The acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr Joi Nunieh, has stamped her feet on the turf with a clear message to corrupt contractors: Your days are numbered.
Nunieh, considered by Niger Deltans as the best candidate for the job of bringing sanity to NDDC, has not disappointed so far, if feelers from various stakeholders in the oil-rich region are to be believed. She is determined to carry out a forensic audit of the commission as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari. Because the forensic audit was a presidential directive, you would expect all involved especially the contractors to submit themselves for the audit. But never!
Instead, they are fighting back in a sense that suggests that the guilty are afraid. Nunieh has already directed contractors to return to their respective sites for projects verification. She wants to cleanse the murky system which is what NDDC has become. The Ogoni strong lady, respected and revered among a wide section of stakeholders including staff of the commission, is unbowed by the gang-up to frustrate her efforts. She has the groundswell support of key stakeholders who also insist that the right thing be done. That right thing is a thorough investigation of all contracts under the name of the NDDC.
It is a tough job but Nunieh reputed for her integrity and thoroughness, is not fazed by the confederacy of attacks aimed at her. Make no mistake about it, Nunieh needs special protection. It is a case of corruption fighting back. Top politicians and persons of influence form the bulk of the contractors to be subjected to forensic audit. A case in point is that of a senator from Delta State who was allegedly awarded 300 contracts with 120 of them paid for without the job executed.
Other influential persons within the region and without have also been fingered to have soiled their hands in the NDDC contracts bazaar characterised by payment without job delivery. These persons are principalities who cannot be touched. But an amazon, bold and swift, has appeared from the horizon of Ogoniland, the birthplace of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental activist and playwright who paid the supreme price alongside his kinsmen. Their crime was voicing the anger of their people against the despoliation and destruction of their ecosystem by oil majors. Ogoni occupies both a strategic and emotional swathe in the history of commercial crude oil exploration in Nigeria. Since 1958 when Shell drilled its first oil well, Ogoni has brought fortune to Nigeria with about 96 oil wells now sited in the marshy land. For hosting such amount of oil wells, it has been a victim of the myriad adversities of oil spill, destruction of aquatic life and poisoning of the sub-soil by the activities of the oil mandarins.
Aside the scourge of oil spills, Ogoni has remained a huge contributor to national development. Just this teaser: For the 25 years that crude oil production was halted in Ogoniland, Nigeria lost over $177.136 billion (N63.78 trillion). That’s how critical to the nation’s Ogoni is.
Nunieh’s headship of the NDDC at a time the clean-up of Ogoniland has become imperative adds a moral seal to her quest to make NDDC an efficient development intervention agency it was created to be. Her appointment’s not only fitting, it’s a masterstroke by the President Buhari government to comfort the people of Rivers State. She’s eminently qualified to head the commission charged with bringing development to the people of Niger Delta. So far, she has carried herself with utmost dignity and diligence expected of her office.
Recently, the commission inaugurated contract documentation and project assessment committees in preparation for the forensic audit of its finances. Nunieh, while announcing the birthing of the two committees said they would continue from where the Contract Verification Committee stopped as well as complement the expected forensic audit of the commission.
By design, the contract documentation committee will authenticate all documents submitted by contractors while the project assessment committee will visit the various sites to verify contractors’ claims. And in just barely four months in office, so much has been unearthed on the massive fraud that has dogged the commission.
Nunieh herself confirmed that the verification exercise has revealed high level of corruption in the award of contracts running into billions of Naira.
“Some contract award letters were found to be fake; some of the companies were not registered while some were registered after they had been given contracts.
“Also, some of the companies do not have the requirements prescribed in the Public Procurement Act to handle such projects. We also found out that some individuals have 50 to 100 different (contract) award letters under different names,” she said.
Part of the reasons Nunieh is being attacked by some contractors is the setting up of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) which was expressly tasked with conducting the forensic audit. In plain language, this committee was set up to catch the crooks. Every NDDC crooked contractor would not like such committee and its promoters. This, again, is why Nunieh needs special protection.
And now more startling revelations have emerged. The IMC findings showed that immediate-past NDDC management awarded 1,921 ‘emergency contracts’ at N1.070 trillion in just seven months, against an annual budget of about N400 billion. Contracts that do not qualify as “emergency contracts’ were converted to ‘emergency’; some contracts only existed on paper but cheques were raised for payments. The revelations are deep and messy and they are as old as the commission itself. They have become ancient landmarks and anyone who has come to change such landmarks must be prepared to take the flaks and surmount the force of resistance. This is what Nunieh is up against. She’s up against the tribe of thieves who have made NDDC their spoil and broth.
Simply put, Nunieh has confronted the tiger in the jungle. She has challenged the hyenas and jackals. She has come to end the culture of perfidy; to implement the zero-corruption vision of President Buhari. But much more significant, she has come to arrest the fiscal hemorrhage that has over the years denied the Niger Deltans of development. It’s a hard job and noble cause. For this, she needs special protection. If she succeeds, Niger Delta would be well served. If she succeeds, those who have been reaping without sowing would have no place in the new NDDC she’s striving to build.
The Presidency should back Nunieh to succeed. Expectedly, she would be blackmailed. She would be threatened, harassed, harangued and harried but it’s up to her to stand for the people of Niger Delta. And it’s up to the Presidency to ensure she succeeds. If she does, Buhari takes the credit. Those scheming to get rid of the IMC should tarry. You can’t built on the existing mess left behind by the past Boards of NDDC. The Niger Delta region needs development. NDDC was to act as agent for such development but it failed. The governors of Niger Delta have not helped matters with their own peculiar failings. And if it will take a woman to get the job done, so be it. Nunieh needs our collective support, now!