A systematic problem we seem to be plagued by as a nation is an unwanted attitude of leaving important matters unfinished. We put in a lot of effort and energy whenever the problem arises but along the line, it gets dragged and, in most cases, unfortunately, gets swept under the carpet.
The forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is one that threatens to follow in that unwanted trend.
For the records, a forensic audit was ordered by the President, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari on the 16th of October 2019 due to persistent criticism of the operations of the NDDC. The NDDC was established on the 5th of June 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the Niger Delta.
Sadly, 21 years after and development is not the case in the Niger Delta. Instead, what we have is a litany of unfinished and abandoned projects, environmental degradation, and pollution garnered due to the oil exploration activities going on in the region.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when the forensic audit was announced; in fact, it had been long overdue and the announcement was backed up in Section 23 of the NDDC Act which states that “subject to the provisions of this Act, the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces may give to the commission directives of a general nature or relating generally to matters of policy with regard to the performance by the commission of its functions and it shall be the duty of the commission to comply with the directives.”
Unfortunately, 2 years on, the forensic audit has yet to be completed. 2020 brought a lot of crisis and accusations.
From Mr. President reorganizing the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC by replacing the Acting Managing Director, Joy Nunieh with Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei and enlarging the IMC from three to five in February 2020 to allegations made by the former Acting Managing Director Joy Nunieh against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio after she appeared before the Senate Ad Hoc Committee investigating the NDDC, the crisis did not let up.
The alleged attempt to abduct the former Managing Director in July brought to even more light the need to carry out the forensic audit of the NDDC and showed the level of decadence and the level of rot that had happened in the NDDC as well as the length at which persons would go to cover up and stop the searchlight being pointed.
The botched House of Representatives hearing where the Managing Director Kemebeadikumo Pondei walked out on the committee session stating that the Chairman of the House Committee on the NDDC, Mr. Olubunmi Tuni-Ojo lacked the moral standing to preside over the probe because he had allegedly committed a “crime” against the NDDC was yet another chapter in the ugly saga.
Although he later made an appearance when he was summoned again in which he apologized for walking out, he went on to famously faint during the committee proceedings after been grilled for about an hour before he was eventually moved out and a 30-minute recess called.
What is scary is the huge sums of money and the number of abandoned projects for which the NDDC has to account for; over N90.4 billion extra-budgetary expenditure between 2009 to 2011, N70.495 billion allegedly paid to 1,773 contractors as mobilization fees between 2008 and 2012 with an audit report stating that 90% of the contractors had collected mobilization fees without any evidence of the contracts carried out, over 150 abandoned projects in the region; projects which payments had already been issued to contractors, the alleged N1.32 billion spent as C0VID-19 relief funds amongst others.
The NDDC was created due to the outcry of the people in the region to be able to receive remuneration, economic development due to them as people of the region providing the nation with a large part of its economy; an outcry well-validated due to the pollution and other effects of the oil exploration activities in the region but sadly 21 years after its creation, the NDDC had greatly failed its mandate.
The region is plagued by environmental hazards, poverty, lack of socio-economic development, poor infrastructure and it is sickening that it is the innocent citizens of the region that suffer while the high and mighty milk the commission dry.
This saga must not be swept under the carpet!