NDDC: Let’s get to the bottom of it By ETIM ETIM

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The perception that Senator Godswill Akpabio is a transformational leader is further strengthened by his plans to overhaul the NDDC. Leaders who serve as change agents are disruptive and they go against conventions. Such change creates turmoil and such leaders attract hate, controversies and spite. The controversies surrounding the planned forensic audit of the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) attest to the fact that change is coming to the intervention agency.

If Akpabio did not come into the scene, we wouldn’t have known that somebody has been receiving a billion a month for years now, just for serving as a consultant. His job? To help the NDDC receive funding from the oil companies! What a waste! We are also being told that a Senator has over 300 contracts from the NDDC. Just one Senator! There’s also the curious issue of the head office of the Commission that has been under construction since its inception till now. It’s baffling that that NDDC prefers to spend N300 million yearly as rents, instead of completing its head office building. What a monumental squander!

I have been told that these startling revelations are mere tip of the iceberg of the NDDC Cesspool; and these explain why President Buhari has ordered forensic investigations into the activities of the Commission since its inception.

The people of the Niger Delta region should come together to support the forensic audit. This audit will eventually lead to the overhaul and repositioning of the agency to better serve the people of our region.

I should emphasize that the forensic audit is not about Chief Akpabio; nor is it targeted at any former chief executive or past management team of the Commission. The audit is not a witch-hunt exercise, rather it is a medical diagnosis of the several ailments that have plagued NDDC since inception. The auditors should therefore get to the bottom of all the issues in the NDDC.

It is unfortunate that some vested interests, especially those who have benefitted from the corruption in the Commission, are marshalling out stiff opposition against the audit exercise. This is not unexpected. Change is always resisted; and change leaders are always vilified. I therefore wish to encourage the President and the minister not to buckle under the vicious attacks that are emerging from many quarters. It is however relieving to note that the Governors of the six South-south states and nine Niger Delta States are in support of this exercise. In fact, according to Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers, it was the Niger Delta governors themselves who requested for the audit when they met with the President last month. The auditors should specifically focus their attention on contractors who abandoned their projects after collecting huge upfront payments (mobilization fees), contractors whose performance were below standards, staffs who are involved in contract racketeering and other fraudulent activities. The auditors should also unravel why the Commission preferred to pay N300 million yearly rentals instead of completing its head office. Were there some staff who have been receiving kickbacks from the property owner?

At the end of the audit exercise, the Commission should design a new set of operational framework that should include: relationship between the Commission and the regional state government, choice of intervention projects, contracting procedures, ethical standards for staff and insulating the agency from political interference.

In conclusion, I should repeat that whether we like Senator Akpabio or not, this is the time for elders and leaders in the Niger Delta region to support the President’s initiative to make the Commission work better. The monumental failure of the NDDC to fulfill its mandate is a big embarrassment to me personally, and indeed to millions of Niger Delta citizens. This is a good opportunity for us to reboot and start afresh.

ETIM is a journalist and PR consultant

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