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The drama plaguing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has refused to abate despite public outcry. This is the first time since its inception the commission is having two separate bodies to oversee its activities. It beats critical minds that a board that has been duly screened by the Senate on the order of President Mohammadu Buhari is still not inaugurated.

The existence of the interim management committee (IMC), which everybody now believes is the creation of the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has since taken the shine off the board. The Dr. Joy Nunieh-led IMC has also divided the National Assembly along the lines of interest, the same way it has created division among the Niger Delta people, particularly, armed chair critics and sundry rights groups.

It was reported that the Senate had threatened not to allow the three-man interim committee to defend its 2020 budget except a recognized board was allowed to take charge of the commission’s affairs. But the House of Representatives appears to have budged. What is not very clear is the insistence of the minister of the Niger Delta Ministry who prefers the interim committee to an already screened board legally recognized by the act that set up the commission.

Findings within the NDDC hinted that Senator Akpabio has an overwhelming influence over the committee and members are answerable to him. The board, if sworn in to take over the affairs of the NDDC, will not report to the minister but to the president.

Though the minister believes that the interim management committee was best positioned to midwife the forensic audit of the commission as ordered by President Buhari, not many people will agree with him. The board of the NDDC is backed by law. The committee is not. So, the committee is an illegal creation that is meant to protect the interest of few persons in the region.

In an attempt to justify his decision of opting for the interim committee, Akpabio argued that the reason why the board was not inaugurated to start work at the commission was because there was an error in the composition of its membership. He said that until the correction in the composition of the board is made, it will not be inaugurated.

The 15-man board was confirmed on November 5, and the Senate President, Lawan Ahmed instructed the board to take over the affairs of the NDDC with immediate effect. On the day of the screening, the IMC chairperson, Joy Nunieh was absent which further generated the rumour of some fast game going on in the commission.

Sources hinted that there has been intense lobbying by the Akpabio camp to discourage the inauguration of the board. This does not go down well with some persons in power. The Senate Committee chairman on NDDC, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi was reported to have asked the management to explain how $91million and N6billion in the commission’s account was utilized.

Akpabio had alleged that those who have wrecked the NDDC are those calling for the dissolution of the interim management committee. He had made it known that about 10 auditing companies had been contacted already to carry out the task of cleaning the mess in the commission. He explained that each of those companies would investigate the activities of NDDC in each of the nine states that make up the commission while the remaining one would work at the headquarters in Port Harcourt.

Sources said lobbying is being intensified to thwart the effort of government from carrying out the threat of investigating the commission. Doing so will expose a lot of people whose hands have been soiled with scandalous contract deals in the NDDC. But Akpabio looks bent to ensure that the interventionist agency is thoroughly probed so that the incoming board can start on a clean slate.

It is not clear whether the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiatives (NEITI) is part of the companies or agencies contacted to carry out the audit. Some Nigerians had rooted for this agency having shown capacity to do a thorough job.

Already, fingers are beginning to point at the direction of the Senate Committee chairman, Nwaoboshi as the owner of the consultancy firm that the NDDC pays N1billion for liaising between the international oil companies (IOCs), and the Commission to collect the statutory contributions to the development of the Niger Delta region.

This allegation was basically one of the numerous reasons why the National Assembly is skeptical about allowing Akpabio to supervise the forensic audit of the NDDC. Nwaoboshi would fire back by asking the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State to explain how $91million and another N6billion was utilized under his watch as the supervising minister of the commission.

There are several allegations of huge sleaze rocking the commission. One of such has to do with the money said to have been injected into the completion of the NDDC headquarters located along the Eastern By-pass.

Meanwhile, last Tuesday, the House of Representatives ordered the commission to clear all its liabilities through the implementation of its 2019 budget. The House of Representatives Committee on NDDC issued the directive when the interim management of the commission, led by the acting Managing Director, Dr. Joy Nunieh, appeared before the lawmakers to defend the budget proposed for 2019.

Before now, the committee, at the last sitting, had vowed not to consider the 2020 budget proposed by NDDC until the 2019 budget was presented and considered. And this is capable of causing a serious developmental setback for the commission and the Niger Delta at large.

The Chairman of the committee, Mr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, accused the commission of failing to implement its 2019 budget due to widespread infractions and sharp practices by the former management.

Tunji-Ojo said that for the implementation of NDDC’s 2019 budget, the commission must present the list of all contractors it owed, adding that payment of claims would only be made after thorough verification and approval by the committee.

The lawmaker also stated that the NDDC must recover the over N1 trillion owed it by various entities to offset the commission’s liabilities. He made it clear that when the recommendations by the committee are approved by the House, all ongoing projects in the NNDC’s 2019 budget would be rolled over to 2020, which he said would be considered after the approval. He lamented that the commission was 14 months behind schedule in implementing 2019 budget, describing it as a huge drawback.

Abia wrote from Port Harcourt

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