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NDDC: As the pandora’s box opens…

In his hey days of superlative penmanship through the pages of the now rested ‘Newswatch’ magazine, the late Dele Giwa once wrote that Nigerians had become ‘unshockable’ in the face of daily cascades of imponderable developments in the public space which often defy reality. Given that he lived in Nigeria when the country was considered apparently saner than now by many, it remains a matter of speculation, how he would have addressed some of the new-age outrages and the current state of the nation. With today’s routine playout of high caliber impunity in abusing public trust, what would Dele Giwa have said of the country? For instance, what would he have said about the rather outlandish scenario of a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (name withheld), collecting, as in trophy-hunting, as many as 300 contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)?

It is required by law that Senators and other public officers who are elected to serve full-time in the service of the country, should resign from any other full-time engagement, in order to concentrate fully on their designated duties. Hence they are accordingly remunerated. How then could this contract-swallowing Senator been able to combine his functions as a Senator with the impossible task of executing such quantum of contracts, given all the due process imperatives that remain inherent in such an exercise. Yet this is just one of the several instances of brazen looting of the public largesse, which has been the rule rather than the exception in the operations of the agency, since its inception in 2000.

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Crime busters know that one of the most effective ways to dismantle a crime syndicate is to set the members against each other. Given the course of recent developments in the Commission, many wonder if the crime busters’ scenario is not playing out in the NDDC. Not a few observers acknowledge a similitude in the few developments there. For instance, there is a growing consensus that the Presidential audit marching order, may have triggered a widely spreading state of unease among some of NDDC’s culpable beneficiaries of past and present scams. These include implicated former and current contractors as well as consultants. Others are staff who had compromised their positions to defraud the system along with accomplices on the outside. And it seems that the day of reckoning is already claiming casualties in the establishment. Indeed, is the NDDC’S Pandora’s box about to be uncovered?

For instance, the recent revelation about the contract swallowing Senator,   came to light simply as a result of an ‘uncommon shaking of the table’ in the agency. Although the affairs of the Commission had traditionally attracted controversy at every turn, recent hike in public interest in the NDDC followed a spate of misgivings expressed in several quarters over the nomination of members of a new board for the agency. The situation led to a meeting between some governors of the Niger Delta region with President Muhamadu Buhari, where they actually called for a change in the way the affairs of the Commission were handled. In response, the President directed the forensic audit to precede whatever remedial action he would take in respect of the agency. However, even before the Presidential audit has fully commenced, the agency is once more living up to its billing as a cauldron of intrigues.

This column had in an earlier article (NDDC: What will Buhari’s Probe Achieve? – ‘Daily Trust’ on Sunday, October 27th 2019), called on the President not to be deterred by any delay from the run of the audit, but continue with whatever measure he deemed fit to execute in respect of the agency, and which the audit would not impair. Hence the screening of the new board members by the Senate could be seen to be in order.

However, before the conclusion of the Senate screening of the nominees, came a development where Godswill Akpabio – Minister of Niger Delta Affairs (where the NDDC is now domiciled from the Presidency) appointed a three-man Interim Management Committee, to take over the affairs of the agency pending the resumption of the newly confirmed board members. Apparently implied in the brief of the Interim Management Committee is the conduct of the presidential audit exercise. Meanwhile as the public is still contending with the Akpabio intervention, the cascade of the Commission’s in-house scum started hitting the public space, with the tale of the contract swallowing Senator, in the lead.

While it may have been out of place for the recent dispensation of convolutions in NDDC to fester, the resultant effervescence is nevertheless, unearthing interesting secrets of the agency with positive value for public interest. The mere oddity of the convolutions, has unearthed the culpability of the contract swallowing Senator, with the promise of similarly exposing other culprits whose identities as well as nefarious activities in respect of the mindless rape of the Commission, may soon hit the public space.

The question now is: What implications will the present run of events have for the future of the agency, especially in respect of the concern of the region’s governors as well as the various dispossessed communities there? This consideration qualifies for as much attention as can be mustered over it. After all, this is Nigeria where disorder often trumps over order in defining trending circumstances in the public space. For one, the situation signposts the onset of a fresh round of power play, the vey syndrome that brought the NDDC to its ignoble degenerative state which requires the presidential audit and subsequent surgery. In the present circumstances, he Minister Akpabio intends to hold the driving seat firmly and may have proceeded to isolate and eject interests that reflect present or future hostility to him.

Incidentally, protest have come from some circles over Akpabio’s appointment of the interim management of NDDC even as the statutorily designated and now confirmed board designates are billed to resume. So offended are some of his critics that they have called for his sack by President Buhari. Incidentally that too may not happen soon if it is the Buhari of present day Nigeria. Hence Akpabio may remain to call the shots in NDDC for some time to come and as the beat goes on.

Meanwhile this is a prayer for more shaking of the table and equally more revelations from the NDDC’s Pandora’s box please…

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