Governors hit hard on NDDC on its big day

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) enjoyed a rare moment of celebration on Thursday during the inauguration of its permanent office building in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

This, however, did not hold back the governors of the Niger Delta region from expressing their misgivings about the commission, which has been tainted by corruption.

The 13-floor building was inaugurated by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, who spoke at the ceremony on behalf of the governors of the region, said the NDDC may not have justified its creation.

“Unfortunately, after two decades of its existence with an estimated allocation of N946.91 Billion in 18 years, NDDC may find it difficult to convince many Nigerians especially those from the South-East and South-South states that it has justified its creation.

Mr Uzodinma said “majority of the people feel that the agency has fallen short of expectations”.

“The financial scandal that rocked NDDC not too long ago blighted whatever impact it had made in the past,” he added.

The governor thanked Mr Buhari for seeing to the completion of the commission’s office after almost two decades since the commencement of the building project. He said he expected the commission to turn a new leaf, henceforth.

The governor proposed an amendment to the law establishing the NDDC to enable communities to make inputs and also monitor the commission’s budgets and projects.

“It is my well-informed view that to address the kind of contract scandal that rocked NDDC in the past, and the concomitant allegations of corruption that followed, there is need for more involvement of the people in the affairs of the commission.

“In this regard, the people should make inputs into the NDCC budget in accord with their expectations and needs, through town hall meetings.

“Thereafter, the NDDC should be mandated to adopt such inputs in its budget. The Amended Act should make it mandatory for the commission to execute all the projects coming from the people of the oil-bearing communities.

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“The communities shall also be empowered by law to monitor contracts awarded for projects in their communities and to certify their satisfactory execution before final payments are made.

“I believe that this will greatly reduce sharp practices in the execution of NDDC contracts and will reduce corruption as well,” Mr Uzodinma said.

‘Put NDDC funds into escrow account’

The South-south governors, during their meeting in Port Harcourt on Monday, said “We feel already short-changed as a people in the Niger Delta” over the way the NDDC was being run.

The Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum and Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, said since the NDDC was being run, for now, by a sole administrator, the money accruing to the commission should be put in an escrow account, apart from funds required for the payment of staff salary.

Apart from Mr Okowa, the meeting was attended by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State, and the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Moses Ekpo, who represented Governor Udom Emmanuel.

“So, it means the NDDC is actually run in such a matter that it is actually not truly beneficial to our people, because there is no stakeholders input in the running of the affairs of the NDDC.

“We do know that there is a forensic audit taking place and if that is the reason the board has not been constituted, our advice is that monies being sent to the NDDC should be put in an escrow account until a board is constituted and then proper processes are followed in the expenditure of the money, in a such a way it will be visibly accountable in the best interest of the peoples of the Niger Delta,” Mr Okowa said.

Continuing, Mr Okowa said, “A situation where we begin to have emergency projects that possibly will not last three to six months is not right. We don’t feel happy about it and we are urging Mr President to ensure that if the board is not going to be immediately constituted, then funds for the NDDC beyond the payment of salaries should be put on hold until he constitutes the board and the board can now run the finances of the NDDC as per the law creating the NDDC.

“We feel already short changed as a people in the Niger Delta and we believe that we do not wish to see this kind of situation continue going forward into the future because our people feel the pains. We do not want a situation where there is an abuse of processes, neither should we have a situation where we have abuse of funds.”

Corrupt agency

The NDDC has failed to lift the Niger Delta people out of poverty, more than 20 years after it was established in 2000 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, to fast-track development in the oil-rich region.

Billions of naira that have accrued to the commission have been mismanaged and stolen over the years by corrupt officials and politicians, while several abandoned projects litter the region.

Mr Akpabio, in July, indicted federal lawmakers over the corruption and poor job delivery in the NDDC, saying that most of the commission’s contracts were executed by the lawmakers.

The NDDC, in June, accused a senator, Peter Nwaoboshi, of using 11 companies as fronts to secure for himself a N3.6 billion contract in the commission. The contract was not executed and the money not refunded, the commission said.

Mr Nwaoboshi is a Peoples Democratic Party senator representing Delta North District, Delta State. He is the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta and the NDDC.

The NDDC spokesperson, Charles Odili, said the contract was the “biggest single case of looting of the Commission’s resources”.

Mr Akpabio, who once said the NDDC ‘abandoned’$70 million in a bank for 13 years, said the commission was so corrupt that it was treated like a teller machine where money could be withdrawn freely at any time.

Interestingly, Mr Akpabio’s tenure as the Niger Delta affairs minister so far has been blighted by the corruption scandals in the NDDC.

“I said it on radio the other day, why did it take us 20 years to know that NDDC was not living up to its mandate?” said Ken Henshaw, the Executive Director of We The People, a non-governmental organisation in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.’

“It was created in 2000 and it took us up to 2020 to realise that the NDDC wasn’t working.

“The same thing with the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. Have we carried out any evaluation to know whether the ministry is living up to its mandate?

“I think we should put robust monitoring and evaluation framework in place to ensure there is a match between projects and objectives and to ensure that those projects actually speak to the issues in the Niger Delta region,” Mr Henshaw said.

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