The release last week by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and supervising Minister of the beleaguered Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Senator Godswill Akpabio of the much awaited report of the Forensic Audit presented no surprises to discerning observers of developments in the oil rich Niger Delta. Many who have followed with consternation, the reduction of the agency from a dream driver of human and infrastructural development in the Niger Delta at inception in 2001,to an instrument of sleaze twisted to provide slush funds to fund the hedonistic lifestyles of its operators and political ambitions of powerful politicians of whichever party holds power in the country, can only shake their heads over the sad denouement.
The report which ought to have been presented to President Muhammadu Buhari himself, to emphasize the important place Niger Delta development occupies to this administration, was surprisingly presented to Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami. This amounts to an anti-climatic dousing of expectations that hoped the report would receive swift presidential attention and its recommendations acted on with despatch, with an announcement of the inauguration of a board, and a clear direction to a new path for the development agency. Instead, a longer, convoluted wait is being imposed on the people of the oil bearing region and their concerns.
Handing over the report to Malami last Thursday in Abuja, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Akpabio informed the country that the auditors have concluded the examination and documentation of about 13,777 contracts for projects and programmes awarded to contractors and consultants in the states of the Niger Delta States from 2001-August 2019, at a total final contract value of N3,274.206,032,213.24. Other details include revelations of a questionable N6trillion having been allocated to the agency from 2001-2019. It also includes a huge sum of over $4billion which the oil companies failed to remit to the NDDC in two decades.
The entire development around the conduct of the audit and the release of the report leaves much to be desired having taken place under the supervision of a Minister who has questions to answer on his stewardship over the agency.
Nearly three months after ex-militant and respected Niger Delta activist Government Ekpemupolo, issued an ultimatum asking for the inauguration of a board by the end of June 2021,to steer the NDDC away from the murky path of graft and waste, there is no indication of an effort by either Akpabio or the Federal Government take action to return the NDDC to a state of health. Evidently having recovered his bluster, possibly emboldened by the persons who empower his tyrannical control of both the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry, Senator Akpabio appears to be in no hurry to relinquish his hold on the agency and its finances. The flustered Minister who in June following the issue of the ultimatum, had hurriedly embarked on a testy journey by boat through the usually turbulent river to Oporoza, Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State to calm nerves in the influential Niger Delta enclave, has apparently been given assurances in Abuja that have emboldened him to disregard the expressed wish of people in the region for an NDDC that works for them, removed from the greasy grip of compromised politicians and government officials.
The President and the presidency which hardly inspire any confidence in Nigerians these days on their commitment to an anti-corruption effort, have by allowing an Akpabio get away with his primitive control over the affairs of the NDDC, added one more reason for a spike in anger of an increasingly frustrated Niger Delta populace, with the possibility to push militant elements to look more in the direction of a return to the path of taking its matters in its own hands, than wait unendingly for an uncaring Federal Government to act.
The ball lies in the court of President Buhari to ply the path of reason and quickly end the sickening environment surrounding the NDDC and its affairs and the overstretched rule of one man suffocating the aspirations of an entire region.
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