Many people found the findings of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission shocking, like the 362 bank accounts it was operating and the 13,000 uncompleted projects despite receiving N6tn over the years. What do you find most disturbing in the report?
I am definitely on record as saying the NDDC needs to give account of the money it has received from the year 2000 when it was established, I mean from the first release of funds to the commission and the audit should include 2015 to 2020, because this government has also managed the NDDC for six years. Also, any audit, forensic or otherwise, that would be carried out at the NDDC should be done by credible international auditors, else it won’t be good enough in my opinion. If we say we don’t trust them over the process, we are qualified to say so because there is nothing to indicate that anybody in politics doing an audit like this is trustworthy. They have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that we can trust them. I also have an issue with the fact that the lead auditor is from the north, especially in today’s Nigeria when we have nepotism in governance. Meanwhile, when they said NDDC received N6tn in 20 years, I dispute that figure very much because from year 2000, the government never gave NDDC the full amount due to it, unless they are saying the N6tn is what they have given so far and they still owe the commission money.
What about the uncompleted projects?
When you say there are so many projects left undone, it becomes a problem when you can’t prove it. I believe it could be more, but if you can’t prove it, I don’t have to believe you. You can’t just give a figure and stop there; you must name the projects, their location, the companies that got the contracts, the value of the projects, when they were awarded and who is the Managing Director and directors of these companies. It should not be a secret.
The details must be in the report.
If the report is a secret report, we still don’t have information. I don’t care if it’s in the report or not, make it public, put it out there in PDF. Let people access it and be able to download it the way you can get access to the budget, the constitution and such materials. You can’t just be disclosing some of the content in a piecemeal fashion. You could be lying. Another reason we are saying they must release the names of the people involved and audit 2015 to 2020 is that you can’t leave it out because you were the ones in power. These are the issues we have and my organisation, Niger Delta Self Determination Movement, has been saying this. We have been clamoring for this audit and you also cannot tell me that all the 13,000 abandoned projects were all awarded to Niger Delta people. If you remember, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, under whose desk the NDDC is, told lawmakers at the National Assembly when he appeared before them that they (senators) benefitted from the NDDC. That was why that senator said ‘off the mic’. No, we shouldn’t put off the microphone; we need to put on the microphone. Release the audit report; it’s our money so we must have access to how it was spent.
The governors in the Niger Delta do not seem to have shown enough interest in how the NDDC is run, what do you think of that?
I would have supported any governor from the nine oil producing states that wanted to know how the NDDC was being run and that is why we say everything cannot be seen from the prism of politics. When PDP was in government at the federal level, they nominated their people to the board of the commission and from the beginning, it was used as a compensation for political failures. If you contested a major election like governorship or senatorial seats and you lost or you were told to step down for someone else, you could be compensated with something that had to do with the NDDC. It has always been used as a cash cow for any government in power and that started during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The members of the National Assembly have always involved themselves in the issues of the NDDC and later in the Amnesty programme and then the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. For a long time, any agency that has been set up for the Niger Delta people has always been mismanaged by the government of the day. No matter what is claimed to be coming to the Niger Delta people, it has always gone back through the backdoor to Abuja. Of particular example is the NDDC. Releasing one or two names or companies when you said 13,000 projects were mismanaged is not acceptable. What happened to the other names? Whether it is a borehole project in my village or another project in another village, you must make public all the projects.
There are people who argue that the Niger Delta is also its own enemy, because those who have managed the NDDC and even the staff members of the commission are from the region and that fraud couldn’t have happened without connivance from within. Can we absolve them of blame?
No, we cannot, but like I said, when you appoint into the NDDC a politician who lost an election and is accountable to Abuja and he has to go to the National Assembly for the approval of the budget and the members would now choose the jobs they want, already the corruption has started. If that person does not do what you want, you remove that person and put another person there. That is why there is no board for the NDDC for the past six years. What kind of auditing have they been doing that should stop them from having a board and then you keep having interim management. Now that the report is out, you are still hiding it and yet to appoint a board. What does the report have to do with constituting the board? If people have been indicted in the report, take them to court and let them refund our money. I must stress that anybody who got a job, even if it was my late father, and did not do it, should be taken to court and all the money they have been paid should be returned to the commission. In addition, I am saying that the manner in which appointment to the board is made is corrupted. People are accountable to the personalities that put them there. Let me give you a scenario; the NDDC takes its budget to the National Assembly for approval, some of the members that would work on the budget begin to pick projects they want for themselves and if you don’t promise to approve those jobs, they might work against you. What is that?
