Abuja — Senate probes alleged inflation of agency's contract to N65bn
President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The audit, which will cover the commission's operations from 2001 to 2019, is in response to persistent criticisms of the management of the special intervention agency, set up to address environmental and developmental challenges in the oil-rich area.
In addition to the presidential order, the Senate has also commenced investigations into the alleged inflation of the contact for the clearing of silts and water hyacinths on the waterways in the commission from 2017 to 2019.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said in a statement in Abuja that the president's order came while receiving a delegation of leaders from the nine states making up the Niger Delta, who were led by Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson.
According to him, Buhari told the delegation that what is currently on the ground in the Niger Delta region does not justify the huge resources that have been made available to the NDDC.
He said: "I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions, especially the NDDC. With the amount of money that the federal government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on the ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues.
"The projects said to have been done must be verifiable. You just cannot say you spent so much billions and when the place is visited, one cannot see the structures that have been done. The consultants must also prove that they are competent," the president stated.
He also said developing the Niger Delta area required enormous resources when compared to other parts of the country with firmer land.
"I am acutely aware, with my experience, that projects in your area are very expensive; that is why if any job is given, we must make sure that the company is competent and has the capacity to do it well with experienced consultants."
The president pledged to wait for the report of the audit before deciding on what next to do with the organisation.
Earlier, Dickson had expressed the disappointment of other governors over the operations of the NDDC, saying they are characterised by poor choice of projects, shoddy handling, uncompleted jobs and lack of required support for the efforts of the states and local government administration in the region.
"He, therefore, called for the repositioning of the NDDC in order to achieve the objectives for which it was set up," the statement quoted the governor as saying.
Meanwhile, the Senate has commenced investigations into the alleged inflation of the contract for the clearing of silts and water hyacinths on the waterways in the Niger Delta region by the NDDC from 2017 to 2019.
Its committee on Public Accounts, which was yesterday billed to hold a public hearing on the allegation, could, however, not make progress due to the absence of the Acting Managing Director of the commission.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Mathew Orhoghide, said the committee decided to hold the public hearing over allegations that the NDDC expended N65 billion instead of the approved N2.5 billion to desilt and clear water hyacinth in the waterways in the region.
According to him, the committee is in possession of petitions over the award and execution of the contracts, especially as the contract overshot the earlier awarded contract sum from N2.5 billion to N65 billion.
Justifying the need for the probe, Urhoghide said: "We had invited the acting managing director and management of the NDDC to come and testify before this committee of the Senate on Public Accounts on an issue that has become of national importance, that is, the award of contracts that has to do with the clearing of water hyacinth in the Niger Delta region and of course the desilting contracts that were awarded by the NDDC under their emergency programme.
"We want to be able to ascertain if due processes were followed in the award of these contracts, particularly the information that we have at our disposal that they exceeded budget limits. Of course, that is a very serious offence.
"What we know is that N2.5 billion was budgeted for this activity, that is, desilting and clearing of water hyacinths. We are hearing that the commission has spent N65 billion; so, we want to know if it is true. It is an allegation. It is still an assumption until they come to clear the air surrounding this.
"It is not a case of whether she is the one that was in office or not, and again we are very clear that this committee is not out to witch-hunt anybody. We want to make sure that all mechanisms, all processes of doing government business, particularly when it comes to expenditure of public funds, are done transparently. This committee is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that there is transparency, accountability and economy that ensures that there is value for money. Once we are able to ascertain that the commission has done it well, of course they are not going to have any problem. If not, we will recommend appropriate sanctions."
The investigation, however, ran into a brick wall when the commission's Director of Special Duties, Mr. Nosakhare Agbekhare, told the committee members that the acting managing director was indisposed due to ill health.
But Urhoghide rejected the director's request to answer questions on behalf of the NDDC boss and directed that all relevant documents about the contract be forwarded to the committee on or before Monday for the scrutiny of members of the panel ahead of the rescheduled public hearing on Tuesday.