Democracy and human rights are recognized as inextricably connected, but the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has always de-emphasized that link. The #EndSars protest and the atrocious breaches of human rights before, during, and after the period of the protests across the country provides sobering evidence that this government is increasingly fueling human rights violations.
On Thursday, 7th October, 2021, President, Muhammadu Buhari, presented N16.39 trillion as the 2022 budget proposal before a joint session of the National Assembly. The proposed 2022 budget is titled, “Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability”. Some of the 2022 budget key figures are: capital expenditure of N4.89 trillion, non-debt recurrent expenditure of N6.83trillion, oil benchmark price of $57 per barrel, with projected oil production target of 1.88m bpd and the exchange rate is projected at N410.15/US$.
In a frantic effort by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to increase Nigeria’s debt profile, he has again, requested from the National Assembly, the approval of another $4 billion and EUR 710 million loan. The request was contained in a letter read by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on the Senate floor Tuesday 14th September 2021. It could be recalled that this request is coming shortly after the National Assembly approved $6.18 billion foreign loans.
The concluded forensic audit report on the Niger Delta Development Commission- NDDC, highlights failures related to accountability, including financial mismanagement, chronic underperformance and service collapse of the agency. These fundamental gaps in accountability and transparency at the heart of NDDC activities result in underperformance. The devastating effects of the deficiency in the operations of the Commission have continued to ravage the Niger Delta with compounding hardship, and thus call for a pragmatic shift for a change in the narrative.
From its inception, the NDDC could be described as a cesspit of corruption, abandoned projects and political patronage. It is disheartening that the NDDC has remained in the same claws of mismanagement that has left the Niger Delta people to suffer, evidently seen in the poor accountability profile within the NDDC structure. This kind of system no doubt makes stealing easy. The NDDC has displayed long-standing weaknesses in how poorly it uses funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region for personal gains, which falls short of standards for spending public money.
Clearly, this shows that there is a lack of accountability in the operations of the NDDC. This has enabled repeated failures in service delivery such as abandoned projects, poor procurement practices, embezzlement and wasting public money. Accountability lies at the heart of masses-owned and service delivery institutions such as the Niger Delta Development Commission. The current system in NDDC displays critical management weaknesses, quantum corruption and lethargy that trail the need for prosecution where necessary. However, the good thing is that these can be addressed. The government must, therefore, begin to shift from the culture of blame and piling of reports to prosecution of those culpable, recoveries of illegally acquired wealth from culprits and returning same to the public coffers for the improvement and development of Niger Delta.
Matters of accountability and transparency in NDDC are sacrosanct because when it works, it benefits everyone. It will enable the people of Niger Delta to know what the NDDC is doing, and how to gain redress when things go wrong. It would ensure that the interventionist agency is acting in the interests of the people that they were appointed to serve. Consequently, accountability remains critical to the management and delivery of NDDC mandate and this will increase the trustworthiness and legitimacy of the agency in the eyes of the people of Niger Delta.
While accountability and transparency are not the only panaceas for solving the numerous challenges that NDDC faces in a complex environment, it can improve its service delivery, generate incentives for responsible individuals within the agency to act in the interests of the Niger Delta people. Even if this means those untouchable are prosecuted following the rot in the agency; what is important is a healthy system of accountability and transparency that makes it effortless for the agency to meet its mandate to the people of Niger Delta.
To rigorously pursue the good principles of accountability and transparency in NDDC, the agency should periodically publish transparent, authoritative information and data that underpins the spending process. They should publish financial statements at the end of each spending period and also declare details of all projects before and after they have been agreed upon and how these projects would be delivered in practice. This should also be subject to concerned communities’ scrutiny and validation. This would provide the people with information to inspect these projects as they are implemented. We also demand that the federal government inaugurate the NDDC Board which is in consonance with the law establishing the agency. The board would provide a forum for strategic discussions on service delivery, how to develop the Niger Delta and exert effective oversight, ensuring that policies work as intended.
The necessity to overhaul the prevailing system of corruption in NDDC is not negotiable. It is an effort towards redefining the working patterns of the agency to imbue it with sanity imperative for Niger Delta to begin to enjoy the benefits of good service delivery against the experience of untold hardship which has been a product of administrative deficiencies and corruption.
Social Action will continue to be at the vanguard of expounding sanity with impeccable standards, to reveal the pervasive culture of corruption, perceivable ill practices and echoing gaps of accountability and transparency in NDDC until justice is done and the people of Niger Delta are better off.
The Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awaits the long-expected Board to be inaugurated by the end of June 2021 or early July 2021. Fifteen nominees had already been screened and confirmed by the Senate in November 2019 for the NDDC Governing Board. However, there has been power play of some sort, coupled with reports of screening of fresh nominees for the same Board. This has led to a back-and-forth in the inauguration of the board and ultimately affected negatively the development of the region, leaving the Interim Management Committee (IMC) which had been indicted for financial recklessness and mismanagement to continue overseeing the NDDC.