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NDDC: President Buhari and the National Assembly should not sweep IMC corruption under the carpet

By Guardian Nigeria
21 October 2020   |   11:10 am
The delay of President Muhammadu Buhari to address the ongoing corruption being perpetrated by the Interim Management Committee at the Niger Delta Development Commission is sad and unfortunate. It calls to question Mr President's reputation as an anti-corruption crusader. Despite being aware of the humongous fraud perpetrated by the IMC, which has run a regime…

The delay of President Muhammadu Buhari to address the ongoing corruption being perpetrated by the Interim Management Committee at the Niger Delta Development Commission is sad and unfortunate. It calls to question Mr President’s reputation as an anti-corruption crusader.

Despite being aware of the humongous fraud perpetrated by the IMC, which has run a regime of corruption, financial recklessness and mismanagement, the President has failed to do the needful and sanitise the management. This is despite a Senate report and resolution detailing the infractions committed by the IMC and pointing the way forward.

In the last one year, the IMC has spent over N100 billion without budgetary approval and with nothing to show for it. Rather, humongous fictitious payments have been made for dubious items such as desilting and clearing of water hyacinths, and for the comfort of the IMC members. In spite of the evidence of corruption perpetrated by the IMC, the President has maintained an aloofness in what amounts to a disdain for Nigerians and the people of the Niger Delta, particularly.

Niger Deltans are still in shock that Mr President has failed to act despite the fact that the IMC has been indicted for corruption, financial recklessness and mismanagement by the Nigerian Senate after an open and transparent investigation where Nigerians were treated to an arrogant display of corrupt entitlement by the directors of the IMC led by its Acting Managing Director, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei and Acting Executive Director projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh.

While Prof. Pondei told a transfixed nation and the international community at the Senate Committee Public Hearing that, among others, the IMC shared out the sum of N1.3 billion among staff, including himself, as bonuses for the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Ojougboh in various newspaper interviews, not only justified this curious expenditure but said it was standard practice under the Buhari administration.

The National Assembly committees, which organised publicly televised public hearings and received memoranda from relevant government agencies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, among others, discovered fraud, financial recklessness, self aggrandizement and mismanagement by the IMC over the course of just nine months.

The Senate ad-hoc committee headed by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi of Ekiti State, which probed the allegations of corruption and mismanagement against the IMC, concluded its investigations in July and submitted its report, which was adopted as a resolution of the Senate on July 23, 2020. The report and resolution indicted the IMC for the manner it mismanaged N81.5 billion within the space of nine months up to May 2020 on unverified contracts, frivolous and luxurious payments, selfish expenditures, and gross mismanagement. It resolved that the IMC members should refund amounts illegally and improperly spent that was paid out under corrupt headings, that the members of the IMC be prosecuted and the committee disbanded.

Among some of the glaring fraud committed by the IMC, figures from the CBN and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation made available to the committees indicated that between February and May when the expanded IMC under the leadership of Prof Pondei was appointed, the IMC members paid themselves N302 million as tour duty allowances at a time much of the country, including the NDDC office, was locked down on account of the Covid-19 pandemic!

The IMC spent the following: N1.12 billion for publicity, N1.3 billion for community relations, and N475 million, which the IMC said was used to buy hand sanitizer and face masks for the police. The report showed that the Pondei-led IMC on April 15, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown paid out N1.96 billion purportedly for the procurement of Lassa fever personal protection kits purportedly for the 185 LGAs of the NDDC states. Yet, the IMC, which said rather strangely that it used staff of the NDDC to distribute them, could not produce evidence of delivery of these kits to any of the 185 LGAs. Everything spoke to the fact that this was a fictitious unexecuted contract. The IMC failed to provide a single name of recipient out of the 185 LGAs to whom the kits were purportedly handed over. It was self-evident that the fictitious contract, which was paid for by the IMC on April 15, 2020, was a conduit to steal the said N1.96 billion.

In his testimony, the Acting Managing Director Prof Pondei said the IMC paid themselves and staff a Covid-19 ‘palliative allowance’ of N1.3 billion despite receiving their normal salaries and allowances! In addition, it was revealed that Pondei takes home an additional N51 million monthly as allowances, while Ojougboh takes home an additional N18 million monthly as allowances. It is interesting that Ojougboh told The Vanguard that the N51 million Pondei collects monthly is to feed 100 policemen attached to him!

