The NDDC forensic audit order
But those who have defrauded the NDDC would politicise the investigation to frustrate it. The president should guard against that. Already, the commission is accusing governors of the region of instigating the probe in order to hijack the commission, which cannot be substantiated. I don’t see anything wrong in seeking for probity and accountability in an organization where huge public funds have been pumped into.
After all, this is not the first forensic audit to be done on government organisations. A similar forensic audit was done on the activities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) under the Jonathan administration by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC), an international accounting firm.
Also, a similar probe was carried out in 1992, when the Pius Okigbo panel investigated the oil windfall that accrued from the Gulf War and found that $12 billion was frittered away under the Babangida administration.
There was also the Abisoye Panel report of 1995 that identified areas of wastage including subsidy. The Petroleum Revenue Task Force Committee headed by Nuhu Ribadu probed fuel subsidy disbursements following the nationwide mass protest of January 2012.
The Idika Kalu Committee on Refineries conducted a high-level assessment of the nation’s refineries and recommended ways of improving their efficiency and commercial viability. Finally, the Dotun Sulaiman Committee on Governance was tasked with designing a new corporate governance code for ensuring full transparency, good governance and global best practices in the NNPC and other oil industry parastatals.
There is no doubt that huge resources have been expended in the Niger Delta intervention effort and it is just natural to seek accountability on what has been done.
Because the NDDC is plagued by abrasive politics perpetrated by all manner of stakeholders from the Niger Delta and others in Abuja, President Buhari should be firm and uncompromising if the forensic audit should worth its name.
From the outset, the president ought to have announced a reputable international auditing firm like former President Jonathan did, that would do the job. Buhari should not order an audit of such magnitude without announcing a neutral audit firm to do the job. Because of the level of corruption in the system, only such reputable audit firms could do this job.
The job of a forensic audit cannot be left to the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC because it is an ad-hoc committee with very limited powers. It, therefore, cannot be entrusted with the task of conducting a forensic audit on itself.
President Buhari did the right thing by constituting a new management board for the NDDC. Buhari should expedite action in the process of formalising the new board. The names should be sent to the Senate for approval without further delay. The new board should be inaugurated without further delay. The task at hand is enormous.
There is no need for creating unnecessary room for mischief makers to attack members of the board, especially, when their expectations are not met. Nobody should be worried about the criticisms, which will always be there no matter who is appointed into the board.
Certainly, NDDC needs a new life. With a new management board and a forensic audit, the stage would be set for a new era in the NDDC.
While receiving the governors of the states that make up the NDDC in Aso Rock, President Buhari ordered the forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001 to 2019. He bemoaned the apparent failure of the commission to fulfill the purpose for which it was set up.
The NDDC was created to perform a similar job as the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) that oversaw the development of the Abuja Master Plan that transformed the hitherto virgin territory into a modern city. But the NDDC’s story has been unimpressive, which should not be the case. Instead of injecting real-time development in the region, stories of graft and mismanagement of resources abound.
There is a need to reposition the NDDC to achieve the lofty objectives for which it was set up. A forensic audit, as ordered, could pave the way for that.
As the economic backbone of the nation with huge oil wealth, the Niger Delta region ought to be a cynosure of development as against the abysmal underdevelopment situation.
Buhari lamented that what is presently on ground in the Niger Delta region does not justify the huge resources that have been made available to the commission.
“I try to follow the act setting up these institutions, especially, the NDDC. With the amount of money that the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we would like to see the results on ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues,” the President lamented.
“The projects said to have been done must be verifiable. You just cannot say you spent so many billions and when the place is visited, one cannot see the structures that have been done.”
Nearly two decades after it was established, the NNDC has not lived up to expectation, judging, especially, from the huge financial resources pumped into its operations. Not much has changed across the blighted Niger Delta.
The infrastructure remains poor and decrepit. Poverty, hunger and abject lack still pervade the region. Insecurity and militancy fueled by deprivation and underdevelopment induce social tension. Rather than see improvement with NDDC in place, the situation deteriorates the more.
The commission’s operations have been characterised by a poor choice of projects, shoddy handling, uncompleted jobs and lack of required support from the local authorities in the areas of coverage. There is too much attention on the NDDC on the negative side. NDDC is too important to the development of the Niger Delta, and the corporate entity of Nigeria, for it not to be taken seriously.
The reconstitution of the Board and Management of the commission by President Muhammadu Buhari last August came as a welcome relief after nearly one year of rudderlessness. An interim management committee has been overseeing the affairs of the commission in the absence of aboard.
Buhari announced the constitution of a 16-member Board of Directors and executive management to pilot the affairs of the commission for the next four years as stipulated in Act No.6 of 2000 setting up the commission. The Senate should do the needful and confirm the Board so that the new management can get to work without further delay.
The reconstitution of the board has, unfortunately, been greeted with a plethora of diversionary commentaries, agitations for and against the new board, and more sordid news from the seemingly rudderless interim management with no Board to conduct oversight on their activities. These are the kind of distractions that have hampered the smooth running of the commission.
It would be foolhardy to expect an interim management committee with limited powers to function effectively. Besides, there has been unpalatable news filtering from the commission recently about the activities of the Interim Management.
For instance, reports of the unapproved recruitment of over 300 new staff members without board approval for such massive recruitment jolted many and it took the intervention and outcry of some well-meaning stakeholders in the Niger Delta Region to halt the exercise.
There was also a report of messy contract awards purportedly approved and paid to phony companies by the current interim management team, which angered the president. The controversial payments may have breached extant procurement rules.
Whatever may be the case, the issue at hand is the forensic audit. It is not common to order this sort of audit into most of Nigeria’s mismanaged institutions. Year in year out, huge financial resources are mismanaged or frittered away in public institutions without anybody held to account. It is therefore heart-warming that such an audit is to be carried out to establish the truth about the dealings in the commission.
President Buhari should put the new Board that he appointed since August in place since they have never been part of the dealings of the NDDC in the past, to help supervise the audit.