‘Interim management ploy to cover up corruption in NDDC’
Olorogun Atuyota Ejughemre is erstwhile interim Secretary General of the South/South Peoples Assembly (SSPA), as well as a Second Republic Electoral Commissioner in the defunct Bendel State.
In this interview with CHIDO OKAFOR, the community leader examined the intricate web of insincerity and lack of commitment by officials of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which has been grounded by a myriad of uncompleted projects and huge debts.
President Buhari should address this problem, says Olorogun Ejughemre
Why do you think NDDC is enmeshed in crisis?
The crisis is basically because the amount of money budgeted for that agency to tackle the ecological, infrastructural and human capital challenges is enormous. And the management has been very poor. As such many people see it as a Christmas cake for our people.
So, they go take contracts with the sole aim of collecting mobilization and thereafter abandon the project. There is a litany of abandoned projects all over the place. Briefly, this is why there is crisis.
Are you saying NDDC does not have internal control mechanisms?
They’ve been having internal audits to check those who receive contracts, those that executed contracts and whatever the challenges. But, because a majority of them have their fingers also deep in the mess in the rot they are not able to do their work effectively. So, it is not only the political appointees, but even public servants who are in the system are allegedly involved in the mismanagement of the finances of the commission.
The National Assembly recently screened and confirmed a new board, what do you think is hindering it from taking over the affairs of the commission?
I think the board did not take over the affairs of NDDC since the Senate cleared all of them, save the lady representing River State, Joy Nunieh; because of the interference by the Minister, who set up his own interim committee, which is not known to law. That is why they have not taken over. There is fear of imminent clash and the president is absent, so even the directive of the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, has not been carried out.
But the previous board alleged that the Federal Government owes NDDC about N1.8trillion. Could that explain why so many projects are abandoned in the Niger Delta?
No, I don’t think so. It is lack of prudent management of what have been available to subsequent administrations in the commission. Yes, they may owe them and if that had come it would have ameliorated the situation, but what about what they owe legitimately? I think this is what the forensic audit would expose.
How much did the National Assembly appropriate, and the other is about how much was received by way of physical cash, as well as how much the oil industries are supposed to pay and how much they actually paid? This is the whole gamut of revelation that will come out when a forensic audit is carried out.
The last board also said they were indebted to the contractors to the tune of about N1.5trillion. With these huge debts, how could projects have been executed?
What has emerged in the media and utterances are quite negative of the funds. Instead of paying contractors we saw very glaringly during elections that most of the people who occupied office in NDDC are politicians and they are more interested in how to win elections than to apply the funds for the project, which they awarded.
There seem to be some shady deals between the officials and the contractors and so the projects are abandoned after money had been paid. I can give you an example of a mega project that was supposed to improve the lives of the people from Omadina to Kpokiti, to Okerenkoko to Escravos, about 24 bridges and roads, awarded in 2009 and three certificates were raised for jobs not done and they siphoned N2.3billion from NDDC coffers.
Now, the immediate past board, headed by Nsima Ekere and Senator Victor Ndoma–Egba conceived the idea of re-awarding the same contract for which N2.3billion had been stolen. But the board never awarded the contract before they left, and nothing was said about it. That is where Chevron is operating, from Omadina to Okerenko to Escravos. Remember that Okerenkoko is where the Maritime University is located.
A former commissioner in the NDDC said the commission’s problem was that it embarked on too many projects, amounting to about 9000 ongoing projects, which is about 1000 project per state in the Niger Delta…
Apart from embarking on too many projects, there are duplications of projects, where for instance, a state government is doing water borehole in a community, NDDC will also award the same contract. So, when the NDDC contractor sees that the state government is doing the same thing, they quietly collect their money and abandon the project.
That is why you see a plethora of abandoned projects. So, it’s not really that too many projects were awarded, because the essence is to improve on infrastructural facility in the Niger Delta region, but the commitment of the official is at the lowest level.
Their interest is pecuniary and I think that is what is impairing and impacting negatively on the finances of the commission. That’s why a lot of money has been carted out and little job has been done.
Some people think the President should personally intervene to resolve the impasse?
I think the question should be, what is the way forward? Mr. President has done well by nominating a new board made up of transparent people, who have integrity and have shown a track record of performance in different fields of human endeavour. So, the president should cut short his leave in the UK, come back and address this particular problem besetting the entire Niger Delta region.
Others believe that the forensic audit is coming at the right time, but would the audit report transform NDDC?
Yes, the NDDC needs a forensic audit just as they ordered in the NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation) some time ago, when the Buhari administration came on board.
It would not interfere with the day-to-day management of the commission. My only fear is that the political will of the board is what matters. If Pius Odubu as Chairman and Chief Bernard Okumagba, as Managing Director put their feet down, get the support of their colleagues they will implement the report of the forensic audit.
It is not the Presidency that will implement it, or even pay for it and implement it. The implementation will be for the organization, a way of recovery. I overheard Senator Akpabio on Channels Television saying that some of the contractors are going back (to site) so that the forensic audit will not catch up with them. But, the truth of the matter is that monies are going to be recovered and judiciously applied.
The new board can pay for some of the uncompleted jobs that have not been paid for and also award some of the immediate projects that are needed in communities like the ones I mentioned earlier. I think it is worthwhile.
How true is the claim that some projects were sold to alleged briefcase companies and agents of NDDC officials?
I think I also read that in the newspapers and I think it is true. Some of NDDC officials over the years have been in that abominable act of selling projects. People who buy don’t have capacity, because even the banks now are afraid of giving out loans that have to do with NDDC.
So, what they do is, they talk in terms of percentage, you give us 10 or 15 percent you take it and go, and those people will look for somebody else who will buy it from them. The contracts end up not being executed.
