Over time, there have been series of unpalatable news regarding the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). In addition to tales of malfeasance, the agency has at various times been accused of abandonment of projects. Apart from the alleged mismanagement of N3.6 billion, the government also claimed to have recovered millions from firms that short-changed the NDDC. In effect, the commission appears to have become a cesspool of corruption, with allegations of insider abuse and and the use of surrogate companies to corner contracts.
According to reports, in 2016 alone, contractors with the commission numbering 1, 733 allegedly vanished with N70 billion in mobilisation fees without reporting to their various project sites. But NDDC officials disputed the figure, claiming that the contracts were worth only N11 billion. On yet another occasion, the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation accused the management of the commission of diverting N183 billion. In 2008, there was a report of alleged insider abuse to the tune of N761 million. In May this year, a group, the Anti-Corruption and Transparency International, wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari, alleging colossal fraud in the NDDC and calling for an investigation. In June, a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the freezing of bank accounts belonging to two NDDC contractors, AM Projects Consultancy Ltd and Raznez Medical Consultants Ltd, for alleged fraud. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which brought the case against the two firms, subsequently instructed a commercial bank not to honour the NDDC’s request for payment, saying that it suspected that money was being laundered by some members of the commission’s management.
Over the past 19 years, the NDDC is believed to have received the sum of N738.026 for projects across the nine oil-producing states, with many stakeholders in those states claiming that there is little on the ground to justify the humongous sum. Regarding abandoned projects, reports say that there are 384 in Akwa Ibom State and 115 in Ondo State. One of the projects, valued at N2.4 billion, was awarded in 2004 with N650 million already paid as mobilistation fee to the contractor. Ironically, the same project was alleged to have been re-awarded in 2009 for N6.6 billion.
It is clear that the NDDC is fast taking the path of failed enterprises into which public funds come in aplenty but ending up in private pockets. Due diligence, accountability and transparency are critical factors in ensuring good governance. So far, the NDDC has not shown those virtues. Rather, it appears to be a conduit pipe for some privileged few. But it is not too late to save the commission. The standards of transparency must be immediately restored in the commission. For it to discharge its function as a catalyst for transformation and change in the oil-producing areas, the NDDC must be purpose-driven. It must enthrone transparency and accountability. For now, inadequacies tend to obscure its achievements.
The supervising ministry must listen to the complaints of people in the region regarding the alleged lethargy, impunity and inadequacies in the management and running of the NDDC. It must embrace the cardinal objective of rekindling hope in the distraught citizens of the oil-producing areas. There has to be an end to the era of white elephants. Projects which have no direct relevance and benefits to the ravaged ecosystem and the people in the oil-producing communities should be shelved forthwith. Competence, character and equity rather than political patronage and primordial biases should be the overriding factor in determining the leadership of the NDDC. The ship of the commission must be rid of stench so that it does not sink.