APART from the bungled gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, the fight between Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and the rumoured third term agenda which President Muhammadu Buhari has denied, the most dominant issue in the media for some months now is the forensic probe of the corruption-ridden Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the constitution of its interim management board. The situation is so because of so many vested interests, all of which are not interested in the development of the region. Many of them are actually interested in what they can get from the agency which has over time become a cash cow for politicians.
That is why despite the huge amount budgeted for the agency for years; there is not much on ground to justify such deployment. I strongly believe that the president is fully aware of these intrigues and he knows what is good for the commission. According to the Niger Delta Development Commission Act 2000, the chairman and other members of the board shall be appointed by the President…subject to the confirmation of the Senate, in consultation with the House of Representatives. Those appointed shall be persons of proven integrity and ability. In spite of this provision, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari was appointed the Sole Administrator of the NDDC. She was in charge of the place for one year without a board.
So those raising dust over the new management committee headed by Mrs. Joy Nunieh are not realistic. An interim committee will be in a better position to oversee the forensic probe. It would enable the auditors have access to all the documents without hindrance. While many stakeholders in the Niger Delta region are in support of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari, many of them are not in agreement as to which management team will be in charge while the probe is on. The Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio in deference to due process and accountability has set up an interim management committee to oversee the NDDC while the probe is going on.
This is to ensure that a neutral body manages the affairs of the agency pending the conclusion of the probe when a management board would be constituted. Akpabio’s plan does not in any way vitiate the Act that set up the agency as many uninformed commentators would have us believe. But those who have apparently benefitted from the old order are crying blue murder and calling Akpabio all sorts of names in order to have their way. Despite the unwarranted attacks, Akpabio is insisting that the right thing must be done. Those who are calling for the inauguration of the board using those recently and hurriedly cleared by the National Assembly may have their own agenda which is different from ensuring the development of the Niger Delta region. The take a bow screening for an agency as serious as the NDDC raises a lot of questions. We should borrow a leaf from the United States where screening by lawmakers is a serious business. It is a surprise that some Nigerians are in a haste to get some people on board without asking question about which of the Niger Delta states is due to produce the chairman of the agency which is rotated alphabetically. Is it Edo or Delta state? Are all those screened so far duly qualified to be on the board of the NDDC?
The Act establishing the agency states that the office of the chairman shall rotate amongst the member states of the commission in the following alphabetical order, Abia State; Akwa Ibom State; Bayelsa State; Cross River State; Delta State; Edo State; Imo State; Ondo State; and Rivers State. Does the yet to be inaugurated board satisfy this provision?
The rot in the NDDC is more than many Nigerians know. In fact, Nigerians will be shocked with the level of corruption in the agency when the forensic probe might have been done and the outcome made public. All those behind the perfidy in the agency must be brought to book. It should not be business as usual. Akpabio must be supported by all lovers of the development of the Niger Delta region to sanitize the agency before more harm is done.
Those shooting him down now are doing so for sinister motives. They should not be allowed to have their way. If the probe in the agency is to be properly done, an interim management committee is preferable than a board that is yet to be inaugurated. The strident calls for the inauguration of the board that was hurriedly screened by the Senate raise more questions than answers. Are these calls coming from patriotic Nigerians or are they coming from people whose eyes are set on what they can gain from that board? These are issues Nigerians should ponder about and not the needless demonization of the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, Senator Akpabio.
Nigerians should watch out for those who want to politicize the forensic probe of the NDDC. They are the ones who do not want the probe to see the light of the day. These are the people who want the agency to continue to be a cash cow where corruption reigns supreme.
As Akpabio recently explained, the forensic audit of the NDDC was to uncover alleged illegalities that had taken place in the agency as well as the reason for the failure of the agency after 18 years of its establishment. According to the minister, “the forensic audit is all encompassing and it is about management, the projects and the quality of deliveries.” The governance structure of the agency will be in place at the end of the audit.
There will also be a clearer picture of the total number of projects and the total number of people who collected money without doing those projects by the time the forensic probe is completed. Therefore, arising from such an explanation, there is no doubt that there are sharp practices in the award of contracts that ought to be unearthed. While it is good for the agency to have board, it is equally good to clean it with the forensic audit before the board can be inaugurated. The inauguration of the board can wait until the probe is completed.
Nwadiogo writes from Asaba