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Politicians have turned NDDC into a cash cow – Nwauju

Nwauju

The National Coordinator, Niger Delta Rights Advocates, Darlington Nwauju, has faulted the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to elongate the tenure of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) instead of putting in place a substantive board. He told KELVIN EBIRI that apart from pursuing selfish, anti-people policies, the IMC is equally embarking on a contract award spree, even when the contracts have no social impact on the people of the Niger Delta.

Are you worried that President Buhari just extended the IMC tenure amid allegation of contract racketeering?
I think the President was misinformed into taking this decision. If you look at the tide of things, how and when that decision or announcement came, you could link it to the pressure mounted on the Interim Management Committee (IMC), and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs for the N5.4b contract for the supply of COVID-19 medical consumables and Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE). I listened to a programme on Channels Television when NDDC’s acting Executive Director of Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh agreed that, whereas Mr. President had actually given approval for the NDDC to intervene in COVID-19, the IMC did not know the figure approved by the President.

However, from everything surrounding the contract award, it appears there was an attempt to cover up what the media, in consonance with civil societies have successfully exposed- fraud. As we speak now, even the Director General, Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has said that the instruction they have given to suppliers to supply medical kits have not been attested to.

In the whole world there is a shortage of medical kits. So, the question is where is the NDDC intending to source their own medical kits from? Knowing full well that the NCDC being the clearinghouse for the fight against Coronavirus is yet to take delivery for the ones that it placed orders for. What magic will the NDDC conjure to take delivery of medical kits at this point in time that the virus is threatening as we are now witnessing community spread?

My argument is simple. I am not trying to paint anybody black, but all I am saying is let us use simple reasoning. How logical is such a contract at this point in time? How impactful can it be because there must be social impact for every contract awarded by the NDDC because that is the reason and intendment for the establishment of the interventionist agency. When something is an emergency, it requires an intervention. Is it when people are dying in hundreds or thousands in the Niger Delta that those kits will finally arrive?

Are you suggesting that the COVID-19 intervention was not altruistic?
If the NDDC is supposed to mitigate the negative consequences of crude oil exploitation and exploration in the oil-producing states, let us also look at the pros and cons of the award of contracts for medical intervention. We have suffered several environmental issues, including the black soot in Rivers State, and I am sure in other states of the Niger Delta because this is linked to illegal oil bunkering. What did the NDDC do to make sure that this challenge of soot is controlled?  Did they partner with the states or do anything to mitigate the health impact? They did nothing. The Coronavirus is a disease that is not friendly with the respiratory system, same thing as the black soot, which also affects the lungs and so on. So, what are we talking about? The effect of the Corona virus will be more on the people of the Niger Delta. I am sure that is because we lack test centres in this part of the country that is why the numbers have not shot up, the number is supposed to actually spike.

But this may have informed the NDDC’s COVID-19 intervention?
In everything that you do, you must look at the cost and effect. I have challenged them to tell the people of the Niger Delta what they did to control the black soot, which I an accusing them of doing nothing. And now as we speak, there are no testing centres in the 27 senatorial districts that make up the Niger Delta and other oil producing states.  For now, as far as the Niger Delta is concerned, we do not have a proper record or know the number of persons who have contracted this disease because we lack testing centres.

Do you assume that people are using COVID-19 pandemic as alibi to defraud the NDDC?
Of course. The total package of intervention for Coronavirus disease, that is the palliatives packaged to support each of the nine oil-producing states is N100m. Now, there is another N270m that was released to the youths to encourage them to continue to stay at home while solutions are proffered by the federal and state governments. Now, the issue is how was the N270m for the youths even shared? That one is shrouded in complete secrecy. So, I am saying that these processes in the NDDC are not transparent and are not even intending to be transparent.

Why is NDDC still embroiled in contract scandals just when the much-talked forensic audit is about to begin?
It is because the IMC is involved in contract awards, and that is why I am asking who is now going to audit the contracts that the IMC is awarding, including that awarded by Dr. Joi Nunieh. Who is going to audit what they did?

With this scenario, you can see that we are just beating about the bush and are not serious about what we are doing. If we were serious, the IMC (right from the time of Nunieh, to the present Pondei) is not supposed to be awarding contracts because it has no business awarding contracts. I am still accusing the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio of trying to make sure that the NDDC becomes his cash cow and that is why he is also encouraging the continuous stay of an IMC. By the time the nine oil-producing states send in representatives to form the board as enshrined in the NDDC Establishment Act 2000 (as amended), he will not be able to have the sort of control he is having now. And so because he knows he cannot control a complete board of the NDDC, he tends to be selling the dummy of a forensic audit, and the continuous stay of an IMC.

The IMC, as we all know, is not representative of the nine oil-producing states that are under the NDDC. How would a Rivers State man know what is the need of the Ondo people? How will a Rivers State man know what the people in Imo State need in terms of needs assessment?  This makes the IMC non-representative, and this is not what democracy is all about.  It even defeats the whole idea behind the setting up of the NDDC.

How should the NDDC forensic audit have been conducted?
Let’s not forget that the NDDC by the act setting it up is supposed to BE self-auditing every six months under the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. Now, where are the reports of the Accountant General on the finances of the NDDC? Where are the audit reports? Because getting an audit firm to do this job, mind you, it is a contract and the consultants must be paid. Now, we could have saved the money of the Niger Delta people by asking the Office of the Accountant General to provide the previous reports since the NDDC was created in 2000.

One of the problems that we have with governance, despite the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act is that you can barely access information from government offices. This is a major challenge. And this NDDC audit will cost us more because we are going to bear the brunt. Money that should have ordinarily gone into the development of the region will go into the pocket of a private auditing firm.

Is the absence of a substantive board the reason for all the scandals in the NDDC?
First of all, the purpose of governance is to receive feedback. When once the feedback is not there, there will be a breakdown in communication and policies would be forced down peoples’ throat and very bitter policies that are not masses-oriented. We are lacking good feedbacks because those who are there were handpicked by their political godfathers to cover their tracks, feather their nest, and oil their political machine. There is no other agenda.

Look at what the North East Development Commission has done in the past few days you will be ashamed as a Niger Deltan. Look at the kind of intervention they did the other day at Gombe. I challenge the NDDC and I challenge Prof. Pondei to show us one senatorial district or local government area in the Niger Delta where such intervention has been carried out.  There is none. All they know how to do best is carry out contract bazaar. People are just there to award contracts and taking percentages of the contract sum. I challenge them to show us the records and videos of what they have done. What is the impact of their intervention so far? I tell them that they have deceived Mr. President to extend the tenure of the IMC and it will not do the Niger Delta any good at all. I also predict that the audit report is already suffering fait accompli

Is the supervisory role of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in any way complicating the crisis in NDDC?
In fact, when that decision was made, we in the Niger Delta Rights Advocates did issue a clear statement letting Mr. President to know that it was one bad decision that he had taken concerning the NDDC, and it was given to Mr. President. Under his administration, the NDDC has been properly funded. In fact, the agency never had it so good in terms of attention until President Buhari came on board. And so his intentions are good towards the Niger Delta, but our challenge is in the operators; stakeholders; those who have been asked to do one thing or the other, they have failed completely. I also maintain the stance of the Niger Delta Rights Advocates that we are completely against the ceding of Mr. President’s responsibility to the Ministry of Niger Delta. For there to be legal backing to this, there should have been an amendment to that Section of the NDDC Act. I wonder the sort of lawmakers that we have. The attention of the President should have been drawn to that. The fact that it was in breach of the law, the President should have sent a bill to the National Assembly to amend the section that gives him power to oversee and supervise.

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