The prelude to the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari is already opening a can of worms in the crude oil and gas-rich Niger Delta, reports Southsouth Bureau Chief, BISI OLANIYI
THE Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has built roads, bridges, hostels and many more in her about 20 years of existence. Ironically, it does not have a home. The commission operates from a rented eight-floor building on 167, Aba Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Its landlord is the Rivers government. It has parted with huge rent annually on the imposing property.
The inability of the agency to complete her headquarters is seen as one of the evidence of the rot which made President Muhammadu Buhari order a forensic audit of its books from its inception.
The NDDC, which inherited the assets and liabilities of the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), was put in place by the administration of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into an economically viable, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and a politically peaceful region.
Akpabio said the forensic audit would be done by reputable firms in line with international best practices, without fear or favour. It is being spearheaded by a three-member Interim Management Committee (IMC) headed by Dr. Joi Nunieh. The members of the committee, which was appointed on October 29, 2019, are Chief Bassey Eteng, the Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA), and Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, the Acting Executive Director, Projects (EDP).
Dr. Nunieh, an Ogoni woman, a lawyer and a renowned activist, said her life was under threat over the audit. She said assassins were sent after her by powerful persons in and outside the Niger Delta. She suspects highly-influential people who were awarded big contracts, but disappeared with the huge funds, without executing the projects.
A 50-member contracts’ verification committee, chaired by Dr. Ojougboh, rounded off its assignment on February 7 and there were shocking revelations.
With the submission of the report of the contracts’ verification committee, two new committees for contract documentation and project assessment were also put in place on February 6, as a follow-up to the work of members of the committee on the verification of contracts.
Ojougboh stated that NDDC would have been grounded to a stop, killed and buried, if not for the ordering of the forensic audit.
The acting EDP of NDDC said: “The verification exercise intended to establish the true position of the emergency regime between 2016 and 2019 in the commission. It is now common knowledge that some of the awards were not only spurious but criminal, as records available to us show that most of the awards were not backed by budget, have no bills of engineering measurement or drawings and were just open cheque for contractors and their collaborators to fill in at the nearest banks.
“A situation where contracts that did not qualify for emergencies were fraudulently awarded for over one trillion naira, in less than three years, amounts to not only stealing from the pulpit but stealing the entire pulpit.”
He said the NDDC would not only offer a lasting solution to the social, economic and environmental problems of the Niger Delta, by conceiving and implementing plans aimed at developing the infrastructure and human capacity building but also to complement the efforts of the nine state governments and other developmental agencies in the region.
Ojougboh said: “While successive leaderships of NDDC may have done their best, today, the general conclusion of most stakeholders in the region is that NDDC has not delivered on its mandate, at best a lack-lustre performance, with very little to show for the humongous resources that have accrued to it over the past 19 years.
“Stories of pervasive corruption, flagrant abuse of due process, abandoned projects, poor quality project delivery, etc., at the NDDC, have adorned our media space over the years.
“In an effort to stem this unfortunate tide, governors of the nine states of the region, a couple of months ago, visited President Buhari to not only lay bare their perception of the commission since its inception but to also as members of the Advisory Council of the NDDC, offer useful advice on the way forward to the President. The result of the historic visit is the ordering of a forensic audit of the activities of the NDDC from inception to date by the President.”
NDDC’s acting EDP also thanked President Buhari, on behalf of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and the entire Niger Delta citizenry, for the prompt actions and the initiatives.
Dr. Nunieh, in Port Harcourt, during the January 29 this year’s sensitisation forum on the establishment of NDDC’s Cooperative Microfinance Bank, declared that hard decisions must be taken by members of the IMC of the commission to reset the trajectory of NDDC.
She described as a step in the right direction, the forensic audit of the Federal Government’s interventionist agency, ordered by President Buhari.
The acting managing director insisted that NDDC must be repositioned to achieve its core mandate of developing the Niger Delta.
The NDDC chief said: “We have had enough bashing from the people and the media for failing to take the right decisions to put our region and our people first.
“We must brace to challenge powerful forces and systems that have held the commission captive and subverted the core objectives for which the NDDC was established.
“On our part, the IMC will work assiduously with the Presidency, the National Assembly and other key stakeholders to reshape and reposition the commission to service the interest of the region and country.
