By Suleiman Umaru
Godswill Akpabio, a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria and former governor of Akwa Ibom state and now minister of the ministry of the Niger Delta , appears to have laid the foundation, for President Muhammadu decision to carry out a forensic Audit of the budgetary allocations and expenditures of the Niger Delta Development Commission,NNDC, since its establishment about 16 years ago by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Akpabio may have complained loud to the Katsina born Nigerian President that the Commission has over N2 trillion debt to settle its Contractors as against the N1 trillion which Senator Ewa- Henshaw, the Chairman said the Niger Delta agency ministry, wed the Contractors who executed one project or the other in the Niger Delta region , comprising of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers state are still being owed N1 trillion.
An aggrieved Ewa-Henshaw, had said that if it is a private Enterprise, it would have filed bankruptcy. Giving an insider information, the Cross River state born politician disclosed that the contracts were awarded for the sole purpose of ‘’collecting advance payments’’ from the agency. The NDDC Chairman, major worry was that the same contracts were awarded to two or three Contractors.
More worrisome , the Chairman said was the fact that the Contracts were awarded without any design and specific location . Bassey Dan-Abia, the agency Managing Director had revealed that since inception it had awarded over 6,000 project Contracts in different parts of the Niger Delta. It is not surprising why the Commission had been dubbed a ’’Contract Cow’’ by critics because of the large number of projects handled at different locations in the region.
Note that there had been rumour making the rounds over the years that the Commission Contract award letters are being hawked in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities in the country but past Managements dismissed it as untrue. But Akpabio, the minister of the Niger Delta, had told the Dan-Abia, led NNDC, Managment team in Abuja last Wednesday that the ministry will look into the budgetary allocation of the agency and see how it can be improved upon , stressing that the success of any Organisation starts from budgeting. The minister who could no hide his feelings said the impact of the Commision on the entire Niger over the last 19 years could have been more but for some factors , which he idenfied as ‘’personal interest and undue interference ‘’ ,among others.
An aggrieved Akpabio had said that that there are too many uncompleted projects across the region due to lack of proper Coordination . He was said to have made it clear the Commission officials that the ‘’ministry will not allow that any longer’’. There are indications that over 80% of the N40 billion NNDC projects in Cross river state alone had been abandoned by the Contractors between 20 and 2016, after collecting the mobiisation fee.
The nine Niger Delta region governors , including Nyesom Wike, of Rivers state, may have taking advantage of the too many NNDC abandoned projects in the region to seek the intervention of Buhari to do something urgent about it.The Katsina state born Nigerian President was said to have held a closed- door meeting with the governors over development of the region and also discussed about what is going on in the NNDC, a critical agency to the development of the region. The President’s meeting with the Niger Delta regional governors and their discussion on the NNDC, may informed why he ordered the probe of the Finances of the agency between 2001 and now. The President who was said to be unhappy about the agency based on the briefing from Akpabio , the minister of the Niger Delta and the governors from the region became convinced that the projects that had been executed over the years by NNDC, was not commensurate to the budgetary allocation to it .
An aggrieved President Buhari had said: with the amount of money which the government has allocated to the Commission ,over the years, there ought to be projects on ground to show for it. He has made it clear to those that cares to listen that those responsible for the control and management of the agency since inception have explanation to give on certain issues. This is bad news for Onyema Ugochukwu, a pioneer Managing Director of the Commission and those that came after him as their years in the agency would be subjected to serious scrutiny.
But the question on the lips of most people is: why is the region be littered with may abandoned projects? . Investigation by The Value News shows that past and present Administration had made adequate budgetary allocations to the Commission to enable it carry out its mandate of developing the region. Take for instance in 2017, the budgetary allocation for the Commission for Capital projects was N61 billion but in 2018, the Katsina state born Nigerian President was said to have increased to N71,20 billion.
The President had justified the increase to further support the development of the region. Henshaw , the NNDC, Chairman , however,revealed that only N50 billion was released to the Agency that year., which analysts believe was not enough given the terrain of the region. This because only one two Contracts could easily take the budgetary allocation , leaving little or nothing other projects.
This may have informed why the Oil Producing and Exploration Companies operating in the region had thrown their financial weight behind the Commission to ensure they execute their projects without complaints of paucity of funds. Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, alone was aid to have remitted over $2 billion or about N720 billion , going by the official current exchange rate of N305.00 to a dollar, to the Commission over the last 16 years. That w much was confirmed by Igo Weli, the Company External Manager, External Relations. Shell revelation may have opened a can of worms on how the Staff frittered away its resources to suit their personal interest.
Worried by Complaints of too many abandoned projects in the region by the people, Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had set up an Ad-hoc Committee on NNDC, to look into the matter and report back to the House.
It was learnt that the Committee had extended invitation to some of the Contractors to appear at its public hearing over the uncompleted projects linked them. The public hearing may have provided opportunity for the Contractors to open up on the rot in the Commission.
The Contractors who were said to have appeared at the House Ad-hoc Committee on NNDC, public hearing had blamed the indiscriminate award of Contracts by the agency with financial back up to the problem of abandoned projects that litter the region. More shocking revelation was the allegation of the active Connivance between some top Officials of the Agency and some Engineers of the agency hired as Consultant who bargain for cuts from the Contracting firms for assisting them to get the jobs.
Perhaps, what may shocked the House Committee members was the revelation of how the Commercial Banks were involved in the abuse of the due process in the award of the Contract, thus complicating the issue of the Contractors access to funds to execute projects which they have won the contract in different parts of the region.
Already, Buhari , has won the heart of the people of the Niger Delta for taking the bold initiative to probe the Commission. Jeffrey Emerson, a Development Economist based in Port Harcourt , Capital of Rivers state, had described the move as very ‘’laudable and Commendable’’.
Johnson Dibia, the President of Ijaw Diaspora Coalition reportedly cited the secret interview that was said to have been conducted by the present Management of the agency to engage 300 new Staff without the approval of the Board as one of the clever ways of perpetuating fraud in the agency. According to him, ‘’it took the intervention of well- meaning people in the region to stop the exercise. T
Dibia may have given the President a clue on the areas to cover in the probe to get to the root of the rot in the agency and how past and Present Management spent the yearly budgetary allocation of the agency.
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