Still on NDDC and its house of scandals

LAST week, the Director, Finance and Accounts of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Eno Ubi Otu, was reportedly grilled by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in relation to a case of alleged diversion of over N25 billion tax remittances. According to reports, the arrest was part of a larger investigation covering the forensic audit report of the NDDC. However, the commission’s management debunked the report of Otu’s arrest by the EFCC, saying that he was only invited to clarify certain issues. According to it, Otu was only invited by the EFCC as part of a routine procedural investigation into the non-remittance of VAT over a 15-year period raised by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and ostensibly orchestrated by persons seeking to be named in the forthcoming Board of the Commission. During the  period in question, it said, the director was not even a member of the commission’s management committee.  The NDDC added: “Management views with grave concern the report that there is an attempt to uncover how N25 billion was looted and how it was shared. It is also to be noted that this is mere conjecture by the reporters, since such information has not been attributed to any individual, neither did the EFCC’s spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, provide such information, and neither did he confirm it.”

Regardless of the NDDC’s reaction in this particular instance, it is a fact that the agency has, over the years, become synonymous with sleaze. Almost every leadership team of the agency has been accused of unbridled abuse of office and this is, to say the very least, highly unfortunate. In 2019, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) asked a Federal High Court, Abuja, for an interim order to seize a petrol station and a warehouse linked to Solomon Ita, a former NDDC Director. It accused Ita of acquiring the properties with the proceeds of corruption. In September 2020, an unnamed former managing director of the NDDC forfeited the sum of N250 million to the Federal Government. In May this year, EFCC arrested a former managing director of the commission, Nsima Ekere, over alleged N47 billion fraud. Ekere, who served as the NDDC’s managing director from 2016 to 2018, was arrested in Lagos on allegations that he diverted the said funds through the commission’s registered contractors.

To be sure, Nigerians cannot have forgotten the outrage in the polity over the alleged diversion of N81.5 billion by officials of the commission in 2020. Indeed, this year, the Senate has had to summon the management of the NDDC over an alleged contracts scam put at N100 billion. According to the Senator Matthew Urhoghide-led Senate Committee on Public Accounts probing the NDDC, it was painful that over N100 billion was spent on contracts by the NDDC without any justification whatsoever. The committee, relying on special periodic checks on the activities and programmes of the NDDC for the period  1st January 2013 to 30th June 2018, discovered that the contract for a surveillance was not subjected to open competitive bidding in accordance with the Public Procurement Act 2007 24 (1).

In case the leadership of the NDDC has not grasped the point, the commission has since its formation been nothing but a big disappointment to the Niger Delta and Nigerians in general. Far from being fit for purpose, it has hobbled whatever progress its creation was meant to bring to the long-suffering people of the Niger Delta region, in large part because of the lack of political will by the government to punish offenders. Among other unsalutary developments, there is an avalanche of abandoned projects in the Niger Delta for which contractors were supposed to have been fully mobilised. Haphazard execution of projects, diversion of projects from designated states and reckless misappropriation of funds are routine. Extant laws and regulations that should guide and direct the operations of the interventionist agency are flagrantly undermined and circumvented by those saddled with the responsibility of bringing about a paradigm shift in the story of the degraded and polluted oil-producing states.

Given the foregoing, the EFCC’s current searchlight on the commission cannot be legitimately described as routine. Regardless of whether or not there is a N25 billion fraud being investigated by the EFCC, it should be clear to discerning Nigerians that the NDDC, going by the way it has carried on and continues to carry on, has not covered itself in glory. Indeed, coming so soon after the arrest and ongoing prosecution of the former Accountant General of the Federation for fraud in the region of 109 billion naira, the situation at the NDDC certainly speaks to the breakdown of the control  system in governance and government in Nigeria. Ordinarily, no single government official ought to be in a position to control the disbursement of gargantuan sums without laid-down checks, but those checks are usually compromised.  While it is significant that government and its security and overseeing agencies are able to apprehend alleged fraudsters in government agencies, it has to be stated that the real lesson is to go back to the reactivation of the processes of checks and balances that will make the continuing, unbridled abuse of office and mismanagement of public funds by officers impossible.

This is in addition to ensuring that those apprehended and prosecuted are made to face the wrath of the law, if convicted, in order to serve as a deterrent to others intent on fraudulently enriching themselves with public funds.

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