hen President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a forensic audit on the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), he was responding to the persistent criticisms that the organisation had been a cesspool of corruption.
There has been a general perception that the corruption in the system has been largely responsible for the poor performance of the interventionist agency and the gross under-development of the oil-rich region.
How do we justify the huge resources that has been invested in the NDDC in the past 20 years when a visit to any of the nine member states of the commission would reveal that there is really nothing tangible to show for it?
The forensic audit was to examine the account books of the NDDC to track the funds that had gone in there and ascertain if there had been commensurate development outcomes.
In that light, one had expected that all stakeholders in the NDDC should have embraced the exercise to cleanse the Aegean stable and set the institution on the path of progress.
However, the proposed forensic audit has sparked off a war between the National Assembly and the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC, and by extension the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
This battle has raged on for nearly six months with the warring parties deploying every available weapon at their disposal to attack their opponents.
The first salvo was fired by the Senate when it accused the IMC of frittering away a whooping N40 billion on questionable items within the first three months of its operation.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly promptly directed its Committee on Niger Delta to probe into the allegations with a view to exposing those behind it.
In response, the IMC has resisted the probe launched against it and instead raised a counter accusation that the lawmakers were demanding payment of N6.4 billion for 132 contracts that were not done. They also claimed that the N40 billion probe was a ploy to distract the IMC and scuttle the forensic audit.
The stage even got messier with the allegation of award of contracts worth N500 million to a serving minister without the jobs being executed and a counter accusation that a lawmaker also used 11 companies to obtain contracts worth N3.2 billion without also executing those contracts.
It is very sad that these allegations, flying from every direction, are coming from key stakeholders in the Niger Delta region. We think that the accusations are too weighty to be ignored by anyone who means well for the people of the Niger Delta.
The resources in question were meant to develop the region which had suffered neglect and environmental degradation as a result of decades of oil exploration and exploitation. Unfortunately, the people in these oil bearing communities are still living in squalor and abject poverty while their resources have developed wings.
Apart from the fact that each party appears to be throwing deadly punches, they seem to have some form of documentary evidence to back up their claims against each other. They are all going for the broke and appear mutually ready to destroy themselves in their fight for the soul of the interventionist agency.
We believe the National Assembly has the constitutional rights to perform legislative oversight on the NDDC and expose corruption wherever and whenever they may find it. But we must also remind our dear parliamentarians from both chambers of the National Assembly that if contract scams and underperformance have been the order of the day at the NDDC for some years now, it simply points to a failure of the legislature in its oversight responsibilities.
The NDDC is 20 years old and for that length of time we have had standing committees from both the Senate and House of Representatives exercising their oversight responsibilities on the commission. The question then is: How come that corruption at the commission has been an open secret and none of the committees has been able to spot it until now?
It appears that all along, there has been a cosy incestuous relationship between the NDDC and the National Assembly. It does seem that the commission, like a teenage girl, has been violently gang-raped by those who ought to protect her.
Under the current scenario, we cannot but appeal to all the parties to sheath their swords and allow the due process of investigation of these allegations to take place.
We urge the National Assembly to back off from their probe for now and allow the forensic audit of the NDDC to commence in earnest. They should allow reason to prevail by submitting a memoranda to the forensic auditors on the N40 billion which they claim the IMC had misappropriated.
As it is now, everyone is under probe and no suspect should be allowed to harass another suspect.
In the post-audit period, we urge the member-states of the NDDC to insist that the commission is run purely as a development institution and not a tool in the hands of politicians. Our politicians have feasted on the NDDC for two decades and delivered nothing to the people of the Niger Delta.
The NDDC must be compelled to return to its master plan which was developed by GTZ, the German development agency, at great cost. The abandonment of that master plan after it was produced is akin to a sailor abandoning his compass and leaving the voyage at the mercy of the wind.