Government should inaugurate a board to conduct the affairs of the agency

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is becoming an object of jokes among critical stakeholders. Almost six months after the submission of the report of its much-touted forensic report, the federal government has not been able to implement any of the recommendations or appoint a substantive board to allow the commission function effectively as stipulated by law. All that Nigerians are regaled with are tales and empty presidential threats while the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio continues to run the commission with some nebulous interim management committees that are unknown to law.

On 17th October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the forensic scrutiny of NDDC while playing host to nine governors of the constituent states of the interventionist agency. The directive for a forensic audit followed the misgivings expressed by the governors that the agency’s operations were characterised by poor choice of projects, shoddy handling of jobs and lack of the required support for the efforts of the states and local government administrations in the region. For a smooth conduct of the forensic auditing, a sum of N2.5 billion was reportedly earmarked for the job. The federal government also provided a total of 33 utility vehicles to aid the auditors discharge their duties while the exercise lasted. However, with the forensic audit report completed and report submitted, there is no serious plan to implement the findings which include the appointment of a substantive board.

The NDDC was established as an interventionist agency in 2000 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, with a clear mandate to develop the oil and gas rich, but impoverished Niger Delta region. 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. It has a comprehensive master plan, but in the eyes of many, it has consistently failed to perform. The forensic report on the NDDC has shown that it is a cesspool of corruption for which many of its past and present leaders as well as top government functionaries have not only been complicit, but indicted.

We do not understand the song and dance on ‘forensic audit’, especially when there are already many reports on financial mismanagement in NDDC. Indeed, the report of the presidential committee on project execution between 2005 and 2011 was, to put it mildly, very unflattering. The report covered a total of 609 projects spread across three states – Cross River, Edo and Rivers. Chairman of the committee, Chief Isaac Jemide, said that of the 609 projects monitored, 222 (36.5%) were completed, 102 (16.7%) were ongoing and 285 (46.8%) were abandoned at various levels of completion. Even worse, some of these projects were completely outside the statutory operational scope of the NDDC.

Similarly, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) said that between 2007 and 2014, NDDC got $1.98 billion and N594 billion remitted to it, but could not account for how N7.4 billion allocated for grassroots development projects was spent. A former Managing Director confirmed these observations when he remarked on assumption of office that the completion rate of NDDC projects was not very encouraging. He said over $40 billion received by the region within a period of 10 years was frittered away.

What the foregoing shows is that ‘forensic audit’ cannot be a subterfuge for infringing on the law. If the federal government cannot implement the part recommendations of the audit report, let it endeavour to at least entrench a culture of transparency and accountability by having a substantive board in place. This is because allowing the NDDC to operate outside the law by imposing an interim board with elastic mandate cannot be a proper way to run the commission.