In an open letter dated August 10, 2020 to President Muhammadu Buhari, 29 civil society and community groups wrote off the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), declaring that the commission has completely negated its mandate.
Earlier in a statement, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) said anyone who truly opposes corruption will cringe at the fact that billions of dollars have been swooped in reckless spending spree in a few months without demonstrable impact on the Niger Delta.
Following recent developments from the Senate probe and reports from NDDC, the media has been awash with absurd findings against the Interim Management Committee-IMC over alleged corrupt misappropriation in the NDDC through various fronts.
The findings of the Senate report expressly reveal the level of deep seated corruption going on in the commission.
According to Social Action, ‘’the Senate report contained various cases of administrative malfeasance and financial recklessness in the NDDC. Instances are; the N3.175 billion spent by IMC as palliatives on Covid-19, the IMC allegedly misappropriated and embezzled N6.2billion, the payment of special imprest unknown to law, the incurred IMC N808.9 million imprest during covid-19 lockdown, the Acting MD Prof. Daniel Pondei and other top management supposedly sharing of N4.9 billion for Medical Checkups.
‘’All these misappropriations can be regrettably described as a show of shame and rot that has been ongoing in the Commission. More so, concerns that the unchecked financial malfeasance by the NDDC managers will continue, we call on the National Assembly to immediately suspend all awards of contracts and procurement in NDDC.
‘’This is necessary as the Commission’s activities have violated all relevant procurement laws and repeatedly violated various sections of the Public Procurement Act of 2007. It is glaring that they failed to follow due process as there are evidently no approved procurement plans in their dealings as most of the contracts are not advertised, and the contractors are not selected based on eligibility.
‘’For instance, the River Desilting and Covid-19 supplies did not go through laid down procurement guidelines. Therefore, suspending all procurements will ensure that a proper account is given for the various amounts squandered by the Commission and also measure the budget performance.’’
The group argues that if it becomes necessary to spend any money, it should be for the execution of projects in the Niger Delta. ‘’A procedural method should be initiated for approval and spending strictly followed by detailed evidential receipts of such spending.
‘’This initiative will promote the use of approved annual budget as the principal tool and authorization for all its expenditures. It is obvious from the various expenditures on projects unrelated to the mandate of the NDDC, the commission has shown disregard for its budget, as several expenditure items were done without reference to budget provisions.
‘’This will check the current practice of recurrent and derailed expenditures. The fight against corruption in Nigeria and the commission is an overwhelming task, but the enormity of the challenge cannot dampen the spirit.
‘’While we welcome the Senate report, as keen observers of the NDDC, we believe that influential individuals who benefitted from the contract awards and are afraid that they might be exposed by the report and forensic audit, are likely to make moves to thwart the process.
‘’We therefore call on the National Assembly to resist any interference and personal interest that may scuttle the process. It could be recalled that in 2015, President Buhari said If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.
‘’The President should match his words with action and implement the resolutions of the Senate report. The report detailed the humongous fraud that has been going on at the NDDC and presents some solutions for the Commission.
‘’We all know that the Senate report on its own will not send anyone to jail. So we strongly demand for a proper conclusion of the Senate report and the forensic audit with those found guilty punished accordingly. Any other thing short of this would amount to media buzz, waste of time and loss for the Nigeria people.’’
However, by its enabling Act, NDDC is an Interventionist (capital) project-oriented entity, that was set up to directly intervene in helping bridge infrastructural gaps in the Niger Delta and by so doing, improve the quality and living standards of the people of the region.
But signatories to the open letter to President Buhari, among them Ms Vivian Bellonwu of Social Action, Chido Onumah of African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and Tijah Bolton of Policy Alert, are insisting that NDDC has completely negated its mandate.
According to them, President Buhari is seated at the thresholds of history, not only with this bruised commission, but with the people of the Niger Delta, pointing out historical options before him:
‘’To surface-dress, the Commission and its unresolved issues as aforestated, by merely effecting leadership change, that leaves the fundamental gaps that birthed, nurtured and festered the hydra-headed monster of Corruption, Non-Accountability and lack of transparency as have clearly been seen, or;
‘’To rise to the occasion, institute and usher in holistic reforms in the Commission, that includes purging it of all corrupt elements and tendencies, to re-set it on a path of Transparency, Accountability and effective Public Service Delivery, as envisioned by its establishment.’’
‘’We are members of civil societies and communities from across Niger Delta and beyond. We have watched with utter astonishment and incredulity, the emergence of revelations of systemic hijack and grand corruption in NDDC.
‘’From mind-boggling revelations at the parliamentary investigative hearings of Procurement Act violations and contract frauds, non-budgetary and extra-budgetary expenditures, to confessions of illicit solicitations and crooked contracts by former and present leadership of the commission, extensive exposés by the commission’s overseeing minister, of fully-paid but non-executed projects, to allegations and counter-allegations of outright embezzlement in the commission; the revelations are simply shocking’’, they said.
Continuing, they said the rot in NDDC is not a recent phenomenon. ‘’It dates back to almost the time of commencement of the commission. What started as bribery cum inducement to influence and get contracts, and to which authorities then paid a blind eye, quickly up-scaled and snowballed in both dimension and magnitude, to what we see today.
‘’As has clearly emerged today, all known and unknown means are contrived in the Commission to beat Due-Process, by-pass regulating Laws and side-step Checks and Balances. It is thus very sadly to this end therefore, that the humongous resources (which runs into trillions of Naira) that have accrued to the region overtime, through the commission, has systematically dissipated without any commensurate or even near-commensurate infrastructure or impact to ascribe to it.
‘’As civil society groups and community members, we strongly urge you to act in the regard of the latter, in the overwhelming interest of the deprived, impoverished and traumatised common men and women of the region. We urge you to:
‘’Temporarily, halt the activities of the Commission in its present manner (having completely lost both focus and public trust).
‘’(Presidency) Assume direct supervision of the Commission and oversee effective reforms in it to make the Commission Open, Transparent and Accountable.(These proposed reforms are further expounded in the document: CIVIL SOCIETIES, COMMUNITIES POSITION PAPER ON NDDC).
‘’Oversee and strengthen the forensic audit of the Commission. This is crucial to having an accurate and unbiased audit report on the financial activities of the Commission in the past years. The audit exercise needs to be independent and conclusive, and its report/findings should be made public. Going forward, audit should be a regular exercise in the Commission, and of which reports should be published on the website.
‘’Initiate a Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) template for the Commission, to promote a public-private partnership approach to community engagements involving participatory development processes to address community needs in the Niger Delta and accordingly enforce community engagement in projects designing and monitoring execution.
‘’Set up a multi-stakeholder partnership which would include a team of Civil Society Organisations and individuals with a proven track record of integrity, to closely monitor the activities of the NDDC, including close monitoring of the independent audit exercise, and issue regular reports.
‘’Immediately activate anti-graft agencies to prosecute without delay, the extensive corrupt acts and infractions that have featured in the Commission, many of which have been confirmed by conclusive investigations, including the Senate Report On The Investigation Of The Alleged Financial Recklessness In The NDDC, of August, 2020. The seeming silence from the authorities in this regard, seems to lend credence to the popular notion that corruption is being condoned in the country.’’