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EDITORIAL

NASS And NDDC Face-off

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The National Assembly (NASS) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) are in the trenches over a purported N40 billion financial malfeasance in the intervention agency. NASS is planning to probe the Commission because of some perceived improprieties that are believed to have hamstrung its operations. But the process took a worrisome dimension when the management of the agency claimed that NASS was part of the rot in the NDDC and was therefore not in a position to cleanse it.
We recall that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, in the wake of youth militancy, established the NDDC to spearhead the infrastructural and economic development of the oil-rich but neglected region.
Twenty years down the line, stakeholders are beginning to feel that the NDDC has not been unable to deliver on its mandate. Many are of the view that the level of corruption in the commission has become unconscionable as both past and present management, ruling political parties and even the NASS itself have been fingered and indicted.
As the situation is now, both the audit directed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the probe initiated by the two chambers of NASS are not likely to yield the desired results. The first setback came with the sudden death of the agency’s acting executive director, Finance and Administration, Ibanga Bassey Etang, the two-week shutdown of the NDDC headquarters by the management at a time the deadline for the submission of memoranda to the joint NASS probe team was at hand, and the indictment of the lawmakers as the major impediment to the realisation of the vision of the commission.
At the centre of the raging controversy are the chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Niger Delta Affairs, which the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC accused of corruptly inserting contracts and projects in the commission’s budget.
The Commission’s acting managing director, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei had accused the lawmakers of demanding the payment of N6.4billion for 132 contracts that were not done. He also accused the committees’ members of asking the IMC not to submit certain files for the forensic audit. On their part, the lawmakers said that they were investigating a N40 billion fraud and wrongful sack of management staff, a ploy by the commission to conceal fraudulent financial transactions.
As a newspaper, we are concerned about these revelations and allegations by both parties and demand that they should not be swept under the carpet. They are too grievous to be ignored by the Buhari administration which has demonstrated enough political will to fight corruption. Very disturbing indeed, in our view, is the recurring perception that lawmakers are in a quid pro quo with certain highly placed officers of the commission – budget increase for contracts.
While we are not opposed to the parliament playing its constitutional role of oversighting the operations of NDDC, we are, however, worried that the budget of the commission is unduly delayed or not approved at all for whatever reasons. As a result, the commission claims it had to resort to emergency contract awards without recourse to budgetary provision if it had to execute any project. Even more disturbing, in our considered opinion, is the allegation that some of the major beneficiaries from the proceeds of these illicit contracts are the lawmakers themselves.
We are justifiably appalled by this development in which the people of the Niger Delta region who had reasons to be optimistic at the inception of the commission now feel betrayed by the leaders they had looked up to. But we are not going to take sides because we are convinced that, somehow, both parties have some explanations to do to the country as a whole. We, however, see in this matter, a repeat of the altercation between the Director General of Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Aruma Oteh and the House of Representatives.
Consequently, we urge NASS to be open and transparent in its dealings with the NDDC and other agencies of government. The lawmakers must and should help the commission to fulfil its mandate to the people of the region, who are yet to benefit from the huge funds allocated by the federal government to the commission for the development of the Niger Delta region.
Similarly, we call on the management of the NDDC to be focused, prudent in resource management and purge itself of excuses for failure to be up and doing. It is regrettable that while the people are languishing in poverty and deprivation, the agencies of government in a position to act in a manner that ought to assuage their pains and lack are busy squabbling over how much of the pie comes to their individual tables.

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