Disgraceful rot and stench at NDDC
The Niger Delta people and the nation were shocked beyond words when a former Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ms. Joy Nunieh, appeared before a House Committee the other day and spilled on outright brigandage, looting and fraud committed by the men and women charged with developing the beleaguered region. As if that was not odious enough, Acting Chairman of NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, fainted when grilled during a session with legislators. Whether he really fainted or he feigned being sick is a matter of conjecture even as that act has curiously become a plot in most tragi-comic animations in the social media. But the melodramatic acts of the accusers and their interrogators were so absurd that no one was amused.
How did these men find a place in the corridors of power? What exactly is going on in administration that rode to Aso Rock on the campaign promise of stamping out corruption? Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio also facing corruption allegations in this same mix, threw a bomb when he accused legislators of being involved in sleazy contract deals. Nigerians are intensely disenchanted by the behaviour of these political appointees. They have not shown a good example to the young ones. They have denied people of the region any modicum of development because of their greed and lust for ill-gotten wealth. The question on the lips of everyone now is this: Is this the spectacle that is going on in other government agencies? Stealing public funds with impunity? Where is due process? Where is the fear of being caught dipping one’s fingers into the national till? If these clowns at NDDC and the National Assembly are representatives of the people who control the levers of power in Nigeria, then the nation is in big trouble!
The incident is particularly odious because indigenes of the region have brazenly stolen funds meant for the development of their homeland. How could state officials fritter away one billion five hundred million naira by simply sharing the money among themselves? Why should NDDC part with N475 million to the Nigeria Police for face masks? For what reason did staff of NDDC share that whopping sum of money? Who authorised such expenditures? Also, NDDC claimed to have spent N81.5 billion in seven months. To say the least, this is criminal if proven and all culprits ought to face the wrath of the law. They have denied their kith and kin all the benefits of development, which the NDDC was created for. The so-called big men simply collect funds for contracts and disappear without as much as visiting the site of the project. The Federal Government must ensure that the matter is not swept under the carpet.
The NDDC was established by Act 6, 2000 as a successor to OMPADEC to among other things ‘‘formulate guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta’’ and ‘‘conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta area in the field of transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialisation, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.’’ For this reason, the sum of N15.34 trillion has been received by NDDC since its inception. It will be recalled that in the last 30 odd years, there have been strident calls on the Federal Government to directly intervene to develop the region that produces the wealth for the nation. Environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa and before him Major Isaac Adaka Boro lost their lives in the struggle for freedom in the Niger Delta. Sadly, the NDDC, which was created as a response to intense agitations have fallen into the hands of unscrupulous political appointees who are only interested in the bellies.
President Muhammadu Buhari should take prompt action on this matter. Already there are reports that a similar Commission in the North East is facing the same fate of plundering the commonwealth. The time has come to stop appointing politicians to head such agencies. Often the pressure is high on them to steal money and prepare for the next election. It is for this reason that sitting governments often look the other way. But Buhari promised Nigerians that it was not going to be business as usual. He must walk the talk.
It is strange that after Senate cleared a list of members for management positions, the president arbitrarily overruled the Senate and appointed an interim body. This is unfortunate. It showed that somebody wanted a scenario in which criminals in the name of politicians would feast on public funds without fear of sanctions. The presidency is therefore complicit in the rot that has become the NDDC. Appointees owe their allegiance to persons outside the region. It is time we reversed the order of things to make NDDC appointees loyal to the people of the region. The Interim Management Committee should be dissolved immediately and provisions of the Act, which created the Commission should be adhered to.
We also call on stakeholders in the Niger Delta to show more than passing interest in the affairs of the Commission. They should keep abreast of developments in the NDDC by monitoring budgets, approvals and ensuring that approved projects for which funds have been released are duly executed. In other climes, the people would have been on the streets protesting against the plundering of resources by their so-called representatives. But the people have become so docile and conciliatory and almost apologetic on the shenanigans of the political elite.
The promised forensic audit should continue. The National Assembly committees probing the NDDC appear severely compromised. It is now clear why they curiously kept quiet when the president reversed their clearance of NDDC’s board members. National Assembly members are not likely to send their peers to jail even if they are found complicit in the tradition of espirit de corps. We therefore call for the appointment of a reputable external auditing firm to get to the root of the matter. Except tough actions are taken, by prosecuting all guilty in court, there is likely to be a repeat of the same thievery in the months and years ahead. Finally, if Buhari is serious about prosecuting corrupt officials, this is the time to prove it. There should be no sacred cow amid this disgraceful rot and stench at the NDDC.
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