PORT HARCOURT – A deeper investigation by Sunday Independent into the crisis engulfing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has exposed multiple components carefully or chestrated by powerful forces beyond the Niger Delta region.
According to our sources, these forces are merely using the services of cronies in the oil-producing states to milk up the commission for the lubrication of their political wheels.
APC/PDP Factor In South South
As it stands at the moment, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been dislodged from the South-South geo-political zone, with the defection of the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Sources said this is not a palatable pill for the ruling APC at the centre.
“What this portrays is that with power blocs like the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, Senator Godswill Akpabio and the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo- Agege, holding sway, they want to control the political soul of the South-South.
“Doing so also means that so much funds would be needed to prosecute any political ambition. Hence, NDDC remains the only and viable cash cow to draw billions from to keep such ambition alive.
“With the ouster of the former APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, from that exotic position, the aforementioned trio are currently squaring up to undo one another and emerge the political leader of the zone,” said one of our credible sources.
It was alleged that the screened board of the NDDC was dominated by representatives of Amaechi and Omo- Agege.
The three powerful positions of Managing Director, Executive Director of Project and Finance were to be occupied by candidates of these influential forces.
Also, the governorship election of Delta State has been linked to the raging crisis and looting in the NDDC.
Delta 2023 Governorship Election
It was gathered that as much as Senator Omo-Agege is seriously eyeing the governorship of Delta State, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Executive Director, Projects, of the NDDC, is equally preparing to confront anyone standing on his way of becoming the next state’s chief executive.
The Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, in one of his press conferences, alluded to the fact that the governorship election in Delta State was part of the heat in the commission leading to the interventionist agency’s looting spree.
He said every finger is in the tilt to grab the Delta State governorship seat.
Our sources explained that although Akpabio may not eye the governorship position of Akwa Ibom State again, he has a name to protect.
“He wants to replicate his performance while he lasted as governor in the Niger Delta region as a supervising minister. He too wants to control the political soul of the region, hence other forces to contend with,” explained our source.
There is also the palpable fear in some quarters that the ongoing crisis spiraling the NDDC has an invisible thread linking some powerful northern Fulani forces.
It was scooped that what befell the Amnesty Programme after the sack of Professor Charles Dokubo, where an administrator was appointed instead, may befall the NDDC.
A credible source hinted that the petitions against the financial recklessness in the NDDC maybe a well and tactfully coordinated arrangement to sow a seed of discord in the commission.
“The underpinning power play is basically to dissolve the present composition of the commission to make way for an administrator. This disposition would be very detrimental to the Niger Delta region in terms of infrastructural development.
“By extension, therefore, this same administrator would open the NDDC vault for the release of funds for the 2023 general elections in line with the choice of the APC on who becomes the presidential candidate of the party.
“A South-South minister is already said to have positioned himself to become a running mate to a serving northern governor in 2023. Billions would be needed for that project. And NDDC is the surest pool.
According to another source, in the last general elections, billions of naira were withdrawn from the NDDC to sponsor the polls.
He said the same forces wanted to cover any of the oil-producing states by all mean possible, hence, the billions.
“This may be part of the reasons why the commission cannot account for some of the monies allegedly spent or mismanaged,” the source stressed.
Besides that, it was also gathered that about 60 percent of de-silting jobs in the NDDC are carried out by people from other regions, particularly north.
“What is going on is that they are using the South-South people to rebel against themselves and cause confusion everywhere to divert attention. The Niger Delta will not grow beyond what it is except politicians from the region change their orientation,” the source noted.
Why NASS Is Probing Commission
Akpabio’s insistence on the forensic audit of the commission is basically the vector that has pitched the IMC against the National Assembly.
Some accused lawmakers are alleged to be using some cronies to attack the commission’s management and impede its administration.
It was also gathered that some legislators had asked the IMC to part with some billions of naira for them to share, a request the commission refused to grant, hence, the face-off.
Presently, the raging war of words between Akpabio and the former Managing Director of the NDDC, Dr. Joi Nunieh, is part of the game of confusion carefully crafted by the forces behind the scene.
Akpabio has said that the forensic audit must go on as planned to fulfill the desire of President Muhammadu Buhari in repositioning the Niger Delta region.
South-South Governors’ Position
Meanwhile, the South- South Governors Forum on Thursday declared its support for the forensic audit of the NDDC as ordered by President Buhari.
The Forum regretted the crisis rocking the commission and said that it was convinced and expecting that the audit would serve to put the NDDC on sound corporate governance and reposition it to better deliver on its mandate to the betterment of the region.
Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Delta state, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, said the Niger Delta governors had given full backing to the ongoing investigation of the commission by the Senate.
“We believe the Senate is operating within its oversight functions through the ad hoc committee set up for that purpose. It behooves us to respect the Senate oversight function and allow it to discharge this responsibility in a fair, transparent and equitable manner.
“The South-South Governors are desirous to see an NDDC that is fully alive and responsive to its mandate of accelerating infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region and enhancing the general living conditions of our people. Hence, we will not hesitate to give our unqualified support to any policy initiative that will make this a reality.
