No results, where’s the money?
President Muhammadu Buhari on October 17, 2019, ordered a probe of the financial dealings of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from 2001 to 2019.
“I have ordered a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). With the amount of money the Federal Government has allocated to the NDDC, we’d like to see the results on the ground; those that are responsible for that have to explain certain issues,” he tweeted.
The decision of the President to probe the intervention agency – NDDC – is laced on the heels of the never-ending petitions and allegations of shoddy contracts and project abandonment which have been linked to it. The NDDC, with an average annual budget of N300 billion is assumed not to have lived up to its billing in executing projects in the Niger Delta region.
‘40% contract sum shared as bribe, full payment for 30% job done’
In January, this year, Forum of Concerned Niger-Delta Stakeholders (FOCONDS) petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged massive corruption allegations against the Board and Management of the NDDC.
Pristol Alagbariya, the convener of the Forum, who led the delegation to the EFCC office in Abuja, declared that the Commission had failed to live up to its core mandate of bringing development to the Niger Delta region as a result of corrupt practices.
“The NDDC is saddled with the responsibility of developing the Niger Delta region but this agency has been a conduit pipe for corruption. The management has performed woefully and enmeshed in massive corruptions that they use NGOs, CBOs, executive memos to seek for approval. The one that is of much concern is this emergency contract going on in the Niger Delta, they used their cronies and approved full payments of contract sum even when the project is only 30 per cent completed,” he alleged.
Not-too-long ago, a Professor of Economics at the University of Uyo, Prof. Emmanuel Onwioduokit, averred that corruption in NDDC is nothing new due to the concentration of resources therein without adequate supervision.
“I am yet to see any NDDC project in the Niger Delta that is of top quality. In fact, there is no NDDC project that is of world standard. When I did my personal studies, I tried to find out why there were sub-standard projects everywhere and I was made to understand that sometimes as much as 40 per cent of the job value is shared to NDDC officials as bribe. Consequently, the contractor will struggle with only 60 percent of the project cost and would still strive to make profit from that. This is the simple reason that all NDDC projects in the Niger Delta are sub-standard,” he said.
‘Another name for uncompleted projects is…’
The disease of corruption draining the NDDC has lived with us for long. Two years ago – March 2, 2017 – the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, (PACAC) Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) while speaking at the opening of a two-day National Dialogue on Corruption, organised by PACAC stressed that NDDC had continued to be stewed in corruption.
“You will not believe that with all that we are going through, the NDDC, which is the other name for uncompleted projects has just bought 70 cars,” he declared.
President Olusegun Obasanjo established the NDDC on June 5, 2000 and while he was reading the inauguration speech for the intervention agency stated: “let me reiterate here that NDDC will not be a honey pot to serve the personal greed of anyone. I will personally make sure of that and I have the anti-corruption Commission to support me.” The story, however, has been a sorry one.
John Chukwu of Ripples Nigeria takes a look at the striking scandals that have rocked the NDDC over the years.
1. Nsima Ekere
Under its former Managing Director, Nsima Ekere, the agency reportedly lost over N240 billion to fake emergency contracts. Ekere assumed office as MD of the agency in 2016. He served the NDDC for three years (2016-2019).
In 2017, while he was in office, Ekere set up a six-man committee led by Dr. Ekanim Princewill, who was his Special Duties Director, to investigate allegations of contract racketeering. In 2018, he 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.
However, Ekere, despite attempts at cleaning up the agency, has had his own integrity questioned. He is alleged to have used the proceeds from the NDDC to run for the Akwa Ibom State governorship seat under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) – which he lost to the Emmanuel Udom of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
2, Nelson Brambaifa
When Ekere left the NDDC, Professor Nelson Brambaifa was appointed, in February 2019, as his replacement. He would be sacked after six months in office under very unclear circumstances. Reports had linked Brambaifa and his two sons: Christopher and David to some shady deals running into several billions.
The EFCC has since quizzed Brambaifa, his then Director of Finance and Administration, Dr. Chris Amadi, acting Executive Director of Projects, Dr Samuel Adjogbe and others over N2 billion contract awarded for skills acquisition training of women in 27 senatorial districts of the nine oil-producing states.
According to EFCC, preliminary investigations reveal that funds were being diverted from NDDC’s account domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to commercial banks. More so, some of the board members and directors were under serious investigation for allegedly acquiring choice properties in Abuja and in other places in their names.
3. Enyia Akwagaga
The commission is alleged to have inflated N2.5 billion contract for the clearance of water hyacinth from riverine areas of the Niger Delta to N65 billion.
The Senate, on October 17, 2019, began investigation into the alleged contract inflation by the commission. The Senate’s Public Accounts Committee disclosed that they had written twice to the acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Dr Enyia Akwagaga to come with important documents relating to all the awarded contracts especially the water hyacinth job. Akwagaga, however, failed to appear before the Committee on the excuse of being indisposed.
Chairman of the Senate committee, Matthew Uroghide, commenting on the issue said: “we are hearing that the commission has already spent N65bn so we want to know if it is true. It is an allegation. It is still an assumption until they come to clear the air surrounding this.”
4, Tuoyo Omatsuli
The former Executive Director of Projects of the NDDC, Tuoyo Omatsuli was allegedly paid a bribe of N3.6 billion from a contractor, Starline Consultancy Services. He was leveled with a 45-count charge by the EFCC on November 28, 2018. The charge relates to corruption, gratification, fraud and money laundering.
Omatsuli is not alone in the bribery mess as he was charged alongside Don Parker Properties Limited, Francis Momoh and Building Associates Limited before Justice Saliu Saidu of the Federal High Court in Lagos. They were alleged to have committed the offences between August 2014 and September 2015. The case is still ongoing even though they have pleaded not guilty
5, The Ukura report
In 2015, the then Auditor-General of the Federation, Samuel Ukura, in his report on the NDDC claimed that the intervention agency could not account for N183.7 billion between 2008 and 2012. The issue generated much controversy before it died down. It is speculated that this would be resurrected in the course of the forensic audit ordered by Buhari.
Most of the issues around Ukara report border on contract racketeering. One Ken Henshaw, who specializes in budget implementation in the Niger Delta once noted: “The NDDC is a hotbed of corruption. It is cesspool of malfeasance. It is a terrible waste of money and an injustice to the people of the Niger Delta. Ask yourself what are people doing in front of NDDC office everyday? It is a supermarket run by a cartel where contracts are bought and traded.”
“There are people whose jobs it is to pull out contracts from their network within the NDDC and sell to a third, fourth, fifth or sixth party to the extent that when the job is done, the profit is so devalued that the contractor can just deliver anything and walk away,” he added.
In 2004, the National Assembly had complained that the Commission was repeating projects in the budgets. The budgets were reported to contain funds for visible and invisible projects. This tells of how early corruption started in the NDDC.
Will NDDC ever be squeaky clean?
Buhari’s threatened forensic audit is bound to open a can of worms, that is, if he sees to a logical conclusion. The rot is real, and close observers have aptly described the impending probe as the coming NDDCgate.
That the President ordered a forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001 to 2019 tells of years of unconscionable rape of the system. It is believed by many that the investigative exercise would uncover a network of syndicates largely powered by members of the political class who have perfected the art of gangsterism.
Will NDDC ever get squeaky clean? The answer remains unsure but credit goes to Buhari for the courage to stir the hornets nest, as it were.
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