The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has kicked off the physical verification phase of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission.
Senator Akpabio, who inaugurated the commencement of the field visits of projects sites during the Strategic Capacity Building workshop of the commission at Ibom Icon Hotels and Golf Resort in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, said that the 16 field auditors would now begin to identify and verify the projects across the Niger Delta region.
The Minister wondered why some people would be peddling rumours that the forensic audit had derailed. He said that the detractors falsely claimed that the forensic audit was being used as a ploy to continue with the NDDC Interim Administration.
Akpabio said: “It is the considered position of President Muhammadu Buhari that for us to have a properly constituted board for the NDDC, we should first take a look at what has happened to the commission since inception.
“There was nothing our detractors have not done to stop the forensic audit and this has led some people to be left wondering if the forensic audit has been aborted.”
Akpabio observed that budgetary delays affected the progress of the forensic exercise, prompting President Buhari to intervene to save the situation.
He noted: “The President is resolute that he cannot leave the Niger Delta and the NDDC the way he met it. As a demonstration of this commitment, he is funding the forensic audit from the budget of the Presidency.”
The Minister said that the security component of the audit exercise was very important because of the safety issues in the Niger Delta region, stating: “We decided to start the audit exercise from the NDDC headquarters, while security arrangements were being firmed up. The field visit is a critical next step, after which we go into the office to produce the reports.”
Akpabio stressed that the physical verification was a very serious exercise because the results of the exercise may lead to the prosecution of the affected contractors, some of whom, he said, abandoned their contracts without completing them.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Dr Babayo Ardo, said that the flag-off of the physical verification phase marked a milestone in the quest to reposition the NDDC for effective service delivery.
He said: “The audit of the headquarters has been completed. So, we are now starting the second phase of the exercise. We will go round all the nine states to inspect the over 12,000 projects that have been identified by the NDDC.”
The NDDC Interim Administrator, Efiong Akwa, emphasised that the forensic audit was a serious and deliberate exercise which made it necessary for the physical inspection of projects sites in the nine states of the Niger Delta region.
He said that wherever the over 12,000 projects were located, the committee had been mandated to visit them, noting that they had the capacity to move around and ensure that the verification was done properly.
Akwa said that a formidable security team had been put together to escort the committee members and ensure their security.
Speaking at the occasion, the Lead Forensic Auditor, Joshua Basiru, observed that President Buhari ordered the forensic audit of the commission in 2019 as a result of the huge gap noted between resources invested and the infrastructural, human and economic development recorded by the commission.
Basiru remarked:” It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this forensic audit exercise is successfully executed, in a bid to re-position the Commission in terms of effectively delivery on its mandate, as well as improving transparency and accountability in NDDC.
“We must not allow this project to be scuttled by those who have benefited in the past, or those who are currently benefiting unjustly from the current loopholes in the commission’s policies and operating procedures as well as the profligacy exhibited by its previous management teams to the detriment of the vast majority of the Niger Delta people, and therefore do not like to see change coming to NDDC.”
The Lead Forensic Auditor said that despite some challenges they encountered during the first phase of documentation and data extraction, they were able to make appreciable progress in line with the forensic audit terms of reference.
Basiru urged the field forensic auditors and their teams to diligently and meticulously render their professional service.