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Time to Inaugurate NDDC Board, Prosecute Persons Indicted by Audit

By Kaniye Amakiri 

After nearly two years of waiting by eager Niger Deltans, the much-trumpeted forensic audit report of NDDC was last week submitted by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio to President Buhari. Kaniye Amakiri urge the Federal Government to release the forensic audit report to the Nigerian public, commence the prosecution of any persons indicted, while President Buhari should not be endlessly obsessed with the past by complying with the NDDC Act and fulfill his promise by inaugurating the Governing Board of the Commission to ensure accountability, checks and balances, probity and equitable representation of the nine constituent states of the Niger Delta region.

The submission of the report of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to President Muhammadu Buhari after almost two years should mark the end of the delays, manipulations and hijacking of the NDDC by vested interests.

We recall that President Buhari and other officials of the administration had stated that the audit report will help in the recovery of looted funds from corrupt past NDDC officers, indicted government officials and fraudulent contractors, while the Governing Board will be inaugurated to manage the NDDC in accordance with the law setting up the Commission – the NDDC Act. The president, specifically on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress at the State House in Abuja, had promised that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted.

The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.” 

Accordingly, there is no reason to delay the immediate inauguration of the Governing Board of the NDDC any further.

In the last two years, Niger Delta Affairs Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio, who has supervised the NDDC and the forensic audit, has turned the NDDC into his personal estate where he has brought in his friends and acolytes as sole administrators under the guise of conducting an audit, while at the same time utilising the huge funds which have accrued to the Commission in the last two years with no meaningful infrastructural projects in the region to show for it. Yet, the last two years have witnessed some of the most brazen incidences of corruption, fraud, financial recklessness, extra-budgetary spending and gross mismanagement of over N400 billion which have come into the NDDC during the period, with nothing to show for it. To assuage the discomfort and opposition of the Niger Delta people to his shenanigans at the NDDC, Akpabio had promised to comply with the NDDC Act by ensuring that the Governing Board is inaugurated as soon as the forensic report is submitted. All the while, however, it was obvious that the minister was working towards an arrangement that would continue to give him a hold on the agency and the huge funds which continue to accrue to the NDDC from the Federal Government and the Oil Companies on a monthly basis.

Though the details of the “forensic audit report” have not been officially released by the Federal Government, it is clear that under Akpabio’s watch the so-called forensic auditors went beyond their brief to call for actions that can only be designed to benefit the minister but in the end will be detrimental to the development, harmony and peace of the people of the nine NDDC states. One such recommendation, it has been reported, is that the membership of the Governing Board of the NDDC be reduced from the current number. The other recommendation that the Board be on part-time basis is needless because that is the position of the current NDDC Act as can be clearly seen in Section 2 (3) of the Act.

We want to draw the attention of the president and the federal government to the danger in tinkering with the Board membership as currently provided for.

Under the current NDDC Act, each of the nine oil producing states has a representative on the board and are all on part time basis as clearly indicated in Section 2(3) of the NDDC Act. In addition, there is one representative for all oil producing companies in the country and one person each from each non-oil-producing geopolitical zone. All the members of the Board listed above are on part time basis as clearly stated in the Section 2(3) of the NDDC Act. The only full time members of the Board as clearly stipulated in the NDDC Act are three – the Managing Director and two Executive Directors – who are responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Commission.

It is apposite to remind us that the North East Development Commission Act is patterned after the NDDC Act, with board membership drawn from each state of the North East Region as well one member each from each of other geopolitical regions in Nigeria together with other stakeholder representations. Similarly, all Board members aside from the Managing Director and the three Executive Directors are on part time basis in line with the North East Development Commission Act which was patterned after the NDDC Act. It is sad that while the North East Development Commission has been allowed to function with its duly constituted Board in place ensuring proper Corporate Governance, accountability, checks and balances and fair representation of its constituent states, the NDDC has been run arbitrarily in the last two years by Interim committees/Sole Administrator in breach of the NDDC Act even after the President Buhari had appointed a Board for the NDDC which was duly confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on November 5, 2019. That Confirmed Board was asked to be on standby for inauguration after the forensic audit.

There is no doubt in our minds that the unsolicited recommendation to reduce the size of the NDDC Board is a red herring by Akpabio to attempt to initiate a long process of a needless amendment of the NDDC Act to give him more time to continue his hijacking of the Commission and its funds using illegal sole administrator/interim committees in breach of the NDDC Act.

It is imperative that President Buhari sticks to the original purpose of the forensic audit, which is to identify the projects embarked on, the application of funds, to mete out appropriate punishment and recovery of looted funds.

In misdirecting the audit, Akpabio has confirmed the fears of the statesmen and people of the Niger Delta states that he had a sinister agenda all along.

Various organizations had raised the conflict of interest in Akpabio supervising the NDDC and the forensic audit because of his central role in all the negative happenings in the NDDC while he was Governor of Akwa Ibom State (2007 to 2015) during which time he got one of his commissioners appointed as Managing Director, another of his nominee as Chairman and another as State Representative on the Board. Even the current sole administrator of the NDDC Effiong Okon Akwa was Akpabio’s aide in Akwa Ibom State whom he later deployed as special assistant to a former NDDC MD nominated by Akpabio – Mr Dan Abia who was in office as MD of NDDC between 2013 and 2015, a period supposedly under the coverage of Akpabio’s Forensic Audit!

We call on the Federal Government to release the forensic audit report which Akpabio has submitted to the Nigerian public and commence the prosecution of any persons indicted. President Buhari should not give the impression that an endless obsession with the past is what the people of the Niger Delta States will be treated to in his administration. The President should go after those who have been credibly indicted with mismanagement of the resources of the NDDC, including any persons currently in government, but he should now also comply with the NDDC Act and fulfill his promise by inaugurating the Governing Board of the Commission to ensure accountability, checks and balances, probity and equitable representation of the nine constituent states of the Niger Delta Region.

QUOTE:

There is no doubt in our minds that the unsolicited recommendation to reduce the size of the NDDC Board is a red herring by Akpabio to attempt to initiate a long process of a needless amendment of the NDDC Act to give him more time to continue his hijacking of the Commission and its funds using illegal sole administrator/interim committees in breach of the NDDC Act.

Amakiri is National Chairman of Niger Delta Progressives Network

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