In this Interview, Christie Ndukwe, a prominent Niger Delta activist and President Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative, who has keenly followed the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), endorses the ongoing forensic audit of the interventionist agency. Emmanuel Addeh brings excerpts
Nineteen years after its creation, the NDDC is still unable to actualise its core mandate. What’s responsible?
Several factors are responsible for the inability of the commission to achieve its core mandate of developing the Niger Delta region since its creation 19 years ago.
Let me just dwell on the major issues that have impeded development which are not usually talked about by those who claim to be the owners of the region.
First, politics is the reason. The inability of the people of the region, particularly the leaders to come together with a mindset that the interest of the region is paramount and should supersede every other interest. The politics of who should be appointed into the board has been a major cog in the wheel of progress in the realisation of the core mandate of the commission.
The moment people are appointed to represent their states in the board, it is all about making returns to the one who aided their appointment and even screening.
Rather than focus on how to bring real development to the states, they dwell on developing the pockets of their paymasters.
Some people have also blamed poor funding…
Again, the funding of the commission has been relatively poor, far below the provisions in the act that established it.
From findings, the FG has only spent about N700bn for the 19-year period for the nine states.
If you do the mathematics, you will see that each state has received less than N100m each year. And that is not enough to bring about the kind of massive development we expect. The oil and gas companies have also failed on their part to pay the statutory five percent and three percent respectively of their annual income.
So what is projected cannot be achieved, considering the poor allocation of funds. Lastly, I will talk about the budgetary provisions of the commission.
As an interventionist agency faced with security issues that could affect the entire economy, the NDDC must not be used to play politics of settlement. The funding and budgetary provision which must be approved by the National Assembly is a major factor why the commission has not fared well.
The reason is simple. Most of those who ought to help in the ease of passage of the budget for the commission have unfortunately, seen it as an opportunity to bargain for their own share of contracts. Where the board is not ready to comply, the budget is slashed in a bid to frustrate the commission and in turn the people of the region.
Don’t you think the act setting up the NDDC should be amended?
There should be a amendment of the act in order to reduce the obvious interference by other arms of government. If the president wants to achieve his developmental agenda for the region, using the NDDC, then, there must be a conscious effort to ensure that a N10bn budget for three mega specialist hospitals in three states will not be slashed to a paltry N100m, as is the case with the 2019 belated budget.
Nigerians and in fact the people of the region are not aware of this. The 2019 budget for the commission was only passed last month. How can it be implemented within six months before its expiration?
It is a deliberate effort to frustrate the commission and that is simply because the national assembly is not in agreement with the constitution of the Interim Management Committee and the refusal of the IMC to continue paying huge sums of money for phantom training programs which has over the years characterised the commission.
The NDDC is seen as the cash cow of politicians, why do you think this is so?
Yes, it is a cash cow for politicians and this may be difficult to change. The truth is that those assigned to manage its affairs have not asserted and committed themselves towards a total transformation of the region. Until they are given a free hand to operate, that is if they have shown signs of commitment, it will be business as usual. Surprisingly, the present board, the IMC is being supervised by the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
He’s a certified development expert, yet, not much has happened other than sponsored media attacks on him and the board. You should ask why he’s slow even though it’s on record that the abandoned permanent headquarters building is now 95 percent completed under him.
It’s all politics. If Akpabio is allowed to function, he will replicate what he did in Akwa Ibom when he served as governor for eight years .
Again, for even daring to stop some of the payments going to some high profile Nigerians in the presidency, national assembly and others, he must be stopped at all cost. The campaign is on.
I give you an instance, he ordered the stoppage of payment of N1 billion yearly to a company responsible for collecting monies from gas companies, and the said company belongs to a former Senate President and another high ranking senator, they have released all arsenal against the minister and the IMC.
The company has been a consultant to the NDDC, and is in charge of collecting the three percent of the total annual budget of any oil producing company operating, on shore and off shore, in the Niger Delta area including gas processing companies.
There was another payment of over N2 billion to a company for allegedly collecting for NDDC a statutory payment of $28 million which is an equivalent of about N10bn from Nigeria LNG.
For stopping an annual award of N3.6billion contract for the production of plastic school desks and benches for the nine Niger Delta states, the same person owns this same company.
People are asking for payment for jobs not executed and the IMC says no, so, all hell is let loose and that ignites all manner of attacks against the minister.
Nigerians are not asking questions. Why was somebody collecting N300m yearly as rent for the headquarters of the commission? Meanwhile, I can’t remember when the decision by former Governor Peter Odili to donate the building at no cost to the NDDC was rescinded.
Now, Akpabio decided that the abandoned headquarters must be completed and the fraudulent payment of N300m stopped, even though what the Rivers State government collects on record is N200m.
Given how you seem to have followed the activities of the NDDC, it does appear that there are people who want to perpetuate the old order.
There’s a lot going on behind the scene, unfortunately, the commission has not been able to tell their story. The NDDC must be rescued from these hawks, otherwise, the development of the region will only exist on paper.
That senior civil servants who have served at the commission since the time of the defunct OMPADEC are transferred out to state offices and their salaries and full entitlements paid, that to them is a wrong move by the IMC.
