NDDC audit exposure: Time to change politicians managed interventionist model

EnergyDay Editorial Board

The revelation emanating from the forensic audit report carried out on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) leaves no one in any doubt that much is left to be desired in the way interventionist agencies are managed in the country.

Obviously, the agency established in 2000 has failed to meet the needs of the people it was made to serve. Indeed, this is not the best of times for oil producing communities in Nigeria especially the Delta people who the agency is designed to alleviate their suffering.

It’s evident that the interventionist agency has not only failed to bring development to their long devastated land by oil spills and other despoliation but has further complicated the pains inflated on them by the Nigerian nation.

The funds meant for the transformation and development of the region for producing the economic backbone of the nation was left in the hands of politicians and the consequences was looting and non-judicious utilisation of the fund for their benefit.

Last Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari, ordered investigation into about N6 trillion expended on projects and sundry investments in the commission since 2001. This came a day after Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, received the forensic audit report from Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Akpabio had disclosed that the auditors have concluded examination and documentation of 13,777 contracts for projects and programmes awarded to contractors and consultants in all Niger Delta States from 2001 to August 2019 at a total value of N3.274 trillion, which were abandoned.

While receiving the report, the President said everyone who would be indicted for shady deals in the NDDC would not be spared, no matter how highly placed adding: “Everyone will be made to account for his or her own deed. No one will be spared.”

Under normal circumstances, Mr President’s speech would have been a pointer to the fact that those who have managed the affairs of the NDDC since inception would be left with the herculean task of proving their unlikely innocence in the alleged gross misappropriation of funds in the interventionist agency.

However, this is Nigeria where it takes a politician to cross from one political party to the other and their sins are forgiven. This definitely is the challenge the forensic audit report is going to face. Of course, some smart politicians who are said to be deeply involved had jumped ship even before the report was made public, thus raising questions of the possibility of those involved being punished.

Perhaps, this is another waste of scarce resources to chase perceived political enemies to submission. However, since President Buhari recently declared that he would like to be remembered for his good legacy, he may just surprise Nigerians by allowing justice to take its course.

On misappropriation exposed by the report, Mr President disclosed that N3.375 trillion was given to the NDDC through budgetary allocations, while another N2.420 trillion was provided for the commission through statutory allocations.

He expressed dismay that the commission maintained 362 bank accounts as conduit pipe through which funds were used to pay contractors for either un-executed or abandoned projects, describing it as unprecedented.

Buhari had ordered forensic audit of the commission’s activities from inception to August 2019 in response to the yearnings of the Niger Delta region to reposition the NDDC for the effective service delivery.

The President has argued that only a probe of the finances of the agency could explain the huge gap between projects on the ground in the region and the humongous amount that had so far been disbursed.

EnergyDay recalls that the establishment of NDDC by former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration was part of the recommendations of a United Nations’ Secretary General Mission to Nigeria after the execution of Ogoni human rights and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his kinsmen by the Abacha military junta.

The interventionist agency was a replacement for the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to address the dire developmental needs of the Niger Delta, as well as oil-producing states.

The commission was put in place to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into an economically viable, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and a politically peaceful region.

This medium’s findings show that instead of bringing development to the region, the NDDC has become notorious for creating a few billionaires through the award of bogus and phoney contracts that are never meant to be completed.

Pieces of evidence abound that political actors whose proxies have controlled the affairs of the agency since inception have stripped the Niger Delta of resources meant for its development.

In its about 20 years of existence, NDDC, an agency that awards contracts for capital projects, operated from a rented eight-floor building on 167, Aba Road, Port Harcourt, belonging to Rivers state government, parting with huge rent annually on the imposing property.

Under Godwin Omene, the first Chief Executive of the Commission, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP) was initiated and developed by GTZ. The sketch believed to have provided a very comprehensive plan of how the region could be developed across various sectors, estimated to cost some $50 billion over a 15-year period. But 20 years down the line, implementation of the master plan is yet to commence.

Akpabio had vowed that the forensic audit would be done by reputable firms in line with international best practices, without fear or favour.

Speaking last Friday, Buhari said: “The federal government will apply the law to remedy the deficiencies outlined in the audit report as appropriate. This will include but not limited to initiation of criminal investigations, prosecution, recovery of funds not properly utilised for the purposes they were meant, among others. In all actions, legal due processes will strictly be followed.”

He stated that the report would be forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Justice for a legal review and relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government would be engaged to do justice to the findings accordingly.

The President further stated that over 13, 777 projects were substantially compromised in the region, adding that the federal government was also concerned about the 362 bank accounts and lack of proper reconciliation of the accounts.

EnergyDay believes that the audit report on NDDC is a window into one of the greatest challenges bedevilling the country: the politicisation of anything and everything.

Evidentially, those who have been appointed to manage the affairs of the agency ,even right from the time of OMPADEC, have been politicians or appointed out of political consideration.

We’re convinced that as long as politicians are mandated with the management of the affairs of interventionist agencies, we will continue to have issues such as we have with NDDC with no appreciable impact on the lives of the people for which such an intervention was made in the first place.

Already, the Northeast Development Commission that was established only recently has had its own seedy history, for no other reason than the fact that its affairs are being run by politicians.

It’s our honest submission that the present crop of Nigerian politicians can not guarantee good management of funds. This is largely because they have integrity-deficit and would not care a hoot for the implication of their names being dragged in the mud as long as they can dip their hands in the public till.

EnergyDay is convinced that the time has come for a new model for driving interventionist agencies of the government if the needed results are to be achieved.

There is a need for a shift in paradigm, away from the usual practice of bringing politicians on board in running these agencies.

Government should embrace the model of appointing people of proven integrity from the private sector, especially those who have had a long track record of managing funds, such as reputable accounting firms like KPMG, PwC e.t.c to manage these agencies.

In case of NDDC and other agencies, the people that are supposed to benefit have not, and as a result have been made to suffer untold hardship, while these politician managers smile to the bank.

It is not a rocket science for the government to change the management model of these agencies so that they they would not no longer be run by politicians but by industry experts from auditing firms like KPMG, PwC and the likes? This is because these firms would want to protect their reputation, hence they will manage intervention funds more efficiently. Government could offer them certain percentage of the funds as incentive.

Anything short of this will not yield needed result and would amount to moving in a circle. Politicians in our experience have never proven to be better managers of funds, and we urge President Muhammadu Buhari who has vowed to punish those who may be found culpable in the NDDC sleaze, to as a matter of urgent importance, consider discontinuing the use of politicians to run interventionist agencies and embrace a new model enunciated above by EnergyDay.

By so doing, the president will have written his name in gold as the leader who brings a new efficient model of managing agencies for optimum result

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