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The Rot In NDDC: Akpabio, NDDC Management and National Assembly On The War Path

By Emmanuel Ufot

Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of the oil-rich Akwa Ibom state , a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria  who had  served  as Commissioner for over six years in the state  is a news maker.

 Apart from the popularity  he  had gained  as the governor of the state given  his sterling performance, he is also noted  for his generosity and gift of speech, giving  his political associates and friends the impression that he is an orator but to some he was loquacious.

The Corruption stink  that has bedeviled  the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, appears to have brought Akpabio out ,on the news again. But this time, negatively.  The  whole issue  started building  up in April  when the former governor  of Akwa Ibom state and  now minister of the ministry of Niger Delta,, instituted a probe  of the Commission which led to the sacking of Joi Nunieh , a Rivers state born  acting Managing of the agency by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Akwa Ibom state born politician may have thought that the removal of  the Ogoni  woman  from her exalted position will silence her. He got it wrong.   The bubble  burst  when the Lawn Ahmad led Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila  led House of Representatives instituted a probe  into the allegations of Corruption  against the Nunieh led Interim  Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC. The probe  may have given  opportunity to the former NDDC, boss to open up on Akapabio and his interference in the running of the Affairs of the agency and the award of Contracts.

She had  first appeared  before the Senate seven-man  ad-hoc Committee on the Niger Delta  set up by the Senate President, Ahmad, to answer questions  on  how the Board  spent N40 billion. She was said to have  made damning allegations  against Akpabio  who she had accused of being instrumental for removal by the Katsina state born Nigerian President for refusing  to do his biddings .

 She had alleged among others  of  the minister trying to muscle her  to part with  the sum of N10 billion  as Christmas largess and asking her to change  the dollars in the NDDC , account  as well as sack  the Head  of the legal Team of the agency  who is   from the northern part of the country and Directors who refused to follow his instructions.

AAlthough, Senator Akpabio has fired back denying the allegations of any financial complicity involving the agency, neither knowing anything about the said N40 billion the  Commission’s  Management  were asked to account for by the Federal Lawmakers.

 He disclosed  that contrary to the spurious allegations  made by the sacked former acting Managing Director of the NDDC,  on circumstances that led to her remova explaining that it was based on a letter  from the late Abba Kyari, former Chief of Staff to the President  that she was not qualified  to hold  that position  because she  had no requisite qualifications, one of which was the mandatory National Youth  Service Certificate, NYSC, discharge Certificate or exemption Certificate. 

He also said that Nunieh lost her  job  for insubordination , one of which was ignoring the invitation  to the Federal Executive Council, FEC,  to offer explanations on the running of the Affairs of the agency. The NDDC, boss, according to an  insider source, had refused to honour the  FEC, invitation , because of the alleged reports that it was an ambush laid by  Akpabio, the agency supervising minister  to mess her up  in order to facilitate her removal.

Femi Gbajabiamila: Speaker, House Of Representatives

 Indeed, Nunieh, damning allegations against Akpabio, may have created an image problem for him that he has been  struggling  over the last three months to wriggle out of it.  An aggrieved Nunieh had accused him of usurping the Commission functions.  The minister who will not take it had told the Lawmakers probing the Commission  that  he never usurped the powers  of the Commission under Nunieh, the former acting Managing Director. He told the listening  Committee members  that he maintained his supervisory role of the agency as the minister of the Niger Delta  who wants the basic infrastructural facilities provided in the region.

The Niger Delta minister had said that he had   only intervened in the agency when the officials were not doing the right thing. He cited an instance  when he intervened  on the issue of funds  released for Lassa  fever. According to him , N2.9 billion  had already been paid  for that purpose and  only  for the Management  to sought another  payment  of N572  million.  The question on the lips of most people was: how did he know  about such a payment for Lassa fever and a request for an additional release of funds to make additional payment for the same purpose , if he was not interfering in the running of the Affairs of the  agency?

The minister had also denied   giving approval  for the award of Contracts in the Commission, stressing that the agency had only awarded three Contracts to his knowledge since his assumption office. He made  a damning revelation when he said  that the Commission  had 300 accounts before his assumption of office, and he had to close the accounts  and compress  them into one Treasury  Single Account, domicile in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

 He may have hit hard on the Nunieh led IMC, when he accused  the Interim Management Committee of spending N4.2 billion in one day. Many believe that the minister should have been bold enough to tell Nigerians, on what  the  former Management spent the billions of naira on, descrbing as a mere allegations. 

More worrisome was his claim that the N2.5 billion  set aside  for the forensic audit  of the Commission was misappropriated   in the 2019 budget  , stressing the audit is still hanging on. The NNDC, probe may have taken another dimension  on Monday , July 20, 2020, when the aggrieved minister  told the House of Representatives   NNDC Committee members  that he has on records that 60 percent of the Commission Contracts   awarded by the intervention agency  were  awarded to the Lawmakers.  Political Observers consider his claims as diversionary.