Therefore, I think there is a cabal, which must be broken within the NDDC that is involved in this sale of projects. I read yesterday in The Guardian, where Professor Jasper Jumbo said he bought from (Emmanuel) Iwuanyanwu and he completed, but was not paid. That was his grievance, but he was involved in the laws setting up OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission) and NDDC. So, you know there is no smoke without fire.
Is it possible to buy back NDDC projects that have been given to contractors?
Many of them are really briefcase contractors; they don’t have the financial wherewithal and expertise. Contractors worth their salt in the country are very few and they have foreign connections.
If you talk about Julius Berger, for instance, they are doing very well. So the truth of the matter is that many of them are really briefcase contractors, who go there and the cabal within the NDDC tells you we have so and so projects, it is either 24-kilometer-road or it is water hyacinth as is being alleged that Akpabio did and so on and so forth.
The immediate past NDDC Managing Director, Nsima Ekere, said he gave ten contracts to Akpabio, and Akpabio collected mobilization for the contracts and none of them were executed, apart from other monies that he collected. Ekere has told the public that he will not fall alone, that he will fall with Akpabio, a former governor and a former deputy governor.
Could these be some of the undercurrents fueling the crisis in the NDDC?
Yes, these are some of the undercurrents. The interim management is a ploy to pool cotton wool on the eyes of Nigerians, so that they would not know what to do, because they want to cover up this rot, which many are part of.
Senator Akpabio was a governor and he nominated people for so many years from 2007 to 2015, and he nominated three sets of Managing Directors to NDDC. I am sure that those people were also giving him feedback.
Now if he does not fight that the audit team is nullified, how would they be able to cover up the rot?
Who wants to cover what rot? The Minister mooted the idea of forensic audit…
Akpabio of course; both for himself and those he nominated unto the NDDC board. He has advertised and asked audit firms to apply, so that he will screen them and pick a particular one that he will give guidelines on how to carry out the forensic audit.
Do you think someone who has skeletons in his cupboard would want an audit panel set up?
Well, that is why they are crying for the head of Akpabio, that he is not a fit and proper person to oversee the day-to-day running of the commission instead of the Managing Director as enshrined in the NDDC Establishment Act of 2000.
His duty is to make policies for implementation and I think he has overstepped his bounds and that is why the lady, Joy Nunieh, had the impudence to say she does not want to be screened. She is a member of the new board and she refused to go for screening. She wants to remain there as the acting Managing Director.
But the minister of Niger Delta Affairs does not have powers to oversee the commission?
Overseeing does not mean day-to-day running of the commission, and in any case I think it is incongruous and an affront to Mr. President that Akpabio, as a minister to whom power is delegated, to delegate power to another committee. That committee would serve as a parallel body to the new board, which the President himself has forwarded to the National Assembly for screening.
Let me give you an instance from William Shakespeare, who said two stars keep not their motion in one sphere, each person will go its own his own. So the management committee is on its own, the board is on its own and when they meet at a point, there will be a collision and a clash, and it will be to the detriment of Niger Deltans.
The acting MD said the interim committee has stopped N1billion paid monthly to a consultant that collects the commission’s dues from the oil firms, she said the NDDC has no business asking someone to collect monies due it…
If the new board comes, these illegal payments in place will also be identified, she is not the only one that can do that. What we are saying is that it is not right and proper for two bodies to operate as parallel agencies. The moment the list went to the Senate and the moment Senate screened the board that committee should be disbanded and I think that Akpabio owes Nigerians an apology for giving an affront to Mr. President.
How can the incoming board stop the incidence of briefcase contractors?
There are people who are non-Niger Deltans, who will be happy if Buhari takes steps to shut down the NDDC, but the truth is that there is reason for three percent, 10 percent and 13 percent, to the setting up of OMPADEC and the NDDC in 2000.
To those people, a huge sum of money is coming to the Niger Delta, the same thing you have in the NDDC allocation is the same thing that goes in 13 percent to the producing states. Now if you throw away the child and the bath water you have lost the child and the bath water.
So what I am saying in effect is that there is no problem without a solution. And so looking at the pedigree of persons on this board and at the template of the situation in NDDC, they are human beings, they know that Mr. president is driving the process of anti-corruption in the country. They will adjust their dancing steps.
Has NDDC lost focus or deviated from the purpose for which it was set up?
Yes, because there are many abandoned projects and the stealing of monies. Some of them that stole money are still alive, some are dead, they may even go and knock at the graveside of those people who have stolen money.
But, in truth, for every problem there is a solution. And I think that it will not be right to shut down the NDDC, but to encourage the new board do things differently. I want to say boldly that apart from the integrity of Odubu, a lawyer and former federal lawmaker and Deputy Governor of Edo State, Bernard Okumagba in particular, can raise his head anywhere as a chartered accountant, as an auditor and as a banker.
He is a team player that could rally his colleagues and say let us leave a legacy. The negative legacies that our predecessors put here let us do it differently. I see him as a man who can do that.
Is it true that the NDDC master plan has been swept under the carpet leading to the duplication of projects all over the region?
My recommendation to the incoming board is that they should set up a team to look into the issue of the master plan. Because the master plan was swept under the carpet, there has been duplication of projects between the state governments and the NDDC. Therefore I would want the incoming board to bring out the master plan, dust it up and set up a committee to look at it critically. I believe if they look closely they would see to what extent the commission has adhered to the recommendations and ideas contained in that vital document that cost the commission so much money to put in place. I can recall that foreigners were brought to help formulate the master plan. As such, if the master plan is adhered to there will be no duplication of projects.
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