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NDDC fraud: Don’t pull wool over our eyes

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Akpabio

The ongoing rumble in the jungle at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) obviously exposes the rot and the level of grip the criminals have on us in our society. I weep for my country, Nigeria. I am not a fan of the federal legislators. This is not because I do not value their job but because they do not merit what they are paid for representing their constituencies. The ignorance of the constituents, no doubt, gives the legislators unfettered rights to misrepresent the constituents.

They rather represent their personal interests and yet, none of them has ever been recalled. I also do not so much appreciate them (federal lawmakers) because of the unnecessary burden created for the government in meeting the approved emoluments for the two Houses – House of Representatives and the Senate. I believe we should go the Parliamentary way of representation to cut cost of maintenance. At the moment, we have 360 House members and 109 Senators making it a total of 469. Each House Member takes approximately N25 million per month, while each Senator takes approximately N36 million monthly (according to Emir Sanusi), bringing it to a total of N432 million per annum for a Senator, and approximately N300 million per House member in a year. For a country that is saddled with a debt profile of $90 billion, for a country where no civil servant that has served the government for 35 years and risen to the highest level takes home more than N500,0000 per month, this cannot be normal.

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The salary, emoluments and allowances of House members are very offensive, sickening and sound like a fairy tale, and yet it is true. Their case is for another study and I assure you it will follow soonest.

So, permit me to step down the House members’ discussion in this article as they are not the focal point. Let me not be guilty of what gave rise to this write up by falling prey to Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, acting managing director of NDDC, distraction. That is, using the House members as a shield for the monumental fraud NDDC committed under his watch within a space of four months. Back to the NDDC saga, one would have kept silent, had they not tried to intimidate, arrest and possibly eliminate the former acting chairman, Ms Joi Nunieh, a woman who was summoned to respond to issues, which she, as the immediate highest ranking officer, was in a position to give. Thanks to the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, the story would have been different today.

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As the coordinator of a non-governmental organization (NGO) on women’s rights, Ms Nunieh’s predicament became an object of serious concern to us and our friends all over the world. And we thank the court for granting her fundamental rights not to be arrested without warrant and without any formal case against her. Women’s Organization for Gender Issues (WOGI), for instance, would want to hold responsible those who were quick to continue the delivery of palliatives to the same Police, which had sought to arrest her without warrant, should anything happen to her in the future. At this point, it is worthy to state that the NDDC boss, Professor Pondei, as well as Senator Cairo Ojuogboh and His Excellency, Godswill Akpabio, who is minister of the Niger Delta Commission, should stop pulling wool over our eyes on the NDDC saga. Yes, NDDC has been a cesspool of corruption since its inception and no one has bothered to check the recklessness of its management until now. But the main issue at stake is that Prof. Pondei and Co. travelers’ hands were caught in the pot of soup of NDDC, stealing all the ingredients in it.

Instead of them to be arrested, detained, investigated, prosecuted and jailed for stealing, they are trying to confuse the public. They are trying to tell us that the hands caught stealing from the NDDC pot between February and the end of June are not theirs but those of the House Committee members, who caught them in the act. It is grievously unfair if the system should allow the three musketeers –Pondei, Ojuogboh and Akpabio to go scot free, and use their “soup-soiled hands” to smear the committee members’ body. One had kept quiet until they put up the allegation against a Senator for a contract on the supply of chairs and tables by Pondei. For the unsuspecting public, Pondei did not tell the public that contracts are not awarded to the House members directly, but are taken to their constituencies.

What is true is that House committee members try to influence the award of contracts in favour of their constituencies. And there is nothing wrong with this as long as the contract is of importance to their area, and that it is executed, not abandoned after collection of money. And if a contract is not executed and the money for its execution has been disbursed, then there is need to go after the contractor/company that got paid. The veil of the company can be lifted should the need arise to know the beneficiaries or at least the owners of that company.

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What irked one most is that Prof. Pondei rather went after a contract that was awarded before he was appointed Acting MD of NDDC, an office he assumed February this year. Between February 2020 to end of June 2020, Prof. Pondei awarded contracts well over N80 billion. No mention was made on any of those contracts. The Niger Delta people would want to know what the contracts are, who are the contractors and the nature of the companies. Having paid out so much amount of money, how far have the contractors gone in the execution of the contracts? Pondei’s action so far is like a drowning man clinging unto anything he can hold, either to save himself or drown with it. Nigerians should remember that it is the same Pondei, who told Niger Delta people or the public that they paid themselves well over N3 billion as palliative to be alive to serve them as if they are not paid salaries etc.

One also would have kept quite had “Senator Ojuogboh not come out on national television to tell us that the House did not approve the payment of the scholarship of NDDC sponsored students, who are studying abroad, because the money for it was not appropriated. Can Ojuogboh then tell us whether the money for the air fare and Estacode paid them to go and see the students was appropriated by the House? Can he also tell Nigerians whether the palliatives they paid themselves were appropriated? Can the three musketeers tell us whether the money for palliatives given to the Police to arrest Nunieh was also appropriated by the House before they provided it? Another key question they must answer is: To whom were the contracts awarded during the lockdown? I ask these questions because Ojuogboh, to distort the issue of their reckless spending during the lockdown and after, came up with the blame of not paying the students’ school fees on the House members for their not appropriating the funds for it. The House members who were aware of this anomaly and wickedness on the students should be named and they should tell Nigerians why they could not appropriate money for the student’s scholarship. The main issue at stake is how Pondei, who only assumed office in February, ended up spending over N80 billion within four months, despite the lockdown and slow pace of business resumption within the said period. They should be made to refund the money or go to jail. They should be used as an example to stop scrupulous elements assuming leadership positions and getting away with all manners of fraud. All NDDC abandoned contract in Niger Delta area should be listed out and investigated and appropriate punishment should be meted out. House members found culpable should be exposed, removed from the House and made to face the law.

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It is now a strategy for anybody called to give account of stewardship to use the implication of the House members in contract awards to get away with fraud and mismanagement. It is also a known strategy used by rogue leaders, who are called to account to “faint” at such hearings. But Pondei, Ojuogboh and Akpabio must not be allowed to continue the deceit by pulling the wool over our eyes. The final disturbing aspect of this whole saga is the moral or immoral, ethical or unethical effect it is having on the psyche of the average Nigerian, especially the youth. How can a youth in his/her late 20s or early 30s with a Master’s or Doctorate Degree be roaming the streets without a job, only to watch recycled politicians or professors plunder the commonwealth of their nation? Recall that the most famous Greek Philosopher, Socrates, was in 399 B.C condemned to death by drinking the hemlock poison because he was found “guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth.” If these plundering leaders were to be tried by the Greek jurisprudences of the Socratic era, most of them would have been decapitated for not only corrupting the youth but also raping the ethics, morality and future.

Barrister Odife, executive director, Women’s Organization for Gender Issues (WOGI) wrote from Abuja.

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