Mon-Charles Egbo, print media aide to the President of the senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan explains the interest of the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly in the affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission
The Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is an intervention agency of the Federal Government created to directly improve the living standard of the people of the region comprising nine states of the federation. But whether or not the body has delivered on its mandate since inception over twenty years ago is left for the people of the Niger-Delta and perhaps the general public to say with certainty. However, the senate in keeping with its resolve to be truly people-oriented particularly in guiding the other arms of government towards good governance and effective service delivery; is convinced that NDDC requires a fresh impetus for optimal performance.
This corporate disposition, added to the commitment to making sacrifices necessary to uplift the people, came into play when the senate conscientiously streamlined the then irregular budgeting processes and procedures of the NDDC to align with the now operational January-December fiscal cycle of the federation. The same patriotic zeal was exhibited at the screening and approval of the governing board of the NDDC albeit not seamlessly. The presidency had requested senate's approval for constitution of the board which would take over from the Interim Management Committee, IMC, set-up by the Minister of the Niger-Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio. The senate upon confirmation and subsequent declaration of the IMC dissolved, was to later receive a memo from the president informing the legislature of the desire not to inaugurate the confirmed board as expected. In this communication clearly borne out of mutual respect between the two arms of government, President Buhari explained that "while the process of composition and Senate confirmation of the appointment of the board was ongoing, I had directed that the forensic audit of the Commission be carried out, which is being overseen by the constituted Interim Management Team". He therefore pleaded that "in order to allow for uninterrupted process of the forensic investigation, the board appointment confirmed by the Senate has to be put on hold to allow the Interim Team continue to manage the Commission pending the outcome of the forensic audit," adding that after the probe, "a new board of the Commission will be recomposed for confirmation by the Senate."
This candid appeal naturally, deserved the senate's favourable consideration, especially when related to the circumstances of Ibrahim Magu's continued stay in office, in acting capacity, as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since 2015. For clarity, there was no such explanatory notes and request because there was no cordiality in relationship between the two arms.
But curiously, while the outcome of the instituted audit is being awaited, there are allegations of grave corruption being perpetrated by the same IMC supposedly superintending over the probe. They include abuse of processes, phantom and reckless contracts award, irregular expenditure, victimization of staff and other cases of conflicting interests. Above all, there is a strong accusation of the supervising ministry of Niger Delta Affairs making subtle attempts to compromise the investigation, apparently in concert with other external influences notably some suspected beneficiaries of the questionable transactions including public officials. This is particularly catching fire in some quarters given the insinuated shady manner of hiring the auditors.
In an open acknowledgement of the lamentable state of the agency, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo who is the House of Representatives committee chairman on NDDC disclosed that "as an indigene of one of the Niger Delta states, a region that has been deprived of significant development over the years partly because NDDC which should have been the driver of developments in the region has been given to petty politics. I dare say the time has come for us to embrace change for the sake of the people in the region who are subjected to untold hardship partly due to our actions and inactions. We are on the same page with Mr. President that, the NDDC deserves to be rescued and repositioned; I am on the good side of history to partake in this worthy course, it is a responsibility and this exactly I will do."
Leading the debate on a motion he sponsored on the "urgent need to investigate alleged financial recklessness in the NDDC", another indigene of the Niger Delta, Senator George Sekibo, lamented that "while the President's action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedeviled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission. The IMC has inundated itself with undue gross misconducts in fraudulent contracts award without due recourse to due process and flagrant disobedience to the provisions of the sections 19, 25, 41 and 42 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007. Within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission's fund without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region,". These aptly reflect the mood of the larger populace of the region. Consequently, the senate president, Ahmad Lawan responsively set up an ad-hoc committee to dispassionately review them. But in doing this he was able to make some clarifications in furtherance of the productive executive-legislative collaboration in the overall interest of the masses. He noted that "we are in total support of the president's directive for the forensic audit of the finances of the NDDC, and this is, in some way, complementary to that directive. We have no predetermined position on the outcome of this investigation as an institution. Issues raised are allegations; therefore, the NDDC has the opportunity to come forward and defend its position. But we have a mindset and our mindset in the Senate is that we must have NDDC that is efficient in service delivery to the people of Niger Delta. This is the essence of setting up that commission. So, we want to see a situation where the very limited resources appropriated for NDDC are prudently and transparently deployed for the development of the Niger Delta region. This is our mindset and we will not shy away from our responsibility at any time we feel that is not happening."
The decision to set-up a special committee as against the standing committee on Niger-Delta underscores the topmost priority and urgency attached to it. And in further asserting the dispassionate position of the senate, the chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi, hinted that "it is not an exercise aimed at witch-hunting of any individual, group or institution, but to get to the root of the matter for the overall good of the nation".
Meanwhile, the Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, is optimistic that the initiated probe "along with the ongoing forensic audit will expose those who have used their exalted positions over the years to fleece the NDDC through fully paid contracts which were never executed and other forms of contact racketeering."
Every sincere Nigerian would agree that the NDDC has had a chequered history and until certain grey areas are comprehensively resolved, the genuine intentions and huge investments aimed at improving the living standard of this critical region of the country would amount to colossal waste. This legislative intervention is certainly timely and offers great hope.
Therefore except there are other motives yet to be expressed, this senate's move should be embraced as very thoughtful and primarily to reposition the NDDC for optimal performance towards taking governance closer to the people of the Niger-Delta