It was out of desire, commitment and mounted pressure by interested agitators and some policymakers in government that facilitated the establishment of several federal government commissions, agencies, river basins and other intervention agencies to benefit targeted communities and the generality of the people.
Despite that commendable effort, most of those established organizations are now epicentres of unabated corrupt practices and stealing under different guises. For instance, as part of its ‘contribution’ at the heat of the Corona Virus Pandemic to benefiting states, the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) under the management of Mohammed Goni Alkali procured and distributed ambulances to help in the ferrying of Covid-19 patients to isolation centres that was not a priority. Although it was a commendable gesture so to say, but the region needs better developmental initiatives than the mere distribution of ambulances that are beneficial to only a minute opportunists which exposed the mindset of those presiding over the affairs of the commission. Water is gold in most rural areas within the North-East, fertilizers are beyond the reach of the ordinary farmers, health facilities are absent in virtually all the rural areas of the targeted states and other serious issues that should deserve the attention of the commission with uttermost concern than the donation of ambulances that cost a fortune and saves no life.
In a petition against the management of NEDC that went viral by a group called Coalition of New Nigeria Transparency and Anti-Corruption ((CNNTAC), the group alleged that the managing director of NEDC, Mohammed Goni Alkali manages the affairs of the commission and award of contracts running into billions without due process and the rule of law in his dictatorial tendency.
“The minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management, Sadiya Umar Farouk allegedly had N5billion deal with Alkali for the purchase of vehicles for the military which is not within the mandate of the commission but an exercise meant to steal public funds under the guise of supply of vehicles to the military.
“Mohammed Goni Alkali had squandered over N5billion on claimed Covid-19 supplies without the approval of the NEDC Board that should be further investigated before the commission is grounded to a halt through fictitious purchases and distribution of palliatives”.
It could be recalled that NEDC was the brainchild of the 8th Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara (Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa) federal constituency of Bauchi State who laboured through legislation for the Bill to establish the Commission scaled through and it was finally established in 2017 and charged with the responsibility of coordinating funds accruing from the federation account and donor agencies for the purpose of REHABILITATING and RESETTLING victims of insurgency, reconstruction of destroyed homes and infrastructural development, tackling poverty and illiteracy within the six benefiting states of the sub-region. The Board of the Commission was inaugurated by President Buhari on May 8, 2019, which is virtually one year old without its impact felt in the catchment states that deserves further scrutiny and possible probe to disconnect suspected thieves from butchering resources budgeted for the comfort of unfortunate victims of insurgency. What has NEDC got to do with the supply of vehicles to the military? Is that gesture within its mandate or it was tailored to hiding a scam?
Another corruption zone that deserves discreet investigation is NIRSAL. A cursory look at the activities of NIRSAL will expose how blood relations and children of the managing director, Aliyu Abdul Hameed are feasting on the resources of the organization unabated as the main contractors to the organization while the spokesperson of the organization that is suspected to be a beneficiary of the scam struggles to defend falsehood without convincing facts but for vested interest. In 2019, this writer submitted a petition to the office of the managing director for balancing in accordance with the ethics of the journalism profession. The reply to the facts raised and mailed by the image-maker of the organization Miss Ann had exposed her incapacitation and confirmed the mess going on in NIRSAL which she could not defend with facts.
What NIRSAL yearns for is forensic auditing of its financial books independent of the Central Bank to expose hidden scandals that are retarding progress. The CBN Governor seems to have provided a shield to the failing managing director of NIRSAL probably for a hidden agenda just as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is alleged to be the godfather of several directors-generals of federal government-owned establishments that corruption thrives while few of those executives have emptied the treasuries of their establishments and channelled part of the stolen fund to a lobbying exercise for renewal of their mandate against the progress of the establishments. It was discovered that some director-general of federal government-owned establishments, apart from lubricating the palms of their godfathers with stolen funds, also misuse religion to achieve their evil intentions against the progress of their establishments.
Another epicentre of corruption is the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) where the now suspended management of the Fund awarded 332 contracts worth about N4.448billion in one single day which is beyond human imagination. That management deserves not to be probed but to be directly posted to their ancestors for the perfection of corrupt practices and stealing if it exists where ever they may be.
