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NDDC: New board apt for audit

Published by The Nation on Mon, 21 Oct 2019


By Femi MacaulayPerhaps unwittingly, President Muhammadu Buhari complicated the situation at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by ordering a forensic audit of the agencys operations from 2001 to 2019 when the agencys new board has not been confirmed by the Senate.Buharis move to deal with the NDDCs failure is a step in the right direction. However, in order to get the desired result, the ordered audit should logically be carried out under the new 16-man NDDC board Buhari approved in August. Subject to Senate confirmation, Buhari had approved Dr Pius Odubu from Edo State as chairman, Bernard Okumagba from Delta State as Managing Director, and Otobong Ndem from Akwa Ibom as Executive Director, Projects.The delay in confirming the newly composed Governing Board iscounterproductive. If the purpose of the ordered audit is to get to the bottom of the NDDCs failure, despite the rich funding it has enjoyed for almost 20 years, then the best approach is to have the probe done under a new management. Obviously, it doesnt make sense to carry out the ordered audit under the interim management headed by Prof. Nelson Brambaifa, who had been directed to hand over to the most senior director in the Commission.There is no doubt that the NDDC, established in 2000 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, has failed to develop Nigerias oil-rich Niger Delta. The first commercial oil discovery in the country happened in Oloibiri in present-day Bayelsa State, in 1956; and the first oil field began production in 1958. More than six decades later, the story of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta is a continuing story. Nigeria is said to produce about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil daily. The country is the largest producer of oil in Africa and sixth largest in the world. The countrys oil-producing states are: Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ondo, Edo, Imo and Abia.It is inexcusable that many communities in the region that produces the countrys oil wealth reflect not only a lack of prosperity, but also perplexing poverty. Buhari, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, apologised for the bad governance responsible for the regions underdevelopment during the reopening of Oil Mining Lease (OML)-25 facility in coastal Belema in Kula Kingdom, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, on October 10, more than two years after a shocking protest, involving women and children, had stopped activities at the site.Buhari said: We have been to the communities (in Kula Kingdom). I felt touched that the people were asking for schools, hospitals and potable water in 2019, after 40 years of oil and gas being taken from their soils. I scooped water from the pond that the people drink. It was smeared with crude oil.On behalf of the nation, I apologise to you. We will change for the better. We will not only build schools, hospitals and provide potable water for you; we will provide complete communities for you. We will work with the Rivers State government, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), amnesty office and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.Buharis apology and promise will be meaningful when they translate into action. By ordering a forensic audit of the NDDCs operations, Buhari showed that he means business. Buhari was quoted as saying on October 17, after a meeting with governors of the nine oil-producing states that make up the Niger Delta: I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions especially the NDDC. With the amount of money that the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on the ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues.The projects said to have been done must be verifiable. You just cannot say you spent so much billions and when the place is visited, one cannot see the structures that have been done. The consultants must also prove that they are competent.This may well be a sign that the administrations anti-corruption campaign has finally reached the NDDC. Ironically, the NDDC may well be among those responsible for the regions underdevelopment. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, was quoted as saying: Let us be clear on this, it will not be business as usual; it will be business unusual as the present leadership would not tolerate persistent underdevelopment of the region. We have become a laughing stock as people now say we (Niger Deltans) are the ones responsible for the underdevelopment of the region. The NDDC is seen as a conduit for empowering the pockets of politicians and hangers-on. We will not do things the way we used to do it. The minister will exercise the powers of the President, not just to supervise the NDDC, but to control its affairs.Akpabio lamented that for over 20 years, NDDC could not complete its headquarters. It is disheartening NDDC has been paying over N200 million every year as rentIt is shameful that in the nine states of the Niger Delta, NDDC failed to have one legacy project, such as a specialist hospital.It is noteworthy that the Senate has summoned the NDDCs Acting Managing Director, Dr Enyia Akwagaga, who is expected to appear before the Committee on Public Accounts this week. The committees chairman, Matthew Urhoghide, said: We want to ascertain if due processes were followed in the award of these contracts, particularly the information that we have at our disposal that they exceeded budget limits. What we know is that N2.5 billion was budgeted for the desilting and clearing of water hyacinths. We heard that the Commission has spent over N 65billion. This committee is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that there are transparency, accountability and economy, that is, there is value for money.This investigation, for instance, is one of the reasons the ordered audit should not be done under the interim management. The new properly constituted substantive board approved by Buhari has the advantage of being uninvolved. Such detachment is an important requirement in carrying out a credible forensic audit.The Senate should confirm the new NDDC board without further delay, which will enable the board to urgently implement the presidential order to audit the Commissions operations.
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