My attention has been drawn to reports in some Nigerian newspapers of Thursday, April 23, 2020 where the Interim Management Committee of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) put up a show on Wednesday to give the impression that a forensic audit was being kick-started, a full six months after the IMC was illegally appointed. In statements credited to Professor DK Pondei, the IMC sought to hide its putrid face and that of the minister behind a finger with statements to disparage the fact of its illegality and extensive whistleblower reports of corruption leveled against it by several groups in the Niger Delta. While Pondei said they were the handiwork of those who oppose the minister and the IMC for what he called their commitment to the forensic audit, we want to put it on record that critics of the IMC and Minister Godswill Akpabio have never been opposed to the forensic audit but to the illegal imposition of the IMC, their questionable operations in the Commission and the distortion of the audit to hide the nefarious activities and plans of the minister.
Since the Niger Delta Minister Akpabio started his shenanigans in the NDDC by installing an interim management committee, he and the committee have continued with the false narrative that those who expose their deals are opposed to the audit. The minister and his IMC have orchestrated propaganda of lies, half-truths, conjectures and manipulations in their drive to seize and appropriate the collective commonwealth of the Niger Delta people for themselves. For the avoidance of doubt, we have always asked for a forensic audit and several groups in the region, cutting across diverse ethnic and civil society organisations, have done so for many years. However, what Akpabio has put in place is an exercise designed to cover up fraudulent tracks. Many of these have been revealed in recent weeks by whistleblowers in the region and many more will be revealed in the coming weeks.
The IMC is illegal and has no place in the NDDC Act, which only provides for a Governing Board nominated by the President in line with set conditions and approved by the National Assembly. These have grave implications for the NDDC as an institution because a situation, where a government or appointee can, at their whim, decide to set aside the law setting up agencies is not only a fundamental corruptive breach of due process but one that opens up the channels of manipulation and corruption. This is what Akpabio has put in place in the NDDC and why the actions of the IMC are suspect. He has caused to be appointed a committee he alone nominated and not beholding to any institution but him, a danger we raised in October 2019 when the appointments were made. By his actions, he has risked the reputation of the NDDC further and jeopardised even the audit as contemplated because at least four legal actions have been instituted in federal courts by indigenes and activist groups in the Niger Delta to declare the constitution of IMC illegal and all its activities since it was constituted. Not only that, other actions are pending in court challenging the inchoate manner in which the institutions provided for in the NDDC Act of 2000 (as amended) have been set up under the minister. Among these are the NDDC Monitoring Committee where he is Chairman and the NDDC Advisory Committee where he again is a member. Both committees are clearly provided for in the law to work with the Governing Board, whose inauguration has been delayed for some strange reason. Rather, the minister has promoted the appointment of an interim management committee in contravention of the NDDC Act.
Our group, and indeed others have made the point that the minister’s desire to promote the IMC is to have in place a management that will do his bidding and facilitate cover up. At the pains of sounding repetitive, we recall that as a PDP Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 2007 and 2015, Akpabio nominated a Chairman, Managing Director and State representative for the NDDC. The actions of those managements should be up for question but we make bold to say that there is n effort to shield people indicted were a proper audit to be done. We believe that a proper transparent audit does not have to be micro-managed as the minister and his IMC have been trying to do in the last seven months. This is why we have always insisted on a reputable international firm of auditors carrying out the audit under a duly constituted Governing Board.
Clearly what is happening now is that the IMC is restless on account of recent revelations of malfeasance. We are aware that since Niger Delta groups and citizens began to raise questions on their motives, Akpabio and others have tuned up propaganda machine to give the impression that they are going ahead with the audit as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari, which they had conveniently ignored, while chasing contract payment in the agency.
Nigerians will recall that the minister had stated when the IMC was appointed that the audit would last six months beginning from their appointment in October 2019. It is already seven months since the IMC was appointed and the audit we are being told will now begin and last an additional nine months. We consider this an insult to the intelligence of the people of the Niger Delta region and total disdain for the law and due process. What this means, if this illegality is allowed to continue, is that Akpabio would have singlehandedly run the NDDC like his personal estate, a sole proprietorship, along with superintending over its annual budget of over N300 billion. In effect, several billions of naira has been put in the hands of that illegal committee to spend under the supervision of Akpabio.
The Niger Delta will not stomach the gross illegality that Akpabio has foisted on the NDDC. However, we cringe to believe that the Buhari administration and its famed anti-corruption toga will fall to the manipulation of the minister and a few others into allowing that illegality to become the new normal in the agency in utter disregard for the NDDC Act, where he is directing the payment of billions of naira for fake, unverified and unapproved contracts. We call on President Buhari to disband the IMC, inaugurate a Board for the NDDC and appoint an unbiased international firm of auditors to independently audit the books
• Akpanikon is of Niger Delta Frontline Coalition.