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N’Delta: What NDDC Probe Will Achieve

The trending story about the Niger Delta Development
Commission (NDDC) now, is that President Muhamadu Buhari has ordered its
forensic audit that will cover virtually the entire life of the agency. Having
been established in the year 2000, the presidential audit from 2001 to date,
covers a span of 19 years in the life of an agency which took off from a bed of
political intrigues, and has run amuck, under the subterfuge of sailing through
the turbulent minefield of Nigeria’s vicious, cat and mouse game of majority
and minority politics.

It had started seemingly as a response to the yearnings of
the minority Niger Delta communities, to address their age-long criminal
neglect by the ethnic majority powers at the centre. Its control had however
been anything by the former, as their clout over its critical processes,
routinely dispensed with much leverage from them.

In the process, the Commission had been allowed a spree of
mindless looting of its largesse by various cabals comprising leading
politicians at the country’s power centre and their local collaborators, as
well as some of the entrenched members of staff who operate with or without the
connivance of their fronts located outside the precincts of the organisation.

The governors of the NDDC state had met with the President
recently where they discussed issues with him including their dissatisfaction
with the operations of the agency. In response the President ordered the
forensic audit as a preliminary step that would guide his further action.

However, both his body language and comments at the meeting
with the governors, point to the fact that even before and after the expected
forensic audit, it would no more be business as usual. The question now borders
on how much change and how soon such would impact on the NDDC.

The poignancy of this question is underscored by the fact
that not a few Nigerians see the agency as virtually irredeemable unless
something drastic is done about it.

The extent of incorrigibility of the agency is accentuated
by the fact that it hardly takes any significant effort to locate any aspect of
its legion of infractions. Even as at this moment, a Senate Committee that is
investigating an NDDC contract award for the clearing of water hyacinth
invasion is contending with a mind-boggling, suspected fraud in which the
contract that was initially awarded for N2.5 billion, eventually attracted a
payment of N65 billion, under unclear circumstances. Meanwhile, efforts by the
Senate Committee to get the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC Enya Akwagaga,
to brief it helpfully on the unusual situation, had met with little success,
leading the Committee to fix October 30th 2019 for her to come up with a more
useful presentation.

Needless to point out that even before the advent of
Akwagaga, who only recently ascended the position of Managing Director – albeit
in an acting capacity, the NDDC had proved several times over, to be a cesspool
of corrupt practices and a sink-hole for public funds. Several reports on the
serial playout of shenanigans in the Commission, litter under the cover of
several layers of dust on the forbidding shelves of the Presidency, without
attracting commensurate reactions and even due sanctions for the erring and
implicated persons.

Perhaps of note is also the seeming obduracy of some
elements in the establishment such as the spokesman – one Mr Charles Odili who
has been credited with the unfortunate statement that the Niger Delta governors
who went to visit Buhari did so out of a desire to hijack the agency as they
belonged to the opposition party, (ostensibly the Peoples Democratic Party –
PDP). Seen in context, it is the doubt of this column that such a comment
should have come from him by this time and in the present circumstances.

Perhaps unknown to Odili as the spokesman of the NDDC, the
very governors he allegedly and erroneously accused of trying to hijack the
Commission, enjoy statutory liberties to intervene in the affairs of the
Commission, courtesy of the very law that set it up. The NDDC act provides that
the governors of the designated states constitute a Niger Delta Advisory
Development Committee along with two nominees of the President. The functions
assigned the Committee are twofold. Firstly, is to advise the NDDC Board and
secondly to monitor the activities of the entre Commission.

The dormancy of this Committee had remained a sore point in
the relationship between the Commission and the respective state governors of
the region. It is significant that even the recently sacked Acting Managing
Director of the NDDC Professor Nelson Brambaifa, had spiritedly canvassed the
reconstitution of the Advisory Committee to provide a nexus between the agency
and the political leadership of the zone.

Clearly therefore the governors of the zone have a statutory
basis for intervening in the affairs of the Commission while their isolation
from the system could also have been a contributory factor to the recorded
spate of recklessness in executing its mandate in the region. Hence, if the
allegation of unfounded, attempted hijack of the Commission by the governors of
the Niger Delta region was actually from Mr Odili, he really does not have any
valid place in the organization, either as a staff or in any other capacity.

 However, more
significant for now is the expected outcome of the Presidential forensic audit
of the NDDC. Needless to state that Nigerians await the exercise with great
expectations. Many Nigerians who have been in close contact with the political
associates of the NDDC leadership easily attest to the sudden flight from rags
to riches scenarios among such persons. Meanwhile, this is just as there is
abundance of abandoned projects all over the place.

As outlandish as it may sound, public expectation borders on
a complement of restorative measures. In one vein is the drastic restructuring
of the agency back to its founding vision from which it derailed years ago.
Secondly is the recall of several past officials to come and render account of
their questionable stewardship, and a new operational template for the
agency. 

Will all of these be possible under a Buhari Presidency –
with all the weaknesses that have become its second nature; many are asking.
Besides, given the humongous scope of the expected audit and the concurrent
probe of aspects of the agency’s operations by both the Senate and House of
Representatives simultaneously, would it not be most auspicious for the
National Assembly to expand its search light to cover the entire span of 2001
-2019 as directed by the President. This is not only to minimize duplication of
efforts by the two arms of government. It is also to prevent the executive arm
from becoming a judge in its own case, by investigating its erring agency.

Meanwhile, Buhari does not need to wait until the end of the
audit which duration for now is indeterminate, to respond to the cries of the
Niger Delta states governors. A lot can be achieved by him to allay the fears
of the region, in the interim.

Courtesy Daily Trust.

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