JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH
Activist and President of the Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative, based in the Niger Delta, Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe
has been at the forefront of the clamor for sanitizing the NDDC to fulfill its mandate. In this interview with selected journalists, she spoke about the need for the Commission's Forensic Audit initiated by the Federal Government. JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH presents the excerpts.
19 years after its creation, the NDDC is still far from fulfilling its central mandate to develop the Niger Delta region. What do you think is responsible?
Several factors are responsible for the Commission's inability to fulfill its main mandate to develop the Niger Delta region since its creation 19 years ago.
Allow me to dwell on the main issues that hindered development, which are generally not discussed by anyone who claims to be the owner of the region.
First, politics is the reason. The inability of the people of the region, particularly the leaders, to join a mentality that the interest of the region is paramount and must outweigh all other interests. The policy of who should be appointed to the Board of Directors has been a major bottleneck in the progress wheel in carrying out the Commission's central mandate.
The moment people are appointed to represent their states in the Council, it is a matter of returning to those who helped in the nomination and even in the screening. Instead of focusing on how to bring real development to the states, they are dedicated to developing the pockets of their payers.
Again, the Commission's funding has been relatively poor, far beyond the provisions of the law that established it.
From the discoveries, FG spent only about N700 billion over the 19-year period in the 9 states. If you do the math, you will see that each state receives less than N100m each year. And that is not enough to generate the kind of massive development we expect. Oil and gas companies also failed to pay the legal 5% and 3%, respectively, of their annual revenue. Therefore, what is projected cannot be achieved, considering the misallocation of funds.
Finally, I will talk about the Commission's budgetary provisions. As an interventionist agency faced with security issues that could affect the entire economy, the NDDC should not be used to make policy accordingly. The financing and budget provisions that must be approved by the National Assembly are an important factor for the Commission to have failed.
The reason is simple. Most of those who were supposed to help ease the budget approval for the Commission, unfortunately, saw this as an opportunity to bargain for their own share of contracts. In cases where the Board is not ready to comply, the Budget is cut in an attempt to frustrate the Commission and, in turn, the people of the region.
There should be an amendment to the law to reduce the obvious interference from other branches of government. If the president wants to achieve his development agenda for the region, using the NDDC, there must be a conscious effort to ensure that a budget of N10 billion for three specialized mega hospitals in three states is not reduced to an insignificant N100m, as is the case. with the late 2019 budget.
Nigerians and indeed the people of the region are not aware of this. The 2019 budget for the Commission was only approved last month. How can it be implemented within 6 weeks before it expires? It is a deliberate effort to frustrate the Commission and this is simply because NASS does not agree with the constitution of the Interim Management Committee and with the IMC's refusal to continue paying huge sums of money for phantom training programs that, over the years, characterized the Commission. How can billions of Naira be paid annually to some lawmakers and other high-level people under the guise of emergency jobs that are not on budget and, as such, do not go through the procurement process?
These are some of the main problems.
The NDDC has been referred to as the politicians' dairy cow, who you think is responsible for the Commission's mismanagement.
Yes, it is a dairy cow for politicians and that can be difficult to change.
The truth is that those assigned to manage their businesses have not asserted themselves or committed to the total transformation of the region.
Until they have a free hand to operate, that is, if they have shown signs of commitment, it will be a normal business.
Surprisingly, in the current Board, the IMC is being overseen by the Minister of Affairs of the Niger Delta, Godswill Obot Akpabio, a certified Development Specialist, but not much has happened yet other than media sponsored attacks against him and the Board.
You must ask why it is slow, although it is noted that the abandoned permanent headquarters building is now 95% completed under it.
It's all politics!
If Akpabio is allowed to function, he will replicate what he did at Akwa Ibom when he served as governor for 8 years and that could put him higher in 2023, which is the fear of some of them. They are already blackmailing him in his party in front of the leaders that he has the ambition to replace someone from the North as president. And every kind of meeting is being held to waste it before the president. Do you really think these people are interested in the Nigerian project, which includes the Niger Delta region?
But should we be jumping the gun? And because of this imaginary ambition, they want to frustrate you and, in turn, the people of the region. This is just bad and unacceptable. Let me say, the 2023 policy is already in place. I will go to that later.
Once again, in order to dare to interrupt some of the payments to some high profile Nigerians in the Presidency, NASS and others, it must be stopped at all costs. The campaign is started.
For example, he ordered the interruption of the payment of N1bn annually to a company responsible for raising money from gas companies, and that company belongs to a former Senate president and another high-ranking senator; they released all the arsenals against the minister and the IMC.
Akpabio and the IMC dared to do what others feared. Starline has been a consultant to the NDDC since 2014 and is responsible for collecting 3% of the total annual budget of any oil producing company that operates, on land and at sea, in the Niger Delta area, including gas processing companies.
