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 NDDC and that forensic audit

NDDC and that forensic audit

GUARDIAN Editorial

It is hardly surprising that the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to order a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has received the support of Nigerians.

The planned exercise, which should find out all kinds of mismanagement, operational discrepancies, roguish transactions, corrupt disbursements, fraudulent contracts, criminal accounting and other such practices, is the best way to unravel the rot in one of the boldest interventionist initiatives the country has ever embarked upon and stop it from being the drain-pipe on the nation’s resources it has become. An otherwise noble idea with a view to accelerating development in the area from which Nigeria gets its income, the NDDC has over the years been turned into an avenue for political patronage and corrupt enrichment.

The Nigerian people, especially those of the Niger Delta extraction, who have been wantonly abused and their resources criminally looted, deserve to know the names and faces of their tormentors as well as the extent of the damage already inflicted on the wellbeing of a longsuffering citizenry.To ensure an objective and credible outcome, however, the audit should be supervised by an independent board and management other than the current interim management committee, which is itself part of the era under audit. Curiously, the minister in charge of Niger Delta Affairs has just inaugurated another interim management committee to create ‘‘the enabling environment for the forensic audit,’’ which is rather contradictory.

After about a year of operation without a substantive Board and Management, President Muhammadu Buhari, in August announced the constitution of a 16-member board of directors and executive management to pilot the affairs of the Commission for the next four years as stipulated in Act No.6 of 2000 setting up the Niger Delta Development Commission. And only a few days ago, he submitted the names of members to the Senate for the appropriate confirmation process.

It is against this background that another interim management committee appears curious on the sidelines of the President’s list of the new board members before the Senate. What is expected is not only for the president to work for an accelerated process of confirmation, he should follow this up with an immediate inauguration of the same board and management once cleared by the green chamber of the National Assembly.

Putting in place a properly constituted board and management for the NDDC would mean that the Federal Government and the commission have official backing through Senate confirmation and thereby accountable to the people and the region to supervise the forensic audit as directed by the President.

This will usher in, without any further delay, an era of probity and transparency as well as aid the commission’s work of facilitating the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable and politically peaceful.Of course, Buhari was on point by noting that against the backdrop of the resources already allocated to the commission from inception till date, the development on ground in the oil-rich Niger Delta does not reflect the money already spent.

If anything, the commission, which was intended to be an agency with the mandate to provide critical infrastructure and other physical development and give a sense of justice to the restive citizens of the region has become nothing other than a cash-dispensing machine to those who have been privileged to run its affairs or have access to its leadership.

The commission is renowned on one hand for its huge purse on account of the resources allocated to it by the Federal Government and on the other for corruption and an embarrassing departure from its core mandate. The result is that NDDC has become the den where overnight billionaires are minted either through direct looting of its resources by privileged hands or by paying humongous sums of money for contracts that were never intended for execution.

Hence the Niger Delta region is littered with abandoned projects and remains one of the most under-developed parts of Nigeria. Ever since its inception, the NDDC has been an institution of interest to all Nigerians as allegations of undesirable activities constantly dog its steps. And each succeeding management and board allegedly tries to outdo the other in looting, in shoddy award of contracts with intent to steal as well as project abandonment.Only in 2018, about 650 contracts totalling more than N200 billion were discovered to have fallen short of due process.  For some, full payment had even been made without any work done.Four years ago, a report of the auditor-general of the federation asserted that the NDDC could not account for N183.7 billion between 2008 and 2012. That pattern allegedly continues till date.

Only recently, water hyacinth contracts amounting to about N1.9 billion, purportedly approved and paid to phoney companies by the interim management team, in clear breach of a presidential directive and violation of extant procurement rules, surfaced. Also, the commission was reportedly poised to recruit over 300 new employees without a board approval for such massive recruitment, a travesty that would have passed had there been no outcry by many stakeholders from the Niger Delta region.

The tragedy, however, is that reports abound that the culprits are largely privileged members of the elite whose roots are in the same Niger Delta.And this is why not only must this forensic audit be properly and comprehensively done, there must be severe consequences for those found to have short-changed the people of Nigeria, especially the Niger Delta. Against the background of the fear that too many powerful interests, from the grassroots to the National Assembly and even the presidency, whose hands may have been soiled in the NDDC would frustrate this forensic probe, the onus is now on President Buhari to erase all doubts by ensuring a credible audit, bringing all culprits to book and retrieving all monies stolen.Indeed, the Federal Government is hereby advised to beam a similar searchlight on other institutions with a view to saving the country from mindless scoundrels.

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