Why Niger Delta governors instigated our probe, by NDDC

[FILES] Governors Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia (left); Emeka Ihedioha (Imo); Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Nyesom Wike (Rivers); President Muhammadu Buhari; Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa; Deputy Governor Philip Shuaibu of Edo State; and his Akwa Ibom counterpart, Moses Ekpo, during a meeting on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) board at the State House in Abuja …recently. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• Accuses governors of plotting to takeover commission
• ‘Presidency must probe petroleum development fund’

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) yesterday accused governors of the Niger Delta region of plotting to hijack the commission.

It made the allegation following last week’s order by President Muhammadu Buhari calling for a forensic audit of the commission from 2001 to 2019.

“With the amount of money that the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on the ground. Those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues,” Buhari said on Thursday when he received a delegation of the state executives led by the governor of Bayelsa, Seriake Dickson.

“The projects said to have been done must be verifiable,” Buhari said further, adding: “You just cannot say you spent so much billions and when the place is visited, one cannot see the structures that have been done. The consultants must also prove that they are competent.”

Also, briefing reporters after the meeting, Dickson had said: “We came to have interactions with the president and senior officials of his government on our concerns about developments in the Niger Delta. We also discussed fears and what we know is going on in the NDDC which is a critical agency.”

But the NDDC said there was more to the meeting between the governors and Buhari than met the eyes. Its Head Corporate Affairs Charles Odili told The Guardian: “You remember that the governors who went there (Aso Villa), necessitating that reaction, were from the opposition party. And so, such things are necessary fallouts when they have an opportunity to meet Mr. President.

“They want to control the commission. But it does not work that way. It is a natural thing for a president to ask that we look into the financial records of any organisation that is under the presidency. It is not about corruption.”

A civil society source that has been pushing for the investigation said the Federal Government might deploy the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which had been probing the past two managements of the NDDC.

The presidency had reportedly been bombarded with petitions in the past five years over allegations of unwholesome activities at the NDDC. Some of these include the award of shoddy contracts and project abandonment.

The Nsima Ekere-led management had in 2018 cancelled over 600 contracts valued at over N200 billion for not being properly awarded or because the contractors who had already been paid failed to show up at sites.

In 2015, a report by the auditor-general of the federation claimed the commission could not account for N183.7 billion between 2008 and 2012.

The executive director of Africa Network for Empowerment and Economic Justice, David Ugolor, meanwhile commended Buhari’s decision to probe the commission.

He however worried about the fate of the audit, which, according to him, could indict persons in the presidency but yet end up in the office of the president.

Also, the chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, said the group would sustain pressure on Buhari for an overhaul of the NDDC to achieve its mandate for oil-producing areas.

He alleged that accountability issues began to plague the commission shortly after its establishment. It was common for projects files to suddenly disappear in a bid to cover up financial misdeeds, he said.

Following its retreat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, at the weekend, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) also urged Buhari to extend the audit to “other national interventionist organisations” like the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).

In a statement it sent to The Guardian yesterday, PANDEF said it welcomed the audit, demanding: “The names of beneficiaries of contracts of the commission over the period under review should be made public.”

The group’s 14-point communiqué was signed by National Chairman Idongesit
Nkanga; Deputy National Chairman, Chief Francis Doukpola; and National Publicity Secretary Mrs. Betty Igbeji, among others.

The statement reads in part: “PANDEF decries the poor state of critical infrastructure in the Niger Delta region, particularly roads, and thus calls on the Federal Government and relevant MDAs to give immediate and urgent attention
to roads in the region.”

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