These people who I refer to as Methuselahs of the NDDC have become untouchables simply because they are the conduits used by these high profile Nigerians to syphon and divert funds meant for the development of the region.
Many of them are richer than some governors with posh Cars and sprawling buildings in high brow areas of Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and overseas.
Uncompleted NDDC projects dot the entire region. Do you think the government and the people of the region are doing enough to monitor the commission?
Let me tell you the simple truth. Jobs awarded in the past 19 years were used to win elections. Monies paid to some of these professional contractors are merely used for elections.
Most of the abandoned jobs have been paid for while some were not even originally in the budget. Without indicating anyone or defending any, I can tell you clearly that there is a contract for sale department in the commission, where you buy the award letters and you are aided by the staff there to get paid without executing jobs.
Why has the National Assembly in the course of their oversight functions not been able to detect this for 19 years?
There is a statutory uudit for the 19-year period by the Auditor General of the Federation, so, why have they not detected this over the years? Some of the contracts were abandoned out of frustration in getting payment.
Some of these abandoned jobs were never in the budget, so when a new management comes, they will refuse to pay. Don’t forget, it’s all more of politics than development.
The frequent change in the management of the commission without serving out their constitutional tenure has also hampered development and led to abandonment of projects. Every new board wants to deal with their own people, cronies, families, friends and loyalists. In some states, insecurity has forced contractors out of site and in some cases, the jobs are relocated to other more peaceful communities.
There is a present case of one lawmaker who got over 1000 jobs to supply plastic chairs to schools in the 9 Niger Delta states. He was paid the sum of N3.8bn without supplying the chairs, rather, the documents show that these chairs were supplied to a warehouse belonging to him in his state.
It is even funny that he was awarded a N2 billion contract by the governor of his state to supply plastic chairs and he took the same chairs meant for NDDC and supplied to them. Can you beat that?
Do you think that the forensic audit will achieve anything?
We need the forensic audit. I have read and watched some people try to discredit it. Their frustration is clearly understood. No more free food. The question is whether they understand what a forensic audit means.
A forensic audit will enable us x-ray the real issues bordering on fraud and that can be used for trial, while in a statutory audit, it is not so. The governors of the states that make up the NDDC visited the president and requested for a forensic audit. At first, it sounded like politics, a ploy to stop those in charge of the commission from having access to funds.
Majority of these governors are in the opposition PDP. The president granted their request and ordered the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs to commence the process.
Yes, there were initial impediments towards a start off but eventually, the forensic audit has commenced. But some people are bent on scuttling it.
Unknown to many, they have mapped out different strategies to ensure that the Forensic Audit does not see the light of the day. First, there was a plan to access all the necessary documents and burn them.
Next, the battle shifted to the NASS as soon as some of the directors and those indicted in the initial reports were transferred out of the headquarters of the commission and their proxies arrested while stealing files.
The sudden move to probe the minister and the IMC is also suspicious as it is likely going to indict them and nullify every action they have taken towards the audit.
I am sceptical if this audit would be allowed to continue as more political heavy weights are now being recruited in the fight. Except the president continues to maintain his stance, the audit may only end up as an illusion.
But if the audit is allowed, which I pray it should , the revelations will not only force many to refund huge sums but may lead to an eventual scrapping of the commission.
Some of the people who are opposed to the audit insist that the minister designed it to hoodwink the president and nothing more.
The last time I checked, Akpabio didn’t initiate the idea of a forensic audit. It was the governors. The president merely assented to it and asked Akpabio as the supervising minister to handle it.
So how can anybody twist the truth, accusing Akpabio? Until we stop playing politics with development, we will remain in the dark while the rest of the world is moving on.
Others allege that he is one of the beneficiaries of the sleaze that bedevilled the commission and therefore lacks the moral strength to champion the audit.
If Akpabio was a beneficiary of the sleaze, we will find out. Do you think that any reputable forensic auditor will trade their hard earned reputation for a cover up for a minister? The more reason the audit should be carried out. Akpabio ought to be the one frustrating the audit if the allegation is true.
You said recently that the ongoing Senate probe of the IMC was a plot to scuttle the forensic audit…
It’s obvious. Going for a probe of N40bn when we are talking about an audit to ascertain where hundreds of billions have been expended is like settling for less.
The president has ordered a forensic audit of the commission for a period of 19 years. He is backed by the constitution to do so. Why is anybody insisting that the Probe of the IMC and the minister should come first?
It is simple. Probe them, indict them and ask that they be sacked. Of course, every action they have taken, including the tender advertised for forensic auditors will be declared as illegal.
It is clear that the Senate/House probe is going in that direction. Some of those in those committees are involved in the sleaze. How can they allow themselves to be probed? Let the Forensic Audit be completed, after which, the NASS can continue their oversight functions.
Why do you think some people are strongly against the probe?
It will to a great extent provide solution on the way forward. We will be able to understand the loopholes and how to cover them. A new organisational and governmental structure will be designed. I believe that if allowed, the forensic audit will help us decide whether to go on with the commission or if it has outlived its usefulness.