It is now eighth months since President Muhamadu Buhari in November 2019, ordered a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to unravel how an estimated sum of over N15 trillion given to the agency since its inception in 2000, was spent without commensurate evidence of the impact in the area.
With less that 15% development impact on its designated, oil-rich Niger Delta zone through its interventions, it is feared that as much as 80% of the largesse was misappropriated or even stolen, by persons masquerading as various actors in the region.
The forensic audit was ordered by the president as a follow-up to a meeting he held with governors of the designated states in the Niger Delta – home to more than 50 million Nigerians, over their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the agency.
For some time the agency had operated without their statutory participation, at least with respect to their oversight role over it, and to the detriment of the fortunes of their respective states.
A serial regime of mindless looting of the commission’s resources by all and sundry, as it served more or less as a super benevolent paymaster in the creeks, was orchestrated courtesy of interplay of political interests often beyond the control of the leading lights of the zone.
This situation willy nilly, stalled meaningful development of the region will depend only on when the forensic audit will see the light of day.
The situation now is that further development activities for the region by the agency have to wait for the conclusion of the forensic audit.
Meanwhile developments at the Commission in the wake of the launch of the forensic audit accentuate the reality that calling the behemoth NDDC to order, is not going to be a tea party.
Among the ripples that were set in motion by the audit exercise is the fear in all implicated actors within and around the organization, of ending up on the wrong side of the audit.
The resultant stampede by, by all manner of such actors who played one role or the other in the activities of the agency – presently or in the past, has had a telling effect on its fortunes.
From its past and present Board members, staff, contractors, consultants, and even community leaders, there has been a stampede around the agency with none of these leaving anything to chance.
Document experts of all shades have been engaged by the likely to be implicated actors to falsify vouchers, receipts, and other relevant instruments just to ensure that nothing untoward was recorded against him or her.
Meanwhile, the agency’s game faced some twist when its new statutory board of directors whose members had been screened by the Senate was dismissed even before seating, and were replaced by an Interim Mangement Committee (IMC).
The IMC itself has been restructured at least on two occasions since the present dispensation.
In the same vein, the supervision of the agency itself was transferred from the Presidency to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, under Godswill Akpabio as Minister and through whom the IMC dispensation came.
It would seem that the involvement of Akpabio a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, and ex-Senator, in the direct running of the NDDC through his hand-picked IMC, has ushered in a new dimension to the agency’s challenges.
Touting the airs of a untouchable, Akpabio has run the NDDC in a manner that had attracted more controversy than he inherited as he virtually forces his personal idiosyncrasies down the throat of the region, ostensibly with the backing of the President.
Even the stringent protests by the region have not swayed the President to review Akpabio’s proclivities.
However, emerging revelations of happenings in the agency under his brief lead critics to wonder if he remains irreplaceable, especially in the light of whether he is not becoming part of the problem rather than a solution.
This factor alone guarantees for the forensic audit, a welter of questions whenever it comes out.
Incidentally, for any form of financial instrument which the envisaged audit report is, there are basic criteria for its legitimacy and acceptability.
These include the six qualities of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, timeliness, clarity and completeness.
In the case of the NDDC, for anybody who appreciates the reckless abandon with which the operations of the agency were carried out during the period covered by the audit exercise, will not fail to express sympathy for the auditors and the establishment.
In a country where routine record keeping remains problematic to say the least, many people believe it will be a miracle for the audit report to achieve significant accuracy.
Nigeria is a country where records of critical financial transactions are willfully destroyed or compromised in order to mask details of such.
It is against this backdrop that not a few observers moderate their expectations over the outcome and utility of the forthcoming forensic audit report.
For many observers, the best that can be achieved with the report is to reposition the agency for the future, not to cage the miscreants of the past.
For to expect that the looted trillions from the agency’s largesse will be recovered, remains a pipe dream.
While a few doubly unfortunate scapegoats may be apprehended, how far such enterprise will go remains doubtful.
In this respect there are historical parallels featuring other organisations in the country, with relatively saner operational expedients, where forensic audits were carried out, and not much was heard of such enterprise later.
How the NDDC will be an exception to this situation remains a mystery.
However, the ongoing uncomplimentary expectations of the NDDC forensic audit notwithstanding, it still has its value. At least the report will define the areas for corrective adjustment in the future operations of the agency.
This is where the zone and the country should be contemplating a drastic review of the NDDC Master Plan and operational expedients.
That is if the agency still qualifies to remain in its present omnibus structure.