Senate insists on probe of NDDC’s financial deals
• Asks agency to publish records of misdeeds by senators
• Commission, CSO allege plot to derail forensic audit
The confrontation between the National Assembly and the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) became messier yesterday as the senate challenged the agency to publish records of alleged multiple contracts awarded to senators.
The upper legislative chamber also asked the NDDC to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate allegations of financial misdeeds made against some of the lawmakers.
The NDDC Executive Director (Projects) and member of the IMC, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, had in an interview alleged, among others, that some senators got over 1000 contracts from the commission.
The National Assembly had also 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, Rivers State 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 agency 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.”
Similarly, a group, Transparency In Petroleum Exploration and Development Initiative (TIPEDI), has urged the National Assembly to refrain from actions that are likely to distract the IMC from completing the forensic audit on time as ordered by President Buhari.
The group said the current crisis of confidence between elected politicians, particularly from the Niger Delta area, and the NDDC would have serious negative effect not only on the commission but also on the hapless people of the area who have suffered neglect for many years.
TIPEDI National Coordinator, Chief Nathan Egba, in a statement issued from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said: “The accusations leveled against the National Assembly by the NDDC management are serious but common knowledge, because some federal legislators have perpetually milked the commission over the years. It is, therefore, not surprising that they are now engaged in a plot to derail the forensic audit exercise which obviously will unearth their nefarious activities.”
But in a reaction, the Senate, at a press conference addressed by its committee on Niger Delta Affairs yesterday, alleged that its insistence on the probe of the NDDC was the reason the IMC members embarked on open media attack against leaders of the National Assembly.
“We are responding to the allegations of the IMC to correct the misrepresentation. If they claim that some 1000 jobs were given to any senator, we challenge the IMC members to compile the list of the contracts and publish them.
“Also, the EFCC, police or Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) should be reached to investigate those claims instead of blackmailing anybody.” Insisting on probing the financial transactions in the IMC, the chairman of the Niger Delta Affairs Committee, Peter Nwaoboshi, said: “What we are seeing is a case of a man sent to catch the thief but instead of catching the thief, he starts stealing too. The National Assembly simply set up an adhoc committee to investigate allegations of stealing by the NDDC’s IMC, why not allow the ad-hoc committee conclude the investigation?”
According to the Senate panel, the allegations of balkanisation of budget just came because the IMC members were asked to appear before the ad-hoc-committee to answer questions.
“The National Assembly has the right to appropriate and carry out oversight functions on the Niger Delta Ministry, and the NDDC. So, no amount of intimidation or blackmail will stop us,” the panel said.
The committee also explained that the National Assembly refused to treat the request to amend the 2019 budget of the NDDC because there was a breach of the procedure for requesting budget amendment. “If the president sends it, we will consider it. As it stands, there is nothing before the National Assembly,” the lawmakers insisted.
A group, Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition has thrown it weight behind the National Assembly, asking the lawmakers to ignore the IMC’s “irresponsible lies and propaganda” and go ahead with the planned probe.
In a statement, the coalition said the report in an online medium of Wednesday, May 27, 2020, titled “NDDC Forensic Audit: Ex-militant leaders back Pondei against National Assembly, warn Reps committee” and credited to an alleged faceless and fictitious ‘militant’ group known as Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative was yet another of the specious groups and press statements that had rolled out of the public relations hirelings of the IMC.
“As Niger Delta leaders and activists who have been involved in the struggle for the emancipation of the region, we make bold to say without fear or favour that these groups and names are fictitious and have no inch of relevance among the people of the Niger Delta.
“Having failed to get the backing of statesmen, elders, women, youth activists who are in our authentic coalition, the IMC has taken to creating fictitious groups, using fake and expendable names to sign press statements and passing them out to unsuspecting news outlets. The IMC is fast becoming a distraction to the development of the Niger Delta.
“There are no militants anywhere in the Niger Delta who are supporting the IMC or any of its actions. Our individual and collective position is that the IMC has no place in the NDDC; what we want is that the governing board be put in place to manage the commission in line with the NDDC Act.”