Chief Izzi Yakiah is the leader of Niger Delta Activists and Excellent Leadership Foundation, a non-governmental origination. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he speaks on the controversy surrounding activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Federal Government’s ordered forensic audit of the commission. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) since its inception?
My group has gone round the nine states that make up Niger Delta; we have done an on the spot assessment and tour of NDDC projects across the states and we found out that there is nothing to show in the last 23 years. It was only recently, when Prof. Kene Pondei came on board with the forensic audit as his major terms of reference most of the contractors have ran back to site because of the fear that the audit will indict them and most of them are likely to go to jail.
Who do we hold responsible for the inefficiencies of the past?
At this point, we are not going to cry over spilled milk but what is more critical now is the forensic audit that has been set to audit that commission from when it was set up till date, which is holistic enough. What the National Assembly is saying is that they want to audit the Interim Management Committee that has just stayed for less than six months, whereas the President is talking about 23 years audit, which is better, But because of the criminality and fraud committed by the Senate Committee on NDDC, they want to distract us.
What do you have to say concerning the activities of the Acting Managing Director of the commission, Prof. Keme Pondei and the issue of forensic audit ordered by the President as it concerns the National Assembly Committee on NDDC?
Basically the issues of the NDDC in the last six months since the coming on board of the current Pondei-led Interim Management Committee appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari has been much focused. The leadership has been much focused, resourceful and has a lot of investment components, except recently, when the National Assembly Committee on the NDDC tried to distract the focus of the interim management committee. Prof. Pondei is a much focused personality. He is very conversant with the mandate of his committee.
Also, having looked inwards to the predicament and plight of the Niger Delta people and the fact that NDDC in the past has been turned into a cash cow as politicians, National Assembly members, senators, particularly those in the Senate Committee on NDDC have fed fat from its budget. Budgets were padded astronomically which has resulted in the forensic audit ordered by the president.
How is the Senate’s role affecting the focus of the audit and activities of the Interim Management Committee?
You don’t need to be told that the Interim Management Committee has a task to ensure that the forensic audit ordered by the President is concluded to the latter. So, anything anyone is doing now to probe the committe is wrong. Don’t forget that some of those in the Senate Committee got a contract of N3.6 billion through eleven companies in the last two years and their projects are involved in the forensic audit. If they are indicted, we will call on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to try them first. If they are exonerated, they can come back and probe the NDDC IMC. The committee is ready to be probed, but let us first of all respect the presidential order of forensic. It is going to distract the IMC to a large extent. The forensic audit is going to end in the next six months. That will be December, so there after you can do your probe. You cannot get contracts from a commission and when they want to investigate you through a forensic audit, you say no.
Are you indicting the committee?
They have long been indicted by their activities. Am I the one that indicted them; somebody that collected a job of N3.6 billion and has not been able to do it?
What about the 500 jobs?
Have you not heard about budget padding? Who does budget padding. It is the senators that do budget padding. Those 500 projects were inserted into the budget of 2019 and the audit has been exposing those things. So the senators are now afraid.
After the probe what next?
The border line is the foundation; the President decided to set up a forensic audit to clean up the mess of the last 23 years. When that is done, he will now set up a new management board that will inherit a fresh environment. So, the President is laying a good foundation.
Are you saying that after the audit, setting up a fresh management team is the solution?
After the audit, setting up a new management team to be chaired by Prof. Pondei and which will be able to start on a clean slate before any other thing can happen there, would be a god idea.
Why do think that the senators are interested in NDDC as against the North East Development Commission (NEDC)?
That goes to tell you that the Niger Delta has not realized the fact that oil was discovered in a large quantity in town called Oloibiri in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State over sixty years ago and that this nation has been feeding from the resources of oil exploited from that region.
What is your advice to the National Assembly members, especially those that are directly involved in this forensic audit project?
The National Assembly should stay focused. I’m not telling them not to do their probe or try to do their oversight function, but there should not be any clash of interest. The presidential audit should be concluded first, thereafter, the Senate can do its oversight function of probing the NDDC Interim Management Committee. I’m not saying they shouldn’t probe them but allow the committee to do a holistic forensic audit. The audit is not going to be conducted by Pondei, it is being conducted by an audit company whose responsibility it is to check these things and know where the problem is coming from.
The NDDC has been there but there was nothing to show. There is poverty all around the Niger Delta states; there is underdevelopment; people are living below poverty line; there is no safe drinking water; people defecate in the open; people are not even sure of the next meal whereas there is an intervention agency whose duty it is to take care of the people.