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‘Forensic Audit should not impede inauguration of NDDC board’

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Foremost Niger Delta activist and Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah

Foremost Niger Delta activist and Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, says the people of the Niger Delta are fully in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent order for a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He, however, notes that the exercise should not be used as an excuse to stall the activities of the Commission while urging the president to inaugurate the new NDDC Board, which he constituted two months ago.

There have been a plethora of reactions to President Muhammadu Buhari’s order for a forensic audit of the NDDC. As a foremost Niger Delta activist, what is your take on the development?

According to the NDDC Act, the Commission submits a yearly report of its activities to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). So, the SGF is aware of all their activities; even the Ministry of Finance has a department that monitors how monies are spent by the NDDC in line with the Act. So, if the President is taking the monitoring to a higher level, it is welcome. We welcome anything that will make the NDDC be efficient. All that the President is trying to do is to make sure that the NDDC is efficient and that they are doing their work. So, we welcome the development.

The President has not appointed any firm or set up a panel to conduct the audit. Do you think the Interim Management Board of the Commission can handle the assignment?
No! You see, the real drama that happened in Aso Rock was that before the president came back from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Niger Delta governors were complaining that he did not carry them along while appointing the new board of the NDDC. They met and decided that when the president returns from his UN trip, they will go and meet him to ask why he did not carry them along. But when they went and tabled the issue, the president embarrassed them, because they were not even talking about how NDDC could be efficient. If they talked about how NDDC could be efficient during that meeting with Buhari, it was an afterthought.

Some of us got to know before that meeting that they were going to complain that the people the president appointed as the new board members are unacceptable to them. But we the people of Niger Delta challenged the governors. Why do you want to nominate people? Do you want to say that the president doesn’t know people that are capable of doing the job? Is that your own work? When the NDDC was not working in your own state, you never raised the alarm; it is when the president comes up with his own nominees that you will complain that you are not carried along.

Again, why are you talking about being carried along? You are all PDP governors apart from the Edo State governor. Are you saying that the president should nominate PDP members from your state into the NDDC board? It’s not done like that. Throughout the period that the PDP was ruling this country, the president always nominated people from their party.

So, we asked them to shut up and not to cause confusion. But they carried their confusion to Aso Rock and the president told them that he would probe NDDC. They all ran away from Aso Rock. The president embarrassed them and they were speechless. They appeared on television like defeated cowards after that meeting.

You appear to agree with the position of the NDDC that the governors instigated the probe in their bid to take over the affairs of the Commission?
That is just what I have explained. The governors were complaining that the president did not carry them along. If they are complaining, they just want to course confusion and then delay the progress that will come to NDDC during the time of Buhari. But we are telling Buhari not to fall into their trap because tomorrow people will say that throughout your tenure, NDDC was not working. Buhari should just understand that. Let posterity give it to him that during his time, NDDC was one of the most effective agencies of the government.

He should, therefore, allow the nominees into the NDDC board to work. We have assessed all of them; they had held other appointments in the Niger Delta before now. We have confidence in them. We don’t want a situation whereby all these confusions will delay our progress. While the North East Development Commission is making waves during Buhari’s administration, why will the NDDC not make waves? And you know, at the end of the day, Buhari can just say that it was your people that we’re fighting themselves. That is the reason the oil companies adduce for not developing the Niger Delta. Now, our governors want to put us into that trap again. I expected them to be wiser than that.

Do you really think the complaint by the governors and others against the nominees is the reason the president has not inaugurated the board?
United we stand, divided we fall. If the president finds that the Niger Delta people are causing confusion among themselves, he could just relax and say that nothing concerns him. That could be the mindset of the president. But we are begging him not to adopt that approach. Actually, the government can decide not to release the money to NDDC under the guise that the matter is not yet resolved.

Recently, the Southwest governors met and agreed to pull resources together to fight insecurity. Are you seeing that in Niger Delta governors? What are the Niger Delta governors doing jointly for the region? They go into petty matters; it’s all these petty things that they are talking about.

Look at the Southeast governors; they took a decision about the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. They went to the president and he announced the release of N10 billion for the project. And they are going to follow it up; they will ask where is the N10 billion? Who are the contractors? If not IPOB will challenge them; Ohanaeze Ndigbo will also challenge them. Even we can ask them what they are doing. But since Buhari’s government came, Niger Delta governors refused to hold meetings. It is when it comes to petty things that they will meet and come up with a pronouncement that is childish.

But we are telling the president to ignore these governors. Nobody is perfect. If you announce 700 different committees whether it is for NDDC or other government agencies, people will still complain. The president should, as a firm military man, take a decision if he means well for Niger Delta. And if you delay development, the crisis will evolve in this region. He has done what is right by nominating the board members. Those who are instigating one thing or the other just want to delay our development.

On the forensic audit, the Buhari administration had probed the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) under the Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations. The EFCC is now prosecuting former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, over arms deal for Boko Haram war. But don’t we have a Chief of Defence Staff today? Don’t we have all the military structures in place? Are things not working? The Boko Haram war is going on positively likewise the war against bandits.

So, while the probe was going on, the president still appointed another NSA. This current NSA is very competent; he is doing his work and they are containing the situation. The president should, therefore, not delay the inauguration of the NDDC board because of these distractions from the governors and other groups. He should inaugurate the board and let the work continue. But he should monitor the board. He should put in place a monitoring scheme that will be superior to any monitoring scheme the Commission had had in the past. If he does that, you will see that they will work. But it’s not for things to be completely at a halt because we are waiting for the report of an audit. We will be doing no good to the people of Niger Delta should that happen.

Do you agree with the president that the NDDC has not lived up to expectations?
We cannot accept that because the Federal Government owes NDDC over N500 billion. Nobody is saying that NDDC has worked up to expectations. But the Federal Government, which owes NDDC, cannot come and do the condemnation. We are the people that have been shouting that NDDC is not working. The Federal Government does not need to tell us. What it should do is to pay its legal contribution to NDDC. Is the government paying what is due to NDDC up to date? When it does that and we shout that NDDC is not working, let it come and punish the Commission. That is why we accepted the president’s idea of a forensic audit of previous NDDC management. But the Presidency should also say that it is not fair that the government has not been fulfilling its own obligations to the Commission. We want that apology also from the Federal Government.

But the money that had been released, are you satisfied with the achievements so far?
No! Nobody in the Niger Delta will say that NDDC has done a perfect work. And we want NDDC to sit up even if they give them 10 kobo. Even if they give them N2.00, we want NDDC to sit up. And if Buhari is helping us to see that NDDC sits up, we tell him, ‘God bless you’.

But the fact is that most times, what you see on paper is not what is actually released. For instance, just last Tuesday, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, cried out to the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Affairs for N38.7 billion special funding for critical projects in the Niger Delta in the 2020 fiscal year. While decrying dwindling budgetary allocations to the ministry, he disclosed that a total sum of N35.2 billion was allocated to the ministry in 2019 but it was yet to get any release for its capital projects in the budget. This is October 2019.

Is that the Akpabio they want to oversee the NDDC? Do they want to bring politics into NDDC so they will be crying for release for capital projects in October? It is more confusion. The Ministry of Niger Delta cannot oversee NDDC; leave NDDC management as it is now! Let it be answerable to the SGF and Presidency. And let Akpabio tackle the problems of the Niger Delta Ministry. The ministry is not working; he should make it work. If you add NDDC matters to Akpabio, he will collapse and his health is very important to us.


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