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NDDC: Akpabio, Ojougboh, and the IMC should return the money they looted and petition EFCC on any contractor

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The renewed claims by Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio and the IMC that 6 members out of the 469 members of the National Assembly are contractors to the Commission should not distract Nigerians from the evidence of large scale looting, fraud and mismanagement at the NDDC in the last few months.

Choosing to play to the soapbox, a group which calls itself the National Youth Council of Nigeria, called out what it said are 6 lawmakers out of 469 federal lawmakers who collected NDDC contracts. That came the same day Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, the Acting Executive Director Projects of the IMC, accused these 6 legislators out of 469 national legislators of being NDDC contractors.

These allegations are evidently aimed at distracting Nigerians from the reports of the National Assembly Committees that investigated and indicted Akpabio and the IMC for large scale looting and mismanagement of resources.

The Senate had on Thursday, July 23, accepted its Adhoc Committee’s recommendations that the IMC be disbanded and made to refund the sum of N4.923 billion; that the substantive Governing Board of the NDDC is sworn in to manage the Commission in line with the provisions of the Law; 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 supervision of the forensic audit should be transferred from the Niger Delta Ministry to the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation 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.” It is not difficult to see why Akpabio and the IMC are crowding the media space with these allegations of only 6 lawmakers out of 469 lawmakers doing contracts in the NDDC.

Rather than address their own corruption, Akpabio and Ojougboh have whipped out the convenient excuse that 6 members of the 469-member National Assembly are NDDC contractors as if that justifies the IMC’s own corruption. Their plan is clearly to delegitimise the oversight functions of the National Assembly. This cannot be allowed in any sane society and President Muhammadu Buhari has clearly frowned at such conduct when he asked his appointees to submit to the oversight of the National Assembly.

By virtue of Section 88 of the Nigerian Constitution, the National Assembly is empowered to oversight federal Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) such as the NDDC. In particular, Section 88 (1) of the constitution (as amended), confers on the National Assembly the power to “direct or cause to be directed investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has the power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering money appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.”

We have maintained that Akpabio, Ojougboh and the IMC have no excuse to steal the resources of the Niger Delta people or seek to dodge scrutiny over their performance in office. They are at liberty to report the concerned lawmakers to the police, the EFCC and the ICPC for investigation and prosecution, as necessary, rather than seek to use them as bargaining chips. They should compile the names and send them to the EFCC and other anti-graft agencies for investigation and prosecution; waving them at media conferences and through public relations surrogates does not do justice to whatever claims of corruption they have against the lawmakers. In all, however, Akpabio and Ojougboh have failed to explain to Nigerians how these so-called  6 lawmaker contractors made the IMC to steal and mismanage billions of naira in under six months.

It is not difficult to see, therefore, that Akpabio, Ojougboh, and the IMC are scared that their meal tickets have been threatened, and are therefore raising these claims to becloud the real issues. These real issues are that, in just a few months, Akpabio, Ojougboh and other members of the IMC have squandered N81.5 billion in dubious payments at the NDDC, the high point of which was the admission by the Acting Managing Director, Prof Keme Pondei, that they shared N1.32 billion among themselves as Special Covid-19 pandemic bonus. As Pondei confessed: “We used it to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves too.”

Some of the other nauseating expenditures that came to light during the investigation, Ojougboh and his colleagues spent the following in under four months: N1.3bn on community relations, N122.9m on condolences, N83m on consultancy and N3.14bn on COVID-19, N486m Duty Travel Allowance, N790.9m as imprest, N1.956bn on Lassa Fever, N900m on Legal Service, N220m on maintenance, N85.6m on foreign travels, N1.121bn on public projects communication, N744m on security, N8.8bn on staffing-related payment and N248m on stakeholders’ engagement from February 18 to May 31, 2020. As the Daily Trust newspaper of July 21, 2020, reported: “The Auditor-General (of the Federation) Anthony Ayine and the representative of the Accountant-General, Sabo Mohammed, confirmed the N81.5bn transactions being investigated. Ayine said there should be punitive measures to discourage agencies violating the Constitution.”

Our position is that Akpabio and Ojougboh cannot be allowed to run around throwing allegations without following up with petitions to the EFCC and the other anti-graft agencies. He and the IMC have more than enough outlets to report any lawmaker or official whom they think has committed a crime to the police and the anti-graft agencies. This is what they should do with these 6 legislators, out of 469 national legislators that they have alleged to be NDDC contractors. The allegations against the 6 lawmakers are not enough to ignore the corruption of Akpabio and the IMC.

The conduct of Akpabio, Ojougboh, and other members of the IMC again speaks to the quality of persons in public office. For people who have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, we expect contrition and the good sense to return the money they have stolen as demanded by the Senate. If they have any sense of shame, they would have resigned, rather than wait for President Buhari to sack them. Clearly, men like Akpabio and Ojougboh have no place in a government with a strong Anti-Corruption stance.

We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to heed the resolutions of the Senate on the NDDC and dissolve the IMC. Ojougboh and his thieving colleagues in the IMC must return the money they have illegally collected and face the full force of the law. Men like Akpabio, Pondei, and Ojougboh must not be allowed to get away with their corruption.

Damian Nwikinaka is the director of research and strategy Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition.

This content is sponsored by Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition.


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