“40. The Head office of the Niger Delta Development Commission will be commissioned shortly. The funding of the sections I-IV of the East-West Road shall be pursued with a view to completing the project by the end of 2021.
- Furthermore, I am determined to ensure that development meant for the people of the Niger Delta get to them so I have authorized a Forensic Audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission”
– President Muhammadu Buhari. June, 12, 2020.
The last few weeks, preceding the above extract from the Democracy day speech of President Muhammadu Buhari has been characterized by a media frenzy of sorts, all for the sake of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). It seemed there was an infernal struggle and internal squabble among various stakeholders in the Niger Delta region. What started out, seven months ago, as a genuine attempt, by President Buhari, to usher in a new lease of life at undoubtedly one of the biggest commissions in Southern Nigeria (at least, in terms of the volume of sleaze it churns out), turned out to be somewhat of the opening of the pandora box. It seemed the heavens would rather fall than for a Forensic audit to conducted at the NDDC. But President Buhari has authorized it, and the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio must see to it that change happens to NDDC.
It goes without saying that one cannot be doing the same thing, repeatedly, and expecting a different result. Thus, President Muhammadu Buhari, after nominating the Okumagba led NDDC, and forwarding their names to the senate for screening, decided, still within the exercise of his powers, to stay action on their inauguration, and rather put in place an Interim Management Board (IMC) led by Prof. Daniel K. Pondei. Alongside this board, was instituted, by Mr. President, a Forensic Audit, to peruse through the books of the commission, with a view to bring to the fore, the financial activities of the commission, since inception. Certainly, if you don’t identify the problem, you cannot possibly find the solution and guess work never helps to nip a situation in the board.
The main aim of this audit is to pave way for the commission to have a fresh start. It is not funny how billions of naira, in their hundreds, flow through the accounts of the NDDC, but does not reflect, meaningfully, on the Niger Delta environment. The money does not reflect on the lives of the beleaguered people of the region. The fact that the NDDC as an intervention agency, has not effectively committed itself to providing solution to the environmental degradation which is the bed mate of oil exploration in the Niger Delta region, should be a source of concern to the people. Of concern, also, is the fact that in 20 years of its existence, the NDDC has no single regional project to its name, and according the Executive Director, Projects, of NDDC, Hon. Cairo Ojougboh, the commission has not done flagship projects, not even a 10-kilometer dual carriage way constructed to its credit. But it seems, rather that the focus is on dividing the spoils!
It is sad how spillages from oil exploration flow unchecked, into the rivers surrounding the Niger Delta communities, aborting all lives of sea creatures, in a land full of water, where fishery and aquaculture are the main stay of the people. It is sickening how acid rains from careless and ceaseless gas flaring ruin the roofs of swamp dwellers, rendering them utterly homeless. It is even more heartrending, how seismic bangs from the oil rigs tear up the land and metamorphose into landslides and other natural disaster situations. Simply put, the oil at the backyard of the Niger Deltans, becomes a cursed blessing for the children of the swamp, as they are, daily, faced with environmental degradation which poses threats of total annihilation of the people. And in all these, the concern of the NDDC which ought to be a pain reliever for the people of Niger Delta, becomes, rather, to plunder the funds appropriated for intervention. There are no good hospitals and some cases, no medical centres at all, to attend to the health challenges posed by sooth and other cancerous and carcinogenic substances the people inhale, daily. So, in the absence of land and water for agricultural purposes, which means, there is no food; in the face of acid rains and the damage it does to roofs, there is no shelter. There are no good roads and linking bridges. All in the face of abundant resources, appropriated annually but disappears into thin air, like gas flaring.
To this end, President Buhari saw the need to authorize a forensic audit in the very commission charged with the responsibility of attending to the needs of the region, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to find out exactly how badly the people have been raped, to know exactly how to make amends or at least remedy the situation, in a manner that will be adequate, timely and equal to the damage done. It is important to note that this is the first of its kind, since the birth of the commission, in the year 2000. Now, this is the move that has met a stout resistance from the age long beneficiaries of the rape on Niger Delta.
Not many recalls, conveniently that it was the Governors of the nine states of the Niger Delta that first muted the idea of an investigation into the activities of the NDDC, citing the sad fact that as Governors and hosts of the oil communities who are the supposed beneficiaries of the NDDC intervention projects, they have not been fully involved in the scheme things. It was on this note that Mr. President first, constituted them into an advisory council, with a special membership of the Minister for Environment and the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, His Excellency, Sen. Godswill Obot Akpabio as the coordinator. Then, Mr. President acceded to their request by promptly and effectively instituting a Forensic Audit into the activities of the NDDC, since the inception.
No sooner had this announcement hit the airwaves than some stakeholders, with vested interests started deploying every trick in the bag, to scuttle the very idea of an audit, let alone, a forensic audit. They virtually went berserk, exceeding all moral bounds just to throw spanner in the works. They even resorted to outright blackmail, using media hatchet men and propaganda machinery to attempt a dent on the image of not just the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, but also the Prof. Daniel K. Pondei led Interim Management Committee (IMC) as well as any other stakeholder that dared to lend a voice in support or in favour of the forensic audit.
Initially, the interests were masked, and the hand of Esau created a smokescreen, to effectively shield the voice of Jacob. It was only a matter of time before the handwriting of the wall became legible. It was a huge surprise for Nigerians to realize that the Federal legislators charged with the responsibility of oversight on the NDDC, are the self-same people overseeing, directly and indirectly, the sleaze that has characterized the commission, with the active involvement of the civil servants at the commission’s headquarters. This exactly explains why there is a stiff resistance, from some quarters, on the issue of the forensic audit ordered by Mr. President. These lawmakers employ phantom probes and other the legislative tools at their disposal, budget and appropriation, to throttle the commission to submission, till they are allowed to have their way with thousands of simply inexplicable and bloated contracts, most of which are never executed, yet fully paid for.
The Democracy day speech by Mr. President, on the 12th of June 2020, in which he reiterated the resolve to prioritize the development of the Niger Delta region, through infrastructural development especially as it affects the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) headquarters and section I-IV of the East-West highway, and to see the forensic audit through, was emphatic and reassuring enough to calm the frayed nerves of the people of Niger Delta and as well, set on the edge, the cabal that long had their knees on the neck of the region. Since then, much hell has practically been let lose. There is evidently a concerted effort to frustrate every attempt to carry out the forensic audit. The people are only left to trust the Presidential assurances and pray that nothing scuttles this glimpse of a beautiful era in the life of NDDC, which they have seen. The people expect the Niger Delta stakeholders and all concerned, to drop their selfish’ interests and allow as well as support the forensic audit to succeed, for the benefit of all.
Francis Udoka Ndimkoha Is the National Publicity Secretary of Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative and writes from Owerri, Imo State.