A coalition of Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, on Friday rose from a virtual meeting, calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to totally overhaul the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
The CSOs also suggested that a Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) template be adopted by the Commission, to promote a public-private partnership approach to community engagement, which would involve participatory development processes to address community needs in the Niger Delta.
This is contained in a communiqué signed by representatives of CSOs at the end of a virtual meeting held on Friday and made available to Newsdiaryonline on Monday.
The CSOs stated that the meeting followed recent events as w well as similar “past antecedents of unprecedented and monumental corruption manifesting in extensive contract frauds, procurement law infractions, non-budgetary and extra-budgetary spendings, audit violations, cronyism, fiscal recklessness and flagrant disregard to procedural rules” at the Commission.
The meeting, which had in attendance representatives of Civil Society Organisations and communities from across the Niger Delta and beyond, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, was convened by the Social Development Integrated Centre (SOCIAL ACTION, Nigeria) in partnership with the African Centre for Media, Information and Literacy (AFRICMIL), and with support from the MacArthur Foundation.
“Having thoroughly deliberated over the financial mismanagement of the NDDC and the lapses observed in the legal framework, composition and operations of the Commission, we, the Civil Society Network and communities, hereby state our key observations and resolutions as follows:
1. The NDDC has undoubtedly become a cesspool of corruption for which many of its past and present leaders have not only been complicit in, but have been indicted (in both past and present probes and investigations), but were never prosecuted in a court of law, nor made to refund misappropriated funds.
2. The decision of the Federal Government to initiate a forensic audit of the NDDC, borne out of the allegations of financial malpractices levelled against key officers and stakeholders in the Commission, is so far, commendable.
3. The National Assembly has failed in its oversight function of conducting regular assessment of the work of the Commission, to prevent the monumental infractions which have occurred already.
4. There are no internal or external controls in place to effectively monitor the operations of the NDDC and checkmate the unlawful diversion of funds, contract frauds and other corrupt practices being perpetrated in the Commission.
5. Most of the projects implemented by the NDDC in the Niger Delta are not as desired by the concerned communities, are of substandard quality and do not stand the test of time. (Indeed, it is on record that NDDC projects are denoted as ‘Disposable Projects’.)
6. The Niger Delta Development Master-Plan has been largely abandoned by the NDDC.
7. Communities within the Niger Delta do not have open communication channels with the management of the NDDC nor effective participation in it that would enable meaningful engagements on the developmental needs of the respective communities.
“In the light of the above and after exhaustive examinations and discussions on the issues outlined, the meeting resolved as follows:
1. That the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, should be totally overhauled, disbanding the leadership architecture of the NDDC. This is in order to reposition the Commission for efficiency and results, which it was set up to achieve.
2. That a new Board and a new crop of principal managers should be appointed and empowered to operate an open-door policy, for the purpose of promoting transparency and public accountability in all affairs of the Commission.
3. That a Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) template be adopted by the Commission, to promote a public-private partnership approach to community engagement involving participatory development processes to address community needs in the Niger Delta.
4. That community engagement in designing projects and monitoring the execution of the projects is crucial and should be made mandatory.
5. That the government should bridge the communication gap between NDDC and the communities in the Niger Delta region, through the establishment of a Community Development Foundation.
6. That an independent audit team be instituted. This is crucial to have an accurate, unbiased audit report on the financial activities of the Commission. The audit exercise needs to be independent and conclusive, and should also importantly, be a regular exercise in the Commission, going forward, and of which reports should be made publicly available.
7. That the Federal Government set up a multi-stakeholder partnership which would include a team of Civil Society Organisations and individuals with proven track record for integrity, to constantly monitor the activities of the NDDC, including a close monitoring of the independent audit exercise, and issue regular reports.
8. That the challenge of under-development in the Niger Delta region, be regarded as a national problem; consequently, that a National Day of Action, to stimulate more discourse on the challenges bedevilling the Niger Delta region and proffer lasting solutions to the problems, be declared.
9. That the NDDC Act be restructured via an amendment, to better define the mandate of the NDDC and importantly, imbibe and stipulate penalties for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act.
10. That the anti-graft agencies be expressly mandated to monitor the financial and procurement activities of the NDDC and promptly act when infractions and illegalities are suspected and committed.