- The ugly story of how the Nigerian National Assembly contributed to the corruption at the NDDC
- MORE FACTS ON HOW PRESIDENT BUHARI HELPED IN INCREASING THE LEVEL OF CORRUPTION AT THE NDDC
Premium Times of December 22, 2020
The approval comes despite the Senate’s vow not to approve a budget for the NDDC until its board is constituted. Ten days to the end of the year, the Senate on Monday approved the 2020 budget of N453.2 billion for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The approval comes despite the Senate’s vow not to approve a budget for the commission until its board is constituted.
The lawmakers also approved the budget despite the failure of the dissolved Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC to reconcile differences and discrepancies in the commission’s 2019 budget performance. The lawmakers observed the anomalies and other allegations of fraud and embezzlement of funds by the IMC during the 2020 budget defence in July.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in November 2019 transmitted the NDDC’s 2019 and 2020 budget estimates to the Senate for consideration and passage. But some senators had kicked against the budgetary allocations, citing administrative illegalities in the commission. Enyinnaya Abaribe, the Senate Minority Leader, said if the budget was approved by the Senate, it would set a bad precedent because President Buhari is yet to appoint a board to manage the affairs of the NDDC. “This August body, having confirmed the board of NDDC, will not countenance any illegal contraption coming in front of us to say they are representing the NDDC,” he had said.
The NDDC, created by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration as an interventionist agency in response to decades of complaints of neglect by the oil-rich region, has little to show for the billions of naira it has received in the 19 years of its existence.
Although the Senate had confirmed 15 nominees led by Edo politician, Pius Odubu, in October 2019, the president refused to inaugurate the board. This allowed the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, to name an IMC with Joy Nunieh as the Acting Managing Director. This set up was changed months later when the president appointed Kemebradikumo Pondei as Acting Managing Director. Past heads of the commission were dismissed over one allegation of fraud or another.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
The most recent was in July, when the National Assembly set up a panel to investigate the financial recklessness of the IMC. PREMIUM TIMES reported how the commission used about N1.5 billion as COVID-19 relief, paid officials N85 million to attend graduation in the UK during a lockdown and how it was asked by the Senate to refund all the monies spent. These and more led to a delay in the consideration of the NDDC’s appropriation.
Components of the approved budget were the same as the proposed appropriation as sent by President Muhammadu Buhari. The approval followed a presentation of the report of the Senate committee on Niger Delta.
The Vice Chairman of the committee, Amos Bulus, who presented the report, said, on the commission’s revenue projection, the panel adopted N63.5 billion as reflected in the Appropriations Act, 2020 and a total of N81 billion was earmarked as statutory contribution by the Federal Government to the NDDC.
He further explained that N100 billion Naira, which reflected as unpaid arrears by the federal government, was not considered as part of the commission’s revenue projection by the committee “because the amount was not approved in the 2020 Appropriations Act by the National Assembly.”
More details of the budget
Personnel Expenditure – N27,389,000,000 billion
Overhead expenditure – N13,937,244,107 billion
Internal capital expenditure – N2,793,755,893 billion
Development projects – N409,080,000,000.
Total expenditure – 453,200,000,000
- Revenue Brought Forward – 12,000,000,000
- Federal Government contribution – 63,506,151,945
- Federal Government contribution (ie Unpaid arrears by Federal Government) – 0
- Oil companies contributions and Nigeria Liquefied Naturall Gas Ltd (NLNG) and others – 317,493,848,055
- Ecological Funds – 60,000,000,000.
- Other Internally Realized Income – 200,000,000
Total revenue – 453,200,000,000
Mr Bulus said the commission disclosed that its revenue inflow from oil companies/NLNG and others exceeded what was projected, prompting an increase in the revenue projection for that sector, from N200 billion to N317 billion.
The committee also recommended that the lifespan of the budget be extended to enable the commission achieve full implementation. Accordingly, the 2019 NDDC Budget was recommended to elapse on May 31, 2020. All the recommendations were adopted by the Senate.
Prior to the budget passage, Bayelsa senator, Seriake Dickson, raised concerns about passing a budget for the commission that is being run by a sole administrator. He was referring to Effiong Akwa who was recently appointed by President Buhari as the sole administrator of the NDDC. This was after he dissolved the Interim Management Committee of the commission. Mr Dickson asked that a motion to be considered to prevail on President Buhari to immediately constitute the board of the NDDC. “What I am rising to propose, Mr. President, that this Senate at this point, having now agreed to pass the budget, can we take a motion to the effect that the President be called upon to constitute the board in accordance with the Act without further delay; and that this budget be passed for the sake and development of the well-being and welfare of the people,” he said.