The Senate resolution also addressed the illegality of the IMC, which it said should be disbanded and the Governing Board inaugurated, to allow for the proper functioning of the governance structure at the commission.

The delayed action of the president on the petitions of whistleblowers and the Senate report has since emboldened the IMC to continue its stealing and mismanagement. The anti-corruption group, Act for Positive Transformation Initiative (ACTI) recently detailed fresh illegal and unbudgeted expenditures by the IMC months after the close of the Senate investigation that showed crass impunity and disregard for laid-down financial rules and regulations and for the constitution. Kolawole Johnson, who is the NGO’s Director of Research, Strategy and Programmes, in a statement headed ‘Stop the Looting in NDDC, Freeze Commission’s Accounts Now’, said the IMC has been moving funds out of the NDDC accounts through fraudulent and non-existent contracts, despite the absence of an approved 2020 budget. According to the group, the commission has gone ahead to squander close to N30bn since the end of the Senate investigation in fraudulent and fictitious payments and without budgetary approval.

Johnson details the illegal and fraudulent payments to include “reckless spending of N5.8bn on fraudulent emergency desilting on 29th July, 2020, alone when the nation was on holidays. They were so much in a hurry that they moved out the same amount purportedly for different locations and different scopes of job. i.e Emergency clearing and desilting of Ipinle Ajenrela creek, Igbokoda (lot 3) –N634,761,500.00, Emergency clearing and desilting of Akaibiri creek, Yenagoa – N634,761,500.00; Emergency clearing and desilting of Ilar Creek, Igbokoda (lot 2) – N634,761,500.00, Emergency clearing and desilting of Temetan Creek, Igbokoda (Lot 1) – N634,761,500.00. Others include: Emergency clearing and desilting of blocked canal from Ilaje High School Naval Base fishing Terminal, Igbokoda (Lot1) – N634,761,500.00, Emergency clearing and desilting of Yewa Creek, Okitipupa (Lot1) – N634,761,500.00, Emergency clearing and desilting of Ipinle Koforawe Creek, Igbokoda (lot 2) –N634,761,500.00. The last on the roll on that same day: urgent clear desilting of blocked sections of Ibelebiri waterways, Ogbia (lot 2) – N739,071,500.00.” Interestingly, the traditional ruler of Igbokoda has denied the presence of any of the mentioned projects in a widely published public statement.

President Buhari should understand that Nigerians and the international community have the evidence of the IMC corrupt activities, including the ridiculous fainting by Prof Pondei when he was confronted with unassailable evidence of the corrupt activities of the IMC which he heads during the public hearing. Today, courtesy of revelations from NGOs and the National Assembly investigations, the people have on their phones and other devices, records of the fraudulent payments by the IMC from its account at the CBN, including the dates, recipients and purposes. President Buhari should know, therefore, that if he fails to act on the IMC’s indictment for corruption, his inactions will be held against him.

Therefore, Mr President cannot afford to ignore the voices of the people of the Niger Delta, which is unequivocal that all those who are stealing the resources of the people such as the IMC is doing must be brought to book without further delay. A government that seeks to enthrone good governance cannot afford to ignore the Senate report and all the revelations that are already in the public domain that detail such humongous and freewheeling corruption by the IMC at the NDDC in the last one year.

Prof Keme Pondei and his IMC colleagues should not remain in office a day longer. Nigerians will not accept any attempt to sweep the IMC corruption under the carpet because the evidence is everywhere.

We call on the National Assembly to be committed to its constitutional responsibility and desist from any action that undermines the Constitution and our laws on this issue. It should listen to the voices of Nigerians on the streets who are saying loud and clear that it cannot be business as usual.

Aside from the fact that it is an illegal body, the IMC serves no useful purpose at the NDDC, since it is not provided for in the NDDC Act of 2000 as amended, which is the law governing the Commission. In line with the law and the Senate resolution, we ask President Buhari to bring probity, accountability and due process to bear in the NDDC by disbanding the IMC and prosecute all those that abused their offices.

Comrade Ebi Arogbofa is the national chairman Transparency and Accountability Advancement Group.

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