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NDDC: What will Buhari’s probe achieve?

President Muhammadu Buhari.

The trending story about the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) now, is that President Muhamadu Buhari has ordered its forensic audit that will cover virtually the entire life of the agency. Having been established in the year 2000, the presidential audit from 2001 to date, covers a span of 19 years in the life of an agency which took off from a bed of political intrigues, and has run amuck, under the subterfuge of sailing through the turbulent minefield of Nigeria’s vicious, cat and mouse game of majority and minority politics. It had started seemingly as a response to the yearnings of the minority Niger Delta communities, to address their age-long criminal neglect by the ethnic majority powers at the centre. Its control had however been anything beyond the former, as their clout over its critical processes, routinely dispensed with much leverage from them. In the process, the Commission had been allowed a spree of mindless looting of its largesse by various cabals comprising leading politicians at the country’s power centre and their local collaborators, as well as some of the entrenched members of staff who operate with or without the connivance of their fronts located outside the precincts of the organisation.

The governors of the NDDC state had met with the President recently where they discussed issues with him, including their dissatisfaction with the operations of the agency. In response, the President ordered the forensic audit as a preliminary step that would guide his further action. However, both his body language and comments at the meeting with the governors, point to the fact that even before and after the expected forensic audit, it would no more be business as usual. The question now borders on how much change and how soon such would impact on the NDDC.

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The poignancy of this question is underscored by the fact that not a few Nigerians see the agency as virtually irredeemable unless something drastic is done about it. The extent of incorrigibility of the agency is accentuated by the fact that it hardly takes any significant effort to locate any aspect of its legion of infractions. Even as at this moment, a Senate Committee that is investigating an NDDC contract award for the clearing of water hyacinth invasion is contending with a mind-boggling, suspected fraud in which the contract that was initially awarded for N2.5 billion, eventually attracted payment of N65 billion, under unclear circumstances. Meanwhile, efforts by the Senate Committee to get the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC Enya Akwagaga, to brief the Committee helpfully on the unusual situation, had met with little success, leading the Committee to fix October 30th 2019 for her to come up with a more useful presentation.

Needless to point out that even before the advent of Akwagaga who only recently, ascended the position of Managing Director albeit in an acting capacity, the NDDC had proved several times over, to be a cesspool of corrupt practices and a sinkhole for public funds. Several reports on the serial playout of shenanigans in the Commission, litter under the cover of several layers of dust on the forbidding shelves of the Presidency, without attracting commensurate reactions and even due sanctions for the erring and implicated persons.

Perhaps of note is also the seeming obduracy of some elements in the establishment such as the spokesman – one Mr Chares Odili who has been credited with the unfortunate statement that the Niger Delta governors who went to visit Buhari did so out of a desire to hijack the agency as they belonged to the opposition party, (ostensibly the Peoples Democratic Party – PDP). Seen in context, this column doubts that such a comment should have come from him by this time and in the present circumstances.

Perhaps unknown to Odili as the spokesman of the NDDC, the very governors he allegedly and erroneously accused of trying to hijack the Commission, enjoy statutory liberties to intervene in the affairs of the Commission, courtesy of the very law that set it up. The NDDC act provides that the governors of the designated states constitute a Niger Delta Advisory Development Committee along with two nominees of the President. The functions assigned to the Committee are twofold. Firstly, is to advise the NDDC Board and secondly to monitor the activities of the entire Commission.

The dormancy of this Committee had remained a sore point in the relationship between the Commission and the respective state governors of the region. It is significant that even the recently sacked Acting Managing Director of the NDDC Professor Nelson Brambaifa, had spiritedly canvassed the reconstitution of the Advisory Committee to provide a nexus between the agency and the political leadership of the zone. Therefore, the governors of the zone have a statutory basis for intervening in the affairs of the Commission while their isolation from the system could also have been a contributory factor to the recorded spate of recklessness in executing its mandate in the region. Hence, if the allegation of unfounded, attempted hijack of the Commission by the governors of the Niger Delta region was actually from Mr Odili, he does not have any valid place in the organization, either as a staff or in any other capacity.

However, more significant for now is the expected outcome of the Presidential forensic audit of the NDDC. Needless to state that Nigerians await the exercise with great expectations. Many Nigerians who have been in close contact with the political associates of the NDDC leadership easily attest to the sudden flight from rags to riches scenarios among such persons. Meanwhile, this is just as abandoned projects are abundant all over the place.

Hence, as outlandish as it may sound, public expectation borders on a complement of restorative measures. In one vein is the drastic restructuring of the agency back to its founding vision from which it derailed years ago.  Secondly, is the recall of several past officials to come and render an account of their questionable stewardship, and a new operational template for the agency. Will all of these be possible under a Buhari Presidency – with all the weaknesses that have become its second nature; many are asking.

Besides, given the humongous scope of the expected audit and the concurrent probe of aspects of the agency’s operations by both the Senate and House of Representatives simultaneously, would it not be most auspicious for the National Assembly to expand its searchlight to cover the entire span of 2001 -2019 as directed by the President. This is not only to minimize duplication of efforts by the two arms of government. It is also to prevent the executive arm from becoming a judge in its case, by investigating its erring agency.

Meanwhile, Buhari does not need to wait until the end of the audit, which duration, for now, is indeterminate, to respond to the cries of the Niger Delta states governors. A lot can be achieved by him to allay the fears of the region, in the interim.

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