The Nation (Nigeria)
Waiting for NDDC’S forensic audit report
The ongoing forensic audit of the projects executed by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) since it was created is being eagerly awaited by the people of the oil-rich region, writes OKODILI NDIDI
THE future of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is largely dependent on the outcome of the forensic audit into all its projects since inception. The report will, among other things, determine if the money allocated to develop the Niger Delta communities for having to bear the environmental degradation and other hazards associated with oil exploration were justified.
For the Federal Government, the outcome of the forensic audit will help form its next line of action on how to strengthen and refocus the NDDC to achieve its original mandate. To buttress the importance attached to the audit, the presidency has resisted pressure to constitute substantive Board for the NDDC, until the report of the audit is out.
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio, who midwifed the idea of the forensic audit, had promised that the forensic audit report would be submitted to President Muhamamadu Buhari before the end of July.
Addressing reporters after a meeting with the Chief of State to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, Akpabio said: "The field forensic audit is on course and is progressing very well. I am very certain that come the end of July, the final result will be given to Mr. President for final implementation."
He explained that the forensic audit report needed to be completed first before the composition of the NDDC Board "because it would be the guide for the board’s operations".
Akpabio added: “We have fasttracked the process, but we insist that the most important thing is not just to clean up the mess but how to reposition the NDDC to ensure optimal performance as against the practice in the past where it was just an agency for the purposes of election only.
“In terms of the composition of the board of the NDDC, of course we have fast-tracked the process, the National Assembly will soon get the list, but that is not as important as the forensic audit, which we have already given a deadline.
“Our belief is that the new board will use those recommendations to turn around the agency. You know what happened in the past 15 years, where the headquarters that was started 25 years ago and nobody was interested in completing it.
“They were pursuing projects that were beneficial either to the staff members or the management and not projects that benefited the region."
The interest in the forensic audit is also not unconnected to the exposure of monumental fraud perpetrated by NDDC contractors, Staff and politicians by Akpabio, who promised that the audit will reveal those behind the plundering of the Commission.
After weighing the options as against the opposition to the forensic audit as a deceit by a section of Niger Delta leaders, the Federal Government approved N772.3m for the forensic firms and also 33 security vehicles for the exercise.
From the onset, stakeholders within and outside the Niger Delta region vehemently opposed the forensic audit, describing it as a ploy by the minister to hijack and run the Commission as a private estate.
They dissuaded the Federal Government from embarking on the exercise and rather constitute a substantive board for the NDDC. As a result of the strong opposition to the exercise, there was massive media campaign allegedly sponsored by apprehensive contractors and politicians to give the impression that the exercise was a charade.
But apparently unperturbed by the distraction, the forensic experts have been going from one project to the other across the nine states in the region. According to NDDC sources, about 80% of the projects have so far been audited.
In Imo, Abia, Delta and Rivers states, the exercise is greeted with optimism by indigenes that it will usher in an era of accountability that will do away with the attitude of ‘business as usual’.
The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs confirmed that the Field Forensic Auditors mandated to carry out the physical verification of Lot 8 in Imo State are on site and "working effectively".
According to a statement by the Director Press and Public Relations, Deworitshe Patricia, the physical verification was confirmed by a fact finding team made up of journalists and Field Forensic Auditors in Imo/abia states
She said the inspection was prompted by negative reports trending on the social media that most of the Forensic Auditors had either abandoned the project sites or are not on ground.
The statement reads: "While inspecting the various project sites undertaken by BBC professionals, Lot 8, leader of the auditing firm in Imo State, Egwuenu Gloria, stressed that the late commencement of the project was due to the security situation currently experienced in the State, assuring that the team is working assiduously to ensure that it executes its job diligently, thoroughly and efficiently.
“The crew started last week because of the security situation in the State, we're the 3rd batch that came in for the physical verification of the projects, so far, we have over 1000 projects in the state and we have covered many of projects are on different phases as some are ongoing, some are moribund, abandoned, vandalized, completed and awaiting commissioning while some are completed but not in use, those are what we've seen on some facilities we've visited already.
