The unfolding drama in the probe of alleged financial recklessness at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) continued at the National Assembly yesterday, with the minister of Niger Delta affairs, Goodwill Akpabio, alleging that most of the contracts in the commission were awarded to National Assembly members.
Akpabio who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC also refuted claims by a former acting managing director of the Commission, Ms Joi Nunei, that he approved N10 billion from the commission’s coffers for her to share to contractors.
The minister, however, insisted that the forensic audit of the commission ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 was ongoing as against the claim by the former acting MD that the audit was yet to commence.
Akpabio said that the forensic audit had taken off smoothly, adding that nobody would have expected that the account of the commission would not be audited after 19 years of its existence.
The minister noted that the N2.5billion earmarked for the forensic audit exercise was included in the 2019 budget of the NDDC, saying President Buhari heard so much negative reports about the commission and decided in October 2019 to institute a forensic audit in its activities.
At the resumption of hearing yesterday, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on NDDC, Hon Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, stepped aside from presiding over the ongoing investigation.
Tunji-Ojo’s decision was to enable some stakeholders, including the acting NDDC managing director, Prof. Pondei Kemerbrandikumo and director (Project), Dr Cairo Ojuogbo, who had expressed reservation about the chairman’s moral competence to head the panel, offer their testimonies before the committee.
Consequently, the deputy chairman of the committee, Hon Thomas Ereyitomi, took over as the chairman of the investigative hearing.
There was pandemonium at the venue when the acting managing director, Prof Pondei, collapsed while fielding questions from members during his presentation before the committee.
Pondei had finished making his presentation in defense of allegations of misappropriation of N81.5billion by the Interim Management Committee (IMC), and was responding to questions from members of the panel when he suddenly fainted and was rushed out of the National Assembly complex for medical attention, forcing the lawmakers to adjourn the hearing for 30 minutes.
Prof. Pondei, had before the unfortunate incident, disclosed that a total sum of N81.5billion was spent by the two Interim Management Committees (IMC) between October 2019 and 31st May, 2020.
According to him, the expenditure was made in compliance with the 2019 Appropriation Act.
Pondei also disclosed that the sum of N72 billion was realised by the current IMC, between February and June, 2020, adding that only N1.32billion was expended on COVID-19 palliatives and not N1.5billion as alleged.
He confirmed that out of the N2.5billion approved for the IMC by federal government, N1.5billion was approved for the NDDC management out of which the sum of N350million was approved for forensic auditors, N536million paid to Safe Life Campaign and another N600million to a media consultancy firm to locate abandoned projects across the NDDC states.
He further explained that the sum of N34billion was remitted by federal government to the NDDC coffers.
According to him, out of the N81.5billion, the sum of N38.6billion was expended on capital projects out of which N33.5billion outstanding was paid to contractors.
He said in addition, the sum of N20.5billion was spent on recurrent expenditure, including 3 years outstanding duty tour allowance, hotel bills including N30 million owed Transcorp Hilton hotel, N26 million outstanding electricity bill, N500,000 scholarship award to each of the beneficiaries who have been deprived for some years.
Responding to allegations on the scholarship awarded to himself and Dr Cairo Ojuogbo, the acting managing director explained that the fund was earmarked as estacode to enable them travel to the universities where the students are studying overseas.
Although Prof Pondei’s testimony was cut short following his collapse, Akpabio took his time to defend allegations against his ministry and the NDDC.
Speaking specifically on the allegation that the commission awarded contracts without undergoing the procurement process and signing of necessary documents, Akpabio said that the NDDC only awarded three contracts after he assumed office as minister.
The minister then made a shocking revelation that most of the contracts from NDDC were awarded to members of the National Assembly.
“We all know that most of the contracts at NDDC are given to members of the National Assembly,” the minister alleged.
He was however not allowed to ventilate his position as the chairman of the panel; Hon Ereyitomi interrupted the flow of discussion.
When probed further by a member of the committee, Hon Boma Goodhead, Akpabio responded, “I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts at the NDDC are given to National Assembly members, but you don’t know about it, the two chairmen can explain to you. I was a member of the NDDC committee so I know about it.”
‘Pondei Ignored Doctor’s Advice Against Attending Hearing’
Meanwhile, following the inability of the acting managing director to conclude his address before the lawmakers, the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC, has cleared the air on his health status, saying Pondei ignored his doctors’ advice.
The IMC in a statement said Prof Pondei who slumped at the public hearing had actually been ill.
