Close to one month after President Muhammadu Buhari received the report of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), several interest groups are worried that the federal government is yet to act on the report, or at least set in motion actions to demonstrate its avowed commitment to addressing the developmental challenges in the region.
The media, civil society organisations, international oil companies and millions of poor and deprived Niger Deltans, who still live in squalor amid stupendous oil and gas wealth, are equally becoming apprehensive over the delayed government action.
President Buhari, while receiving the report, had assured Nigerians that the forensic audit report of the NNDC and the recommendations would be critically analysed by the government for necessary action.
Buhari, who was represented by the Attorney General of the federation (AGF) and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, said the call for the audit by the people of the Niger Delta Region arose from the huge gaps between resources invested in the region and infrastructural, human and economic development in the area.
He further stated that it is on record that the execution of more than 13,777 projects is substantially compromised. According to him, between 2001 and 2019, the federal government approved N3. 3 trillion as budgetary allocation to the interventionist agency, while a total of over N6 trillion was given to the NDDC, but the glaring failure of the agency to deliver on its mandate caused the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to approve the engagement of a lead forensic auditor, as well as 16 reputable audit firms to conduct the audit exercise.
This newspaper’s worry is informed by the age-old culture in Nigeria whereby such audit reports are swept under the carpet, only to be exhumed when it is politically expedient. Also worrisome is the secrecy which has surrounded the report since it was presented to the president.
To reverse the ill fortunes of the region, in our considered opinion, the president should urgently implement the recommendations contained in the forensic report. This will be in line with the promise made by the president that he would prosecute individuals who are responsible for the woes of millions of residents of the Niger Delta region.
Regrettably, the current state of affairs in the region is unacceptable, to say the least. Instead of world-class infra and superstructures to support the lives of people in the region, what is present in the area are billionaires, most of them with powerful political connections, who have indecently enriched themselves with funds meant to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the people.
The oil and gas-rich region paradoxically still lacks basic amenities such as potable water, good roads and functional health centres, while a huge army of unemployed youths roams the streets. The squalour and poor state of basic amenities in the region have contributed significantly to the resurgence of militancy and retrogression of economic terrorism.
The region is home to a catalogue of uncompleted and abandoned projects, including the popular East-West Road, even as the activities of oil companies continue to impact the environment negatively, depriving residents of their means of livelihood.
We recall that one the President’s cardinal principles as he campaigned to be elected was that he will get rid of all corrupt tendencies in the country. Sadly and in spite of his best efforts, corruption still thrives in the country essentially because of the nation’s flawed criminal justice system and the seeming lack of political will to deal with politically exposed persons caught with their hands in the till. In most cases, people caught for corruption are treated with kid gloves obviously because of their seemingly untouchable political connections. Corruption cases linger for years and at the end of the day, political considerations interfere with the cases. There is no stringent measure to punish corrupt individuals to deter future offenders.
In our opinion, the Niger Delta region, considering the quantum of revenue that gets to NDDC, ought to be paradise on earth. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case as most of the fund is frittered away. It is important, however, to point out that while the political class holds the gold metal in crippling NDDC and making it ineffective as far as the actualisation of its mandate is concerned, we also hold to account traditional institutions and other prominent citizens in the area who perceive NDDC funds as their own share of the revenue from oil in their backyard. We frown as this pervasive inclination that has held the region down.
It is from this perspective that we call on the government to act speedily on the forensic audit report. Persons, group of individuals and companies involved in the sleaze in the Niger Delta should be prosecuted without further delay.