"Engr. Raymond Ogara, Head of Projects, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Abia State Office, during the inspection tour, said the Commission executed some road projects, transformer installation, renovation of schools and water projects in the area which have already been audited by the Forensic Auditors.
"He noted that some community, in the past suffered as there was no access road for farmers to transport food produce to the city for economic empowerment purposes, NNDC decided to open up the areas by constructing a 20km Obinze, Umuokanne, Ilile Umuapu road that transverse almost the villages which include, Odouga, Umuolo, Umuobogwo completed and awarded and has been in use by the community.
“The water project is sited at Umuozita village in Umuokanne Obinze Community. The Community has 2 Transformers sited at different parts of the community, we also have an injection power substation of 1 by 15 MVA intended to power the entire Ohaji, though the Contractor has not been mobilised to site."
Other project sites already verified include Umuobogwo/umuokuzu road which extended to Ohuba to ease transportation challenges of the Communities, Construction and rehabilitation of solar powered project at Umuokanne in Ohaji Egbema Local Government Area (LGA); Installation of 300KVA Transformer in Umuokanne to serve Odiuga, Umuole and Umueze towns amongst others.
Also in Delta and Rivers states, seventy percent of the NDDC projects have been audited.
Briefing reporters during a field verification tour, NDDC Director for Rivers State, George Ero, said the people of the region are eager to see the end result of the exercise.
He disclosed that Rivers State with 23 Local Government Areas, has over 3,000 projects listed, making up 35% of the Commission’s project portfolio, while Delta State has over 2,000 projects with one-third of the projects cited in the riverine areas.
He commended President Buhari and the Niger Delta Affairs Minister for insisting on the forensic audit, adding that the NDDC will not remain the same after the exercise.
According to him, the audit has revealed the enormity of projects executed by the NDDC, contrary to wide-held views that the Commission has done nothing in the region.
He said: “The auditors have been visiting various project sites for inspection in batches to verify the extent of work done and we have achieved some measurable results to show that a lot of ground have been covered in this regard, over 1200 projects have been so far audited out of about 3000 projects spread across the state, despite the limited numbers of personnel, logistics and security concerns.
“We must commend Mr. President and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, for insisting on the forensic audit exercise, as this would help to establish the true state of the projects so that appropriate actions can be taken. The field forensic audit has shown that the NDDC has a lot to showcase for the funds allocated to it over the years”.
In Delta State, Emmanuel Audu Ohwaborua, NDDC state Director, said the exercise has received the backing of the people, adding that the forensic field officers are in final push to beat the deadline.
He said those behind speculations that the exercise is a hoax are simply afraid of the outcome of the forensic audit, adding that the people of the region are fully in support of efforts of the government to sanitise the NDDC.
Ohwaborua maintained further that not less than 70% of projects in the state have been audited.
Asked if the forensic auditors have uncovered any discrepancy, he said it is proper to allow the forensic experts conclude their assignment and submit their report to the President who will make it public, instead of speculating. He assured that the exercise will meet the purpose for which it was conceived.
At one of the communities visited in Delta State, the residents hailed the exercise but called for transparency and sincerity of purpose.
Mrs Evelyn Monike, a school teacher, urged the auditors to be thorough and visit the entire project sites to verify their true state than stay in the office and pass a sweeping verdict.
According to her most of the contractors only erect signposts of projects and run away after collecting payments from the Commission, while others either do shoddy jobs or abandon the projects totally.
She said: "We welcome the idea to audit the projects so that the government can identify those that collected money with executing the projects but this exercise should not be politicised like most government programmes.
"We want to know the truth at the end of the day, the findings of the audit should not be swept under the carpet Niger Deltans deserve to know how the billions of naira accrued to the Commission since it was established were managed."
As the forensic experts battle to beat the July deadline, the tension in the region amongst the stakeholders have continued to mount. Ex-militant leader Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, confirmed that there is palpable fear and tension in the region.
We have fast-tracked the process, but we insist that the most important thing is not just to clean up the mess but how to reposition the NDDC to ensure optimal performance as against the practice in the past where it was just an agency for the purposes of election only