National Assembly probes alleged N40b corruption in NDDC
• Summons Akpabio, interim management committee
The Senate and House of Representatives yesterday resolved to investigate how the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) allegedly squandered N40 billion within three months.
The Senate set up an adhoc committee presided over by Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi (APC, Ekiti North) to look into financial transactions carried out by the IMC on behalf of the commission within the period and present a report in four weeks.
This followed a motion sponsored by Senator Thompson George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), titled: ‘Urgent Need to Investigate Alleged Financial Recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)’.
Sekibo said although President Muhammadu Buhari set up the IMC to oversee a forensic audit of financial transactions carried out by the now-dissolved board of the commission, reports indicate the committee may have questions to answer. He also said the committee was indulging in the alleged arbitrary sacking of the commission’s management staff.
He said: “While President Buhari’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit might have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedevilled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the commission’s funds.
“Within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund without recourse to established processes of funds disbursements, which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta region.
“Consequently, the IMC has lost credibility and is seen as a financial conduit based on the opinions of stakeholders in the region. This therefore urgently calls for an intervention by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to instil confidence in the people for whom the commission was primarily established.”
He maintained: “Section 88 of the Constitution (as amended) has conferred on the National Assembly” the power “to ascertain whether the sum of N40billion, appropriated and in the coffers of the commission”, has been “judiciously and appropriately” expended.
During the general debate, Senators Bala IbnNa’Allah (APC, Kebbi South) and Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central) raised different constitutional points of order to stop the motion, complaining that it was being driven by mere allegations.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan, however, ruled in favour, stressing that the veracity or otherwise of the allegations would be established during the investigation.
The members of the ad hoc committee are Senators Jika Dauda Haliru (APC, Bauchi Central); Mohammed Tanko Almakura (APC, Nasarawa South); Abdulfatai Buhari (APC, Oyo North); Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North); Ibrahim Hadeija (APC, Jigawa North East); and Degi-Eremienyo Biobarakuma Wangaha (APC, Bayelsa East).
Similarly, while adopting a motion sponsored by Deputy Leader Peter Akpatason yesterday, the House of Representatives mandated its Committee on NDDC to investigate the misapplication and misappropriation of funds at the commission.
The committee will probe all procurements and financial transactions in the current fiscal year to ascertain compliance with the law. It will also find out whether the commission followed laid down procedure in the layoff and engagement of key management staff.
The lawmakers consequently summoned Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio and the Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei-led IMC.
While moving the motion, Akpatason said the House Committee on NDDC received several petitions from contractors, stakeholders and public interest groups regarding the alleged layoff of personnel and their replacement with unqualified and inexperienced persons.
Akpatason (Edo, APC) claimed the NDDC spent over N40 billion without a corresponding effect on the region. Seventy per cent of the sum was allegedly spent on emergency projects and completion of the commission’s headquarters without due regard to fiscal governance as encapsulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 and other extant financial regulations.
He further claimed that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the contract was allegedly awarded for the supply of Hilux vehicles and medical consumables worth N4.8 billion, in clear breach of Sections 19, 25, 41 and 42 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.
Pondei had promised sweeping changes in the commission. He said the NDDC would be re-organised to enhance its service delivery and reduce the sufferings of the people in the region.
“We need to have quality assurance and measurable performance indicators in every unit and department of NDDC. I am a problem solver by training, and as such, pray that members of the IMC will work together to solve problems. We must come up with ways of seriously improving on our service delivery by paying attention to efficiency and quality. Every department in NDDC will need to come up with new work plans and we need to have measurable indices in those work plans,” he said.
Efforts by The Guardian to get Akpabio’s reactions were unsuccessful. Sources within the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and close aides to the minister said they were not authorised to comment on the allegations.
But in a statement titled,‘There is no fraud at NDDC,’ dated April 25, 2020, and signed by NDDC’s Director of Corporate Affairs Charles Obi Odili, the commission responded to some reports it described as inaccurate.
On the COVID-19 contract, it said there were online publications circulating a letter purportedly issued by the Director of Procurement awarding a contract of N5.55 billion for the procurement of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and other kits to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the Niger Delta region.
“We wish to unequivocally deny that contract. The document is simply fake or at best unauthorised. The letters for all contracts awarded by the commission are signed by the Executive Director (Projects) on the authority of the Acting Managing Director who is the chief accounting officer of the commission.
“Neither of the officials is aware of the contract letter. It is inconceivable that a contract of such magnitude could be awarded otherwise. The commission has launched an internal investigation into how such a letter came to be issued and on what authority,” he said.
For the purpose of transparency, the commission confirmed that it had secured presidential approval to intervene by assisting NCDC in the supply of kits and in the building of isolation centres in the nine Niger Delta states.
It disclosed that the commission disbursed N775million to help the states fight the pandemic. “We have also disbursed N270 million as palliatives to the youths, women and the physically challenged in the 27 senatorial districts of the region.”
On Lassa fever, the commission said there were claims that the management paid huge sums for contracts to supply kits and drugs for prevention of the disease.
“We wish to state that this present management has not awarded any Lassa fever contract. From the records, the commission awarded three contracts for intervention against the Lassa fever scourge and all these took place in 2019, at least one year before the present management came into office.”
The statement decried the upsurge in attacks on the commission, the IMC and the minister since the launch of a forensic audit into the affairs of the commission.
It said: “These attacks are meant to distract the commission from the task of holding those who looted the commonwealth to account.” The statement added that the minister and the IMC are determined to complete the audit.
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