Pro-Niger Delta civic groups and communities have indicted the Legislative arm of the Nigerian government on the alleged massive fraud in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
They are therefore calling for the NDDC Act to be restructured via an amendment, to better define the mandate of the Commission and importantly, imbibe and stipulate penalties for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act.
‘’The National Assembly has failed in its oversight function of conducting regular assessment of the work of the Commission, to prevent the monumental infractions which have occurred already’’, they said.
Continuing, they claimed that there are no internal or external controls in place to effectively monitor the operations of NDDC and checkmate ‘’the unlawful diversion of funds, contract frauds and other corrupt practices being perpetrated in the Commission.’’
These are part of far-reaching recommendation representatives of civil society organisations and communities within and outside the oil and gas region made in a communiqué to President Muhammadu Buhari.
In the light of recent events at the NDDC, and similarly, past antecedents of unprecedented and monumental corruption manifesting in extensive contract frauds, procurement law infractions, non-budgetary and extra-budgetary spending, audit violations, cronyism, fiscal recklessness and flagrant disregard to procedural rules, the concerned groups, held a virtual meeting on Friday to deliberate on a way forward in the interest of the peoples of the region.
The meeting was convened by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) in partnership with the African Centre for Media, Information and Literacy (AFRICMIL), and with support from the MacArthur Foundation.
Having deliberated over the financial mismanagement of NDDC and the lapses observed in the legal framework, composition and operations of the Commission, they observed that NDDC has become a cesspool of corruption for which many of its past and present leaders have not only been complicit in, but have been indicted (in both past and present probes and investigations), but were never prosecuted in a court of law, nor made to refund misappropriated funds.
According to them, the decision of the Federal Government to initiate a forensic audit of NDDC was borne out of the allegations of financial malpractices levelled against key officers and stakeholders in the Commission, is so far, commendable.
‘’Most of the projects implemented by the NDDC in the Niger Delta are not as desired by the concerned communities, are of substandard quality and do not stand the test of time. (Indeed, it is on record that NDDC projects are denoted as ‘Disposable Projects’.)
‘’ The Niger Delta Development Master-Plan has been largely abandoned by the NDDC. Communities within the Niger Delta do not have open communication channels with the management of the NDDC nor effective participation in it that would enable meaningful engagements on the developmental needs of the respective communities’’, they said.
In the light of the foregoing and after exhaustive examinations and discussions on the issues outlined, the meeting accordingly resolved that NDDC should be totally overhauled, disbanding the leadership architecture of the NDDC. This is in order to reposition the Commission for efficiency and results, which it was set up to achieve.
‘’A new board and a new crop of principal managers should be appointed and empowered to operate an open-door policy, for the purpose of promoting transparency and public accountability in all affairs of the Commission.
‘’A Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) template be adopted by the Commission, to promote a public-private partnership approach to community engagement involving participatory development processes to address community needs in the Niger Delta.
‘’Community engagement in designing projects and monitoring the execution of the projects is crucial and should be made mandatory.
‘’The government should bridge the communication gap between NDDC and the communities in the Niger Delta region, through the establishment of a Community Development Foundation.
‘’An independent audit team be instituted. This is crucial to have an accurate, unbiased audit report on the financial activities of the Commission. The audit exercise needs to be independent and conclusive, and should also importantly, be a regular exercise in the Commission, going forward, and of which reports should be made publicly available.
‘’The Federal Government should set up a multi-stakeholder partnership which will include a team of civil society organisations and individuals with a proven track record for integrity, to constantly monitor the activities of NDDC, including close monitoring of the independent audit exercise, and issue regular reports.
‘’The challenge of under-development in the Niger Delta region, be regarded as a national problem; consequently, that a National Day of Action, to stimulate more discourse on the challenges bedevilling the Niger Delta region and proffer lasting solutions to the problems, be declared.
‘’The anti-graft agencies should be expressly mandated to monitor the financial and procurement activities of the NDDC and promptly act when infractions and illegalities are suspected and committed’’, their communiqué says.
Signatories to the document are: Chido Onumah of AFRICMIL, and a co-convener; Jaye Gaskia, Take Back Nigeria Movement; Ken Henshaw, Centre for Social Studies and Development (We The People); Constance Meju, Centre for Media, Environment And Development Communication (CMEDC); Dr. Harry Udoh, Akwa Ibom State Civil Society Organisation; Omobude Agho and Osazee Edigin, Edo State Civil Society Organisations (EDOCSO).
Others are Henry Eferegbo, Emohua Community, Rivers State; Torki Dauseye, Bayelsa State Non-Governmental Organisations Forum (BANGOF); Sebastian Kpalap and Rita Kigbara, Ogoni Community, Rivers State; Tijah Bolton, Policy Alert, Uyo. Akwa Ibom State; Peter Mazzi, Green Isaac, and Prince Ekpere Anti-Corruption Network, Rivers State; Obene Prince, Obio-Akpor, Rivers State; and Faith Osuoka, Engenni, Bayelsa State
Convener of the meeting was Vivian Bellonwu-Okafor of Social Action with Nkechi Ugwu, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL); Uzoma Kelechi, Gender and Development Action (GDA); Princess Umoh, Anti-Corruption Network, Akwa Ibom State; and Isaac Botti, Socialist Workers and Youth League also in attendance.