“The era of using the NDDC as an alternate government in the region is over. We will respect the rule of law and due process and that is why we are calling our state governors and other stakeholders to collaborate with us, so we can collectively work to make our region a better place for all.”
Dr. Nunieh also stated that all the stakeholders must always be reminded of the greater task of building an interventionist agency that would deliver quality services and infrastructure for the Niger Delta region and its people.
She said: “Permit me to use this medium to send words to the leadership and members of the National Assembly that the IMC of the commission under my leadership holds them in very high esteem and has not and will never do anything to undermine their constitutional duties.
“In line with the directive of Mr. President, our task is to supervise the audit of the activities of the commission from its inception and reposition it to deliver on its mandate. I want to assure that as soon as we conclude all the processes, the commission will immediately commence payment to contractors, based on the availability of funds.”
The acting managing director on February 7 revealed that during the verification of contracts, it was discovered that some award letters were found to be fake; some of the companies were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC); some firms were registered after they had been given contracts.
She said: “The just-concluded verification exercise has been an eye-opener for us. We owe Nigerians, especially Mr. President, a duty to give full details of what came out of the contracts’ verification. The report will show Nigerians that we are truly determined to refocus NDDC to properly develop the Niger Delta region.
“A lot has been revealed as a result of the verification exercise. Some contract award letters were found to be fake and some of the companies were not registered. Some were registered after they had been given the contracts.
“Some of the companies do not have the requirements prescribed in the Public Procurement Act to handle such projects. We also found that some individuals have 50 to 100 different award letters under different names.
“Only a few executives of the companies showed up for the verification exercise. Contractors and consultants that failed to show up for the verification exercise should not expect the commission (NDDC) to visit their sites for project assessment.”
Dr. Nunieh also on February 7 inaugurated the two new committees for contract documentation and project assessment, as a follow up to the work of the contracts’ verification committee.
She disclosed that the contract documentation committee, headed by NDDC’s Director, Planning Research and Statistics/Management Information Systems, Dr. Linus Ogbalubi, would authenticate all the documents submitted by contractors and consultants, while the project assessment committee, headed by the commission’s Director, Project Monitoring and Supervision, Dr.Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua, would visit the various sites to verify contractors’ claims.
The acting managing director said: “The contractors that executed their contracts well have nothing to fear, as they deserve to be paid. I want to reiterate that not all contractors are fraudulent. There are contractors who did well, but it is a pity everyone is getting agitated. I have not given anyone a contract, I have not collected one naira from any contractor with the promise of payment.
“We will do the right thing in the interest of all the communities. While visiting the project sites, we will work with the Community Development Committees (CDCs) of the various communities and the villagers will be there to testify that the roads and other projects are well done.
“Please, do not bother to pay any money to members of the committee. Do not induce them in any way during the course of the exercise and any member of the committee that asks for money should be reported to the police.
“The entire process of assessment is free. No one is allowed to take money from any contractor to facilitate their coming to carry out the assessment. If you try to induce members, they may not visit your site.”
The NDDC chief assured that the commission was sending very credible directors, certified engineers and quantity surveyors recognised by the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and the Quantity Surveyors Registration Board of Nigeria (QSRBN) respectively.
She noted that the Federal Government’s interventionist agency decided to include quantity surveyors, since most of the award letters, especially those for the emergency projects, were issued without stating the contract sums.
Dr. Nunieh said: “We have a situation where all manner of people have our Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs). That is not good at all. So, anyone that is going out to the various communities must ensure that things are well done. We call on the CDCs to stand up to defend the projects in their communities.
“Please, be at the sites when our teams come. Do not be aggressive, receive them well. I want to advise all the young boys that are being used to stage protests, telling us to pay people who did not execute their contracts in the communities, to desist forthwith.
The acting managing director also called for patience, noting that members of the project assessment committee had been charged to do their work quickly, so that payments could commence, pointing out that contractors who were being owed between N1 million and N20 million would be paid immediately, once the debts were verified and the budget was passed.
Mrs. Nunieh thanked members of the National Assembly for their encouragement and insistence on prudence in the affairs of the Niger Delta . (The Nation)