In his response, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, promised that the National Assembly would continue to engage the Executive on the need to immediately constitute the Governing Board of the Nigerian Delta Development Commission. “I think you have made the point. Even without a motion, you have stated this and it is recorded. And, I have stated this, too. We have been engaging with the Executive arm of government that the nominations into the Governing Board should be made. We have been making that point and will continue to push until it is made.
“I think we are getting there, so even if we don’t take any motion, I’m sure the explanations you have given will go a long way. “I don’t think the Sole Administrator should be there for any long period of time, but it is for us to ensure that between now and when that administrator goes, the funds appropriated are properly utilised.” Mr Lawan, also charged the Niger Delta committee to ensure the proper use of funds by the commission through strict oversight.
MORE FACTS ON HOW PRESIDENT BUHARI HELPED IN INCREASING THE LEVEL OF CORRUPTION AT THE NDDC: Additional narration by Ajuri in Thisday Newspaper of December 20, 2020
The Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio has turned the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission into an unending circus for his self-aggrandisement. Early in the year, the Presidency had said that the audit report will be presented at the end of this year, 2020, for which reason it extended the tenure of the illegal Interim Management Committee. However, less than a month to the scheduled conclusion of the audit, which has so far taken over a year, Akpabio has nominated and got the presidency’s approval of Mr Effiong Okon Akwa as Interim sole administrator, in what is clearly an agenda to appropriate the resources of the commission through phony schemes instead of the proper structure of a Governing Board as required by the NDDC Act.
The announcement of Mr Akwa, which was made on the night of Sunday, December 13, 2020, to replace the Interim Management Committee, has rightly been called another imposition by Niger Delta stakeholders. This is, because, like the equally illegal IMC, the position of interim administrator is not known to the law setting up the NDDC. Mr Akwa himself is a member of the discredited IMC, having been appointed in August as acting Executive Director Finance and Administration.
Mr Akwa is even more ethically conflicted in his new designation, which according to the announcement by the presidency is to oversee the forensic audit. This is because Mr Akwa served as SA Finance to Mr Bassey Dan-Abia while he was MD of the NDDC between 2013 and 2015. He in fact was posted by Akpabio to Dan-Abia for that job. Akpabio as Akwa Ibom State governor between 2007 and 2015 nominated Dan-Abia and got him appointed as NDDC MD in 2013. Those years are part of the period under investigation by the forensic audit, yet, a key player in the NDDC mess during this period in the person of Mr Akwa is now in charge of overseeing the forensic audit.
This point is not lost on Niger Delta groups, which have consistently said that the forensic audit is simply a smokescreen for the minister to micromanage the NDDC and corner its resources. Several NGOs raised the alarm weeks ago that Akwa was being prepared by Akpabio to take over from the IMC as sole administrator under the guise of supervising the unending forensic audit.
The anger of Niger Deltans is that Akpabio has weaponised the forensic audit, an otherwise regular activity in any institution, as an excuse to disregard the NDDC Act and run the commission through interim managements solely picked by him. Even those who initially gave him and the Buhari Administration the benefit of the doubt on the audit have now seen the fraudulent agenda unfold and are calling for the return to compliance with the NDDC Act.
The minister first started this fraudulent hijack when he manipulated the appointment of the IMC into office in October 2019, after the president had announced his nominees for the NDDC Governing Board in August and sent the names to the Senate for confirmation. The Board members were subsequently screened and confirmed by the Senate on November 5, 2019. Since then, the minister has through subterfuge delayed the inauguration of the NDDC Governing Board as duly stipulated in the NDDC Act. His strategy has been to use the excuse of the external audit of the NDDC, stretched through a lengthy process of twists and turns to justify the continued illegal stay of the IMC and now an interim sole administrator, members of which he single-handedly nominated and appointed.
Initially, the IMC was sold as an aberration to last between three and six months, which was between October 2019 and March 2020. But, strangely, Akpabio got the president to approve an extension in April for the IMC to remain till December this year. Now, with the terminal date at hand, Akpabio is using the smokescreen of the audit to put in place an administrator instead of the proper governance structure of a Governing Board as provided for in the NDDC Act.
Indeed, to the people of the Niger Delta states, the retention of Akpabio and his interim contraptions, despite the clear cases of contract racketeering, appointment manipulation and reported cases of fraud, shows that President Buhari does not care for the orderly functioning of the NDDC and the speedy development of the region.
The Niger Delta region is the economic livewire of the country, with the oil and gas industry, which is located in the Niger Delta states, contributing over 90 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. Yet, the people of these oil-bearing states have a massive infrastructure deficit, suffer from oil spills and other ecological disasters that are unremedied, and generally do not enjoy the expected benefits of being hosts to the oil and gas industry, with poverty and unemployment very high.
