The Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative, an accountability advocacy group, having participated actively in the investigative public hearing on the alleged financial malfeasance in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), organized by the two chambers of the National Assembly, The Senate and the House of Representatives, has expressed dissatisfaction with the entire process and come to the conclusion that the outcome of the exercise is premeditated and obvious from the onset. Some of the premises from which the Citizens Quest drew this conclusion stem from concerns they expressed, ab initio, as to how the probe will turn out. The bias of the National Assembly was so obvious, they couldn’t successfully hide it, in as much as they pretending and still pretend to be objective and fighting for the beleaguered Niger Delta people.
The National Assembly, sequel to a motion, simultaneously deliberated upon, in the Senate and the House of Representatives, on 5th of May, 2020, proceeded to hold a Public hearing on the “Need to Investigate the Alleged Financial Malfeasance and other Activities in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).” This public hearing, held in the Senate from Thursday, 9th to Friday, 10th of July, 2020, and in the House of Representatives from Wednesday, 15th to Thursday, 16th July, 2020. Though, that of the House of Representatives eventually stretched to 20th of July, at obviously unimaginable costs!
This move, ordinarily, should get due applause from the Niger Delta people and Nigerians at large, but alas, it has been greeted with mixed feelings due to the allegations of culpability in the sleaze, also leveled against the Lawmakers by the present Management of the Nddc and it’s supervising Minister.
A cross section of Nigerians, particularly outside the Niger Delta, have hailed this move, because it adorns a garb of a good intent to serve the people. Many others, mostly, leaders cum stakeholders in the Niger Delta region, have seen through the exercise and to them, it looms, every inch, a charade, or better still, a perfect smokescreen to shield the real culprits from being unveiled, considering that the main bulk of the contracts were awarded to those who should oversight the Commission for over 19 years. This fact has been proved beyond rhetorics, through documented evidence and is traceable through inter-bank cash movements between the “contractors” or paper and the legislators who happen to be the real contractors.
It is funny how the cabal that has held down the NDDC for two decades are now the same set of people posturing with a holier than thou disposition and suffocating the media space with tales of how the 5 months old Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC suddenly became the reason the Commission failed to achieve its core mandate, in the past 20 years!
How so easy it seems to blame the two decades of decadence and woes of the NDDC on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, who has, so far, not put in one year in office, as the Supervising Minister. This allegeation can only seek to serve the intent of those who want to discredit and scuttle the process of the Forensic Audit authorized by the President of the Federal Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.
The Citizens Quest expected that since the Budget of the NDDC is usually passed by a joint Committee of the National Assembly, that the probe of the Budget Expenditure should rightly be done by the same joint Committee that approved Budget. But by holding different public hearings on the same matter, the Senate and House of Representatives mainly aimed at media trial, to set the people against the Management of the Commission and by extension, the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs.
Furthermore, the figures being bandied by both chambers were at the same time divergent and consistently inconsistent. The earliest notice and invitation to the public hearing which greeted the media space, and was published in the National dailies was hinged on alleged misappropriation of Forty Billion Naira and the supposed sacking of Civil Servants in the Commission without due process, among other issues. It is surprising how the issue of disengagement of workers later took a back seat, when it became obvious that the fable could not be substantiated, given that a sack letter must be tendered as proof of disengagement from civil service. The truth didn’t take long to emerge that some Civil Servants who were long overdue for retirement were illegally allowed to remain in Service, because they were the Chief enablers of the rot in the NDDC. Of course, it is common knowledge that nothing can go wrong in the Commission without the active cooperation of the Civil Servants, who will tinker the records. Indeed, some were caught in the act of stealing files in a bid to obstruct the Forensic Audit by tampering with valid documents and probably distorting the information therein.
Again, the National Assembly members surprisingly frowned at routine transfers made by the Interim Management Committee which saw some staff at the headquarters of the Commission being redeployed to other State Offices. Transfer of Civil Servants is well known to be purely administrative and requires no legislative concurrence, but the fact that it caught the angst of the Lawmakers leaves much to be desired. It was even bad enough that the Committee Members of the National Assembly were concerned about the fact that some Civil Servants in the Commission who had not gone on leave for a so many years, were made to proceed on leave. So much for oversight functions!
The fact that some of this much-needed information were not in public domain made the National Assembly members appear like they were truly fighting for the people. And when it was time for the public hearing, they sifted and sieved through the Memoranda submitted and chose those to invite. Most of those who were allowed to attend were obviously pro-National Assembly and anti-Interim Management Committee of NDDC but posing as concerned Niger Deltans. Indeed, only pro-NASS participants were given all the needed time to make their presentation, including pouring invectives on the person and office of the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs. In fact, it was obvious from the word go that most of those presenters never made submissions to the Secretariat as they were allowed to make public appearance even after the two days originally slated for the public hearing. Yet, they were clearly allowed to speak, first, and “make submissions” later. This calls to question, the process of admittance of the presenters. How were they invited, and where did the National Assembly address their invitation letters to, since they never submitted a memo? Anyone who gave the slightest sign of speaking in favour of the IMC would be dealt a good deal of brow-beating. Such persons will be made to “speak to their documents” or practically ordered to “off your Mic”. By so doing, the presentations are never allowed a free flow, but severally punctuated with interjections that suggest an attempt to create anxiety disorder in the mind of the presenter, who in most cases, would be forced to retreat, out of frustration.
The Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative, despite being aware of this stark oddity, braved the odds and graced the two Chambers of the National Assembly, to defend the Memo already sent it, to both Secretariats of the Committees in The Senate and The House of Representatives. Against all attempts at silencing the group, we made sure that our support for the Forensic Audit was made known to the world.
Sadly, what transpired in both chambers seemed like a rehearsed pattern of attempts at hushing and muffling of voices that were not in agreement with the position of the National Assembly.
The Senate Adhoc Committee on the Investigation of the Alleged Financial Recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) seemed more concerned about absolving their colleague, Sen. Peter Nwaoboshi of all allegations consistently leveled against him by members of the IMC. This was made manifest in their final report where they saw nothing wrong in a certain ‘Nelson Agbamuche’, an alleged front of Sen. Nwaoboshi, signing off on some documents, on behalf of the Senate, to the effect that contracts awarded to some companies would be distributed among the Legislators.
Our insistence, both in writing and on the National Televison programmes, that the House Committee Chairman on NDDC, Hon. Olubumni Tunji-Ojo cannot sit in judgment over a matter in which he is an interested party was swept under the carpet, till the NDDC management led by Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei staged a walk out from the public hearing, proved right.
The fact that Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo eventually excused himself from the Committee after four days into the public hearing lends credence to the view held in many quarters that he was ineligible to sit on that committee ab initio and the fact that he already did, invalidates the entire exercise.
One wonders why the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila did not deem it fit to commit the allegations leveled against Hon. Tunji-Ojo to the House Committee on ethics and Privileges to look into the matter while a different Committee, maybe, an Adhoc Committee would have been charged to sit on the matter. And even at that, members of the NDDC Committee who were mentioned in relation to the Contract scam, both in the Senate and House of Representatives should not have been part of the Committee, in the first place.
As an accountability advocacy group, the Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative insists that the public hearing was never in the best interest of the people of Niger Delta and at such amounted not just to a waste of precious time and resources but an attempt to derail or scuttle the Forensic Audit owing to the way and manner in which they went about seeking for ways to nullify the contract for the procurement of the Forensic Auditors.