On May 5, 2020, the Senate resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the alleged N40 billion financial recklessness, purportedly committed by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), an interventionist agency set up specially for the development of the Niger Delta region.
The report of the probe which was submitted about a week ago made some startling revelations and arrived at some far reaching conclusions.
In adopting the report of the probe, the Senate called on President Muhammadu Buhari to disband the IMC of the NDDC, for allegedly running foul of the law and being culpable in the alleged massive corruption. The Senate also asked the IMC to refund the sum of N4.923 billion being payment allegedly made to staff and contractors in breach of the procurement processes.
The red chamber has also recommended that the commission should revert to the earlier practice, where the agency reports directly to the President rather than to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
The Senate expressed worry that the commission had been operating without a budget and recommended that the NDDC Management must henceforth promote the use of its annual budget as the principal instrument and authorization for all its expenditures.
The report said that the commission has been carrying out its operations without following due process and spent any and every cash at its disposal without recourse to its budget.
The Senate acknowledged the indictment of some of its members and directed its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, to investigate the allegations by the NDDC that members of the National Assembly were awarded most of the contentious contracts.
The decision to conduct an internal investigation followed direct accusation by the IMC that Chairmen of the National Assembly Committees on NDDC, had been part and parcel of the mindless looting of the resources of the NDDC over the years. It was alleged that between 2016 and 2019, about 1,000 questionable contracts worth over N2 trillion were awarded by the NDDC with the active connivance of the Chairmen of the Committees on NDDC at the two chambers of the National Assembly.
It also emerged that these contracts were obtained enbloc by these chairmen on the understanding that the largesse will go round to other parliamentarians.
Of course, we did not expect the members of the National Assembly to take this lying low. In the course of the initial probe, the National Assembly had demanded that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswil Akpabio must prove this allegation by submitting a list of the lawmakers involved in the scam within forty eight hours or be dragged to a court of law.
We have observed that the NDDC and its managers have been in the eye of storm for a record three months.
The situation was compounded after Senate and the House of Representatives resolved to commence a separate investigations into the same allegations of financial recklessness at the organization. Since that two chambers adopted that approach neither the lawmakers nor the managers of NDDC has slept with their two eyes closed.
Obviously, these double-barrelled attacks infuriated not only the interim leadership of the NDDC but also the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, who created the interim board ostensibly to clear the perceived mess at the agency.
The instant result was the fireworks that saw each party trading accusations and counter-accusations even ahead of the legislative inquisitions. While the lawmakers in both chambers were fuming and charging at the IMC with the audacity of an impartial judge, it appears that the IMC entered the ring with a do or die mentality and delivered an upper-cut punch that left the accusers wishing they did not start the war.
It is interesting that this naming and shaming of some lawmakers has triggered another round of controversies with these powerful individual denying complicity and threatening to seek legal redress.
From the beginning of the drama till the curtain fell, Nigerians were treated to a hilarious but absurd drama in which the principal actors displayed their uncommon talents in the art of subterfuge. The theatrical prowess exhibited in this melodrama showed that they all understood the script, learnt their roles very well, knowing when to deliver the sucker punches and when to faint in order to bring a tension soaked scene to a close.
Smarting from the bruises sustained in the fight, the two chambers of the parliament have ended up ordering fresh probes on themselves having realised that members of the National Assembly were as guilty as those they set out to probe.
The basic lesson for all persons in public offices whether as lawmakers or as bureaucrats at the NDDC is that it is a public trust which must not be abused for whatever reasons. As the Senate noted in its report, it is difficult to find a correlation between the huge cash invested in the NDDC and the level of development in the Niger Delta region.
It is now very obvious that both the managers of NDDC and members of the National Assembly who oversights must change their ways. No matter the denials by our parliamentarians, it is clear to even the blind that they have, in connivance with some fat cats in NDDC, been wheeling and dealing with the funds budgeted for the NDDC.
Lawmakers should stop hiding under the guise of representing their constituencies to meddle in the nomination, award and execution of NDDC contracts. It is deception of the highest order for lawmakers to claim that they do not know why there are so many over-invoiced and abandoned contracts in the NDDC.
It is an open secret that lawmakers influence the award of these contract to their cronies and companies in which they have interests. Why should these contractors bother to execute the contracts when they work for powerful people who could compel the NDDC to pay for jobs even if the said jobs are not executed.
This is not a joke. Our lawmakers are that powerful because they have the constitutional powers of appropriation and oversight and given the brand of democracy we practice, those whom they oversight can only ignore them at their own peril.
But if NDDC must deliver on its mandate, we must allow it to run a development agency stricto sensu. It must do away with overbloated bureaucracy and retain only a handful of competent hands who share the vision of transforming the region.
Let the NDDC master plan be brought down from shelf and reviewed with specific projects for every village across the nine states of the Niger Delta. Instead of relying on lawmakers to nominate projects and dictate which of them should be executed, let the Federal Government in collaboration with the governments of the nine oil bearing states nominate a consortium of reputable world class infrastructure development companies to undertake the long awaited development of basic infrastructure in the Niger Delta.
We have had enough of politics and contract scams in NDDC in the last 20 years. We must begin to get serious with the development of that region before it is too late.