Civil society groups and concerned individuals on Thursday hailed President Muhammadu Buhari for directing that a forensic audit be conducted on the operations, programmes and activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
A development economist, Jeffrey Emerson, the executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwwal Rafsanjani, and the president of Ijaw Diaspora Coalition, Johnson Ebibai, all said the directive was a step in the right direction.
“This is a good development, now that the President has finally responded to the concern by civil society and the demand for him to take action to stop the monumental corruption and outright stealing and diversion of public funds in these agencies meant to help the people and communities in the region,” Mr Rafsanjani said on Friday.
“Our hope is that this will not just stop at the audit. We want to see government implementing fully the findings and the report. Nigeria has lost a lot of money in the NDDC. The Niger Delta people have been crying that they have not seen any impact of the resources given to the Commission on their lives,” he said.
The NDDC, he said, has since been turned into a reward for politicians, adding that the main reason the agency was established was to help in dealing with so many issues that underlined the crisis in the communities.
He said despite community complaints and the clamour by the civil society groups for transparency and openness in the use of the resources allocated to the NDDC, nothing has always been done.
The audit, he said will now give the president the opportunity to reposition and restructure the Commission to deliver more value to the people.
On Thursday, President Buhari gave the directive for a forensic audit of NDDC operations during a closed-door meeting with the governors of the nine oil producing states in the Niger Delta.
The governor include those of Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo, Abia, Imo and Ondo States.
The president told the governors that what is currently on ground in the Niger Delta region does not justify the huge resources successive governments have made available to the Commission for the development of the region.
“The Federal Government is disappointed with the current state of operations at the NDDC, vis-à-vis the volume of funds that have been pumped into the interventionist agency,” presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina in a statement quoted the president as telling the governors during the meeting.
“With the amount of money the Federal Government has religiously allocated to the NDDC, we will like to see the results on the ground.
“Those responsible for that have to explain certain issues. The projects said to have been done must be verifiable.
“You just cannot say you spent so much billions and when the place is visited, one cannot see the structures that have been done. The consultants must also prove that they are competent,” the President said.
A Port Harcourt based Development Economist, Mr Emerson, who has written extensively on Niger Delta issues, described the decision on the audit as bold and commendable
He, however, urged the president to quickly put in order the new Board for the Commission appointed last August to enable them take charge of the supervision of the audit process.
Mr Emerson was of the view that since members of the new Board have never been part of the NDDC in the past, and may be easily influenced in their decisions, they will be in a better position to help supervise the audit process effectively.
“It’s a very laudable and encouraging move. Stakeholders like us are elated. But in carrying out the audit, it has to be supervised by the new Board, which has never been part of the rot in the past.
“You don’t expect the acting Managing Director, or bureaucrats who have been part of the rot in the past to supervise that audit and expect anything reasonable at the end,” Mr Emerson said.
Also, reacting, the president of Ijaw Diaspora Coalition, Johnson Ebibai, said media reports accused the current interim management at the Commission of planning to secretly interview and recruit over 300 new staff members without a Board approval.
Mr Ebibai said for the plan for such massive recruitment exercise to be undertaken without due process shows the kind of things that have been taking place in the intervention agency.
He said it only took the outcry of well-meaning individuals and interest groups in the Niger Delta region to halt the controversial recruitment exercise.
“In my view, this (the interim management) is not the leadership that should be entrusted with this level of activity to unravel what has happened in the past which involves them,” Mr Ebibai said.
Barely last week, civils society groups under the aegis of the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC) met in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capita to review the impact of the government intervention in the Niger Delta region.
At the end of the one-day dialogue, participants resolved that the government, through the NDDC, failed to implement programmes to adequately transfer benefits to the host communities in the region.
The meeting called for the implement the Niger Delta Regional Development Plan to ensure a holistic development of the region, in terms of infrastructure and facilities.
Participants also asked government to leverage on technology to increase transparency in the processes and systems of funds disbursed to the NDDC, states and local governments.