By Michael Jegede
Following persistent criticisms of the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, by Nigerians, especially the Niger Delta stakeholders, President Muhammadu Buhari in October 2019, ordered a forensic audit of the activities of the interventionist agency from inception to date.
To demonstrate his determination towards the forensic audit, the President immediately after giving the directive, approved the constitution of a three-man Interim Management Committee, IMC, to oversee the affairs of the commission and work with the audit team that would be engaged for the probe.
The IMC has now been expanded to five members and the earlier acting Managing Director, Joy Nunieh, replaced with Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei. Besides Pondei, the other four are Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Acting Executive Director, Projects; Mr. Ibanga Bassey Etang, Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration; Mrs. Caroline Nagbo, member and Cecilia Bukola Akintomide, member.
The President, in January 2020, officially informed the Senate of his decision to vet the books of the NDDC. He had to make the senators understand why he needed to suspend the NDDC Governing Board already approved by the Senate and allow the IMC continue with the running of the agency’s affairs. Seeing the good intention of Buhari, the Senate accepted his explanation and set aside its earlier resolution not to have any dealings with the IMC, while also declaring its total support for the NDDC forensic audit.
The NDDC was founded by erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000, largely as a response to the demands of the Niger Delta people, with the sole mandate of fast-tracking the development of the oil-rich region of Nigeria. It came with “the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.”
In the estimation of many observers, the commission has been a total failure, like the different other agencies before it, created for the same purpose of providing solutions to the problems bedeviling the Niger Delta. As a result of the discovery of oil in the region in 1956, the Niger Deltans had been confronted with dreadful challenges to sustainable human development.
The first major intervention body put in place to spearhead the development of the oil-producing region was the Niger Delta Development Board, NDDB. It was established in 1961 by an Act of the then Federal Parliament in compliance with Section 14 of the 1960 Constitution and based on recommendations contained in the Henry Willink’s Commission of Inquiry Report of 1958. The NDDB could not deal with the issues articulated in the Willink’s Report for which it was established.
The Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority, NDRBDA, was set up in 1976. It also failed woefully as the people of the oil-rich region continued to helplessly face the ecological and other related problems arising from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger Delta.
In 1992, the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, was created and mandated to address the years of neglect of the Niger Delta zone. OMPADEC, like its predecessors, failed to achieve its development objectives and was scrapped in 1999.
When the initial Bill establishing NDDC was passed into law in 2000, many had thought that better days were ahead for the Niger Deltans. The people had hoped that something good was most likely going to come out of the new agency. This was because the NDDC appeared to have been formed with a reorganized management and streamlined administrative structure, intended to ensure more effective and judicious application of funds that will accrue to it from the Federal Government and other sources.
But that was not to be. After 20 years of its existence, the NDDC has proved to be the worst of all the intervention bodies that were created for the purpose of speeding up development in the Niger Delta area. It is particularly worrisome that the NDDC has remained a failed entity, despite the humongous amount of money made available to the agency since coming into existence.
The Niger Delta Development Master Plan originally required 15 years to be implemented at a cost of $50 billion. The region reportedly received a whooping sum of $40 billion (about N14 trillion) in 10 years between 2007 and 2017, representing 80 per cent of the $50 billion required for the accomplishment of the development vision for the Niger Delta. Large portion of the money is believed to have accrued to the NDDC, yet the institution has nothing tangible to show for it across the nine states in the region. The nine states are: Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
What you see across the states of the Niger Delta are numerous abandoned projects littering every nooks and crannies of the communities. At a one-day public hearing on NDDC’s abandoned projects, organized by the House of Representatives in September last year, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF, revealed that it has released since inception to date, the sum of over N738 billion Federal Government’s contributions to the commission. This, according to the OAGF, is outside contributions made by international oil companies and other grants and budgetary allocations to the NDDC.
Shortly after Buhari’s order for the NDDC forensic audit, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, disclosed that about 12,000 projects of the commission were lying abandoned across the nine oil producing states. According to Akpabio, some corrupt persons who saw NDDC as an Automated Teller Machine, ATM, were responsible for the abandonment.
