President Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday 17th October 2019, ordered a probe into the financial books of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Mr President said the probe will look into the records of the NDDC from 2001 to present on the basis that the projects on the ground in the region are not commensurate with how much has been disbursed.
President Buhari said:
“I have ordered a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). With the amount of money the federal government has allocated to the NDDC, we‘d like to see the results on the ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues the projects that are said to have been done must be verifiable. One cannot just say billions have been spent and when the sites are visited, there is nothing to be seen as proof of work done. The forensic audit will cover the NDDC’s operations from 2001 to 2019.”
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established by Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. In September 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the formation of a Niger Delta Ministry, with the Niger Delta Development Commission to become a parastatal under the ministry. One of the core mandates of the Commission is to train and educate the youths of the oil-rich region to curb hostilities and militancy while developing key infrastructure to promote diversification and productivity.
On August 27, 2019, President Buhari approved a new 16-man board of the NDDC, with Dr Pius Odubu from Edo state as Chairman. Odubu succeeded a former senator from Cross River state, Victor Ndoma Egba, who oversaw the affairs of the NDDC from 2016 to 2019.
The Probe: Witch Hunt or Fight Against Corruption?
The presidency had reportedly received petitions in the past five years over allegations of corrupt activities at the NDDC, some of which included the award of shoddy contracts and project abandonment.
However, after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the probe into the financial records of NDDC, the Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSCON) urged the president to extend that same treatment to the 13% Derivation Fund which had so far been paid to the state governments of the nine states in the Niger Delta region, asking the president to follow the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and redirect the management of the fund to the host communities. The Ijaw Youth Council expressed satisfaction over the move to probe the commission with its President, Mr Eric Omare, affirming that there is nothing wrong with the move.
The Niger Delta Development Commission, on the other hand, came out on October 20, 2019, to accuse governors of the Niger Delta region of plotting to hijack the commission. This accusation came up after a delegation of the state executives led by the governor of Bayelsa, Seriake Dickson, visited the president on Thursday.
Dickson, while briefing reporters after the meeting, said: “We came to have interactions with the president and senior officials of his government on our concerns about developments in the Niger Delta. We also discussed fears and what we know is going on in the NDDC which is a critical agency.”
But NDDC thinks that there is more to the meeting. Its head of corporate affairs, Charles Odili, while speaking to The Guardian, said:
“You remember that the governors who went there (Aso Villa), necessitating that reaction, were from the opposition party. And so, such things are necessary fallouts when they have an opportunity to meet Mr. President.
“They want to control the commission. But it does not work that way. It is a natural thing for a president to ask that we look into the financial records of any organisation that is under the presidency. It is not about corruption.”
The Nsima Ekere-led management of the NDDC, had in 2018, canceled over 600 contracts valued at over N200 billion for not being properly awarded or because the contractors who had already been paid failed to show up at sites.
In 2015, a report by the Auditor-General of the federation claimed the commission could not account for N183.7 billion between 2008 and 2012.
Governors of Akwa-Ibom, Imo and Delta have distanced themselves from the accusations leveled against governors in the Niger Delta region.
Akwa-Ibom state governor, Emmanuel Udom, who spoke through the state’s commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Charles Udoh, expressed disappointment that despite being the highest revenue contributor to the national economy, not even a kilometer of road had been constructed by the NDDC in the state and described the claim by the NDDC as baseless and unfounded.
The Delta state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who also spoke through the state’s commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, explained that the decision to embark on a forensic probe of the agency was solely that of the Federal Government as the governors cannot tell the president what to do.
The governor of Imo state, Emeka Ihedioha, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media, Mr Steve Osuji, mentioned that the President did not need the permission of governors of the Niger Delta to direct the probe of the NDDC.
Since the president has purportedly received a number of petitions against the Niger Delta Development Commission over the past five years, it suggests that there’s that there are potentially questions the Niger Delta Development Commission has to answer. If it were a witch hunt, the government’s actions would be directed against an individual and not the agency.
It is important that the probe is seen to be transparent. For this, the Federal Government will have to publish its findings and be seen to prosecute any potential offenders, regardless of who they are and what party they support.