By Oghenekevwe Uchechukwu
President Muhammadu Buhari’s posture of silence might be him endorsing the gross financial recklessness happening in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a benefit transfer mechanism for the people of the Niger Delta that has become a conduit pipe for a majority few.
Findings by TheNewsGuru Centre for Investigative Journalism (TNGCIJ) reveals that the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide only recently alleged that the NDDC forged the signatures of some former executives to pay the sum of N20 billion to ghost contractors over the last three months, fresh allegations the Commission has denied.
Spokesman for the IYC, Ebilade Ekerefe accused the interim administrator of the NDDC, Effiong Okon Akwa of forging the signatures of former acting Managing Director of NDDC, Nelson Brambaifa and former Executive Director (Projects), Samuel Adjogbe to give credence to the payment of the ghost contractors between N300 million and N400 million in the last three months.
Ekerefe, while making the revelations, urged President Buhari to order a probe by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into the financial transactions of the NDDC during the months under review.
“If the President, Muhammadu Buhari and those in the presidency do not investigate the allegation brought forward by the council, it means they are all involved in the ongoing fraud in the NDDC,” the group spokesperson said.
Reacting, the Commission described the allegation as “spurious lies masterminded, fabricated and orchestrated by persons who are positioning their relatives and associates for ultimate appointment into the Board of the NDDC”.
Director, Corporate Affairs of the NDDC, Ibitoye Abosede, added that the call for probe was “laughable and most unfortunate”, insisting that the monies were never spent by the Commission in the first place.
“The Commission for the umpteenth time states without mincing words that it never paid N20 billion naira to any ghost contractor and therefore challenges the authors and fabricators of these malicious allegations to come out with proof or name the Companies of these “ghost contractor,” Abosede said.
Numerous unresolved corruption at the NDDC
TNGCIJ reports the NDDC has been entangled in several corruption scandals that have questioned the sincerity of the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari-led administration.
For example, the 2018 report released by the Auditor-General for the Federation accused management of the Commission of mismanaging N698 million on regional security for services that were never rendered.
The money as alleged in the report was paid to private security outfits owned by retired Generals through a bidding process that was not open to competition, in contravention of the Public Procurement Act of 2007.
According to the report, relentless efforts by the audit team to cite the contract files of the security consultants with the view to verifying the term of engagement proved abortive, and the NDDC management was directed to ensure that the consultants refund the sum of N689 million, as well as provide evidence of recovery to the office of the Auditor-General for the Federation for the purpose of authentication.
Meanwhile, in August 2019, TNGCIJ reports the House of Representatives initiated an investigation into the alleged abandonment of disposable capital projects by NDDC littered in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta and Rivers states, but abandoned the enquiry citing lack of funds.
The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, accused contractors of delivering sub-standard projects, which caused flooding in parts of the state and called for a probe into the utilisation of the N20 billion emergency funds allegedly expended on projects.
“This kind of action is embarrassing to our administration and causing us political problems as our citizens are confused about the roads we are constructing and the sub-standard roads executed by NDDC contractors.
“I have instructed the state’s Solicitor-General to begin the process to take legal action against NDDC contractors, who execute sub-standard work in the state, particularly the contractor who handled the project on Apostolic Street off Sokponba Road, which led to flooding in the area. We will blacklist them,” Obaseki said.
N2.5 billion goes missing chasing N6 trillion NDDC spending
In response to the call for the audit by the people of the Niger Delta region to address the huge gaps between resources invested in the region vis a vis the infrastructural, human and economic development, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the engagement of Ernst & Young, a lead forensic auditor, as well as 16 reputable Audit Firms to conduct the audit exercise at the whooping cost of N2.5 billion.
Last year, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, while submitting the forensic audit report on the NDDC, which covered a period of 18 years, said over 13,000 projects were abandoned in the region, which remained backwards since 1958, despite various interventionist programmes and projects, as much of the allocations were diverted into private pockets.
The Nigerian government accused the NDDC of operating a total of 362 bank accounts, leading to a lack of proper reconciliation of accounts, and promised to apply the law to remedy the deficiencies outlined in the audit report, as well as to recover funds that were not properly utilized for the public purposes they were meant for.
“It is on record that between 2001 and 2019, the Federal Government has approved N3,375,735,776,794.93 as budgetary allocation and N2,420,948,894,191.00 as income from Statutory and Non Statutory Sources, which brings the total figure to the sum of approximately Six Trillion Naira given to the Niger Delta Development Commission,” Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, disclosed while receiving the report on behalf of President Buhari.
However damning the report, President Buhari, the acclaimed anti-corruption czar has remained largely silent on the developments. No further action has been taken by the government since the submission of the forensic audit report on the NDDC, even when there have been calls to make the content of the report public to justify the N2.5 billion taxpayer’s money spent on the investigation and ensure that no one indicted by the report is spared.
President Buhari has also been urged to swiftly inaugurate the substantive board of the NDDC, as administering the NDDC with interim managements/sole administrator for a prolonged period is in breach of the NDDC Act establishing the Commission.