At least N15.3 billion paid to contractors to execute some high priority projects for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) cannot be accounted for, a new report by the Civil Society Coalition on Audit in Nigeria (CSCAN) has said.

The group said the controversial contracts were awarded from 2008 to 2018.

According to the coalition, the discovery was made after it conducted physical verification of 115 of 176 NDDC contracts highlighted in the Compliance Audit Reports on NCDC published by the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation.

The coalition, which presented the 293-page report Wednesday in Abuja, comprises other civil society organisations, including BudgIT Foundation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Dataphyte, Step Up Nigeria, Accountability Lab Nigeria, Centre for Health, Equity and Justice (CEHEJ), Basic Rights Watch, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and others.

Earlier in February, CSCAN analysed the Compliance Audit Reports on NCDC projects between 2008 and 2018 as published by the Auditor-General’s office.

The coalition’s assessment at the time revealed how some contractors were paid for jobs not executed without the money being recovered from them, the fraudulent contractors being blacklisted or referred to an anti-corruption agency.

It also noted misappropriations in the utilisation of the N90.9 billion meant to execute 176 projects under the NCDC.

New report

The 293-page report released Wednesday by CSCAN found that most of the projects were either completely abandoned or poorly implemented after the physical verification process.

“Within the last six months (March-August 2021), our coalition monitored 115 priority projects out of 176 contracts highlighted in our review and analysis of Compliance Audit Reports of the Auditor-General for the Federation on NDDC,” Olusegun Elemo, Executive Director at Paradigm Leadership Support Initiative (PLSI) who spoke on behalf of CSCAN during the presentation of the report, said.

Fiscal performance of the 115 projects shows that contracts awarded amounted to N98.5 billion, payments to contractors totalled N61.8 billion while the sum of N15.3 billion is yet to be accounted for, the report stated.

It also stated that six of these projects are on education, one related to health, four on water, seventy-four (74) on road infrastructure while twenty-nine (29) of the projects fell within other categories.

“However, our independent findings on these 115 projects revealed that 46 of the projects had been executed, 12 of them executed with irregularities, 2 were partially executed, 4 projects were executed by other agencies, 3 projects not executed at all, 19 of the projects were poorly implemented, 11 are still abandoned while 18 of the projects had no trackable location”, said Mr Elemo.

Also speaking, the Principal Lead of BudgIT Foundation, Gabriel Okeowo, said, “With the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari now concluded and summary report indicating over 13,700 poorly executed and unverified projects by NDDC despite N6 trillion allocation it received from 2001 to 2019.

“It will be in the interest of the people of Niger Delta and by extension Nigeria for the federal government led by President Buhari to make the full report of the forensic audit exercise public and religiously implement recommended sanctions and reforms to reposition the Niger-Delta Development Commission for improved performance.”

Zainab Haruna, programme director for Step Up Nigeria, in her remarks, urged the National Assembly through its Committees on Public Accounts and Anti-corruption agencies to look at the findings contained in the two Compliance Audit Reports published by the AFG.

She added that “the Independent Findings report being presented by our Coalition to ensure that those responsible for abusing extant laws that set up NDDC to mismanage public funds allocated to the Commission are made to account for all the monies.

Also speaking, the Country Director Accountability Lab, Odeh Friday, reiterated that Nigeria is in a complicated financial corner, hence the need for the federal government to re-consider a new audit bill.

The bill, according to Mr Odey, “is very key to good public governance and strengthening accountability mechanisms in government MDAs”.

He added that “this can drastically reduce the mismanagement of Nigeria’s lean resources and improve the trust level between citizens and the government in open governance and transparency”.

Financial abuse

President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2019 ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the NDDC, an interventionist agency established in 2000 to see to the development of the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

The presidential order for audit came as the commission increasingly became enmeshed in criticisms and accusations of misappropriation of funds.

The audit was to cover the operations of the organisation from 2001 to 2019.

On 2 September, 2021, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, submitted the forensic audit report on the NDDC to President Buhari, through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami, in Abuja.

According to the report, over 13,000 projects were either abandoned or poorly executed despite about N6 trillion allocated to the agency since inception.

The Auditor-General of the Federation’s office had submitted two separate reports of its periodic checks on activities and programmes of the NCDC reviewed by CSCAN.

CSCAN’s physical verifications are based on details of audit reports made available to the public.

The coalition called on the National Assembly through its committee on public accounts and the various anti-corruption agencies to ensure that those involved in misusing the agency’s funds be brought to book.

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