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NDDC’s cruise – Head office, police flats, forensic audit

EVEN if you know nothing about the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, its commitment to glorifying littleness, mystifying its roles when it is not flying from one scandal to the other, will not escape you. What else does NDDC do?

Tomes of literature on NDDC’s mandate litter the public space. NDDC waddles into one waste or the other with an amplitude that sustains the conviction that the Commission is proud of its failings that it calls achievements.

What is an achievement in the completion of a block of flats for the Special Protection Unit of the police? SPU do not protect ordinary people. No matter their location, they would be fetched for the high and mighty wherever they are in trouble. NDDC has again funded the welfare of others at the expense of its mandate, the Niger Delta.

Somewhat doused is the rating of NDDC’s forensic audit as possibly the greatest achievement of NDDC in the past six years, if not in its entire existence. Another landmark is the completion of its head office complex.

How would any of these improve lives in the Niger Delta? Will gas flaring, oil spillage, pollution, forceful acquisition of communities for oil exploration, the exploitations of the people by oil companies, governments, community leaders, and anyone who can, be reduced?

People are impatient for the audit to be made public. They have to wait. Obong Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta received the report on 8 August 2021. A little over three weeks after, he freighted the report to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Alhaji Abubakar Malami in whose care it has been since 2 September 2021.

Malami would determine when to send it to the President. Or has he, quietly? The joke is that the audit report has been presented but not received.

NDDC

What does one make of 13,777 abandoned contracts, 362 unreconciled bank accounts, and more than N6 trillion budgeted for NDDC in the past eight years? Malami stated those figure while receiving the audit report. He did not mention his sources.

Obong Akpabio waves the forensic audit in the air as if it is a magic wand to the challenges the Niger Delta faces. He speaks about it like a creed, not to be questioned.

NDDC’s forensic audit is not an answer to flawed characters who loot the place, aware that nothing would happen to them beyond removal from office. Is a forensic audit required to punish those who have robbed the peoples of the Niger Delta over the years?

Boards and managements have had their eyes on awarding flimsy contracts. The best contracts are quickly executed, “sustainable”, or unverifiable if unexecuted. Water hyacinth clearing remains a favourite for it has all the potentials to keep interests at NDDC. The weeds re-surface quickly.

Epidemics are another favourite. Lassa fever was reported in Kathmandu, NDDC acted fast. Contracts were awarded for an illness in the Nepalese capital, 8,610 kilometres from NDDC’s headquarters in Port Harcourt.

NDDC understands the global village. Expenditure on COVID-19 started by October 2019. China reported the world’s first cases by November 2019, and Nigeria by 27 February 2020. NDDC was proactive.

Acting Managing Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei told a Senate Committee hearing in July 2020 that the Interim Management Committee, IMC, shared N1.3 billion among staff, including himself, as palliative for the Covid-19 pandemic, apart from their full salaries and allowances. Dr Cairo Ojougboh, acting executive director, Projects, in media interviews justified the expenditure. He said it was standard practice.

Between February and May 2020, IMC members also paid themselves N302 as tour allowances. The country was on complete lockdown.

The Senate Committee report systems that from October 2019 to May 2020, figures in NDDC account statements showed that the IMC disbursed the following: N1.12 billion for publicity, N1.3 billion for community relations, and N475 million on hand sanitizers and face masks for the police.

Ojougboh confirmed to Vanguard that Pondei received N51 million monthly to feed 100 policemen who protected him, that is N510,000 monthly to feed a policeman whose official monthly wages would be less than N100,000. Why would Pondei need 100 policemen? Ojougboh got N18 million monthly as allowances.

And then these –

15 April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, NDDC also paid out N1.96 billion for the procurement of Lassa fever personal protection kits for 185 LGAs of the NDDC States. The IMC failed to provide the name of a single recipient of the kits in the 185 LGAs.

23 July 2020, the Senate resolved that the IMC should refund N4.923 billion to the Federation Account, money paid for unverifiable contracts.

29 July 2020, IMC withdrew N5.8 billion for emergency desilting on Ipinle Ajenrela creek, Igbokoda (Lot 3) -N634,761,500.00, Akaibiri creek, Yenagoa – N634,761,500.00; Ilar Creek, Igbokoda (Lot 2) – N634,761,500.00, Temetan Creek, Igbokoda (Lot 1) – N634,761,500.00, Canal from Ilaje High School Naval Base fishing Terminal, Igbokoda (Lot 1) – N634,761,500.00, Yewa Creek, Okitipupa (Lot 1) – N634,761,500.00, Ipinle Koforawe Creek, Igbokoda (Lot 2) – N634,761,500.00, belebiri waterways, Ogbia (Lot 2) – N739,071,500.00, according to Mr. Kolawole Johnson of the anti-corruption group, Act for Positive Transformation Initiative, ACTI, at a press conference on 7 September 2020.

Seven of the contracts awarded on the same day, in six different locations, supposedly for different tasks, were at the same cost, N634,761,500 each.

A major ambition of most actors in the unbecoming NDDC drama is to funnel resources to their political projects or those of associates. A forensic audit would not deter them.

Corruption is a crime against humanity, Justice Mohammed Idris said on 5 December 2019, while sentencing Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and others for allegedly stealing N7.65 billion from the coffers of Abia State Government. The Supreme Court upturned the verdict after Kalu had spent six months in jail.

NDDC affairs fit Justice Idris’ description of corruption. Sadly, sons and daughters of the Niger Delta are involved in pilfering their people’s lives.

The zealous entitlement to devour resources of NDDC has been a patriotic mission for many. They will feel cheated if the unwritten rules are changed in the middle of a buffet the current owners have laid for themselves.

Attention has moved from punishing looters to the audit report, and more importantly, lobbying to participate in future grabbing of NDDC resources. If you get a bad mention in the audit report, don’t panic. Take the advice of former APC national Chairman Adams Oshiomhole by jumping into the ruling party. Your loot will be forgiven.

If you are quick enough about it, you could be accorded a presidential reception, and gross media appearances. The season is ripe for change.

Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues

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