The minister said, “We currently have about 12,000 abandoned projects across the nine states of the Niger Delta. If those things were completed, you can imagine that the area would have been turned into an Eldorado. I think people were treating the place as an ATM, where you just walk in to go and pluck money and go away, I don’t think they were looking at it as an interventionist agency.”
In spite of the huge sum the NDDC has received since its formation, without executing any significant project, it is owing mostly “phantom contractors” about N3 trillion. This was as revealed by the acting Executive Director Project, Dr. Ojougboh. He also disclosed that in just seven months of 2019, before the IMC was inaugurated, the commission awarded a total of 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1.070 trillion, against annual budget of about N400 billion.
Even though the forensic audit equally covers his time as the Chairman of the NDDC Governing Board, dissolved in January 2019, former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, gladly threw his weight behind Buhari’s decision to do a forensic audit of the agency. In his words, the audit investigation was imperative to ascertain what was responsible for the inability of the Commission to actualize its mandate two decades after it was set up.
Ndoma-Egba, who headed the previous NDDC Board for about two years before it was disbanded, said, “Of course, it’s a welcome development. It was one of the things we had in mind when I assumed office as the NDDC board chairman. If you read my inaugural speech to my board when we were appointed, you will see it there that we needed a forensic audit of the place and we were working towards that before we left. I am very much in support of the move. Certainly, the NDDC needs a forensic audit. And that need has been there for a very long time. The President has taken the right step.”
The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Jephbolly Nigeria Limited, Mr. Balogun Jephthah, is from Ugbo, an oil-bearing town in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State. Jephthah feels sad that the NDDC, designed with a vision to accelerate the advancement of the Niger Delta, and ameliorate the suffering of the people of the region, became a conduit pipe through which some individuals endlessly siphoned public funds to enrich themselves.
Noting that Buhari has done well with the forensic audit being carried out to save the NDDC from imminent shutdown, he maintained that only those who partook in the plundering of the resources meant for the development of the region are scared of the exercise. He lamented that, though, Ondo is the fifth largest oil producing state in the Niger Delta, it has received the least attention from the NDDC.
Jephthah said, “I am filled with joy that we now have a government that has responded to the call of the Niger Deltans for the books of the NDDC to be looked into. It is highly commendable for Buhari to have taken this bold step. I feel pained, as a Nigerian from the Niger Delta state of Ondo, to see that there is nothing on ground, to show for the so much funds provided for the NDDC, from different sources since it was created. The Commission that is supposed to be a development agency for the Niger Delta has turned into a contract awarding machine, where thousands of contracts are recklessly and indiscriminately awarded to people, who collected money running into trillions of naira, but failed to execute the jobs. We are happy for this forensic audit. Those who have cornered our collective wealth in NDDC must be exposed. They must be made to refund our money and face the wrath of the law as criminals.”
Continuing, he said, “If you go to Ugbo Kingdom today in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, you will see various projects, for which billions had been collected by some persons, lying fallow for years. There are cases where non-existent projects were awarded for billions of naira. One of such cases is the phony Uboeripato projects. No area or community in the whole of Ilaje is called Uboeripato. But a man, who once represented Ondo State as a Commissioner on the Board of the NDDC, created Uboeripato community and deceitfully collected money for projects in the fictitious community, running into billions of naira. Also, another former Ondo representative in NDDC got the contract for the construction of Ugbonla-Oghoye road at N19 billion. 15 per cent mobilization amounting to N2.85 billion was paid for the job. But as we speak, nothing meaningful has been done on the road years after the contract was awarded. Is it the Aiyetoro embankment project? NDDC awarded a sea embankment contract of over N12 billion to protect the people of Aiyetoro community against ocean surge in 2008; 12 years after that contract was awarded, there is nothing concrete on ground to justify the N6 billion advanced to the contractors as mobilization fee.
