The commission must entrench a culture of transparency and accountability

These are not the best of times for the current administration and its image minders. When Nigerians expect firm and decisive steps, what they get are tentative actions bordering on inability to rein in disparate interests of gullible and often greedy politicians. With allegations of sleaze and financial malfeasance against the interim managers of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the senate last week directed its Interim Management Committee (IMC) to refund the N4.923 billion payments made to staff and contractors in breach of the procurement process.

The senate resolution was sequel to the adoption of recommendations of its ad-hoc committee which investigated the alleged misappropriation of N40 billion by the current IMC. A breakdown of the refund demanded by the senate includes overseas travel to the United Kingdom (N85.7million), scholarship grants (N105.5 million) and union members’ trip to Italy, N164.2 million. They are also to refund payment made for Lassa fever kit (N1.96 billion), payment for public communication valued at N1.12 billion and the expenditure of N1.49 billion purportedly on COVID-19.

The senate has also called on the president to dissolve the IMC and set up a board for the commission; transfer the oversight of the forensic audit to the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, ensure transparency and appoint a renowned auditor to supervise the exercise. Exposing the soft underbelly of extant practices that fuel abuses and strengthen the life wire of financial misconduct at the NDDC is a necessary preamble to a sustainable solution. We subscribe to the demands by the senate. It is important if we must entrench a culture of transparency and accountability in running the affairs of the commission. It is only in such an atmosphere that the agency can facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the region.

With revelations of how hundreds of billions of Naira end up in private hands at the NDDC, the federal government can only allow the problem to fester at our collective peril. While the social media is now awash with memes on mega fraud allegations in the NDDC and the drama of the probe in the House of Representatives, most discerning people are asking pertinent questions: How would an efficient and effective NDDC be midwifed to meet its major objectives? What interventions would be done to bring the NDDC to the dreams of improving the standards and means of livelihood of the people of the Niger Delta region? How could the IMC, inspired by the Minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, have within four months (February to May, 2020) spend a whopping sum of N81bn without any projects?

Established in 2000 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the NDDC was charged with facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region “that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” The commission’s mandate area is comprised of the nine oil producing states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. Sadly, while the NNDC has a comprehensive master plan and hundreds of billions of Naira have been spent over the past 19 years, there is little on ground to justify the investment.

The Act establishing the NDDC leaves no room for a situation that empowers a few people who report to the Niger Delta Minister to practically run it as sole administrators. If we must entrench a culture of transparency and accountability in the affairs of the commission, it is important to have a substantive board in place rather than leave it to the whims of a minister. Now that the senate has joined the call by stakeholders, the president must rectify this situation without any further delay.