There was another payment of more than N2bn to a company called Candor for allegedly collecting a legal payment of US $ 28 million for the NDDC, which is equivalent to about N10bn from Nigeria LNG.
For interrupting a $ 3.6 billion annual contract for the production of plastic school tables and benches for the nine states of the Niger Delta. The same person who owns Candor owns that same company and is a high-ranking senator.
People are asking for payment for work not done and the IMC says no, so hell is left to lose and this ignites all kinds of attacks against the minister.
Nigerians are not asking questions. Why did someone raise N300m annually as rent for the Commission's headquarters? In the meantime, I don't remember when former Governor Peter Odili's decision to donate the building at no cost to the NDDC was overturned. Akpabio has now decided that the abandoned headquarters must be completed and the fraudulent payment for the N300m halted, even if what the Rivers state government records is N200m. Now, the advertisement is that Akpabio owns RODNAB, which manages the new headquarters building. This is a matter for another day, as I will reveal how the initial contract was canceled, revised and rewarded even before Akpabio became minister.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes, unfortunately, the Commission was unable to tell their story. The NDDC must be rescued from these hawks, otherwise the development of the region will only exist on paper.
That the senior civil servants who have served on the Commission since the defunct OMPADEC are transferred to the State offices and their total salaries and duties paid, which for them is a wrong decision by the IMC.
These people I refer to as Methuselah from the NDDC have become untouchable simply because they are the conduit tubes used by these high profile Nigerians to divert and divert funds earmarked for the development of the region.
Many of them are richer than some Porsche Cars governors and buildings in wide areas of Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and abroad.
Unfinished NDDC projects punctuate the extent and breadth of the region, some of them fully paid, do you think the government and people in the region are doing enough to monitor the Commission?
I love that question. Let me tell you the simple truth. Award-winning jobs over the past 19 years have been used to win elections. The money paid to some of these professional contractors is used only for the elections and the Commission had the worst period during the period leading up to the 2015 elections.
Most of the abandoned jobs were paid, while some were not even originally in the budget. Without referring anyone or defending anyone, I can clearly say that there is a Sales Contract Department in the Commission, in which you buy the award cards and are assisted by the staff there to get paid without doing work.
Why has the National Assembly, in the course of its oversight functions, been unable to detect this for 19 years?
There is a legal audit for the 19-year period by the Auditor General of the Federation; therefore, why have they not detected this over the years?
Some of the contracts were abandoned due to frustration in obtaining payment. Some of those abandoned jobs were never in the budget; therefore, when new management arrives, they will refuse to pay. Don't forget, it's more about politics than development.
The frequent change in the Commission's administration without fulfilling its constitutional mandate also hampered development and led to the abandonment of projects. Every new council wants to deal with its own people, companions, families, friends and supporters.
In some states, insecurity has forced contractors to move and, in some cases, jobs are relocated to other, more peaceful communities.
Most worrying is a situation in which some parliamentarians with the responsibility of monitoring the performance of the Commission will receive contracts with no evidence of execution.
There is a current case of one of them who got more than 1000 jobs to provide plastic chairs for schools in the 9 states of the Niger Delta. He received the sum of N3.8bn without providing the chairs; the documents show that these chairs were supplied to a warehouse belonging to him in his state.
It is even funny that he was awarded an N2bn contract by the governor of his state to supply plastic chairs and he took the same chairs intended for the NDDC and provided them. Can you beat this?
And the same man is one of those who investigate the BMI and the minister for a period of 6 months, simply because they asked him to return the money.
There is also another request for payment of more than N3billion, with 60% of the sum of the contract being N6.4billion for the program of 136 skill acquisition lots. The IMC declined this request as it considers it a fraud. This is perpetuated by the same people who wish to preside over the IMC investigation. This is ridiculous.
So who do you blame? Many who shout "poll" do not have this information. If people know these truths, some of these NDDC baboons will be stoned in public places.
Unfortunately, there is poverty and these inhibitors of development give crumbs to young people and some elders who run around in the media, attacking anyone they consider to be the enemy of their payers.
Do you think the forensic audit will sanitize the NDDC and change the way things are done going forward?
We need the forensic audit. I read and saw some people trying to discredit the Forensic Audit. His frustration is clearly understood. No more free food!
The question is whether they understand what Forensic Auditing means. Is it a statutory audit? No. They are two different things.
A Forensic Audit will allow us to x-ray the real problems that are concerned with fraud and that can be used for judgment, whereas in a Statutory Audit, it is not so.
The Governors of the States that make up the NDDC visited the President and requested a Forensic Audit. At first, it seemed political, a maneuver to prevent Commission officials from having access to funds.
