By G9ija

Disturbed by the continued delay in the passage of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) budget by the National Assembly, the presidency yesterday resolved to release N722.3 million to fund the forensic audit of the commission.

The amount is in addition to other estimated fiscal proposals for the forensic audit, which is expected to cover 12,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta in the last 19 years.

Briefing reporters at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House, Abuja, the Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said the decision followed the approval of a memorandum he presented to the council for the appointment of field auditors to commence the forensic audit.

According to him, aside from the appointment of the lead auditor earlier approved in March, appointments of eight more auditors have been approved for the forensic investigation.

He described one of the audit firms, Ernst and Young, as an international company which will coordinate forensic activities at the headquarters.
Akpabio said the output of the audits would be beneficial to the Niger Delta region because it would reveal the amount of monies released to NDDC in the last 19 years and determine whether such releases were commensurate with developments in the region.

The minister explained that the delay in the take-off of the audit was caused by lack of budget for the commission since 2019, despite the provision of N1.25 billion in the 2019 budget of NDDC.

He said in view of the National Assembly’s inability to sit now and consider the budget because of its annual recess, the president was compelled to order the release of the money from the budget of the presidency to enable the exercise to commence.

“By the time I assumed office in August 2019, we discovered there was no budget for the NDDC for the year 2019 up to that September. So, we submitted two budgets in November to the National Assembly, and it took quite a while until in April.

“The budget details were given out to the NDDC in April, to the end of May, less than six weeks. So, there was a provision of N1.25 billion in the budget of 2019 for the forensic audit exercise. So, basically what delayed it was the absence of a budget, not the absence of the will.

“Unfortunately, the National Assembly is right now on leave and the budget of NDDC for 2020 has not been passed. So, to enable us to move forward with the exercise and complete it on time, Mr. President graciously directed and approved that the payment for the forensic exercise should be undertaken through the presidency.” he said.

Akpabio stated that the approval of N722.3 million by FEC for the audit was an addition to the N318 million earlier approved, adding that the field audit would be completed within the next two weeks after which another group of eight auditors would be hired to conclude the exercise.

He added that President Muhammadu Buhari had last year approved N2.5 billion for the audit and every amount to be spent would be within the approved figure but will be released by the presidency in view of the non-availability of the NDDC budget.

“So, the first amount that was approved for the lead forensic auditors was about N318 million and then for this batch of eight field auditors, N722.3 million. We expect to complete the field audit in the next one or two weeks to conclude forensic audit procurement by bringing in further seven to eight of them because of the number of years – 19 years and that will conclude it.

“Earlier, Mr. President had last year approved an estimated amount of N2.5 billion. So, everything that we are spending now will come from that estimated sum. Initially, it should have come from the budget of the NDDC but because of the delay and the inability to pass the 2020 budget, the entirety of the amount that will be spent will come from the budget of the presidency,” he said.

He stated that the output of the audit would serve as a benchmark for other development commissions such as the recently-established North East Development Commission (NEDC).