“Some few persons bolted with the money while the community continues to suffer as the project has remained abandoned. These are just few of the so many NDDC abandoned projects in Ugbo Kingdom. Let me therefore implore the audit team to endeavour to do a thorough probe that will unravel all of these facts on how NDDC funds had been mismanaged and misappropriated to benefit certain individuals to the detriment of the generality of the Niger Delta people. Everyone found wanting in the course of the forensic audit must not be spared.”
Unfortunately, while phony contractors are being paid by the commission for jobs not done, genuine contractors always find it difficult to get payment after due execution and delivery of their works.
Ojougboh confirmed this when he said, “If you look at the records at the NDDC, you will cry. Some genuine people that have done jobs for the board have not been paid for over 15 years and their families are suffering. Many of those who were paid are these phantom contractors.”
For instance, Capital Projects Consultants Limited had offered a consultancy service to NDDC since 2004 and up till today the agency has refused to pay the N7.27 million owed the firm. The Principal Partner in the consultancy firm, Architect Mathew Onoba, stated that several efforts made to get the money had proved abortive over 15 years after the job was duly completed and delivered.
One of the letters written to the Commission to appeal for payment signed by Onoba reads, “We, Capital Projects Consultants Limited, were commissioned to undertake the Study and Design for the Proposed Information Technology Resources Centre, Ndeulokwu, by the Niger Delta Development Commission on the 12th of October 2004 by the letter referenced NDDC/EDP/ CONS/197. We submitted our acceptance letter on the 23rd of November 2004 at which time we also took the detailed brief for the project. We dutifully commenced work and completed the Phase 1 (Preliminary Design) for the Consultancy Work on 30th of November 2004. We completed Phase 2 (Working Drawings and Bills of Quantities) on the 14th of December 2004… In the course of doing the work and in the pursuit of our payment, we made many trips to Port Harcourt and we were promised severally that the money will be paid all to no avail.”
Also, a notable Niger Delta leader, Prof. Jasper Jumbo, duly completed an NDDC job since 2014 but the commission still owes him about N250 million as disclosed in an interview he granted a national newspaper.
Jumbo, who played a role in the formation of NDDC, lauded Buhari for the forensic audit saying, “They are busy awarding any type of contract they like without even following due process. What legacy project has NDDC left on ground for us as a people over these years? NDDC has collected statutorily over N2.8 trillion. The oil companies have given several billions of naira. What have they done with it? It is being looted by those who want to contest as governors and senators. You finish a job, they will create bottleneck and they won’t pay. Even me that brought the NDDC blueprint, there is a job I finished, it was awarded to Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. Because of the garrulous nature of the youths from that area, he abandoned the job and I bought it over from him. It was a 24-kilometer road, I financed it. Do you know that six years ago I finished this job, they are still owing me N248 million?”
NDDC workers are equally happy about the forensic investigation as ordered by the President. A staff of the commission remarked, “It is a good step in the right direction. It is a very good move. It is going to sanitize the system. People are realizing now that it is not business as usual. You do anything and go scot-free and nothing happens. That is not going to be the situation anymore. I give kudos to Buhari for this remarkable move.”
The stage was set for the actual commencement of the forensic audit penultimate week when the Federal Executive Council, FEC, reportedly approved N318 million for the engagement of a lead consultant. According to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, whose ministry supervises the NDDC, the Lead Consultant is Olumuyiwa, Bashir and Co. Ltd. The lead consultant is expected to divide the audit into nine lots, one for each state in the Niger Delta zone.
In line with the provisions of Part V1, Section 21 of the NDDC Establishment Act, Buhari has approved the composition of a Monitoring Committee for the commission.
Members of the committee are Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, Chairman, Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Omotayo Alasoadura, member; Olusola Adesola, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, member and Alfred Abah, a director in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Secretary.
Other members are Shamsuddin Bello, representing the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Charles Ikeah, representative of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Atanda Kolawole Musiliu, representing Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Aisha Umar, representing Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. M.K Mohammed, representing Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and Dr. Dorothy Nwodo, representing the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja, Nigeria