There is no doubt that we have lots of challenges in the country. But the economy appears to be one we are yet to get things right. Another debilitating factor to the nation’s economic growth has to do with official corruption which walks on fours in virtually every sector, including ministries, departments and agencies. To make Nigeria work, the war against corruption must be holistic.
That is probably why the recent decision of the Federal Government to probe the operations of the corruption-ridden Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been hailed by many Nigerians, including the host communities. President Muhammadu Buhari had on October 17 ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the NDDC from 2001 to 2019.
The president explained that the probe was a response to persistent criticisms of the management of the special intervention agency, which was set up to address the environmental and developmental challenges in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Besides, the Senate has commenced investigations into the alleged inflation of the contract for the clearing of silts and water hyacinths in the waterways in the commission from 2017 to 2019.
There were allegations that the commission expended N65 billion instead of the approved N2.5 billion to desilt and clear water hyacinth in the waterways in the region. For years, the agency created solely to attend to the needs and environmental degradation of the oil-bearing states of the region comprising Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Delta, Edo and Ondo, has indeed become a cesspool of corruption where people who are connected to those in charge make easy money without much sweat.
Therefore, when the governors of the affected states visited Aso Rock over a week ago, it was expected that something must happen and it eventually happened. Their host, President Muhammadu Buhari, was not pleased with the activities in the interventionist agency and he didn’t hide his misgivings to his visitors. He told the delegation led by the Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson that all was not well with the commission.
The president was quoted as saying that “what is presently on the ground in the Niger Delta region does not reflect the huge resources that have been allocated to the organization.” According to Buhari, “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 things.”
The president also stated: “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.”
Before, Governor Dickson had expressed the disappointment of the governors with the operations of the NDDC. He stated that “the commission’s operations had been characterized 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 area of coverage.”
While the forensic audit is hailed by many people, there are a few others who do not like it. The umbrella body for oil-bearing communities in the region, Host Communities of Nigeria (HOSCON), has lauded the president for the probe and assured him of the support of all stakeholders in the region.
However, the NDDC has accused governors of the region of plotting to hijack the commission. The commission was quoted as saying that “there was more to the meeting between the governors and Buhari than met the eyes.” Regardless of what the NDDC is saying, Nigerians are in agreement that probing the NDDC is ripe now more than ever before considering the mind-boggling allegations of corruption in the agency.
President Buhari’s decision to audit the affairs of the commission should be applauded by all the stakeholders. The importance of the NDDC to the development of the nine oil-bearing states cannot be overemphasized. Getting the activities of the agency right is akin to getting the development of the affected states right. So, everything must be done to ensure that all is well with the agency.
The NDDC like its predecessor, OMPADEC, has been mired in allegations of corruption for so many years. The agency has apparently become a cash-cow to so many people connected to the powers that be there. There was even not much to show for the billions of naira sunk into the commission so far.
It is commendable that some experts have called for an independent audit of the commission. However, for an objective audit of the agency, it is advisable that the current interim management of the agency be asked to step aside while the new board which was announced by the president in August should be inaugurated and be made to supervise the forensic probe.
In fact, the 16-member Board of Directors and executive management should be sworn-in to pilot the affairs of the commission in the next four years as stipulated in Act No. 6 of 2000 setting up the commission. It will not be tidy to retain the interim management while the probe is on. Having the present board of the agency in the saddle while the forensic audit is on will amount to nothing.
Rather, it is a road that will definitely lead to nowhere. That is why President Muhammadu Buhari should without further delay inaugurate the new board and let it be in charge while the forensic probe is on. The new board should be allowed to oversee the probe since the members are new to the agency. They will be in a vintage position to uncover all shades of corruption in the NDDC.
Without doubt, this is perhaps the best way the probe can be effective and far-reaching. Those that will be in charge of the probe must ensure that the activities of the agency are thoroughly investigated for the period covered by the audit. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the federal government to have in place a constituted board of the commission before the commencement of the probe. The development of the nine oil-bearing states that make up the agency should not wait. The new board must be there working while the probe is on.
Everything should be done now by the federal government to have the board in place. Beyond probing the NDDC, the president should beam his searchlight on other agencies where corruption allegation is rife and ensure that they are equally probed. That is one of the best ways to ensure that the anti-corruption crusade of the government is truly right on course.