Chief Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe, a Publisher and Founder of the advocacy group, Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative speaks with Nseobong Okon-Ekong and other journalists on recent developments in the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Senate probe
Your advocacy group has been in the news lately, what are you up to?
We are more or less focused on leadership. We focus on leadership and try to use it as a standard so that others can follow that path. I think the bane of the country has been bad leadership. We have the resources, we have everything but unfortunately, we lack the right leadership and I think the reason is because we have not taken time to assess those who should be in positions of leadership. We have also not taken time to identify those who serve creditably and even honour them. Unfortunately, those we look at are those who have money to throw around and use them as a standard. If we continue like that, things will not go the way we want. Secondly, we also look at news reportage, the fake news syndrome because lots of the stories you read are either adulterated or aimed at tarnishing somebody’s image. We are interested in searching for the truth. That is why we go in there to verify the claims to enable us and ultimately the society know the truth. Even though we have the Freedom of Information Act, it is not yet well implemented because a lot of public servants don’t want to release information, so we go in there to get such information to the best of our ability. That is basically what we do.
Why the interest in issues affecting the NDDC?
We are not particular about the NDDC. We are not registered to focus on a particular region. We are focused on working in Nigeria for Nigerians. We are also allowed to partner with donor agencies, but we must have a starting point. They say charity begins at home, so for some us, where we come from should come first. We are barely one year and I can assure you that we have recorded lots of successes.
What has been your experience regarding the NDDC?
I live in Niger Delta, I come from the Niger Delta, but I never knew that this kind of rot existed in the NDDC. I have never done any job with the NDDC, I only hear of the things happening there. Having come closer, I think it is not a delight for anyone at all. The stories are not palatable at all.
A lot has gone down. The government over the years has not been fair to the people of Niger Delta. How can you give out so much to cater for the people and fail to check whether the amount of work done is in commensurate to the funds given out. It is not enough to sack the NDDC boards over allegation of corruption. You need to find out whether anybody has been jailed from mismanaging such funds. How come people serially and severally accused of corruption have not been prosecuted? But thank God that today we have a president who has said no, we have to do things differently. We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again. That is where we are. I can tell you that many vested interests do not want the forensic audit ordered by the president to succeed. Whatever drama you are seeing is just to scuttle the forensic audit, nothing more. For us as a group, the forensic audit ordered by the president has to go on, but even in doing that, development of the Niger Delta must continue. We have an Interim Management Committee supervising the commission, for as long as they last, six months, one year, two years, I don’t know, but they should be allowed to continue with the development of the region. Why are you saying you want to check the books and you stall the development of the region? We are still looking at them and I can tell you that we have a board that is transparent. They are helping us with information and you know information is key. In the past, nobody will do that. For now, I rate them 80 percent in information dissemination. We have a lot of documents and we have asked them a lot of questions on allegations raised. They have given us their responses. Not only that, they have given us documents to back those information.
But the National Assembly is saying something to the contrary.
When you are an interested party in a matter, what do you think the judgment will be like? The budget of NDDC is harmonized by the same National Assembly by the two committees on NDDC. Of course, there are vested interests. For the first time, the NDDC board and the supervising minister told us that members of the National Assembly, past and present have been involved in the sleaze. If they are involved, it means that somebody is protecting them or they are protecting themselves and deny Nigerians access to the truth. While we support their looking into the books, they should also allow those who have been accused to be probed. Before the motion to probe the so-called missing N40 billion in NDDC, did they have enough evidence because one of them claimed that the information supplied by the Minister was not enough to probe anybody? If the Minister has accused past and present members of the National Assembly in the looting of NDDC, it behoves the leadership of National Assembly to ensure such people are made to face the law. The IGP should move in and begin to investigate these people based on available documents. I don’t want to believe the minister was joking. He has made available the documents and some of us have managed to get these documents. A situation where a Senator or House of Representatives member is influencing over 50 contracts in a year is worrisome. I think Nigerians should be worried. We expect the EFCC, NFIU to trace the movement of funds from the account of contractors some of them allegedly nominated to see where the monies ended up because as a public officer you cannot nominate your company to do contracts. The National Assembly needs to make the probe of members accused as transparent as possible. It is very easy to do if they have the political will. But if we continue to dance around, trying to shield some people from probe,, we are yet to start the much anticipated journey.
What is your reaction to the allegations of lack transparency against the Minister and NDDC by its former MD?
Even though I have my reservations against the report of the senate committee on NDDC because we were first told its N40 Billion, later it was N1.5 Billion , and at the end of the probe, they said they were looking for N4.9 Billion and they alleged that N2.9 Billion was paid for Lassa fever without following due process. That was the period when the former MD was there. They said N4.9 Billion that was paid for palliatives should be refunded. For crying out loud, they are querying monies for COVID 19 for members of staff. What does the law say? Sections 42 and 43 of the constitution says they can spend without following due process during a pandemic, then when the pandemic is over, they can now retire what was spent. Anybody, talking about money spent on Lassa fever and COVID 19 at this time has lost it. It means that person does not know what the constitution says. Out of over N80 Billion they claimed is missing therefore, it means nothing is missing, so, what are we talking about? That is the report of the senate committee, on the allegation by the chairman of the palliatives committee, the issue is that he raised the issue after the senate probe had been concluded, so, it was an after thought. The fact remains that governors of the Niger Delta insisted that they were not going to allow palliatives to be shared by anybody other than the governors. Of course, they needed the support of the governors to get these things to the people. Don’t forget that there was a lockdown moving these palliatives and medicals became an issue, so, the NDDC had to bend to the governors and even gave them money. Some states got N100 Million, some got N75 Million each. No governor has denied collecting the money. Why have the governors not accused the NDDC of lying? Where did the chairman get information that the money was mismanaged? He is inadvertently accusing the governors of mismanaging the monies. If anybody should be investigated, it should be the governors of the nine NDDC states?