In his effort to salvage the situation, Labor and Productivity Minister, Sen. Chris Ngige, had to breach the circular from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) on the suspension of the kleptomaniacs of NSITF. The allegation of providing protection and renewal of the tenure of directors-general of federal government-owned establishments to selected public officials by the SGF was further exposed by the action of Sen. Ngige.
Sen. Ngige further listed some of the infractions the suspended management of NSITF committed that include; extra-budgetary spending, making payment for unapproved expenditure, overspending on administrative issues, irregular direct payment from the Employees Compensation Act, irregularities in workers group assurances policy and making payment for assurance policy without policy cover.
Ngige also said there was non- payment of taxes to states, leading to the closure of the Fund’s offices in Port Harcourt and Owerri, having different figures on the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) voucher and PAYE mandate, engaging solicitors without approval from the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and making payment of N33million to the solicitors, also without approval of the AGF.
Also to perfect their lust for ostentatious living through stealing, the NSITF management paid about N180million to hired solicitors for a mild case involving a former employee who was supposed to be paid N60million.
The honourable minister had also alleged that the suspended management of NSITF approved for themselves N9.8million as Leave Grant and overseas holiday for 30 days, flying first-class against the directive of Mr. President.
He also accused the suspended management of irregular payment of salaries to themselves outside their condition of service.
Another instance worth commenting on is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which has exposed the ongoing sharp corrupt practices in most of those bodies. NDDC has today been asphyxiated. It is fast running out of oxygen and may recuperate at the intensive care unit, courtesy of President Buhari. It has all along been on the noxious gas of corruption; its mandate outlived, hanged and outpaced by fraud and mind-boggling moral and financial depravity. The commission is a convincing argument against mushrooming of regional commissions which end up becoming Automated Teller Machines (ATM) of a few rogues and criminals trusted with leadership that armed robbers and kidnappers are far more sympathetic than them.
NDDC Interim Management Committee squandered a whooping sum ofN81.5billion as sundry expenses that include graduation ceremonies in the United Kingdom during the imposed total lockdown. How those thieves were able to attend the claimed graduation remains to be proved
Squandered N3.14billion for Covid-19 palliative to members of staff
Squandered N1.3billion on claimed community relations
Squandered N85.6billion for claimed travels at the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic- February – May 2020
Squandered N122.9million on condolences from February – May 2020
Squandered N23.8million on consultancy
Squandered N2.6billion on medical services
Squandered N790.9 on imprest
Squandered N1.9billion on Lassa fever
Squandered N706million on legal services
Squandered N1.121billion on public communication
All the above-stated expenses had nothing to do with the core mandate of the commission to the impoverished people of the Niger Delta that provide what supports the survival of Nigeria.
What is oozing out of NDDC is a big whale feast- with the indiscriminate and soulless butchering of the commission’s buoyant treasury that has been the practice for several years unabated. Nigerians in the Niger Delta region demanded and pushed for development, but they were sectioned to endure pauperization and the purloining of their patrimony. They yearned for sincere and committed guardians of the public till, but they were instead handed thieves of the commonwealth. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei and his Interim Management Committee had feasted on the resources budgeted for the development of Niger Delta. The criminal collapsed before the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee probing the NDDC he wanted to murder through stealing. He proved to be a juvenile financial bandit that lacked the shock observers of his criminal actions.
The NDDC was established in 2000 in response to the agitation of the Niger Delta region for its backward development. But despite the huge chest of resources allocated to the established commission over the years, it has failed prodigiously to usher the barest minimum of any development within the region.
NDDC with an annual budget of about N300billion, it has nourished the flatulent entrails of the behemoth of sleaze while the expected benefitting region atrophied. There is perhaps no agency of the federal government that has remained so unaccountable and opaque with its operations like this commission.
The commission is the proverbial “regional cake” were politically exposed persons from the region and their counterparts ogle to take a slice.
The Niger Delta region is one of the most disadvantaged regions in the country today in terms of human, infrastructural and material development. Less than 25 percent of the natives have access to clean water, good roads etc. Abject poverty and restiveness bloom in the rural areas and in the creeks which are marooned from any form of modernity. The region plods away in illiteracy and disease as basic sanitary systems, schools and health care facilities are only a dream.
