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The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has been in the eye of the storm lately as members of its interim management committee (IMC) are undergoing investigation by the National Assembly over alleged fraud and mismanagement of allocated funds. Since the investigation started, various allegations of financial misappropriation, reprehensible conduct, flagrant disregard of due process, corruption and other inconsistent procedures have been brought to light.

Indeed, the probe into how the NDDC’s interim management committee spent N81.5 billion between October to May (2020) has been a front headliner as the commission’s officials have struggled to give cogent details on how the money was spent.  It was quite interesting to see the investigation take a dramatic  turn of events when the acting director of the Commission, Mr Kemebradikumo Pondei instantly became unconscious during a inquiry session before the committee and shortly after he was asked about the N536 million naira paid to clear point communication for the “save life campaign”. As soon as this happened, other visibly present officials intervened by swiftly attempting to revive him. He finally regained consciousness and was carried out of the premises, thus causing an abrupt end of the session.

Prior to Mr Pondei’s fainting episode were all sorts of dress rehearsals leading to a potpourri of revelation riddled with dirty politicking, budget padding, unexplained spending, abandoned projects, financial misappropriation claims, oath secrecy antics, sexual harassment allegation, misrepresentation claims, unlawful restriction of movement and other related matters. In all of these, one thing is evident: a lot of money has been squandered, most of which cannot be accounted for.

Mr Pondei had initially walked out on the panel after accusing the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr Olubunmi Tunji Ojo, of also being involved in corrupt practices and as such, should not head the panel. While this accusation prompted Mr Olubunmi to step down from his position, Mr Pondei subsequently appeared before the committee following its decision to issue a warrant of arrest against him in the event of further disobedience.

As the committee probed further, what followed was a game of “blame shifting” between the Commission and the National Assembly when Godwill Akpabio the Minister of the Niger Delta, blurted out at an appearance before the panel that some members of the National Assembly had been awarded fifty percent of the NDDC contracts. Matters also came to a crescendo when the ex-managing director of the NDDC, Joi Nunieh accused Mr Godswill Akpabio of fraud, fetish oath of secrecy and sexual harassment.

In a recent letter, Akpabio has denied confirming the involvement of current members of the National Assembly in the ongoing NDDC debacle. Whether his initial allegation is true or not, only time will tell. However, it is apparent that the NDDC interim committee members were consistently paying themselves, much to the detriment of the Niger Delta people.

While the elitist caretakers of the commission enjoyed the funds, its intended beneficiaries remained deprived. If this was not the case, what explanation can be given of an NDDC January – May 2020 Budget mostly hinged on covid-19 take home pay, travel allowances, overseas travel, staff related expenses and other forms of personal aggrandisements? For further clarity, N1.32 billion was shared amongst the NDDC staff as covid-19 pallative! In the words of the NDDC Chairman, staff members had used the money to “take care of themselves”. A breakdown of the commission’s spending shows nothing related to infrastructural facilities or anything tangible to better the lives of its intended beneficiaries.

From recent events, it appears that some Nigerian federal agencies are having a rough play in the murky waters of deceit, embezzlement and corruption. Indeed, the NDDC probe is occurring at a time when the Economic and Financial Crimes Boss, Ibrahim Magu was suspended from office following allegations of diversion of recovered funds and seized assets. It is even laughable to think that the same EFCC has sworn to collaborate with the NDDC in prosecuting contractors and officials who delay projects in the region. Wouldn’t this be a case of birds of a feather flocking together?

Corruption and financial recklessness have taken centre stage in some Nigerian federal agencies. Unending vile acts ranging from nepotism to bribery, large scale embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds have continued to bedevil the nation. Poor accountability of elected and appointed officers in charge of public coffers has made things worse. What more can be said of the elitist public servants who loot public treasury and other resources meant for the indigent citizens?

Amidst all these, some Nigerian students who are beneficiaries of the NDDC scholarship programme have initiated protests that the commission is yet to pay their tuition and other related fees. The 2018/2019 beneficiaries in particular, are currently facing threats of suspension and cancellation of their academic studies. Sadly, this is not the first time such a protest is arising.

Indeed, the shocking revelations of the televised investigation show that the funds received by the NDDC are being used for wrong reasons and the commission may have become a private money bank from which money is consistently siphoned by its staff. Little wonder the Niger Delta region persists in its deplorable state amidst rising incidents of pipeline vandalism, environmental pollution, gas flaring, oil spillage, abandoned developmental projects and other forms of societal degradation. To this extent, BudGit reports that the NDDC has received a total of N15 trillion ($40billion) for its projects, yet the region lacks significant development.

A careful perusal of the NDDC website and its “Download- Annual Budget” category evidences no budgetary information. While the e-book, publication and user-sections all have contents, the annual budget category is visibly empty. Could it be that the NDDC is trying to leave no stone unturned in covering its tracks.

Sadly, the current NDDC fiasco gives a visual imagery of the financial ineptitude of most public institutions in the country and it is hoped that more can be done to safeguard public treasury while preventing the re-occurrence of incidents like this. As we wait with bated breath for President Muhammadu Buhari to address this financial crisis that has become a prevalent feature in Nigeria, the following suggestions can be taken into cognisance:

  1. The Nigerian government should adopt stricter financial supervision measures and guidelines which all public institutions must adhere to. This could be in form of regular reporting and submission of financial statements, evidence of ongoing projects and other forms of internal control and transparent record keeping.
  2. Establishment of more committees with supervisory capacities to perform routine investigations and checks on government owned parastatals. The National Assembly could also exercise more of its regulatory and control procedures to make this possible.
  3.  More disciplinary committees should be set up to administer severe punishment to erring bodies. There should also be stricter penalties for leaders of corporations that are found culpable of amassing communal wealth for personal gain.
  4.  Encouragement of an accountability culture amongst public institution leaders would also go a long way in readdressing this quagmire.
  5. Lastly, a re-orientation of public office holders, anti-graft agencies and the entire citizenry would help in re-shaping the culture of dishonesty, exploitation and bribery.
  6. Citizens should also ensure that they report to appropriate authorities if they suspect foul play, are suspicious or uncover any misuse of funds by any establishment.