President Muhammadu Buhari recently vowed to recover all the funds looted from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and probe all those involved in the financial malfeasance. The President made the disclosure during the virtual commissioning of the NDDC Prototype Hostel at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. He expressed regrets that the special development fund envisioned to develop the Niger Delta region was looted by a few elite for over 20 years.
He had observed that if the financial allocation from the government to the commission since its inception in the last 20 years, put at trillions of naira, had been judiciously used, the people of the region would have been much better for it.
According to the president, “the serial abuse, lack of delivery and what had become an entrenched institutional decay, was the reason I called for the forensic audit. Therefore, going forward, we shall ensure every recoverable kobo is recovered for use in service of the people of this region and those found culpable shall face the law.”
The NDDC was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000 to address the developmental challenges of the nine oil-producing states, most of which are in the Niger Delta region. Specifically, the states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. In September 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the formation of Niger Delta Ministry, while the NDDC become a parastatal under the ministry.
Since its establishment, it is unfortunate that the agency has been riddled with corruption and become the ‘ATM’ of many politicians. It was in an attempt to clean the Augean stable that the Federal Government instituted a forensic audit of its operations since inception and the report was submitted on September 2, 2021. According to the forensic audit report, the NDDC had 326 unreconciled bank accounts; 13,777 abandoned projects and unaccounted over N6trillion. Between 2001 and 2019, a budgetary allocation of N3.3 trillion was approved for it by the Federal Government and N2.4 trillion came as income from statutory and non-statutory sources.
It is regrettable that NDDC has been utterly abused by some politicians. Now that the President has stated his readiness to recover the looted funds and prosecute those indicted, we urge him to go ahead and do so. Recovering the entire loot will be in line with his earlier promise to tackle corruption headlong. The NDDC is the way it is simply because no government has ever wielded the big stick to prosecute and sanction all those involved in the loot.
However, the recovery of every looted fund will never go far if the NDDC board is not constituted as required by the law establishing it. Without the board, it will still be business as usual. Besides, the government should also beam its searchlight on other interventionist agencies where corruption is reportedly rife as in NDDC. That is the only way the war against graft can have meaningful impact.
Moreover, the full report of the forensic audit in NDDC must be made public. We believe that Nigerians would like to know what actually transpired in the agency during the stipulated period. There should be no attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet. Doing so will seriously undermine government’s effort to stamp out corruption in the agency.
The government’s fight against corruption must not be partisan or seen to be sectional. It should also not be used to witch-hunt the opposition or rabid critics of the administration. It may not be out of place for the government to publish the names of the culprits, set up a special court to try them and retrieve every stolen kobo in accordance with the president’s vow.
In addition, they must be given condign punishment for arresting the development of the oil-bearing states. All abandoned projects must be revived. This is the time for action and not rhetoric. Let the government demonstrate that it is willing to clean the NDDC of monumental corruption by inaugurating its governing board without any delay.