Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe, a Niger Delta based Activist and President Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative, has been in the forefront of the clamour for the sanitizing of the NDDC to meet its mandate. In this interview with selected journalists, she spoke on the need of the Forensic Audit of the Commission initiated by the Federal Government, why there are resistance to the Audit and how to reposition the Commission, among other sundry issues. EXCERPTS :
QUESTION: 19 years after its creation, the NDDC is still far from actualizing its core mandate of developing the Niger Delta region, what do you think is responsible?
ANS: Several factors are responsible for the inability of this Commission to achieve its core mandate of developing the Niger Delta region since it’s creation, 19 years ago.
Let me just dwell on the major issues that have impeded development which are not usually talked about by those who claim to be the owners of the region.
First, politics is the reason. The inability of the people of the region particularly the leaders, to come together with a mindset that the interest of the region is paramount and should supercede every other interest.
The politics of who should be appointed into the Board has been a major clog in the wheel of progress in the realization of the core mandate of the Commission.
The moment people are appointed to represent their states in the Board, it is all about making returns to the one who aided their appointment and even screening. Rather than focus on how to bring real development to the States, they dwell on developing the pockets of their paymasters.
Again, the funding of the Commission has been relatively poor, far beyond the provisions in the Act that established it.
From findings, the FG has only spent about N700bn for the 19-year period for the 9 states. If you do the mathematics, you will see that each state has received less than N100m each year. And that is not enough to bring about the kind of massive development we expect. The Oil and Gas companies have also failed on their part to pay the statutory 5% and 3% respectively of their annual income. So what is projected cannot be achieved, considering the poor allocation of funds.
Lastly, I will talk about the budgetary provisions of the Commission. As an interventionist agency faced with security issues that could affect the entire economy, the NDDC must not be used to play politics of settlement. The funding and budgetary provisions which must be approved by the National Assembly is a major factor why the Commission has not fared well.
The reason is simple. Most of those who ought to help in the ease of passage of the Budget for the Commission have unfortunately, seen it as an opportunity to bargain for their own share of contracts. Where the Board is not ready to comply, the Budget is slashed in a bid to frustrate the Commission and in turn the people of the region.
Nigerians and in fact the people of the region are not aware of this. The 2019 budget for the Commission was only passed last month. How can it be implemented within 6 weeks before it’s expiration? It is a deliberate effort to frustrate the Commission and that is simply because the NASS is not in agreement with the constitution of the Interim Management Committee and the refusal of the IMC to continue paying huge sums of money for phantom Training programs which has over the years characterized the Commission. How can billions of Naira be paid out yearly to some lawmakers and other high profile persons in the guise of Emergency jobs which are not in the Budget and as such don’t go through the Procurement process?
These are some of the major issues.
QUESTION: The NDDC has been referred to as the cash cow of politicians, who do you think are responsible for the mismanagement of the Commission.
ANS: Yes, it is a cash cow for politicians and this may be difficult to change.
The truth is that those assigned to manage its affairs have not asserted and committed themselves towards a total transformation of the region.
Until they are given a free hand to operate, that is if they have shown signs of commitment, it will be business as usual.
Surprisingly, the present Board, the IMC is being supervised by the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Obot Akpabio, a certified Developmental expert, yet, not much has happened other than sponsored media attacks on him and the Board.
You should ask why is he slow even though it’s on record that the abandoned permanent Headquarters building is now 95% completed under him.
It’s all politics!
If Akpabio is allowed to function, he will replicate what he did in Akwa Ibom when he served as Governor for 8 years and that may position him for something higher in 2023, that is the fear of some of them. They are already blackmailing him in their party before the leaders that he has ambition to deputise someone from the North as President. And all manner of meetings are being held to rubbish him before the President. Do you really think these people are interested in the Nigerian project which includes the Niger Delta region?
But should we be jumping the gun? And because of this imaginary ambition, they want to frustrate him and in turn, the people of the region. That is simply wicked and unacceptable.
Let me tell you, the politics of 2023 is already on. I will come to that later.
Again, for even daring to stop some of the payments going to some high profile Nigerians in the Presidency, NASS and others, he must be stopped at all cost. The campaign is on.
I give you an instance, he ordered the stoppage of payment of N1bn yearly to a company responsible for collecting monies from Gas companies, and the said company belongs to a former Senate President and another high ranking Senator, they have released all arsenals against the Minister and the IMC.
Akpabio and the IMC dared to do what others feared. The company, Starline has been a consultant to the NDDC since 2014, and is in charge of collecting the 3 per cent of the total annual budget of any oil producing company operating, on shore and off shore, in the Niger Delta area including Gas processing companies.
