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N722 million NDDC audit budget elicits mixed reactions

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The approval of N722 million by the Federal Government for the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has elicited mixed reactions.

While the interventionist agency is lauding President Muhammadu Buhari for sanctioning the hiring of eight field experts to undertake the exercise covering a period of 2001 to 2019, a group, the Niger Delta Rights Advocates (NDRA), has, however, expressed a contrary opinion.

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It argued that the National Assembly probe had shown that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and NDDC allegedly failed to follow due process in the nomination of the lead forensic auditor, Messrs Olumuyiwa Bashiru.

NDDC’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, had said the President matched his words with action by approving the funding of the assignment directly from the Presidency.

According to him, Buhari had “graciously approved this peculiar funding arrangement because he gave due consideration to the fact that the National Assembly has not passed the NDDC’s 2020 budget.”

“With the funding challenge now settled, we are on course to accelerate the tempo of the forensic audit, which will cover the headquarters and the projects in the nine NDDC mandate states, to ensure that the exercise is completed on time, “ he clarified.

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Odili also said payment of the tuition and allowances of post-graduate students on the agency’s foreign scholarship scheme had commenced.

But NDRA through its spokesperson, Darlington Nwauju, queried the fresh contract, given that “N318 million was in March this year approved by same Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the engagement of the lead forensic auditor.

“We do recall from the NASS probe the failure of the supervising Ministry of Niger Delta and the NDDC to follow due process in the nomination of the lead forensic auditor, Messrs Olumuyiwa Bashiru,” he claimed.

Nwauju also wondered what was done with the “payment of N641 million to a certain Messrs Clearpoint Communications to ‘assist’ the NDDC identify the commission’s project sites in the nine mandate states as part of the forensic probe.”

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He said his group “concedes to the fact that issues pertaining to corruption or perceived corruption at the NDDC have become a recurring decimal and sound like a broken record.”

However, the spokesman insisted that the “plundering of the Niger Delta region must not be investigated using an opaque and incredibly expensive forensic audit process especially given the fact that governments and organisations all over the world are cutting down costs.”

“The query we are raising today is to the extent that our people have been left confused as to what actually is happening with the audit process If a local company has been contracted to identify NDDC project sites, and another set of eight forensic auditors are being lined up to equally identify projects to be completed, abandoned projects, useful projects and confirm how much has actually come into the NDDC since inception.”

“To add to the above query, we ask again: What has happened to all the NEITI reports on the NDDC and the Auditor General’s reports on that commission? We do not lack materials and information on the rot at the NDDC as to warrant the award of huge contract sums to different firms all in the name of pursuing a forensic audit,” he added.

The group further questioned: “Has the N722 million approval passed through the litmus of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) regulations and a Certificate of No Objection issued?

It urged the President to urgently inaugurate a board to run the agency, while also setting up a “Presidential Monitoring Committee (PMC) as enshrined in Section 21 of the Act.”

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