The Senate (the Red Chamber), on Thursday, called for the immediate dissolution of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over what it called large-scale corruption in the interventionist agency.
This is just as the House of Representative, on Thursday, resolved to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, over the allegations that over 60 per cent of contracts in the NDDC went to unnamed members of the National Assembly.
The Red Chamber consequently ordered for immediate refund of the sum of N4.923 billion allegedly expended by the interim managers of the Commission on questionable items between April and June, 2020.
The Senate also said IMC was unknown to law, adding that a Board of Directors is the statutory body that should run the agency at all times and not an interim body.
These and other far-reaching recommendations were adopted by the Senate following the presentation of a report by its Ad-hoc committee on the alleged financial recklessness in NDDC at plenary by the committee chairman, Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi (APC, Ekiti North).
The Adetumbi-led committee came up with 17 recommendations which were adopted by the Senate, concluding that the Interim Management Committee of the commission spent monies recklessly as made available from the three major sources of funding of NDDC.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that the sources of funding are monetary contributions by oil companies, annual budgetary provisions and internally generated revenues (IGR).
According to the report, the Commission got a total of N81.5 billion between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020 and expended all without convincing justifications.
The report noted that two different IMCs have led the Commission within the period under review but the current one headed by Prof Daniel Pondei, which assumed office on the February 19, 2020, spent about 90 percent of the monies on questionable activities and items.
The one that raise so much eyebrow was the sum of N4.923 billion spent between March and May, 2020, which the Senate resolved must be refunded by the beneficiaries, who were mostly members of the current IMC, staff of the Commission and the Policemen.
The breakdown of the questionable N4.923billion to be refunded are N1.49billion spent as COVID-19 palliatives, N1.12billion for public communications, N1.96billion for procurement of Lassa Fever kits, N164.2million expended on Union members’ trip to Italy, N105.5million spent on scholarship grants and N85.7million on overseas travel to the United Kingdom during COVID-19 total lockdown.
Meanwhile, the Senate also resolved to revisit the Act establishing the Commission in an effort to reposition the agency for execution of projects that would develop the Niger Delta area and not an avenue for corrupt practices.
It also opposed the idea of self-appointed forensic auditor by the Commission, saying such a practice cannot expose fraud let alone ensure transparency and accountability.
The Senate, therefore, recommended that the Office of Auditor-General of the Federation be constitutionally saddled with such responsibility.
The report noted: “In order to ensure that the forensic audit achieves the purpose for which it is set up and inspire confidence in the operational and financial processes of NDDC oversight of the audit should be transferred to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation.
“This will guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise.
“Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the President with advice from the Auditor General should appoint a renowned , internationally recognised Forensic Auditor to carry out the exercise,” the report stated.
The Red Chamber also did a soul-searching as it mandated its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate alleged meddlesomeness of some Senators into the activities of the Commission.
“There are assertions of blackmail by NDDC against members of the National Assembly on the subject of procurement process, this must be investigated and if found true, the practice must stop” the report pointed out.
Virtually all the Senators who contributed to the debate on the report opined that the NDDC’s IMC must be immediately dissolved to have way for properly constituted Board of Directors.
For his part, Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, assured his colleagues that the recocommendations would be acted upon by President Muhamnadu Buhari.
He said, “This report has exposed inefficiency and large scale corruption going on in NDDC.
“It has revealed that over the years, those charged with the responsibility of running the Commission and by extension facilitating development of the Niger Delta Area have squandered the resources given to them for that purpose.
“We are on the same page with the executive in getting the agency sanitized and I can assure you that the report will receive the required attention it deserves from Mr President”.
I was misunderstood – Minister
In a related development in the Green Chamber, the House of Representative, Thursday, resolved to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, over the allegations that over 60 per cent of contracts in the NDDC went to unnamed members of the National Assembly.
Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, at the plenary instructed the Clerk to engage lawyers to file the suit following the minister’s refusal to respond to publish the list of lawmakers who got contracts from the Commission as earlier alleged by the Minister.
But Akpabio denied accusing members of the National Assembly of collecting 60 per cent of the contracts from NDDC, saying he was misunderstood.
Akpabio, in a letter read on the floor of the House by the Speaker, explained that the only reference he made to 60 per cent during his presentation before the House of Reps Ad-hoc Committee on NDDC on Monday was in response to a question by a member of the committee.
He said the member had sought to know whether a medical director can serve as an executive director (projects), to which he responded that since 50 to 60 per cent of NDDC contracts were medical related, there was nothing wrong in a medical director serving in that capacity.
Akpabio also said that the executive director (projects) of the NDDC, Dr Cairo Ojougbo forwarded to him a list of 19 contracts which the chairman of the House Committee on NDDC insisted must be paid before the 2020 budget of the commission is passed.
He also said that the NDDC had not executed any contract in the 2020 budget since it has not been passed, while the 2019 budget was only passed in April and has not been implemented substantially.
Speaker Gbajabiamila however referred the letter to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for further action.
LEADERSHIP Friday recall that following Akpabio’s allegation on Monday, Gbajabiamila had on Tuesday at plenary issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the minister to publish the names of the lawmakers that were given the contracts, the details of the contracts, and the dates, among others.
However, Akpabio failed to do so as of Thursday when the ultimatum expired and instead wrote the House a clarification letter, denying the allegation.
N/Delta Women Protest
Meanwhile, protesting women drawn from the nine Niger Delta states, on Thursday took to the streets of Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State, capital to protest alleged plans by the National Assembly to frustrate the ongoing forensic audit of the NDDC.
The women, who later addressed a press conference, accused the former acting managing director of the commission, Ms Joi Nuineh, of aligning with some federal lawmakers to frustrate the forensic audit of the Commission.
The women under the aegis of the Niger Delta Women Liberation Movement (NDWL) further alleged that Nuineh was being sponsored to blackmail and frustrate the forensic audit exercise in order to shield those who had been beneficiaries of several unexecuted contracts at the NDDC.
Spokesperson for the group and president-general of NDWL, Akwa Ibom State chapter, Obonganwan Obonodo Uko, at the Abak local government chapter secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said it was time President Buhari stepped in and stop what they described as “open show of shame”.
She said the media space had been awash with stories of how a certain Senator had secured NDDC’s contracts through a proxy and collected huge sum of money without executing them, alleging that the 2020 budget of the Commission was heavily padded.