*as PTCIJ launches report
By Appolos Christian
Experts and activists have called for the prosecution of those involved in corruption and financial mismanagement within the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The recommendation was made at the weekend at the launch of a 70-page report on the agency by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
The experts condemned this huge financial mismanagement by the NDDC and have called for the prosecution of those found culpable of the corrupt acts.
It would be recalled that PTCIJ through its Natural Resources and Extractives Programme launched a series of investigations into the activities of NDDC in 2019.
The investigation revealed how the abandonment of projects, poor maintenance, diversion of money, among other shady acts, characterised the activities of the NDDC in the Niger-Delta region.
As a follow-up to these investigations and to also drive reform within the NDDC, PTCIJ has launched this 70-page report.
The report highlights the patterns and trends of mismanagement of funds by NDDC and its impact in the Niger-Delta region. It also provides policy recommendations which are important to reform NDDC and make it fulfil its purpose.
Speaking during the launch of the report, Dayo Olaide, the Deputy Director of MacArthur Foundation, lauded the work of PTCIJ as a trailblazer in its role of using investigative journalism to strengthen citizens’ voice by exposing corruption and influencing public discourse.
“If we don’t have strong media that are speaking out, we are in trouble,” he added.
During the panel discussion on the NDDC Probe, Vivian Bellonwu, Head of National Advocacy Centre for Social Action, expressed disappointment over the silence of the anti-corruption agencies in the country.
“We are actually disappointed by the silence of the ICPC and EFCC in this matter concerning the NDDC in the Niger Delta,” she said.
“We have to prosecute and get the money back from a lot of the people who have reallocated funds meant for the public in NDDC,” Tobi Oluwatola said.
Dayo Olaide said “the NDDC issue is a classic illustration of the resource curse” which can only be solved by strengthening accountability.
“Corruption thrives on institutional failure,” he said.
The Report and Policy Recommendations
Speaking on the report, Dr. Tobi Oluwatola who is a policy analyst and country director, Solar FTP Nigeria, as well as the lead consultant on the research said they conducted field and desktop research to come up with the findings in the report.
“We tracked a sample of 172 NDDC projects, 22% were not funded, 23% were abandoned, 12% uncompleted and 43% completed.”
He highlighted the problems identified with NDDC. Among them are: awarding of contracts to unqualified companies; conflict of interest in the award of contracts; re-awarding of “completed” projects; false reporting of project status; failure to deliver on contracts; delay in paying contractors leading to project cost overruns and abandonment; poor quality and maintenance of completed projects; poor alignment of projects with actual needs of communities and state governments, among others.
In order to ensure transparency and efficacy of the NDDC, PTCIJ has also provided some recommendations.
One of the recommendations is that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) should intensify efforts to make its company register open, comprehensive and linked to the beneficial ownership details of all registered companies in Nigeria.
Another one is that the CAC should enable a functional search or open API requests to allow easy access to information for citizens and stakeholders.
In their recommendations, PTCIJ also said anti-corruption agencies should work with media and civil society organisations to prosecute and, if possible, recover contract funds from identified defaulting NDDC contractors.
Speaking on the way forward, Joshua Olufemi, the founder of Dataphyte, emphasised the need to harmonize and integrate the different kinds of data that are available so that they can provide a more robust picture that can be used to draw intelligence and make the right decisions.
“Data is the oil for the machine of transparency and accountability and decision making as a whole,” he said.
Honourable Henry Nwawuba, the deputy chairman of the House Committee on Niger-Delta Affairs also spoke on the need for adequate communication between government agencies so as to avoid needless duplication of projects.
He also emphasised that the legislative house must also evolve strategies to ensure that conversations such as this are not just forgotten shortly after they are brought up.
Seun Onigbinde, the Director of BudgIT Foundation said the Nigerian procurement needs an entire overhaul to allow more startups and SMEs participate.
In his closing remarks, Dapo Olorunyomi, the Executive Director of PTCIJ emphasised the importance of investigative journalism and accountability to strengthening democracy.
According to him, this report on NDDC has illustrated that investigative journalism can be a mechanism to support governance.
“Democracy will be meaningless if at the heart of it, accountability is missing,” he concluded.