How Reps will reposition NDDC —Tunji-Ojo
In this interview by Senior Deputy Editor, JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Honourable Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, speaks on the huge debt profile of the commission, among other issues.
MINISTER of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, recently raised the alarm over the debt profile of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which he put at the region of over N2 trillion. What is the House of Representatives going to do to ensure that the motive behind the setting up of the commission is not defeated?
Well, I am not alarmed. Yes I am aware that the commission owes a lot, though I may not know the actual amount of the debts but obviously, it is what the House Committee on the NDDC is seriously concerned about. We are going to have real auditing to get value for money and an update when the House resumes from the break. We will have to monitor the projects; we will have to look at everything that they have spent money on over the last 18 years or more for us to know whether some of the debts are justifiable or not, or they are just debts on paper.
Also, we will look at the budgeting process of the commission because in the budgeting system, if you are owing, there should be provisions for how to pay such debts; it may not be at once as they may not have N2 trillion budget in a year. But over a certain period of time, they have to put into consideration how to offset some of the debts after audit has been done. So, the House Committee on the NDDC will go through all the projects, in line with our oversight functions and look at the payments that have been made and value of jobs that have been done and be able to come up with a true preposition. From there, we can strategise and see how we can take this liability off some of the contractors and return the NDDC back to the path of normalcy, professionalism and then collaborate with the commission to take the Niger Delta Region to the next level, in line with the direction of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The commission was set up to address some issues which are critical to the development of the Niger Delta. Up till now, some states in that region lack motorable roads and other social amenities, in spite of the billions of naira budgeted for the commission to carry out its mandate over the years. As the chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, how do you plan to correct these anomalies?
Honestly, the National Assembly is the principal and the core key stakeholder in the Niger Delta region. When you look at the NDDC Act, there is a lot of power assigned to the National Assembly for optimal performance. The National Assembly approves the commission’s projects and budget appropriation; it performs oversight functions on the commission and it also submits its proposal to the National Assembly. That is why I said earlier that once we resume, we want to do a thorough investigation; there is going to be a public hearing; we are going to do a thorough project audit, thorough assessment across the nine states and we want to sit down with the NDDC management and be able to privatise core legacy projects that will touch the life of an average Niger Deltan and make sure money is well spent on projects that have direct bearing on the day-to-day plight of the people. So, the ninth National Assembly is the one that will not do business as usual. This particular National Assembly and most especially, the committee on the NDDC that I am the chairman, will do everything humanly possible to make sure that the people get value for projects that have been awarded by the NDDC and ensure that anybody that has taken money, abandoned projects and not deliver, we will get to the root of it; everybody involved will be brought to book definitely. People must be made accountable and the House will not shy away from doing such. Going forward, budgeting now will be made on the need assessment of the people and we know we will perform and do well for the people.
Some contractors alleged that they are being owed by the NDDC for several years and that some selected payments were made without their knowledge. What is your take on this?
I don’t know how much they owed but I know that the resources of the NDDC are limited. So, automatically, what it means is that it cannot pay everybody at once. We will look at all the debts as being claimed; we will look at the contracts; do on-the-spot assessment; we will do value-for-money audit as I said earlier and ensure that we first of all get a clean list of contractors being owed and the total amount involved. Then, if we need to have a public hearing, we will have it and then get a stakeholders’ meeting so as to be able to strategise and get a way of sorting things out. I believe that we will collaborate to find solutions to some of the problems.
The people of the area are looking up to the ninth National Assembly to restore normalcy. What will be your words of assurance to them?
First, I want to appreciate them for their patience; the people of the Niger Delta have really been very patient. I also want appeal to them to continue to be patient and that the government is doing everything possible to put an end to their suffering over the years and to bring smile to their faces. We are doing a lot to make sure that this particular administration takes the Niger Delta to the next level and we will ensure that things are done properly. We want to assure them that, under my watch as the chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, we will have the powers of oversight and make sure that in exercising this power, we will do it with the fear of God and to the benefit of the people of the Niger Delta. By the grace of God, we are answerable to them and were elected by them to do what is right for their sake and that we shall do.
Though all the problems cannot be solved over night or at once, at least, after the next four years, the people of the region will be able to look back and say we have taken them a step forward not backward. In doing this, we will collaborate with the NDDC; we will complement them, rather than discourage them. We want to work with them so that, at the end of the day, we can jointly take the region to the realm of prosperity and greatness. That is my ultimate desire. So under my watch as the chairman, we will ensure that the right things are done properly.
As a stakeholder in the All Progressives Congress (APC), how did you react to the reaffirmation of the re-election of President Buhari by the court?
I am happy and grateful to the Almighty God that our mandate was sustained by the court. We know we won the election clearly; we worked hard and we believe that probably it is one step in the history of Nigeria that will make the president to do what he is able to do. The president is committed to Nigeria; he is a man that eats and drinks Nigeria; he dreams for Nigeria; he works for Nigeria all through and I believe that it is good for our democracy. I believe that going to court sometimes is to test what the law says. It is our fundamental right; I don’t think anybody should be accused or be castigated for doing that.
But obviously now that the tribunal has ruled, I think it is time we have to come together as a country and then move the nation forward. We have a lot of work to do and I know this particular administration is not being distracted. The administration is focused on the delivery of its core mandate and it is keeping to its promises to the people. So, for the victory, September 11, 2019 was a glorious day for us as APC members and most importantly, it was a day of testimony for Nigeria as a country.