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Reps accuse NDDC of illegal spending, insist on probe

By Adamu Abuh, Juliet Akoje (Abuja), Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) and Chido Okafor (Warri)
27 May 2020   |   3:45 am
The House of Representatives yesterday described the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as a “corrupt” agency that had been engaging in “illegal and unauthorised spending”

Deny profiting from agency’s N3 trillion contract
• ‘N’ Assembly padded commission’s 2019 budget’
• Coalition asks Buhari to scrap interim committee

The House of Representatives yesterday described the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as a “corrupt” agency that had been engaging in “illegal and unauthorised spending” worth “billions of naira.”

Its spokesman, Benjamin Kalu, in a statement, also accused the agency of refusing to avail the National Assembly of its budget performance reports for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

Reacting to an interview granted by Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, NDDC’s Executive Director (Projects) and member of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), the lower legislative chamber lambasted the commission for casting aspersion on its integrity.

Ojougboh, in the live programme, had blamed the lawmakers for the delay in the passage of the agency’s budget and for “working against the ongoing forensic audit instituted by the presidency.”

But the Green Chamber said it had been pushing the commission to do the “needful and render account to the Nigerian people.”

According to Kalu, “Section 18(1) of the NDDC (Establishment) Act mandates the Commission to, not later than September 30 each year, submit to the National Assembly its budget estimates for the following year.”

He said more than 13 months after the time required by law, the agency“deliberately failed to submit its 2019 budget to the National Assembly for approval, choosing instead to engage in illegal and unauthorised spending to the tune of billions of naira.”

The chamber explained: “It took the intervention of the House, following a motion moved by Benjamin Kalu on November 26, 2019, to compel the Commission to present its 2019 budget.”

This was as the lawmakers insisted they would investigate the alleged mismanagement of N40 billion by the IMC.

The Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, Olubunmi Ojo, who made the resolve yesterday in Abuja, denied the claim by an official that his committee and that of the Senate benefited from an N3 trillion contract.

Claiming that members of the panel had been receiving death threats from militants, Ojo maintained that no amount of blackmail would deter them from executing the assignment.

He said: “It is unfortunate that these allegations are coming. They are forms of blackmail and it is surprising. I became chairman of this committee in September last year when we were inaugurated. And between September and now, I can say that not a kobo of contract has been awarded.So, I don’t know how that assertion came about.

“It is laughable because the IMC came into place in October last year, a month after I became chairman of the committee. Dr. Cairo Ojougboh himself said they have not awarded a single contract since they came on board.”

Also, the NDDC committees in the two chambers of the National Assembly have been accused of “padding the commission’s 2019 budget with over 500 projects and raping the destiny of the Niger Delta people.”

The acting Managing Director of the IMC, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, who made the allegation, said the planned probe of the agency by the legislators “is merely intended to make a mockery of the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.”

At a briefing in Port Harcourt yesterday, Pondei claimed that the “overbearing stranglehold” of the National Assembly panels was responsible for the delay in the passage of the 2019 budget in March 2020.

He said the reason the NDDC applied to the National Assembly for the virement of its 2019 budget was “because the commission only got the letter of approval of the budget on March 20, 2020, after the NDDC was coerced by some lawmakers to pay 20 contractors.”

Pondei alleged: “We saw that the time frame was very short. And apart from that, the budget that was sent back to us was not recognisable by us. We have been hearing of budget padding. This was a classical case of budget padding. Almost 500 new projects were added to the budget and the appropriation was done in such a way that meaningful projects were appropriated very little sums of money.”

He claimed that until the two committees were checked, the agency would remain incapacitated in carrying out its mandate of transforming the Niger Delta region.

Meanwhile, a group, the Niger Delta Peace Coalition (NDPC) has urged Nigerians to hold President Buhari responsible for the “unprecedented corruption in the NDDC on the watch of the IMC and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio.”

It said the alleged N40 billion financial malfeasance within the space of three months was the “fastest massive looting by any NDDC management.”

NDPC National Coordinator Zik Gbemre said a civil society group, the Directorate of Research, Acts For Positive Transformation Initiative, had uncovered an “attempt by the IMC to cover up this alleged fraud” and urged that the issue be pursued to a logical conclusion.

Also, the Niger Delta Accountability and Development Coalition in a statement by its national coordinator, Johnson Epia, said: “The NDDC Act does not recognise any form of the interim management committee or indeed any other form of management” in the commission.

“Senate erred ab initio by succumbing to pressure to allow the illegal IMC to submit the NDDC budget proposal, which it also approved, contrary to its earlier constitutionally justified decision not to recognise and/or relate with such an interim management committee, having screened and confirmed nominees for the governing board of the NDDC as prescribed by the NDDC Act, 2000, as amended.”

The NDDC Act, Epia said, provided for the president to nominate a chairman, managing director, two executive directors and one person who shall be an indigene of an oil-producing area to represent each of the following member states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers, and three persons to represent each of the non-oil mineral producing geo-political zones.

Epia said other members of the commission, according to the Act, should be representatives of oil-producing companies in the Niger Delta nominated by the oil-producing companies. One person is to represent the Federal Ministry of Finance, and one other person to represent the Federal Ministry of Environment.

“By the provisions of the NDDC Act, they shall be appointed for a fixed term of four years in the first instance subject to the confirmation of the Senate,” Epia said.

“This is the constitutional provision duly followed by President Buhari who officially nominated members for the governing board and management committee via a letter to the Senate dated October 18, 2019, personally signed by him and read on the floor of the Senate by the president of the Senate.

“Why did the Senate go contrary to its firm and lawful decision not to recognise or relate with any interim management committee and not to appropriate any fund to NDDC under it? How does the confirmed governing board become an obstacle to the well appreciated and welcomed decision of President Buhari to engage reputable external auditors to carry out holistic forensic auditing of the commission?”

Epia added: “There is no proper audit anywhere in the world by reputable auditors that needs the supervision of the management, let alone an illegal management committee, else it loses its independence and credibility.

“No serious audit requires the management of the place to supervise it, except, of course, it is an audit with predetermined boundaries. The IMC is therefore no more than an interloper in the affairs of the NDDC, which is why civil society organisations have been consistent in demanding that the NDDC be run by the governing board. To remedy this situation, we call on President Buhari to scrap the IMC and re-establish the NDDC Act by inaugurating the governing board in line with the law.”