Director of Corporate Affairs of the commission, Charles Obi Odili, in the statement explained that the condition of the acting MD only deteriorated during the hearing, as had been forewarned by his doctors to stay away from the investigative hearing in order to avoid being stressed.
The statement reads: “The commission wishes to disclose that Prof. Pondei has been ill for the past two weeks. This morning, his condition deteriorated, and his doctors advised against attending the hearing. However, he ignored his doctors’ advice because of the realisation that his traducers will use his absence at the hearing to soil his name and reputation.
“He thought he could make it through the hearing and take care of his health later. As it turned out, his doctors were right. Prof Pondei is in a stable condition at a clinic in Abuja.”
Odili, however, explained that, “Given this incident the Commission wishes to make the following: That Prof Prondei became Ag managing director of NDDC on February 20, 2020.
“By May 5, the two arms of the National Assembly ordered a probe of his tenure of exactly 74 days at the time, two third of which was spent under COVID-19 lockdown conditions.
“Prof Pondei, as the managing director of the Commission, has an official duty to answer for the activities of the Commission like what happened between 2008 – 2012 which is the subject of another hearing based on the auditor general’s report for the period.
“It would, however, be unfair to hold him personally liable for acts which took place when he was not the head of the Commission.
“When the two arms of the National Assembly called for a probe, it was over a missing N40 billion. The Commission took the rare step of publishing all payments made by it under Prof Pondei. No organisation in Nigeria, public or private has ever got to that level of transparency in our national history.
“As this publication undermined the claims of his accusers, the subject of the public hearing changed to ‘financial recklessness’. While this might appear insignificant, it amounted to changing the goal posts to smear a clean man. While misappropriation of N40 billion is a matter demanding objective proof, the question of financial recklessness is one open to subjective judgement.”
He said the commission welcomed action of the committee chairman, Tunji-Ojo, who recused himself from participating in the probe.
“The commission is delighted that Hon Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC has recused himself from the hearing. At the end of the day, everyone has to answer for his role in the misappropriation of the resources of the Commission.
“It is this search for answers that led President Muhammadu Buhari, on the request of the nine governors of the region, to institute a forensic audit to probe what happened to the resources of the Commission from 2001 to date.
“The Prof Pondei led IMC has committed to the success of that exercise. While we thought there would be a fight back by those who dipped their hands in the cookie’s jar, we never expected this level of boldness and malevolent aggression as witnessed by accusers at hearing and their paid agents through all the media platforms.
“The commission is participating at the hearing, even though it thinks that seeing to the conclusion of the forensic audit will serve the future of the commission and the Niger Delta region more than the probe of 74 days of activities.”
Earlier, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila had made an appearance at the investigation and apologised over the condition of the hall where the exercise took place.
The speaker said the collapsed MD may not appear before the committee again. “There would be no need for the MD of NDDC to appear anymore since he has submitted a written response”.
Meanwhile, protesters for and against the ongoing probe were intercepted by security operatives in the National Assembly Complex. The two groups clashed while the probe was still ongoing.
The security agents had to separate the two groups before the face-off degenerated further.
The feuding groups were identified as the Emerging Leaders Forum of Nigeria, supporting the National Assembly probe and the Niger Delta Development Initiative, which supports Akpabio.
Collapse Of NDDC MD Underlines Weight of Corruption In APC – PDP
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said the dramatic collapse of acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Daniel Pondei, while being grilled by the House of Representatives, further underscores the weight of corruption that have bedeviled the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration.
PDP, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was obvious that the embattled NDDC acting managing director collapsed under the weight and shame of overwhelming collective guilt brought on him by the exposure of massive corruption being perpetrated by NDDC officials and APC leaders.
The party said, “It is revealing that Pondei could go no further in the face of scathing revelations of direct pillaging of resources meant for the development and welfare of the Niger Delta people, in an unbridled corruption racket, in which the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, also stands accused.
“It is rather curious that Prof. Pondei slumped after lawmakers demanded that he offer explanations on the contentious payment of billions of naira, alleged unbudgeted sums, to certain companies by the NDDC.
“This is particularly as Nigerians recall that the embattled NDDC boss had, last week, stalled proceedings by challenging the legislators and walking out on the House of Representatives investigative panel.
“The situation in the NDDC is just a tip of the iceberg on the humongous corruption, looting spree and concealments going on in ministries, departments and agencies of government being perpetrated by APC leaders and their cronies.