By Dauda Bala
The recent controversial 2008 – 2012 report of the Auditor General of the Federation (AGF) on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has thrown up questions of procedure, propriety and due diligence in the overall conduct of the AGF in the matter. Did the AGF follow the normal procedure in the audit process, whereby queries, if any, are first presented to the relevant organisation and responses received before a final report? Is the AGF aware that the NDDC does not write cheques and give same to contractors, but that everything to do with payments is between duly certified contractors and the banks, which must verify the specific details of extent of work before payments? Is it true that banks only make payments after the respective contractors have met the specific and specified requirements for every tranch of payment and that it is the banks, not the NDDC, that must see to this even in their own interest as responsible corporate citizens?
Did the Office of the AGF even take the trouble to ascertain the paradigms governing many of the issues it chose to comment upon, and without recourse to those who could have explained the issues?
Fortunately, the Director of Finance and Accounts of the NDDC has put a couple of things in proper perspective.
Until this audit report of questionable credibility, all news about the Commission was always either about the new approaches of its current leadership to ensure probity, or the commissioning of hitherto abandoned projects. The new school hostels in eight universities was one such intervention that made recently took over the media space, in addition to the completion of projects suspended by previous leadership. Road networks rehabilitation and completion in several states have been going hand in hand with employment creation and youth empowerment programmes.
There are legacy projects, the Partnership for Sustainable Development (PSD) Forum – and much more – under the current leadership. That is why Nigerians must be careful, especially since mischief-makers may use the misinformation and half truths of the audit report to undermine the very impressive strides and reputation of the current focused and hard working NDDDC leadership team.
The fact that the Report in question covers the period 2008 – 2012 and the reading public must make a distinction between the endemic problems of the NDDC long before its current management, and the performance of this current leadership. In fact the Auditor`s Report is perhaps the best proof that all had not been well with the Commission, until very recently.
The period under review by the AGF (2008-2012) recorded a total of almost half a dozen chief executives. This epidemic of Acting Managing Directors and substantive Managing Directors gave the NDDC a total of five Chief Executives between 2008 and 2013, when the current Managing Director assumed office. Timi Alaibe was in charge from 2007, until 2009 when P. Z. Aginighan took over. Aginighamwas Acting MD from April to August, 2009,, when he was replaced by ChibuzoUgwoha. The latter held forth from August 2009 to September 2011. Then came Mrs OsatohamwenIyasere-Arenyeka as Acting MD from September 2011 to November of the same year. Dr Chris Oboh was MD from November 2011 to September 2013, when Mrs. Christy Atako took over. The incumbent Managing Director, Bassey Dan-Abia, took over in December 2013 and has a four year tenure that will end in 2017.
We would only be further destabilizing the place if energies are now focused on management change, rather than services delivery, which the current team is doing so well and recording remarkable achievements within the last 18 months. As I write, some people are busy right now spreading the falsehood that it was only the Board of the NDDC that was dissolved by the Federal Government. This is incorrect. The decision of the Federal Government to dissolve the Boards of parastatals and agencies affected all Boards. Besides, the Board of an organization is not the same as its management. It is also important to note that the government decision is not a condemnation of the NDDC Board, or any Board for that matter, but an action deemed necessary by the current political dispensation. It is not new. It is also not peculiar to the Government of President Buhari, as a cursory look at our political history from independence shows that this is part of the national
political process in other nations of the world.
The Federal Government must not be misled into overlooking the fact that the last two years of the Commission`s life has been the most eventful, in terms of positive impact and a structured reversal of the hitherto prevailing bad reputation of the organization. That is why the ongoing, and clearly sponsored, attempts to smear the NDDC as an institution, and impugn the integrity of its management, should be seen for the campaign of calumny that it is.
Is it not a matter of public record that the first step taken by the current management after its inauguration was to notify all stakeholders that it needed a calm reassessment of all that had been going on in the NDDC, with a view to ascertaining the number and spread of uncompleted projects? The emphasis has been on completing outstanding projects with measurable impact on the lives of the people, rather than starting new ones. The Dan-Abia team, on inauguration, proceeded on a well-organised retreat and came out with enough information on what had gone wrong and what it needed to do in order to straighten things out. The new helmsman began by taking sure, steady and measured steps. The steps were also in the right direction.
Being a brilliant, well exposed and experienced hand in his own right, the current MD`s previous stints in various capacities gave him a certain managerial advantage. That is perhaps why he gave himself the historical role of redefining the profile, reputation and trajectory of this agency of government, while remaining faithful to its raison d`etre. This commitment to real goals of the Commission has made the new NDDC MD’s approach a major beacon of hope for communities long frustrated by still-born projects that were abandoned by previous managements. Instead of taking off on a tangent with emphasis on new contracts Dan-Abia chose to face real issues. Over time, since assumption of office, the new management has been solving the problems it identified after that initial four-day retreat, the communiqué of which noted “… weaknesses in management systems and procedures, corruption, defects in the organisational structure, disconnect between staff
performance and reward system, weak interface between head office and state offices, poor corporate communication culture and in-fighting within the commission”.
This truth, which the current leadership discovered and is dealing with, is what a lot of people connected with the agency over the years have done everything to deny. The effect of the denial is that all attempts at revamping the NDDC and giving it a new lease of life always failed, because they all began with a denial of the problems. Now that the problems have been properly identified and real work has begun, with the visible increase in the number of ongoing and completed projects across all the NDDC states, the Federal Government under Buhari should simply know that those who wish to destabilize the NDDC, under the mistaken impression that it is a place for free booty, should be made to look elsewhere for such booty and leave the hard working leadership of the Commission alone.