The recent statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a forensic auditing of the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) is a step in the right direction and we are wholeheartedly in support of the move.
Adesina said the president’s action was taken out of worry over criticisms of the operations of the commission, and after he received governors of the states that make up the Commission, led by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, who had called for the repositioning of the NDDC.
He said what is presently on the ground in the South-south region does not justify the huge resources that have been made available to the Commission.
Reacting to the president’s action, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, said it supports a probe of NDDC and even suggested that the audit should extend to another pro-Niger Delta agency of government, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP).
According to the Secretary General of IYC, Alfred Kemepado, the Council urged the Federal Government to be sincere in its audit of both agencies, stressing that the reports which would hopefully show the ‘rot and shame’ that the organisations represent in recent years, must not be swept under the carpet.
Also in support of the President’s probe of NDDC are some elders and leaders of the region under the umbrella of the defunct Niger Delta Peoples’ Congress (NDPC), who after a stakeholders meeting in Warri said “the mess in the NDDC should be cleared for effective mandate delivery for the incoming NDDC board.”
The NDDC was established in year 2000 with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.
The mandate of the Commission are: Formulation of policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area; Conception, planning and implementation,
in accordance with set rules and regulations, of projects and programmes for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications,
Surveying the Niger Delta in order to ascertain measures necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development; Preparing master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta region and the estimation of the member states of the Commission;
Implementation of all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the states of the Commission;
and Identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region, among others.
Since 19 years ago when the Commission came into existence, hundreds of billions of Naira have been budgeted and released to its different managements by the various federal governments.
The present administration has also been very benevolent to the people of Niger Delta by ensuring that all the statutory allocations due to the NDDC and the Amnesty Programme are released to them as at when due.
While presenting the 2018 budget before the National Assembly, President Buhari announced an allocation of N53.89 billion for the Niger Delta Ministry and N71.20 billion for NDDC which was a clear increase over the previous year.
The allocation for the Niger Delta Ministry represents a 50 per cent increase when compared with the N34.20 billion that was allocated to it in 2017 budget while the NDDC also had an increase of 18 per cent.
Buhari said at the occasion that the increase was meant to further support the development of the region and underscored the need for peace in the Niger Delta, adding that the federal government has retained N65 billion in the 2018 budget for the Presidential Amnesty Programme in the region.
In spite of the huge allocations, the entire Niger Delta region is still underdeveloped with a majority of its millions of people wallowing in poverty, ignorance and diseases, while members of each past management of NDDC live like kings and queens, obviously from the money meant to develop the region.
Even as the Commission is under performing in its task to develop the region, the various managements are often caught up in the web of huge debts owed to contractors which most times compels Federal Government to intervene, raising the question of ‘what are they doing with the monies allocated and released to them?’.
For example, on July 23, 2018, the then Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, said in Ikot Ekpene that the Federal Government had set aside the sum of N30 billion for the payment of some debts the Niger Delta Development Commission owes its contractors.
Speaking during a solidarity rally for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari and the governorship bid of then Managing Director of the Commission Nsima Ekere, Enang explained that the funds were meant for the payment of the outstanding jobs done.
But a few weeks ago, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee on abandoned projects in the Niger Delta Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai threatened that unless the management of NDDC gives details of how it came about a total contract debt profile of N1 trillion, it is not likely to get its future budgetary allocations.
He issued the threat on during a meeting with stakeholders, observing that while the funds are in debts owed to various contractors handling various projects, there are staggering hundreds of billions of Naira paid to some contractors who took mobilisation but never went to sites.
It is for the above and other reasons that the Federal Government should go ahead and probe the activities of NDDC and ensure that the outcome of the forensic audit is not swept under the carpet like many others in the past.