Joi Nunieh: Former Acting MD, NDDC

There was a mild drama, when Bon Goodhead, a member of the Committee obviously angered  by Akpabio’s claim took him up  on the accusations but had to be restrained  by the Committee Chairman  who told the minister to stop and not  to continue  such wild claims. But the import of  that disclosure for many Nigerians  has already sunk in  and  now in public domain.

Before the ministerial revelations on the Lawmakers  conducting  what many now regard  as phantom probe , being beneficiaries of the spurious contracts,  Kemebradikumo pondei, a Professor of Medicine  and acting Managing Director  of the agency, fainted while  being grilled over alleged N1.3 billion spent  for COVID 19  palliatives and another N640 million paid to a firm, one Clear Communications Limited.

The revelation  of the minister that  the Lawmakers had  also soiled their hand in NDDC, Contract has stirred the  hornest nest  and the House is fighting back to redeem its  battered image. In their plenary  on Tuesday, July 21, 2020,  they  gave the minister 48 hours  ultimatum to publish the names  of the National Assembly members he had alleged  have been benefitting from  NDDC, Contracts but that was how far they could go.

It would be recalled  that in making  that Statement  while appearing   before the House Committee on NDDC, Akpabio ,  whose image is at stake, had insisted that he has records for that. With the unfolding  events and the minister’s accusations of those conducting the probe alleging that they were guilty  of those they are  probing, many Nigerians are looking with apprehension of what would come out  from the Akpabio  revelations  in line with the  request  with the House members   feeling that there  is a grain of truth in what  the Niger Delta minister claimed if the Opposition and utterances of Pondei, the agency acting Managing Director, and Cairo Ojougboh, the agency , Executive Director , Projects, is anything to go by.

Recall that the Professor, the agency  acting Managing Director, during his  first appearance before the House Committee probing the agency, had asked Olubumi Tunji-Ola, the Chairman, of the Committee to step Aside as he is an interested party in the case. This is an indication that he has a case to answer in the NDDC rot. He thereafter walked out on the panel.

Again, just on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, Ojuogboh, was walked out by   the Peter Nwaboshi led Senate Committee on NDDC, because like  Pndei, he had asked the Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, to step Aside because he was involved in the whole NDDC saga. He, however, went on  to reveal to Journalists covering the probe  in an interview that the agency Contracts worth N2 trillion were awarded to the National Assembly  Committee on NDDC. He said the Contracts were awarded to them between 2016 and 2019.

It is significant to note that  this is not the first time that the Lawmakers have been accused of  Corruption  conduct  in the course of their oversight functions.. Nasir El- Rufai, a former minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, under Former President Olusegun Obasanjo  and now governor of Kaduna state had before accused the Legislators of demanding bribe from him to facilitate his Clearance as a minister.

Just like this case of Akpabio, , the Lawmakers made what many  would  regard as  puffy protest, but later went with the wild wind. Though, not many  people  in the Niger Delta region are in the picture of what is happening in the NDDC about the monumental  misappropriation of funds meant for the development of the region by a tiny few, contrary to the objectives of setting up the Commission  by late President  Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, in 2007,  to serve as a vehicle for the development of the region.

 Reports from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency  Initiative,  between 2007 and 2016, had shown  that the Commission received allocations of  N1.413 trillion. The Fiscal Allocation and Statutory  Commission reports revealed that  the agency  received  N593.96 billion from mineral  and non -mineral sources from 2007-2011 and N819.81 billion between 2012 and 2016. Findings  also  show that that the Commission  owes Contractors  N3 trillion till date.

Equally worrisome as analysts  have severally pointed out   since the probe resurrected  revelations  are frivolous expenditures embarked upon by the Management  when the region still suffer infrastructural neglect. Take for instance, a breakdown  of the N81.5  billion the agency  IMC was accused of spending within seven months , October to May 2020.

COVID 19,  alone was said to have taken  N31.4 billion,  Duty travel allowances, N486 million,Impress N790.9 million,  Consultancy, N83 million,  Condolences, N122.9 million,  Maintenance, N220 million, Legal services, N900 million,, Security, N744 million,  Lassa  Fever, N1.956 billion and Staff overhead payment, N 8.8 billion.

In the course of the probe , Nigerians have heard how  hundreds of millions of naira  have been used to rganise Seminars abroad, carnivals and rallies in Nigeria and over N1  billion used in paying Youths  of the region  just to identify projects  in their area to NDDC.

For now, Nigerians are waiting  for the release of the names of those Lawmakers Akpabio, the minister of the Niger Delta, had said have been benefiting from  the agency Contracts. He has made it clear to those that cares to listen that he will not be intimidated by the those Lawmakers to distract him from the course of ‘’cleaning the age long rot   in the intervention agency that has now become a cash cow for politicians  and some privileged stakeholders in the region as against serving  as the vehicle for the development of the region it was set up for by the government’’.

Stephen Ubanna

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