By Akanimo Sampson
More than three months after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a forensic audit of the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from 2001 to 2019, the management of the interventionist agency does not appear to be on the same page with the president on the issue.
A concerned civic group in the oil and gas region is currently alleging that the management of the commission does not allow the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari to be carried out. Instead of honouring the presidential order, NDDC is rather embarking on project verification, and not a forensic audit.
While receiving governors of the littoral states and others, led by the outgoing Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, in the second week of last October in Abuja, Buhari had said that what “is presently on ground in the South-South region does not reflect the huge resources that have been allocated to the organisation (NDDC).”
President Buhari admitted that the development of the oil-rich area required enormous resources compared to other parts of the country with firmer lands, and pointed out that he will wait for the report of the audit panel before deciding on the next line of action.
In the meantime, a civic group, Niger Delta Anticorruption Coalition (NDAC), is calling on President Buhari to fire the Acting Managing Director of the development agency, Dr. Joi Nunieh, for allegedly snubbing the directive of the president on a forensic audit of the NDDC suspected to be festering in corruption.
The group also wants the Presidency to halt the alleged Contract Verification Exercise said to be embarked upon by the Interim Management Committee of the troubled development commission.
NDAC’s Executive Director, Boniface Akpoebi, who made this obviously weighty allegation in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, is also accusing the NDDC big boss of allegedly forging a degree of the River State University of Science and Technology (RUST).
Akpoebi is claiming that the embattled NDDC boss dropped out of the university and that she allegedly also forged the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate. ‘’She never participated in the mandatory one year National Youth Service Scheme’’, the anti-corruption group insisted.
The group also said: “We have it on good authority that the Acting MD of the NDDC did not graduate from RUST as she claims. She dropped out of the law programme and went abroad. There’s no record she went to the Law School and we know she went abroad after a minor accident. When she came back from abroad she started making noise, claiming to fight for the Niger Delta cause. She has never really been in the struggle for the right reasons and that is why we don’t want her in the NDDC.
“We want Mr. President to stop Joy Nunieh from carrying out the verification of contracts in the NDDC because that is not what she was asked to do. Joy Nunieh has been bribed by politicians to witch-hunt some top Niger Delta leaders and we won’t allow that to happen. Let her go and sort her certificate issue with RUST and NYSC.”
Special Adviser to the NDDC boss on Communications, Ibanga Isine, says he will not glorify the group by responding to their allegations as it is an unregistered organization, maintained that the onus of proof on the alleged certificates forgery rest on the group that made the allegations and not on Nunieh.
He, however, pointed out that the ongoing Contract Verification Exercise by the interventionist agency was a prelude to the forensic audit ordered for by President Buhari.
Before now, Godswill Akpabio, Niger Delta Affairs Minister had said that corruption and political interference have disrupted the original purpose of setting up the NDDC.
Akpabio, who spoke in an interview programme with the NTA, said he was sure that those who founded the commission will be disappointed with what has become of the supposed development agency.
The NDDC was set up in 2000 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo to fast-track development in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Since its inception, there is no significant improvement yet in the oil region. It still remains backward in terms of infrastructure and standard of living, despite the huge amount of money made from oil-exploitation in the area.
Akpabio unequivocally said he was not proud of the commission’s scorecard, and that as a supervising minister he was determined to get the place to work for the good of the people, pointing out that NDDC has been noted for substandard and abandoned projects.
“We currently have about 12,000 abandoned projects across the nine states of the Niger Delta. If those things were completed, you can imagine that the area would have been turned into an Eldorado,” he said. There is no way NDDC road can last (for) even two years”, Akpabio said.
Hitting hard on the agency, the former senator and governor of Akwa Ibom State said, “I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away, I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.”
The minister who was speaking on how corruption and political interference have bogged down the NDDC said, “even the idea of giving out a job to somebody who does not have the requisite skills is corruption on its own. The idea of bloating the contract is also corruption. Even collecting money and abandoning the site is also corruption.
Continuing, he said the situation of things in the NDDC justifies President Buhari’s order for a forensic audit of the agency. “I believe by now, people would have realised that the president is justified in calling for a forensic audit of the commission.
“I wonder why the leaders in the past didn’t find it necessary to look into the activities of the NDDC, with a view to repositioning it. There is nobody that will be happy to see this kind of situation. I don’t associate myself with failures. I believe that if you are given the opportunity to serve, you must leave the place better than you met it.”
Akpabio vowed to change the fortunes of the NDDC and the environmentally despoiled oil region.