Nigerian oil agency under scrutiny for missing billions

WARRI (Nigeria)— Investigators are looking for
billions of dollars in missing or stolen funds from a Nigerian agency created
to develop the oil-rich but impoverished Niger delta.

Like the rest of the nation’s opaque oil sector, officials say the Niger
Delta Development Commission (NDDC), based in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt, has been a pit of corruption and mismanagement since its
establishment 20 years ago.

Nine states in the oil region rake in trillions of naira (billions of
dollars) every year thanks to huge payments mandated from the central
government and oil majors.

To date, over 12,000 projects have been approved for the commission, but
only a fraction have been executed, a recent parliamentary probe revealed.

This year alone, more than 81 billion naira have been allegedly misappropriated by officials and contractors, with
some believed to have been spent on international flights and training while the nation’s airspace was shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the government approved auditors led by Ernst & Young to
examine the finances of the agency.

Godswill Akpabio, the minister for Niger Delta Affairs, said the
appointment of a team of auditors followed a probe ordered by President
Muhammadu Buhari in October.

Akpabio, himself under parliamentary scrutiny for alleged graft, said the
auditors would examine projects approved by the NDDC over the last 19 years.

“Through this exercise, we will know the amount of monies that have gone
into the region in the last 19 years and whether the value we have received
so far are commensurate with the monies that have entered into NDDC,” he

In a public hearing last month, NDDC head Kemebradikumo Pondei fainted
while being questioned by lawmakers.

Despite sitting on Nigeria’s multi-billion-dollar oil and gas riches, the
Niger delta remains impoverished and under-developed, sparking militant
unrest in the early 2000s.

At the time, attacks on oil facilities reduced Nigeria’s oil output to one-
third, hurting revenue. Africa’s largest crude producer and exporter depends on the oil sector for a huge chunk of government revenues and about 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.

In southern Bayelsa state, broken promises are clear to see as construction
sites abandoned by NDDC contractors litter the landscape.

Partially-finished projects to protect the shoreline and build link roads
to remote communities are deserted.

An eight-kilometre route was supposed to reach Ogbia, the home
area of former president Goodluck Jonathan.

The project was awarded in 2013 to a company owned by a cousin of the
former president but never completed.

Community leaders are upset that well-connected contractors, mostly from
the region, are abandoning sites after collecting huge sums.

Several contractors denied abandoning sites, saying they had not been paid
by the NDDC.

Azibaola Robert, the cousin of former president Jonathan, said his firm was
owed roughly $1.5 million.

“When the money is paid, we will remobilise to site and the projects will
be executed,” he insisted.

He blamed unrest by angry local residents for stalling projects in the
Niger delta.

“While dredging sand from a river in a nearby community for the project,
locals from the community seized our machines insisting that we must employ them or pay them a particular amount of money,” he said.


Source: Nam News Network (NNN)