July 23, 2020 / 6:26 PM / 22 days ago

Nigerian lawmakers recommend new board for Niger Delta body in corruption probe

ABUJA, July 23 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s president should appoint a new board to run a government agency overseeing economic development in the oil-rich Niger Delta region that has faced accusations of financial mismanagement, lawmakers said on Thursday.

Nigerian lawmakers are investigating alleged corruption around procurement at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over 20 years.

An audit of the body, which last year had a budget of 346 billion naira ($909 million), was ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in October after a number of state governors from the Delta complained about how it was run.

The Niger Delta remains impoverished despite providing most of the oil, the mainstay of the economy, produced in Africa’s biggest crude exporter. Locals have for decades complained of poverty, with agitation at times spilling over into attacks on energy facilities.

“The committee noted that it is difficult to find a correlation between Niger Delta community development and cash invested in the zone,” the lawmakers in the Senate, parliament’s upper chamber, said in a report published on Thursday.

The acting managing director of NDDC, Daniel Pondei, told lawmakers at a hearing earlier in week: “There is no money missing in NDDC since I took over in February this year. Everything we have done are in accordance with the laid-down procedures.”

The NDDC has been run by an interim board since October after the audit was ordered.

The committee “strongly recommends” that Buhari takes steps to inaugurate a new board of directors. The absence of a permanent board “created a major lacuna of oversight”, the report said.

A spokesman for the president declined to comment on the recommendations, which also said a monitoring committee should be set up to ensure there are checks and balances over the way the NDDC is run.

It also said the office of the auditor general should oversee a forensic audit of the body.

A NDDC spokesman did not immediately respond to phone calls and a text message seeking comment. ($1 = 381.0000 naira) (Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alison Williams)

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