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NDDC: IMC’s admission to paying contractors under duress is corruption

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In a statement published in newspapers and online media on Saturday, August 8, 2020, Professor Keme Pondei, Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission claimed that his Interim Management Committee was blackmailed to pay contractors in exchange for getting the 2019 budget passed by the National Assembly NDDC Committees in March 2020.

The Nation newspaper which reported the story under the headline ‘NDDC: Pondei lists contracts allegedly paid under ‘duress’ to get budget approval’, said: “According to him, most of the contracts they were arm-twisted to pay, “were never done or sometimes, never completed.”

By his own admission, Pondei and the IMC paid for contracts that were either not executed or not completed. This is criminal and Pondei and his IMC colleagues must turn themselves in to the anti-graft agencies. If they fail to do so, the anti-graft agencies should make good their mandate and arrest members of the IMC and any collaborators, for immediate prosecution.

No amount of appeal to base instincts, as Pondei tried to do with his misdirected statement, can remove from the fact that what the IMC did is criminal and goes to compound their very bad case of financial recklessness and mismanagement. It is even sadder that Pondei may have effectively compromised the so-called forensic audit by making payments for jobs not executed during the period covered by the audit. Nigerians may recall that the audit was supposed to cover the years since the establishment of the NDDC up to 2019.

Looking at Pondei’s incoherent mumbo-jumbo on these contracts and other similar statements he and the IMC have released in the last few weeks, it is safe to assume that he and his colleagues are shopping for an easy way out of their Corruption cul-de-sac, given that they have been indicted by the Senate after a thorough investigation, including a Public Hearing. If, indeed, Pondei and the IMC have been blackmailed to make unauthorised and fraudulent payments, then they should go to the anti-graft agencies, confess and indicate any companies that collaborated with them. The media is not a prosecuting agency, and this Pondei and the IMC should know.

That Pondei and the IMC made the beggarly statement that: “Sadly, nobody seems to care to ask questions because people are falling for the well-scripted smokescreen playing out in the two Chambers of the National Assembly,” is indicative of people without a sense of shame. It was Pondei who brought shame and unimaginable drama to the National Assembly which probed how billions of naira were stolen in just a few months under the IMC. Watched on Live TV by millions in Nigeria and across the world as he was being questioned about several shocking expenditures running into billions of naira to which he could not provide answers, Pondei promptly ‘fainted’ to escape further questions.

It was the first time in our national history where the Chief Executive Officer/Chief Accounting Officer of a Ministry Department or Agency (MDA) would play a fainting script to dodge oversight over his official duties. It was indeed a very shameful episode and Nigerians all over the World are still being confronted daily and trolled with images of Pondei’s fainting drama. Nigerians saw clearly the farce of a presentation made by Pondei and the Acting Executive Director Projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, at the Committee hearings where N81.5 billion was found to have been spent recklessly by the IMC in just a couple of months.

For some time now, the IMC has engaged in the odious art of throwing red herrings to distract Nigerians from its corruption, financial recklessness and mismanagement. We cannot permit this to continue. Certainly not with the humongous sums stolen by the IMC in just a few months. For the avoidance of ambiguity, the two houses of the National Assembly set up committees to investigate corruption allegations against the IMC and the Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpabio, where it was discovered, after public hearings, that huge sums of money have been stolen under their watch, and due process subverted. That is the issue at play here, and the reason Pondei and the IMC have shamelessly turned into actors in a bid to escape prosecution and continue their nefarious mismanagement of the NDDC.

It is evident that Pondei does not take a reflective look at his actions because if he does, he must feel ashamed at the decisions he has taken since being appointed to head the NDDC in February this year, including the illegal bonuses he paid himself and others as Covid-19 Palliative, Guest House Maintenance Allowance, Tour Duty Allowances, Postgraduate scholarship bonuses and other ridiculous expenditure running into billions of naira as listed in the NDDC account statements from the CBN. These and other revelations were no ‘smokescreen’ to cover up anything, they were shameful acts of corruption, financial recklessness and fraud, for which the IMC and other NDDC officials should make refund and be prosecuted by the Anti-graft agencies.

Or, will Pondei now tell us that his disgraceful confession to awarding himself and his IMC colleagues stupendous bonuses which he called Covid-19 palliative was the result of blackmail? Perhaps he has forgotten so soon that he, like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, told Nigerians on National TV that he and his colleagues shared N1.5 billion. According to him, “We used it to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves.” When he was asked by a member of the committee if the reckless and criminal ‘Covid-19 Bonus’ was in addition to their salaries, he answered: “Yes sir.”

The report and resolutions of the Senate are based on public testimonies and evidence from the Central Bank of Nigeria, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Bureau for Public Procurement, other agencies of government, NGOs and NDDC records, on how the IMC mismanaged the Commission in the last nine months. The Senate in plenary on July 23 unanimously adopted the report and passed a resolution, which demands that the IMC be disbanded and made to refund the sum of N4.923 billion it illegally spent.

The Senate also resolved that the substantive Governing Board of the NDDC be sworn in to manage the Commission in line with the provisions of the Law (NDDC Act); that the NDDC be moved back to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in the Presidency for proper supervision; that the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation supervise the forensic audit to “guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise,” and that “the President with advice from the Auditor General should appoint a renowned, internationally recognised forensic auditor to carry out the exercise.”

Given the thoroughness of the investigation and the detailed 116-page Senate report showing corruption, financial recklessness and mismanagement, and the outrage of Nigerians, any self-respecting IMC should by now have turned in its resignation, rather than engage in distractions aimed at gaming the system. We call on Pondei and his IMC colleagues to borrow some shame and resign their offices, instead of waiting to be kicked out. It should be clear to them that they have lost the trust of Niger Deltans and Nigerians in general. The IMC’s resort to the delay tactics of bureaucratic letter-writing, ambiguous press statements and fabulous counter-allegations to confuse the issues and continue in office must not be condoned.

The continued stay and actions of the IMC are clearly a mockery of our governance systems and President Muhammadu Buhari must not sit idly by and allow this to happen under his watch. It is also an indictment of the president’s famed disdain for corrupt practices. Mr President should without further delay call for the full implementation of the Senate resolutions on the NDDC, which is based on the report of its Adhoc Committee that investigated the Corruption and financial recklessness in the last nine months under the IMC.

We call on President Buhari to bring an end to this very sad drama/show of shame by dissolving the IMC and restoring a culture of probity and responsibility at the NDDC by implementing the Senate resolutions while directing the Anti-Corruption agencies to prosecute all persons indicted in the report. Niger Deltans deserve no less from the federal government. Our people are running out of patience.

Damian Nwikinaka is the director of Information and Strategy of Transparency and Accountability Advancement Group.

This article is sponsored by the Transparency and Accountability Advancement Group.


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