Most of these governors are in the opposition's PDP. The President granted the request and ordered the Minister of Affairs of the Niger Delta to initiate the process. The minister dismissed the Board of Directors, led by Professor Brambaifa, just seven months after his appointment. He appointed an Interim Management Committee, which would manage the Commission during the period of the Forensic Audit.
Yes, there were initial impediments to start, but eventually the Forensic Audit was started. But some people are committed to sinking it.
The question is why? Who are these people?
Unknown to many, they mapped out different strategies to ensure that the Forensic Audit did not see the light of day.
First, there was a plan to access all the necessary documents and save them. The minister was smart enough to provide auditors with adequate security.
The battle then shifted to NASS as soon as some directors and defendants in the initial reports were moved out of the Commission's headquarters and their prosecutors arrested while stealing files.
The sudden decision to investigate the minister and the IMC is also suspect, as it will likely indict them and nullify all actions that have been taken in relation to the Forensic Audit.
Some planned to use some paid youths to go to court challenging the legality of the Forensic Audit when there is a Statutory Audit report by the Federation's Auditor General.
I am skeptical if this Audit can continue, as more political weights are being recruited in the fight. Unless the president continues to maintain his position, the Forensic Audit can only end as an illusion.
Those who initially supported the Audit made a U-turn when they realized that their part was in charge of the Commission for 15 years, in the 19-year period in question.
But if the Audit is allowed, as I pray it is, the disclosures will not only compel many to reimburse huge amounts, but could also lead to a possible refusal by the Commission.
The region was very divided with the decision to carry out the forensic audit. Who do you think the decision is generating so much controversy?
It is a matter of interest. Most of the people in the media kicking off the Forensic Audit have relied on sleaze in the Commission to survive. Let me tell you that these numbers are infinitesimal compared to the larger numbers in the region, which may not be vocal, but want a change in the Commission.
Those against the probe represent only the modern biblical woman whose son died overnight, but went ahead to claim the other woman's child. And when the matter was brought to King Solomon, the woman whose son had died supported the king's initial decision that the living son be divided in two.
Of course, they are to blame even before the report. And the reason is simple, they are part of the problem.
Some of the people who opposed the forensic audit insist that the Minister of Affairs of the Niger Delta, Godswil Akpabio, designed him to deceive the President and nothing more.
The last time I checked, Akpabio didn't start the idea of a forensic audit. It was the governors. The president just emphasized it and asked Akpabio as the responsible minister.
So, how can anyone distort the truth by accusing Akpabio?
Until we stop playing politics with development, we will remain in the dark while the rest of the world is moving on.
Others claim that he is one of the beneficiaries of the sleaze that plagued the Commission and therefore lacks the moral strength to defend the audit.
If Akpabio was a beneficiary of the sleaze, we will find out. Do you think any reputable Forensic Auditor will exchange his earned reputation for a cover-up by a Minister?
The more reason the Audit should be performed. Akpabio should be the only one to frustrate the Audit if the claim is true.
Those who claim must present the evidence. It is not enough to throw tar on people without substantial evidence.
The issues I mentioned about those in power who hijacked jobs for themselves, were paid without doing them, I have the evidence.
The advent of social media has generated many mediocre in the media business. People are paid to publish unsubstantiated stories.
There will be no sacred cows if we all support the Auditors at work.
You were quoted recently as saying that the ongoing investigation in the Senate of the Interim Management Committee was a conspiracy to end the forensic audit. Why do you think that?
Is obvious. Seeking a $ 40 billion probe when it comes to an audit to see where hundreds of billions have been spent is like settling for less.
The President ordered a Commission Forensic Audit for a period of 19 years. He is supported by the Constitution to do so. Why does anyone insist that the IMC probe and the minister arrive first? It's simple Search them, indict them and ask them to be fired. Obviously, all actions they have taken, including the Notice announced by the Forensic Auditors, will be declared illegal.
It is clear that the Senate / House investigation is going in that direction. Some of the committees are involved in the process. How can they allow themselves to be probed?
Leave the Forensic Audit completed, after which NASS can continue its supervisory functions. As the 6-month period of the IMC is not included in the Forensic Audit, this can be an obstacle. Not the other way around. It is obvious that some people want to challenge the Presidential Order.
The eviction of projects in communities without their contribution was also blamed for the NDDC's failure to meet the region's aspirations. What do you think should be done to resolve this?
I said that before. Until a forensic audit is completed and the reasons for this impunity are deducted, it will be cleared.
If people are punished and forced to repay the money raised for not executing projects, this will serve as an impediment for many.
There is no perfect system in the world, but at least we can start from somewhere.
If the military could build Abuja and make it the Federal Capital Territory, the Niger Delta region could also be transformed. But that is if we abstain from politics and appoint people with a passion to stand out.
Again, funding must be regular.
Those who are in the habit of quitting jobs will also be forced to face the law.