“The Forum wishes to advise the combatants in the current crisis in the NDDC to refrain from utterances and actions that will breach the peace and security of the region,” the forum stated.
It condemned the attempted abduction of Nunieh, in the early hours of Thursday, saying it was unwarranted, unnecessary and uncalled for.
Miffed by the daunting revelations from the NDDC, the Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) has called on President Buhari to immediately wade into the crisis rocking the commission and save it from further plunging into decadence.
Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, a chieftain of PANDEF, said the crisis involving Akpabio and Joi Nunieh was “a disgrace and shame to the Niger Delta people.”
He said those that want the forensic audit to be aborted are those stealing the commission blind.
Sara-Igbe noted that both the National Assembly and the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC were responsible for the sleaze in the interventionist agency, adding, “the ongoing investigation must be carried out fast so that the commission can start all over again on a clean slate.”
Also, Annkio Briggs, spokesperson of the Ijaw Republic Assembly (IRA), acknowledged that NDDC has been a “cesspool of corruption” from inception. She alleged that the commission was not established to function properly for the development of the Niger Delta by those who mooted the idea in 2000.
“The game they are playing now is to scatter the NDDC and make the Niger Delta people to suffer the more. NDDC is a place where any party that is in power, whether APC or PDP, will send their people to go there and steal the money for their politics. That has been so from the time of former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo.”
Briggs advised that auditing firms from US, UK or Canada be invited to handle the auditing process which must be devoid of any form of influence by the government of the day.
On his part, the Executive Director, Global Forum for Accountability and Transparency, Joseph Ambakaderimo, said with the scandalous revelations coming out of the NASS probe of the NDDC, it becomes deeply troubling the way and manner the NDDC expends monies without recourse to prioritization of projects that will impact on the people of the region.
Ambakaderimo wants the revelations to be fully investigated and decisive and far reaching action taken to reposition the NDDC to better serve the people of the region.
“It has become abundantly clear that the IMC and the Minister who are charged with the responsibility of superintending the forensic audit have their hands in the vault. Therefore, we call for the discontinuation of this forensic audit and replace with the Justice Ayo Salami’s kind of panel.
“This is the appropriate time for the President to act swiftly on the NDDC as he did with the NSITF, EFCC and others. The NDDC cannot be treated in isolation when so many financial infractions are being committed on a daily basis. When we express our disgust on the attitude of the President on issues currently unfolding at the NDDC, we will continue to impress it on the President to do the needful and take the necessary action to stop the hemorrhaging at the NDDC.
“If one would ask without trying to preempt the outcome of the forensic audit, will the audit capture the mismanagement of resources that have come out as a result of the NASS probe? Once again we reiterate that if the President may decide not to discontinue the forensic audit, we urge the President to discountenance whatever the report that will emanate from the audit. The reason is that the report will not be all encompassing to trigger the desired outcome to achieve the purpose for which it was intended.”
Ambakaderimo noted that the minister and the IMC have this habit of trivialising very important issues of allegations of corruption levelled against them. Instead of addressing the issues of financial improprieties, they take pleasure in name calling.
“With all of these disclosures such as claims of giving monies to the Nigeria Police up to the tune of N475 million to buy sanitisers and face masks, and N3.14billion expenditure for COVID-19 pandemic palliatives to selected staff of the commission when their salaries subsists? The issue of attending graduation ceremony in the United Kingdom in the months when the entire world was on lockdown was as funny as it was unbelievable. The payment of scholarship grant into personal accounts of top officials of the commission, calls for an independent probe.
“These schemes follow a pattern that are ingrained in NDDC which have become institutionalise corruption, where the purported beneficiary agency of government does not get the items claimed to have been requested for. It is just a scheme to take out monies from the coffers of the commission and that is stealing directly from the treasury.
“We need to hear from the Nigeria Police what they actually got from the NDDC, is it cash or the physical items of sanitisers and face mask? These are questions that answers must be provided. Our investigations so far on this claim by the Ag MD on the police expenditure has not been corroborated by the police authorities.
“The tales of woes are beginning to crystallise on the real motive of Akpabio’s takeover of the NDDC and obsession has never been altruistic, we have to reiterate this and it is a shame that our own people are the ones working against the development of the region.
“Going forward, there is nowhere in the NDDC Act that says the minister must approve before payment are made to contractors or whom to be awarded contracts, the minister flagrantly arrogated to himself the powers he does not have all in a bid to ride roughshod on the finances of the commission.
“Akpabio failed with his handling of affairs in the NDDC. The NDDC is in the midst of one of the worst governing failures in history. The intervention has become terrible, also his lawlessness cannot be left unnoticed for too long. He has brought too many embarrassments to the President,” he alleged.
With President Buhari urging the National Assembly to speed up the ongoing investigations of the IMC, it is clear that the committee may eventually be disbanded and the commission itself removed from the Ministry of the Niger Delta back to the Presidency.