This is a region that is the breadwinning spouse of Nigeria. Ninety percent of the country’s revenue earning comes from the region. Between 1965 – 2000 before NDDC was established, Nigeria earned over $350billion from crude oil according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) report.
Also, an audit report by Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in 2018 shows that Nigeria earned as much as $677.9billion in 18 years, between 1999 and 2016, from the sale of crude oil alone. But why is Nigeria’s goose that lays the golden egg so hungry, underdeveloped, raped and tortured by criminally-minded rogues and members of their syndicate hobnobbing in other climes? Are Niger Deltans cowards to have tolerated those rogues over the years without negative reactions?
There is no doubt that Niger Delta is a victim of its thieving elite who appropriates and expropriate resources budgeted for the good of the people to themselves. The region must, as a matter of urgency, rejig and nozzle its agitation to the enemies within and without.
Disturbed by several unpleasant reports on NDDC operations, in 2019, President Buhari ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the commission from 2001 – 2019. He said the current fortunes of the Niger Delta region do not justify the huge resources funnelled into the NDDC. The President was damn right. We hope the same forensic audit directive will be carried out in all ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government.
Really, the president’s decision to audit NDDC is an intrepid quest. But one is sceptical about the outcome of the adventure. The reason is simple. The current management of NDDC overseeing the audit has been alleged to be flunkeys of Godswill Akpabio, the ‘powerful’ minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, who himself has been accused of complicity in the contract scams. President Buhari should hasten do away with Akpabio and the management of NDDC at this stage of the auditing.
The allegations of Joy Nunieh, former acting managing director of the embattled NDDC against Akpabio are thick enough and cannot be simply discounted. In as much as the audit process is already tainted, I believe it should be done still. But I strongly believe we need to reconsider the purpose of establishing the NDDC. It has woefully failed to achieve what it was established to accomplish right before the watch of those governors elected in the region for the purpose of improving the living standards of the people.
If the federal government fails to rescue Niger Delta from the gummy hands of those criminals, should we as a nation continue feeding the beasts while the targeted beneficiaries languish in poverty and squalor?
Getting to know the root of the stealing will pave way for considerable solutions to the menace of mismanagement of public funds. The problem of transparency and accountability is not limited to the NDDC alone. It cuts across all public institutions.
A few weeks ago, the suspended acting chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Mustapha Magu was quizzed by the presidential panel for more than 10 days over allegations of gross misappropriation of funds and insubordination. The weight of the allegations led to his suspension. The same game played out last year at National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). It was the allegation of mismanagement of public funds that led to the suspension of Dr. Usman Yusuf, the then chief executive of the scheme.
To address those wrongs that have consumed badly the institutions, the government must work with other concerned authorities to speedily diagnose what had gone wrong and what needs to be done to drive back the institutions to their original mandates and discharge their duties diligently in making life better for the people.
In a statement by the spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan, the main opposition party accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of seeking to frustrate the ongoing probes in government agencies.
PDP noted that APC’s attack on PDP’s insistence on the prosecution of APC leaders indicted in the NDDC probe, further betrayed the ruling party’s desperation to shield the corrupt leaders and officeholders implicated in the probe.
The party also said attempts by the APC to accuse the PDP of complicity in the slumping of the acting NDDC managing director, Daniel Pondei at a public hearing at the House of Representatives apparently under the weight and shame of the massive corruption in APC administration further exposed APC’s misery.
Reacting to the press statement, APC deputy national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena said: “We are not oblivious of PDP’s rehearsed, repeated and unintelligent statements on the ongoing probes of corruption allegations in the polity.
“The position of APC is unchanged. Clearly, President Muhammadu Buhari –led administration’s fight against corruption is total, unsparing and there are no sacred cows”
The unfolding dramas around corruption, looting and mismanagement of public funds within NDDC, NSITF, NEDC and other institutions are raising eyebrows and may be partly responsible for the rise in security challenges and other criminal activities such as cybercrime, armed robbery etc in our Nigeria of today. Public servants and public office holders are the architects of corrupt practices and stealing of public funds.
The only option at the disposal of Nigeria to stamp out corrupt practices and stealing of public funds is the introduction of the Death Penalty by firing squad to convicted criminals no matter how highly placed.
Muhammad is a commentator on national affairs