with the burning eyes of a falcon and the original mistake of the IMC corrected by immediately inaugurating the statutory Board as recognized under the law to manage the affairs of the commission.
It is not for nothing that the world is as old as it is. Perhaps, every day, in every nation, amongst every people, through time, people are coming face to face with their tormentors. What a man carves with his hands, that he shall bear on his head and the head that stirs the wasp’s nest bears it sting. Everyone in public office must take notice: there is always comeuppance for everything, every action and every transaction. For every wrong, there will be reckoning. Acting on the probable outcome of this probe will send a clear signal that change has indeed come to NDDC. The country needs to turn the rudder of the ship of state. Continuing in the same path would allow the ship to plow into an iceberg. This is a choice whose necessity no one would deny. For this probe, we shall press our energies to the zenith and watch the proceedings like a Derby horserace.