There was another payment of over N2bn to a company called Candour for allegedly collecting for NDDC a statutory payment of $28 million which is an equivalent of about N10bn from Nigeria LNG.
For stopping an annual award of N3.6billion contract for the production of plastic school desks and benches for the nine Niger Delta states. The same person that owns Candour owns this same company and is a high ranking Senator.
People are asking for payment for jobs not executed and the IMC says no, so, the hell is let lose and that ignites all manner of attacks against the Minister.
Nigerians are not asking questions. Why was somebody collecting N300m yearly as rent for the Headquarters of the Commission? Meanwhile, I can’t remember when the decision by former Governor Peter Odili to donate the building at no cost to the NDDC was rescinded. Now, Akpabio decided that the abandoned Headquarters must be completed and the fraudulent payment of N300m stopped, even though what the Rivers State Government collects on record is N200m. Now the propaganda is that Akpabio owns RODNAB which is handling the new Headquarters building. This is a matter for another day as I will reveal how the initial contract was cancelled, reviewed and rewarded even before Akpabio became the Minister.
There’s a lot going on behind the scene, unfortunately, the Commission has not been able to tell their story. The NDDC must be rescued from these hawks, otherwise, the development of the region will only exist on paper.
That Senior Civil Servants who have served at the Commission since the time of defunct OMPADEC are transfered out to State Offices and their salaries and full entitlements paid, that to them is a wrong move by the IMC.
These people who I refer to as Methuselahs of the NDDC have become untouchables simply because they are the conduit pipes used by these high profile Nigerians to syphon and divert funds meant for the development of the region.
Many of them are richer than some Governors with Porsche Cars and sprawling buildings in high brow areas of Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and overseas.
QUESTION: Uncompleted NDDC projects dot the length and Breadth of the region, some of them fully paid for, do you think the government and the people of the region are doing enough to monitor the Commission?
ANS: I love this question. Let me tell you the simple truth. Jobs awarded in the past 19 years were used to win elections. Monies paid to some of these professional contractors are merely used for elections and the Commission had it’s worst period during the period leading to the 2015 elections.
Most of the abandoned jobs have been paid for while some were not even originally in the budget. Without indicating anyone or defending any, I can tell you clearly that there is a Contract for Sale Department in the Commission, where you buy the Award letters and you are aided by the Staff there to get paid without executing jobs.
Why has the National Assembly in the course of their oversight functions not been able to detect this for 19 years?
There is a Statutory Audit for the 19-year period by the Auditor General of the Federation, so, why have they not detected this over the years?
Some of the contracts were abandoned out of frustration in getting payment. Some of these abandoned jobs were never in the Budget, so when a new Management comes, they will refuse to pay. Don’t forget, it’s all more of politics than development.
The frequent change in the Management of the Commission without serving out their constitutional tenured has also hampered development and led to abandonment of projects. Every new Board wants to deal with their own people, cronies, families, friends and loyalists.
In some states, insecurity has forced contractors out of site and in some cases, the jobs are relocated to other more peaceful communities.
More worrisome is a situation where some lawmakers saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the performance of the Commission will be awarded contracts without any evidence of execution.
There is a present case of one of them who got over 1000 jobs to supply plastic chairs to schools in the 9 Niger Delta States. He was paid the sum of N3.8bn without supplying the chairs, rather, the documents show that these Chairs were supplied to a warehouse belonging to him in his State.
It is even funny that he was awarded a N2bn contract by the Governor of his State to supply plastic Chairs and he took the same chairs meant for NDDC and supplied to them. Can you beat that?
And the same man is one of those probing the IMC and the Minister over a 6 month period, simply because he was asked to return the money.
There is also another request for payment of over N3billion being 60% of the contract sum of N6.4billion for 136 Lots of Skills Acquisition program. The IMC turned down this request since it considers it a scam. This is perpetuated by the same people who want to preside over the probe of the IMC. This is laughable.
So who do you blame? Many of those shouting “probe” do not have this information. If the people know these truths, some of these Baboons of NDDC will be stoned in public places.
Unfortunately, there is poverty and these inhibitors of development give out crumbs to the youths and some Elders who run to and fro to media houses, attacking just anybody who they consider as an enemy of their paymasters.
QUESTION: Do you think that the forensic audit will sanitize the NDDC and change the way things are done going forward?
ANS: We need the Forensic Audit. I have read and watched some people try to discredit the Forensic Audit. Their frustration is clearly understood. No more free food!
The question is whether they understand what a Forensic Audit means. Is it a Statutory Audit? No. They are two different things.
A Forensic Audit will enable us x-ray the real issues bothering on fraud and that can be used for trial, while in a Statutory Audit, it is not so.
