Without doubt, Nigerians must have been thoroughly entertained by the ongoing probe of the alleged malfeasance in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the agency established in 2000 to ameliorate the sufferings of the nine oil-bearing states of the Niger Delta region. But with the recent revelations emanating from the investigation, it has become obvious that the NDDC has invariably become a drainpipe through which public funds are siphoned.
Details of how the Interim Management Committee (IMC) spent the agency’s N81.5 billion between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020 are mind-boggling. The interventionist agency spent, among others, N1.3 billion on COVID-19 palliatives for management and members of staff of the Commission; N85.7 million on overseas travel to the United Kingdom; N105.5 million on scholarship grants; N164.2 million on Union members’ trip to Italy; N122.9 million on condolences; N83 million on consultancy; N1.96 billion on Lassa fever kits; N900 million on legal services, and N1.12 billion on public communication. The IMC also gave the sum of N475 million to the Police to purchase face masks and hand sanitizers for their commands in the nine states of the NDDC.
Scandalised by the financial malfeasance, the Senate asked the IMC to refund the N4.923 billion extra budgetary expenditure made between March and May 2020 to the Federal Government. It also recommended the sacking of the Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei-led IMC. Pondei assumed office on February 19, 2020 and under him the NDDC has reportedly spent N59.1 billion (about 90 per cent) since then.
Arising from the ongoing investigation of the agency, the Senate has promised to review the Act establishing the NDDC. It has also urged the Federal Government to constitute a new board and return the agency to the Presidency for proper supervision. Hitherto, the NDDC was in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation but now the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs supervises it.
So far, the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and the former Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Ms Joi Nunieh, have regaled Nigerians with allegations and counter allegations of what transpired in the agency. Akpabio has also accused some lawmakers of cornering 60 per cent of the contracts awarded by the NDDC. He equally alleged that the chairmen of the National Assembly Committee on NDDC often influences allocations in the budget of the agency. Taking up the challenge of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to name the culpable lawmakers, Akpabio has mentioned some names, some of whom have denied the charge.
While the major characters continue to expose the sordid affairs in the agency, most of the projects for which billions of naira had allegedly been paid are either non-existent or abandoned. Some alleged fake or non-existent companies had claimed to have completed some water, health centre, power and road projects in the NDDC states. Some of these claims have turned out to be false.
From inception, the NDDC has been riddled with corruption. Allegations of sleaze in the agency have been going on for some time and nothing has happened. Undoubtedly, the corruption is replicated in many other government agencies. In November last year, the Senate Committee on Public Accounts accused 25 government agencies of funds mismanagement. And recently, the House of Representatives resolved to probe the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) over alleged disappearance of N100 billion from its coffers.
Although we appear to be getting used to corruption, the current revelations are embarrassing. The sleaze in government’s agencies will definitely affect our global corruption rating. Transparency International rated Nigeria very low in the last corruption perception index. Current events may worsen future ratings. Our global corruption perception index is likely to affect foreign direct investment inflows into the country.
The NDDC and other corruption-ridden agencies must be thoroughly overhauled. The enabling law establishing the NDDC needs to be streamlined to curb the endemic unconscionable sleaze. There is also the need to examine why interventionist agencies, such as the NDDC and others have failed to work effectively.
To curb the corruption in these agencies, the government must ensure that the ongoing probe of the NDDC is not swept under the carpet like the power sector and fuel subsidy probes. All those found guilty in the NDDC probe must be adequately sanctioned. Doing so is the only way to end the endemic corruption in these agencies and deter others from toeing the evil path. We believe that this is the time the government must take decisive action against corruption. Good enough, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to do so. At the same time, the ongoing probe of the NDDC and the forensic audit must neither be trivialised nor derailed.