By Ismaila Chafe, Naomi Sharang
Abuja, Oct. 17, 2019
President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from 2001 to 2019.
The president gave the directive when he received governors of the states in the Niger Delta area, led by Gov. Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, on Thursday in Abuja.
This is as the Senate, same Thursday, said it is probing the award of Water Hyacinth Emergency and Desilting Contracts awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from 2017 to 2019.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, had come under fire recently for approving and causing to be paid about N1.9 billion to companies said to be phoney and allegedly linked to him.
The approval and payments were said to have been in violation of laid down rules of procurement and Presidential directives and angry senior presidency officials and the Chairman of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiomhole, are said to have vowed to get to the root of the matter, insisting that Akpabio will be seriously punished if the allegations are confirmed to be true.
President Buhari, at the meeting with the 9 NDDC states Governors had said the directive for an audit of the Commission had become imperative in view of the persistent criticisms of the operations of the commission.
According to him, what is presently on ground in the Niger Delta region does not justify the huge resources that have been made available to the commission.
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,’’ he said.
Buhari admitted that developing the Niger Delta area required enormous resources compared to other parts of the country with firmer lands.
“I am very much 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,” he added.
The president, however, said that he would wait for the report of the audit before deciding on the next line of action regarding the commission.
Gov. Dickson had earlier expressed the disappointment of other governors with the operations of the NDDC.
According to him, the commission’s operations had been characterised by poor choice of projects, shoddy handling, uncompleted jobs and lack of required support for the efforts of the states and local governments in its areas of coverage.
He, therefore, called for the repositioning of the commission in order to achieve the objectives for which it was set up.
Stating the resolve of the Senate to probe the Water Hyacinth Emergency and Desilting Contracts, Chairman Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Sen. Matthew Urhoghide (who is from Oshiomhole’s home state, Edo, one of the NDDC states) told the Director, Special Duties of the NDDC, Nosakhare Agbongiasede, who appeared before the committee in Abuja that the investigation became imperative because the initial cost of the contract at N2.5 billion was allegedly jerked to N65 billion.
“Of course, that is a very serious offence. What we are hearing or what we know is that N2.5billion 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.
“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 its emergency programme.
“We want to be able to ascertain if due processes were followed in the award of these contracts, particularly with the information we have at our disposal that they exceeded budget limits.
” It is an allegation. It is still an assumption until they come to clear the air surrounding this.
“This is why the Senate is particularly interested and has mandated this committee to carry out full investigation.
“So, we want the Acting MD to come. We are aware that the acting MD assumed duties a few weeks ago but government is a continuum.
“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,” he said.
Based on the veiled anger of President Buhari, the Senate’s desire to dig out the truth and the fury of the unnamed senior presidency officials and Oshiomhole as well as the fact that the NDDC has for some time now been synonymous with shady deals, corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency, stakeholders are calling on President Buhari to clean out the Augean stable, before a credible audit can be conducted.
One of those who spoke with GPNews insist that conducting an audit with the present structure still in place would defeat the purpose of the exercise, noting that since a new Board has been appointed, that the Board, with Dr. Pius Odubu, former Deputy Governor of Edo state (Chairman) and Dr. Bernard Okumagba (Managing Director) should supervise the audit as a way to prepare it for the task ahead of it.
The social critic from one of the Niger Delta States, while hailing President Buhari for the even thinking of the audit, urged him to ensure that it is far reaching and pleaded with the Senate to ensure that they expose all those involved in the water hyacinth scandal without minding whose ox is gored.