Group Accuses SERAP of Insincerity over NDDC Forensic Audit Report

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Civil Society group, Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum has condemned the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) for its selective request on the Federal Government to publish only the names of suspected looters of N6 trillion NDDC funds.

According to Chief Boma Ebiakpo, National Chairman, Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum, the attention of the group has been drawn to “sensational statements by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in National Newspapers that it is requesting the Federal Government to publish ‘names of suspected looters of N6 trillion NDDC funds’ apparently latching on to mere statements (without any official forensic audit report made available to the Nigerian Public) by the Minister of Niger Delta that N6 trillion was received by the NDDC between 2000 and 2019.”

Describing the statement as unfortunate, it reminded SERAP that the “central position of the authentic leadership of the Niger Delta region, and all well-meaning Nigerians is that the Federal Government, which spent public funds and a total of two years to conduct a forensic audit should make public the entirety of the Forensic audit report which the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio submitted to President Buhari on September 2, 2021.”

Ebiakpo stated that “it is indeed unfortunate that a seemingly reputable Civil Society Organisation – SERAP has taken its apparent hatchet job for their paymasters to destabilize the Niger Delta, a notch higher,” noting that SERAP announced in the Newspaper publications that it has filed a lawsuit requesting for the Federal Government to publish the names of “suspected looters of N6 trillion NDDC Funds.” This, they insist is “disingenuous and diversionary.”

NDPF reiterated that Nigerians and Niger Deltans, at the minimum deserve to see the entire report because the audit was executed with public funds and so the public has a right to know, reminding SERAP that “all Niger Deltans and indeed all Nigerians have been calling on the Federal Government to make the Forensic Audit report public as is done in all decent democratic societies.”

According to the group, for SERAP to “follow a discredited path of requesting for the publication of only names of persons who they refer to as ‘suspected looters’ is dishonest, dangerously diversionary, provocative and an unnecessary subterfuge that is intended to tar the image of all Niger Deltans.”

NDPF insists that “Niger Deltans have since (for several months now) been calling on the Federal Government to make the full Forensic Report public for all to see,” because, according to them “Nigeria is operating a Democracy and the details of a forensic report cannot be shrouded in secrecy.”

The group further noted that “if SERAP is truly committed to socio-economic rights and accountability, as it claims, why has the group not been alarmed and thereby dutifully called the Government out for running NDDC with illegal interim managements and sole administrator contraptions since October 2019, in utter contravention of the NDDC Act?”

NDPF also said it noted with dismay that the “anti-Niger Delta agenda which SERAP has latched onto has been the continued illegality of the interim management committees/sole administrator contraptions which have been foisted on the NDDC since 2019 in breach of the NDDC Act.”

Ebiakpo stated that “the administration of the NDDC by Interim management committee / sole administrator is illegal, the NDDC Act has no provision for this illegality, the NDDC Act only provides that the Board and Management of the NDDC at any point in time should follow the provisions of the law which states that the Board and management is to be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate.”

The group reminded SERAP that “in effect, nobody is supposed to begin to administer the NDDC and utilise the huge funds accruing to it on a monthly basis without passing through this legal requirement as stipulated in the NDDC Act.”

NDPF regretted that to the detriment of the entire region, “illegal interim contraptions/sole administrator has been used to fleece the NDDC of its funds in the last two years. In this over two-year period, over N500 billion has been frittered on fictitious contracts, fraudulent payments and financial recklessness.”

Ebiakpo pointedly stated that “can SERAP, in all sincerity, claim that they are unaware that immediately after highlights of the forensic auditors’ report on the commission was presented by Senator Akpabio, no less an organisation as NDDC’s statutory External Auditors, Funsho Owoyemi and Co., in a letter dated September 6, 2021, addressed to the Interim Administrator of NDDC, and signed by Otunba Funsho Owoyemi, Managing Partner of Funsho Owoyemi and Co., picked holes in the reported figures of the forensic audit, and emphatically stated that NDDC received N2.396 Trillion in 19 years, and not N6 Trillion stated in the forensic report as announced by Akpabio and that NDDC has never operated 362 bank accounts, as stated in the forensic audit report, but 33 which were closed in 2015 following the introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA) and reduced to 4 bank accounts?”

According to NDPF, “the Statutory External Auditor of the NDDC has already disputed the ‘N6 trillion’ figure that SERAP is bandying about.” wondering “why is SERAP not joining Niger Deltans and other Nigerians to request the Federal Government to publish the Full Forensic Audit report for all to see instead of asking Government to provide list of ‘suspected looters of N6 trillion’. SERAP’s posturing on this issue has been tacky, untidy, mischievous and provocative to Niger Deltans.”

NDPF therefore advised SERAP to “redirect its focus on calling on the Federal Government to release to the public the full Forensic Audit report on the NDDC rather than its futile attempts to distract attention from the ongoing illegality of administering NDDC with a sole administrator, and the region’s legitimate demand for the inauguration of a substantive Board, in accordance with the NDDC Act.”

According to the group, the overwhelming majority of the stakeholders in the region are clear in their expectation and legitimate demand that President Buhari should do well to heed the call of Niger Delta leaders, governors, youths, women, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders, “comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021 by inaugurating the Board of the Commission to ensure accountability, checks and balances, probity and equitable representation of the nine constituent states of the Niger Delta Region in line with the NDDC Act.”

Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum (NDPF) therefore restated the demands of Niger Deltans, as follows:

“(1) Ending the illegal Interim Management / sole administratorship at the NDDC; (2) Inauguration of the NDDC Governing Board in line with the NDDC Act; and (3) Publication of the Forensic Audit report and prosecution of any indicted persons.