Do you agree with people who say the audit will amount to waste if nobody is prosecuted or if the report is not made public?
The first thing to show that this government is sincere, which I doubt, on the NDDC audit is to release the report. Why is the report a secret? It does not belong to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). Why did Akpabio submit the report to the AGF; is he the President that ordered the audit? The public needs to see it. We want to know the people from the Niger Delta that are culpable, likewise those from other parts of the country. Don’t tell me it is only Niger Delta people that got contracts. This government cannot say that all the projects that were abandoned were awarded to Niger Delta people only and that all the money stolen was by people from the Niger Delta.
Some people have said even if contractors from other regions chose to run away with the money without doing the work, the contractors from the Niger Delta, who know the extent of the pollution, poverty and degradation, shouldn’t be part of the scam, what do you make of that?
Those of them from the Niger Delta are as guilty as those from other regions. If you are given a contract to provide water to a community and you are from the Niger Delta, if you don’t do it, you are just as bad as those who have destroyed the region, and that is why we want to know them. There is no difference between them. We can’t say the crime of those from other regions is less than those from our region. The only word to describe all of them is that they are thieves. A thief is a thief.
How best do you think the NDDC should be run since we have identified some of the loopholes?
The NDDC is not a gift; it is a right. Therefore, it should always have been seen by both the Federal Government and the people of the Niger Delta as something that belongs to the people in that region. It should have been seen like a corporation and it should have been run as such. I agree that the law that created the commission also indicated how people should be appointed into the offices from the oil-bearing states and they were supposed to be rotating it. If you want to do a good job, in my opinion, the job of membership of the board should have been advertised. For example, if the position of the chairman was zoned to Ondo State, it should be advertised so that qualified persons from the state, be it in Nigeria or abroad, can apply. That a position is zoned to a particular place doesn’t mean you should pick just anybody from the zone; you are supposed to look for the best hands there. The NDDC is not run properly neither is it run like a going concern. The management of the NDDC should be accountable to the shareholders, the Niger Delta people. I see no reason why at the end of every year the NDDC cannot release the projects it awarded so that there can be accountability, but when you have the appointment process like we have, that is why we are here. Let us also not forget that the government owes the commission and it started with Obasanjo. When the late President Umaru Yar’Adua assumed office, he said the money had expired. How can you owe me and say the money has expired. I’m not sure if the government owes the North East Development Commission. It was at the National Conference that we suggested that a board should be created for the North East region. So, why should the NDDC be owed?
It is also believed that the South-South should have developed more than it is because by aggregate, the states in the region get the highest allocation compared to others. Why are the people not asking questions from their governors?
I can only speak for myself and I definitely agree that a lot more should have been done, but don’t forget that when we talk about governors in the region it includes those who have held the office since 1999. However, we tend to lose sight of some facts. Apart from the mismanagement since Obasanjo’s time to date, the Federal Government gives with one hand and takes with another hand. You expect governors to provide support to the security agencies. For example, when Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State came into office, I’m aware he bought gunboats because the Navy needed them to patrol the waters so as to check criminality in the creeks.
Why should a state be funding federal agencies, because that is part of where the money goes? Let us practice federalism if we really want to. If we are running a federation, allow the states to keep their resources and pay tax to the Federal Government. You cannot take what belongs to me, you give me a small portion and you expect me to be grateful to you. If you don’t look at the issue properly, you would assume that Niger Delta people are the ones responsible for their woes. We are not. If we are, let everybody go their way. However, I agree everybody, including the Federal Government, should be accountable. We must restructure this country though people know this regime will not do it. We cannot continue like this. Look at the insecurity situation we are facing. Anybody who thinks no matter what happens Nigeria must stay together is wicked. God will not allow it, but Nigerians are too weak and fearful.