The NDDC was established in 2000 by an Act of the National Assembly, with a mandate to spur the development of the nine oil producing states that it covers. These are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States. Sadly, rather than help solve the problem of underdevelopment, President Buhari seems to have compounded them, by not allowing for the proper functioning of the agency.
Under the Buhari administration we are beginning to see a pattern where the NDDC has been reduced to a source of slush funds to fund various schemes and activities outside of its legitimate mandate because of the undue attention on the agency, by the same government officials who cry to the rooftops about corruption. Perhaps, this is why the administration appears to be comfortable with this ad hoc interim arrangement where the management is not accountable to the people of the Niger Delta region.
For instance at the recent National Assembly probe of corruption against the Interim Management Committee between May and July this year, the NDDC account statement with the CBN indicated that the agency paid out about half a billion naira to buy face masks and hand sanitisers for the Nigeria Police, an independent government agency that not only has a robust budget but also has a ministry of its own! Even the president’s lukewarm reaction to that investigation and the generally corrupt behaviour of the IMC, in the view of many Niger Deltans pointed to a deliberate pattern of the administration in condoning corruption at the commission for its own selfish interests, which is why the government prefers to have the ad hoc arrangement of an interim management committee and now an interim administrator clearly in breach of the NDDC Act.
There is a pattern of illegalities instituted by the current administration to undermine accountability at the NDDC in a way that no other federal agency has been so treated in the last five and a half years of the Buhari government. In the 15-year history of the NDDC, prior to Buhari’s coming in 2015, an interim appointment had never been made outside of the law, even when the Governing Boards were dissolved. In line with the provisions of the NDDC Act, when the Board is dissolved, the next most senior civil servant in the NDDC establishment takes over as MD in acting capacity until a new Board is constituted in line with the NDDC Act. Buhari refused to follow this requirement, and instead introduced an illegal succession tradition, which Akpabio has exploited to the hilt.
In August 2019 there was hope that his second term will be different when the president nominated a 16-man Governing Board in line with the law, and sent their names to the Senate which screened and confirmed them. However, strangely, he asked that the board be put on hold and allowed Akpabio to put in place an Illegal Interim Management, on the excuse of conducting a forensic audit of the agency. The IMC spent over a year and was itself mired in corruption but the president seemed unperturbed that the idea of an ad hoc interim management was not only unlawful but unhelpful.
As many experts and statesmen have stated over the last several months, the excuse of a forensic audit is no ground to abrogate the law governing an institution. External audits, the kind the federal government says it is doing at the NDDC, are done regularly in many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) but their laws are not set aside for interim managements to head the organisations. Both the NNPC and NPA have been so audited, yet interim management committees or administrators were not appointed to run these federal organisations. So there must be a more sinister reason for this action.
The NDDC law is clear on how people should be appointed into its Governing Board and provides for broad representation across the nine constituent states, yet, the president who is sworn to defend and uphold the law, has committed the illegality of unilaterally suspending the law for an interim arrangement that is not responsible to anyone but the Minister of the Niger Delta who imposed it on the NDDC, obviously for his own agenda. The Senate probe uncovered fraud, financial recklessness and mismanagement by the IMC running into billions of naira. Based on that indictment, the Senate in a resolution of the whole house on July 23, 2020, passed a resolution calling for the recovery of billions of naira stolen and mismanaged by the IMC and asked President Buhari to dissolve the committee and put in place the Governing Board in line with the NDDC Act, among other resolutions. Records from the probe and the NDDC account with the Central Bank of Nigeria show that in the last one year the IMC has spent over N100 billion without appropriation by the National Assembly on frivolous items.
In spite of the detailed 121-page Senate report and resolution, and petitions by whistleblowers alleging more fraudulent infractions by the members of the IMC, the president refused to address the IMC corruption for several months. Rather, he has imposed one of their own as interim sole administrator. While many find this a betrayal of the people’s trust and a negation of Buhari’s commitment to good government, one is tempted to agree with other comrades in the Niger Delta who see a pattern of scorn and derision of the Niger Delta people despite our contribution to the national economy and our grave state of underdevelopment. Those who hold this view point to the president’s overarching interest in promoting and strengthening the North East Development Commission which is operating with a proper Governing Board in line with its establishment act.
President Buhari has continued to enjoy the peace and cooperation of the Niger Delta people; our minimum demand is that he should not continue to be a willing tool in the hands of fraudulent characters who have soiled their hands and are manipulating the NDDC for their selfish ends. The president should revert to established norms of good governance and follow the law establishing the NDDC both in its management and funding. He should as a matter of urgency inaugurate a Governing Board for the NDDC. The patience of the Niger Delta people is wearing thin. Mr President should do the lawful thing now by complying with the provisions of the NDDC Act and inaugurate the Board to represent the constituent states in line with the law.