NDDC, National Assembly and Matters Arising

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By Eddy Odivwri

Just like an endless tale, the melodrama in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has continued to unfold, each day, with a new sizzling scene and storyline.

At the beginning of the week, the story had leaked, allegedly from the Executive Director Project of the Interim Management Team (IMT) of the commission, Dr Cairo Ojougboh who was said to have alleged in a newspaper interview that part of the N83 billion the IMT spent in five months was in settling each senator with N20 million and each House of Representatives member, with N15 million. If that was true, it would have meant the senators collected N1.8 billion, while the House of Representatives members collected N5.4 billion, totaling N7.2 Billion. It didn’t need much scrutiny to see the unbelievability of the claim, except that in Nigeria, most politicians and public office holders have long deadened the faculty of logic and reasonability in them.

It was a news flake that was bound to ruffle feathers. It did not disappoint. Before the close of work on Tuesday, the senate was already fuming with anger challenging Ojougboh to prove his allegation or tender unreserved apology.

Again, the apology (presented as “clarification”) came flying in before bedtime. Ojougboh had, as usual, blamed the media for quoting him out of context, urging the lawmakers to discountenance the allegation.

But who would blame those who had believed Ojougboh? Was it not the same man who allegedly spent N52 million hiring flying boats to go inspect projects in the riverine? Was it not this same man that said they spent N450million to provide face masks and hand sanitisers to the Nigeria Police Force (as if the NDDC is the Police service Commission or even Ministry of Police Affairs)? It is this same IMT that said it spent N1.5 Billion, no, N1.32 billion “to take care of ourselves”, against the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, it would not really rankle that much if indeed, the IMT, like a drunken gambler, had splurged N7.2 billion to service the interest of the lawmakers, perhaps so they can look the other way.

In fact, it is alleged that all the mess in NDDC spilled because there was disagreement in the sharing ratio of the resources of the commission. It is an argument that will never end. But what is true and in the public domain is that many of the lawmakers truly harass and blackmail the operators of the NDDC to get fat and juicy contracts and even to fund their personal interests. It just didn’t start with the 9th Assembly. Many of the lawmakers, especially those sitting in the NDDC committee in both chambers are mega contractors to the NDDC. The IMC released some names. It is largely believed to be credible. Many of them use either proxies or third party companies to execute such contracts. Worse still, they collect the money and abandon the contracts. The lawmakers concerned know themselves and cannot sincerely deny it . To insist on scientific evidence will be like investigating how water got into coconut.

In the face of these super reckless mismanagement of public resources, sits the twin evil of poverty and I gnorance in the region. The illegal IMC has neither improved human capacity in the region, nor improved the infrastructural deficits in the region.

Beside taking care of themselves, the only other visible thing is the completion of the age-long NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, even though some critics say the secretariat is anything but really ready.

But if all the above wastages do not shock us, the decision of the presidency to release yet another N722.3 million to fund the much-talked about forensic audit of the activities of the commission from inception, should.

So what happened to all the monies claimed to have thus far been spent on the so-called forensic audit exercise?
And wait a minute, didn’t the presidency say the audit which was announced in October last year was to last for six months?
Before that six months came up, the Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, convinced the President to extend, by another six months, the life span of the audit exercise. And just before deadline came around, Akpabio also announced another extension of the exercise till the end of the year.

And just a little over a week ago, the same Akpabio announced after Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting that the presidency has offered to sponsor the forensic audit.

So, what has been happening since last October? Does it mean, like many believed, that the audit is yet to commence? This is ten months after!

But in February, five months before the bubble busted in the commission, Akpabio had regaled the nation with the activities of the audit team, speaking like in a short while from then, the report of the forensic audit would be ready.

At that time, he had presented Kabiru Ahmed, as Lead Forensic Consultant, and Messrs Olumuyiwa Basiru and Co, as the auditor and that they were ready for the exercise.

Hear Akpabio last February: “To be able to set good example for the development commission, the commencement of the full forensic audit of the NDDC will charge a way forward. I will tell you, sanity has started coming into the commission…”.

Five months later, anything but sanity overwhelmed the commission and all its operational stakeholders.
What is worse, we are back to point origin!

The worry is what does Akpabio tell Mr President that he so easily changes him? How come Akpabio is so masterful in deoderising the smell of fraud and corruption when he appears before the president? How come the president is being corralled along Akpabio’s game plan without any check or psycho renaissance on the part of the president? Does Akpabio mesmerize or even bewitch the president? The way it is going, the lifetime of the forensic exercise, and thus the life span of the IMT will inadvertently be extended again, for the third time!

It is surprising that after all the messy miasma revealed at the recent public hearing of the NDDC management, not only is calm returned, with no heads rolling (yet), nobody queried, nobody suspended or even sacked, the Federal Government is yet gratuitously offering to expend another N722.3million to fund the audit exercise.

And in a few weeks from now, the ministry would say because the forensic auditors are determined to do a thorough job, they should not be rushed and so their deadline be extended ad infinitum. And some presidential spokesman will so announce; and that will be the Akpabio magic.