A government agency assigned to build roads and hospitals in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta awarded contracts, but never saw construction carried out in the endemically poor region, the country's presidency said Tuesday.
The Niger Delta Development Commission let contractors escape the responsibility of their work and collect government funds, said a statement from the office of President Goodluck Jonathan. The alleged fraud came in a region that fills Nigeria's coffers with billions of dollars in oil revenue that remain under the control of politicians and the elite with little oversight in a nation routinely considered by analysts to be one of the world's most corrupt.
In the presidential statement Tuesday, Jonathan promised to "sanitize" the commission.
"Project abandonment is totally unacceptable to us. The era of contractors taking money and not doing their work is over," Jonathan said. "If the (commission) is to act as a catalyst for development in the Niger Delta, then we must act to redeem the situation."
The presidency said it would conduct an audit of the commission's accounts and forward information it discovers to police in hopes of arresting those responsible.
The commission, founded in 2000, is charged with providing roads, electricity, hospitals and other needed facilities to the Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps about the size of South Carolina. Despite 50 years of oil production there, aging cinderblock hospitals lack medical supplies and villagers drink polluted water.
A spokesman for the commission could not be reached for comment Tuesday. On its website, the commission posted a recent newspaper article that quoted Chibuzor Igwuoha, the commission's managing director.
"Everybody wants business as usual, once you deviate from what is known, even if it will bring the very best result, people will attack you first," the article quoted Igwuoha as saying.