The Governors of the States that make up the NDDC had visited the President and requested for a Forensic Audit. At first, it sounded like politics, a ploy to stop those in charge of the Commission from having access to funds.
Majority of these Governors are in the opposition PDP. The President granted their request and ordered the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs to commence the process. The Minister sacked the Acting Board led by Prof Brambaifa, barely seven months after they were appointed. He appointed an Interim Management Committee which was to run the Commission during the period of the Forensic Audit.
Yes, there were initial impediments towards a start off but eventually, the Forensic Audit has commenced. But some people are bent on scuttling it.
The question is why? Who are these people?
Unknown to many, they have mapped out different strategies to ensure that the Forensic Audit does not see the light of the day.
First, there was a plan to access all the necessary documents and burn them. The Minister was smart enough to provide adequate security for the Auditors.
Next, the battle shifted to the NASS as soon as some of the Directors and those indicted in the initial reports were transferred out of the Headquarters of the Commission and their proxies arrested while stealing files.
The sudden move to probe the Minister and the IMC is also suspicious as it is likely going to indict them and nullify every action they have taken towards the Forensic Audit.
Some have planned to use some paid youths to go to Court challenging the legality of the Forensic Audit when there is a Statutory Audit report by the Auditor General of the Federation.
I am skeptical if this Audit would be allowed to continue as more political heavy weights are now being recruited in the fight. Except the President continues to maintain his stance, the Forensic Audit may only end up as an illusion.
Those who initially supported the Audit have made a U-Turn upon realizing that their party was in charge of the Commission for 15 years out of the 19-year period in question.
But if the Audit is allowed, which I pray it should be, the revelations will not only force many to refund huge sums but may lead to an eventual scrap of the Commission.
QUESTION: The region has been sharply divided over the decision to carry out the forensic audit, who do you think the decision is generating so much controversy?
ANS: It’s a matter of interest. Majority of the people who are in the media kicking against the Forensic Audit have been depending on the sleaze in the Commission for survival. Let me tell you, those numbers are infinitesimal compared to the larger numbers in the region who may not be vocal but desire a change in the Commission.
Those against the Probe only represent the modern day biblical woman whose child died in the night, but went ahead to claim the child of the other woman. And when the matter was brought before King Solomon, the woman whose child had died supported the initial decision of the King that the living child be divided into two.
It is clear that they are guilty even before the report. And the reason is simple, they are part of the problem.
QUESTION: Some of the people who opposed to the forensic audit insist that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswil Akpabio designed it to hoodwink the President and nothing more.
ANS: The last time I checked, Akpabio didn’t initiate the idea of a Forensic Audit. It was the Governors. The President merely accented to it and asked Akpabio as the supervising Minister to handle.
So how can anybody twist the truth, accusing Akpabio?
Until we stop playing politics with development, we will remain in the dark while the rest of the world is moving on.
QUESTION: Others allege that he is one of the beneficiaries of the sleaze that bedevilled the Commission and therefore lacks the moral strength to champion the audit.
ANS: If Akpabio was a beneficiary of the sleaze, we will find out. Do you think that any reputable Forensic Auditor will trade their hard earned reputation for a cover up for a Minister?
The more reason the Audit should be carried out. Akpabio ought to be the one frustrating the Audit if the allegation is true.
Those who allege should submit the evidence. It is not enough to throw tar at people without substantial evidence.
The issues I mentioned about those in power who have hijacked jobs to themselves, got paid without executing them, I have the evidence.
The advent of the social media has thrown up a lot of mediocre in media business. People get paid to publish stories that are unfounded.
There will be no sacred cows if we all support the Auditors to do their job.
QUESTION: You were quoted recently as saying that the ongoing Senate probe of the Interim Management Committee was a plot to scuttle the forensic audit, why do you think so?
ANS: It’s obvious. Going for a Probe of N40bn when we are talking about an audit to ascertain where hundreds of billions have been expended is like settling for less.
The President has ordered a Forensic Audit of the Commission for a period of 19 years. He is backed by the Constitution to do so. Why is anybody insisting that the Probe of the IMC and the Minister should come first? It is simple. Probe them, indict them and ask that they be sacked. Of course, every action they have taken, including the Tender advertised for Forensic Auditors will be declared as illegal.
It is clear that the Senate/House probe is going in that direction. Some of those in those Committees are involved in the sleaze. How can they allow themselves to be probed?
Let the Forensic Audit be completed, after which, the NASS can continue their oversight functions. Since the 6-months period of the IMC is not included in the Forensic Audit, that can come in the way of a Probe. Not the other way around. It’s obvious that some people want to defy the Presidential Order.