Since his first outing as a Military Head of State in 1983, President Muhammadu Buhari has never hidden his distaste for corrupt practices, especially in government circles. It was no surprise that on assuming office in May 2015, he made fighting corruption a top priority of his administration.
But four years after, how has he fared in his self-declared war on corruption in the country? Has financial malfeasance, particularly in government ministries, parastatals and agencies reduced to the barest minimum? Sadly, that is not the case as reported cases of malpractices regularly dot media headlines in the country, indicating that the ugly monster of corruption is still alive and thriving.
A typical example is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Established in 2000 to tackle the infrastructural, ecological and human capital challenges of the Niger Delta region, this vital interventionistic agency has over the years, been enmeshed in monumental financial mismanagement and rot that has all but defeated the purpose for which it was established in the first place.
The Commission’s woes are legion and there is not enough space here to review them all. However, some of the major practices that have deviated the Commission’s execution of its mandate to deliver succour to the beleaguered people of the Niger Delta region include: a plethora of abandoned projects, huge indebtedness to contractors, duplication of contracts, indiscriminate award of ‘emergency contracts’, outright embezzlement of funds meant for projects, use of proxies by staff and politicians to corner contract
It was no surprise that the President’s recent call for a forensic audit of the Commission’s affairs since inception, was well received by concerned stakeholders as a way of clearing out the massive rot in the agency and charting a new development paradigm for the region.
But even that laudable gesture by the government is about to be truncated by the same set of people that have held the Commission to ransom for years.
To the shock of the good people of the Niger Delta, an Interim Management Committe
This action by Senator Akpabio has drawn a lot of flak and condemnation from different quarters, with many stakeholders calling it an illegality and usurpation of the role of the duly constituted Board.The Senate has called the IMC illegal and advised the Governing Board to immediately resume duties after they were recently cleared by the Senate. The House of Representatives has also issued statements condemning the IMC.
This raises questions like “what does Akpabio want with the NDDC?” Reports and feelers from insiders in the Commission indicate that the Minister hurriedly set up the IMC to cover up alleged corrupt practices linked to ‘emergency contracts’ awarded mostly during the tenure of two previous Managing Directors of the Commission, Chief Nsima Ekere and Prof. Nelson Brambaifa. During this period between November 2016 and August 2019, about N1 trillion worth of illegally procured emergency contracts wereawarded. Out of these contracts, about N450 billion has been paid out to date and up to N600 billion or more are outstanding.
Publicly available records submitted to the Auditor-General of the Federation indicate a total debt profile of about N1.3 trillion incurred from legally procured contracts. Including the outstanding contracts from emergency contract awards balloons the total outstanding liability to a whopping N2 trillion.
These illegally procured emergency contracts are at the heart of the planned forensic audit. The progenitor for this situation seems to be Chief Nsima Ekere, erstwhile Deputy Governor to Senator Godswill Akpabio when both were members of PDP in 2011 but fell out after Ekere was forced to resigned for ‘personal reasons’ in 2012. Both regrouped on the platform of the APC to contest as Gubernatorial and Senatorial candidates respectively, during the 2019 elections. They both lost their bids.
Unfortunately, the Commission was used as an ATM (to paraphrase the Minister in his recent press statements) to fund these failed ambitions. Speculation is rife that the protection of these transactions is what drives the Minister’s obsessive interest in the NDDC. As an Igbo proverb says, “a toad does not run in the daytime for nothing.” The Minister, being a huge beneficiary of the emergency contract scam would not want his deeds exposed through an independent audit.
Hence, his desperation to subvert the President’s good intentions by setting up this ‘kangaroo’ interim management committee to carry out an audit in an agency in which he has been a major beneficiary.
When did the ex-Governor of Akwa Ibom State become a poster child for the anti-corruption crusade of the Federal Government? We as a people have become very short-sighted. It seems the constant barrage of unresolved
It is an assault on our collective senses for the Minister who is still undergoing investigation by the EFCC over N108 billion worth of fraud cases to supervise the forensic audit of the Commission.
We appeal to President Buhari to call Senator Akpabio to order and prevent the present polarization of views and fissure in polity caused by this brazen hijack of the President’s agenda. The Niger Delta region is critical to the economic wellbeing of the country and the peace in the region should not be threatened by the actions of a few reactionary elements surrounding the Minister and his minions.
The good peace loving people of the Niger Delta want the illegal Interim Management Committee removed immediately and the constitutionally recognized Governing Board sworn in to perform its duties of managing and supervising the affairs of the Commission, subject to the direction and control of the President, as enshrined in the NDDC Establishment Act 2000.
As we say in Africa, “one man cannot stand against the village.” Senator
Chief Pius Okoni writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State