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NDDC: Battle for the soul of an interventionist agency rages

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The ongoing probe of an alleged N40 billion fraud at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the Senate amid the forensic audit ordered by the President Muhammadu Buhari suggests there are many forces fighting for the soul of the interventionist agency.

As Nigerians await the outcome of the ongoing investigation by members of the National Assembly into an alleged N40 billion fraud at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), there are feelers that the allegation might be the handiwork of some people to scuttle the forensic audit of the account of the commission ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Senate had, at its sitting on May 5, 2020, considered a motion on the urgent need to investigate reports of alleged financial recklessness in the NDDC and resolved to constitute an ad hoc committee to probe the allegation. The committee is expected to carry out a holistic investigation into all issues relating but not limited to the alleged misapplication and misappropriation of the N40 billion by the Interim Management Committee of the commission within three months.

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Pursuant to the resolution, the Senate ad hoc committee probing the misappropriation has demanded a written explanation from the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, over his alleged involvement in the purported scam. The Chairman of the ad hoc panel, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, in a letter, reportedly directed the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, as well as the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to also submit their memorandums.

Adetunmbi also asked the Central Bank of Nigeria, Bureau of Public Enterprise, the NDDC Interim Management and the commission’s previous boards, among others, to submit their responses in writing while the nine Niger Delta governors, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, traditional rulers and contractors are to submit memorandums.

He said their written submissions, which will be defended under oath at the investigative public hearing, should be submitted not later than June 8.

The House of Representatives has begun an investigation into the same allegation.

But while it appears that the lawmakers have now risen to their constitutional mandate and are eager to conduct a holistic probe of the commission’s activities, sources familiar with the issue told The Guardian that they are being driven by selfish tendencies. According to the sources, those behind the allegations are simply not comfortable with the insistence of the Presidency on auditing the account of the commission, and therefore wants to bring down all those driving the process as part of their strategy to scuttle the move.

“Before anything, there is the need to make a point about the nature of corruption and its agents, which Nigeria has on its hands. They both act and work with the fullest of temerity by which they are the first to launch offensives, especially when they are filled with the fear of getting exposed,” said a source.

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The source added: “They have therefore mastered this modus operandi and have grown so big doing this, that they appear to be untouchable. No wonder, therefore, President Buhari never used two words in telling the nature of this pandemic for the whole of the period that his presidential campaign lasted in 2014/2015. He meant these words, ‘If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will Nigeria.’

“And because of the daring nature of this economic parasite, the most targeted by the corrupt militia groups, scattered everywhere, is he who attempts to stop corruption.”

The source emphasised that the government’s intention to use the NDDC as an instrument to transform the lives of citizens in the Niger Delta region had been truncated over the years due to corruption.

“NDDC was established to empower and transform the lives of Niger Deltans exactly to that Dubai height of lifestyle, if not more. Unknown to many, this commission, far from expectations and away from prying eyes, is the epicentre of corruption in Nigeria. Any such body, which continues to deprive the people their chances to quality life as greatly as the Federal Government envisaged, due to the high level of corruption that has resided in it, should not be allowed to continue. And if it must continue, then it must be made to exist well and free of corruption so that it can serve the purpose for which it was established.

“In the wisdom of President Buhari, this is where the current NDDC’s Interim Management Committee (IMC) comes to show and deserve the cooperation and support of all. To disagree with the decision of President Buhari in committing to rid the NDDC of corruption is to take sides with corruption against the ordinary people of Niger Delta. This forensic audit, ordered by Mr. President, is a clean up that must be done.”

The source, therefore, dismissed reports of alleged misappropriation of funds at the commission as a concerted effort to smear the image of Acting Managing Director of NDDC, Professor Pondei Kemebradikumor; Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio and Acting Executive Director, Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh.

The source said the allegations amounted to an attempt to challenge and discredit “even the very authority and integrity of President Buhari, who set up the IMC that the professor heads with a term of reference.”

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He added: “The truth is that those who are attacking Akpabio, Pondei and Ojougboh over this NDDC forensic audit, are not really attacking the minister and the NDDC team. They are actually attacking President Buhari who sent them on a national assignment.

“It is really ominous to find out in the course of our investigations that people pushing all of these negative impressions and ‘fake stories’ into the airwaves and internet to destroy Akpabio and the Pondei-led team, are found to be aides to a principal officer of the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly from the Niger Delta.

“They are also ensuring that they dominate the social media so that the vulnerable visitors to those platforms who do not ask questions will take what they spew out, hook, line and sinker in a one-way traffic manner to go on polluting the airspace with massive misinformation.

“Further investigations reveal that the whole problem started when, having been inundated with several complaints and calls about how over N300 billion pumped in to develop the Niger Delta via the NDDC had gone with the wind, with nothing to show except that poverty became the lots of the helpless people who were already living like having no solution to their problems, President Buhari decided to bring change to the commission.

“What the President did was to dissolve the existing management and then appoint a new one. The said principal officer of the Red Chamber had hoped to nominate his cronies, who were allegedly in the same system that ran NDDC down, leading to the presidential forensic audit hammer, to be in the new management to be set up. President Buhari declined, insisting on doing his job of appointing as given to him by the constitution. That was how the Pondei-led IMC was set up. And based on citizens’ recommendation, the President approved a forensic audit of the NDDC from years back.”

Another source in the Niger Delta said: “Let me tell you the truth, before now, there used to be a very massive budget for NDDC. Those who fed fat on those budgets and who would not allow them to have the impact they were meant for on the people are boys to a very prominent politician who was governor and still wields relevant political influence in the political and economic affairs, not only in the Niger Delta, but also in Nigeria. These are the ones raising hell against the President through their fight against Akpabio, Ojougboh and Pondei.”

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Another source questioned the veracity of those who have been faulting the President’s decision, saying: “The President set up a team, you say it is illegal. Where did you get your power from to denigrate the power of the President to appoint? These elements have no personal problem but official issues against the ongoing anti-corruption wave in the NDDC. They have found Akpabio to be doing what no Niger Delta Minister has ever had the guts to do.

“So, these already established mafias with heavy political and financial missiles at their disposal to deploy in support and defence of their corruption are simply working hard to show Mr. President that it is not doable.

“One of their frustrating tactics is the claim that the Senate, ICPC, NIA and other agencies have probed the NDDC and that their report will be out soon. But our investigations showed that there will be no report from any other team of investigators except the forensic audit of experts approved by the President and the President alone.

“Unfortunately also for them, Akpabio, perhaps unknown to these elements, is unassailable by any corrupt coalition because the presidential spirit with which he operates is one that fears no mafia but God. Not even when it comes to mind how a predecessor tried to truncate a presidential election result, which one later found out to be an effort to cover up his own bleeding on the innocent souls of Niger Deltans.

“The effort by these media agents is to pump as many misrepresentations as possible to the airwaves and the internet so that even the effort to uncover their unpardonable economic pandemic in the region will not be easily possible.

“But President Muhammadu Buhari, who approved the forensic audit of the NDDC, is not guided by mischievous internet e-rats, not even by any mainstream media fliers. So, the truth will unfold soonest as the presidential measures will play out. President Buhari will have his way. Niger Delta will be better off for it,” the source submitted.

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