* Audit now to move with super speed despite NASS obstacles
* Silence greets Niger Delta but NDDC thanks President Buhari
* Release of N20Bn to restart East-West Road too
By Codratus Godson
President Muhammadu Buhari has just released N722.3m required to start the forensic audit in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). This has sent signals that the president stands with the Daniel Pondei-led Interim Management Commission (IMC) on the need for the audit to move ahead.
Following the release of N722.3m by the Presidency to go ahead with the much-challenged forensic audit of projects in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from 2001 to 2019, the Commission has hinted of super speed this time around.
President Muhammadu Buhari had just released the amount to make the audit a reality following apparent refusal of the National Assembly to approve the 2020 budget that would allow the auditor be paid. The NDDC management had frequently accused some key leaders in two critical committees to have sworn to forestall the audit in the face of hundreds of contracts collected by some members of NASS.
The intrigues were said to have begun over the 2019 budget which was approved in May 2020 without the provision for auditors. The next was said to be the threat to probe the interim management committee (IMC) headed by Daniel Pondei and thereby frustrate the forensic audit.
The NASS was said to have also written to funders of the Commission to freeze further remittances. These measures were expected to starve the Commission and stop the audit.
Now, Buhari seemed to strike by releasing the needed funds, meaning that the audit would have no obstacle. NDDC management says the audit promises to reveal earthshaking frauds that may lead to imprisonment of top persons in the oil region because the NDDC had been used as billionaires’ playground over the years.
The IMC thus thanked Buhari for approving eight forensic field auditors to audit the Commission from 2001 to 2019 in addition to the head auditor who had earlier been paid and would handle the headquarters (Rivers State).
The IMC said: “We are grateful to Mr. President for matching his words with action and approving the funding of the forensic exercise directly from the Presidency. We note that the President graciously approved this peculiar funding arrangement because he gave due consideration to the fact that the National Assembly has not passed the NDDC 2020 budget.
“With the funding challenge now settled, we are on course to accelerate the tempo of the forensic audit, which will cover the headquarters and the projects in the nine NDDC mandate states, to ensure that the exercise is completed on time.
“We also thank Mr. President and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, for the timely appointment of Mr. Effiong Akwa as the new NDDC Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA).
“The sudden death of the former EDFA, Chief Ibanga Etang, had affected the processing of the payments for the NDDC Overseas Postgraduate scholarship programme.
“Payment of the fees and stipends of the students have now commenced, as all formalities with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, have been regularised.
The IMC of the NDDC will continue with its mission to reposition and restructure the Commission to ensure that the mandate of fast-tracking the development of the Niger Delta region is achieved.”
The presidency had earlier released almost N20Bn to the Ministry of Niger Delta to resume work on the East West Road after four years of dormancy due to non-payment of the contractors despite availability of funds with a task force set up on it. Buhari had to take back the fund from the task force and returned it to the Ministry which is said to have paid the contractors.
Meanwhile, there has been palpable silence in most parts of the oil region since news of the release of audit funds filtered into the region. The usual activity and noise duding the probes seemed to dry up.
Sources said this could be because most elites were connected to one fraudulent contract in the NDDC or the other, and the go-ahead of the forensic audit means danger signals to leaders and their followers in the oil region.
For months, groups had been working hard to shoot down the audit scheme with several press wars and activism. Most were told that there was no way the audit would be allowed to take place. They always talked in confidence about the several trenches dug on the path of the audit.
The latest development seemed unexpected. Some analysts however warn the IMC not to jubilate for too long because the opponents would surely return to the drawing table.