By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North & Levinus Nwagbuhiogu
IN pursuit of his anti-graft crusade, President Muhammadu Buhari may have to beam his searchlight on the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
If the findings and documents obtained by Saturday Vanguard are anything to go by, the NDDC is panning out as a cesspool of corruption.
The documents indicate that the agency, which is being supervised by the Presidency through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, has brazenly ignored the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, PPA, in the award of contracts for projects and services, thereby allowing its cronies to smile home with huge amounts of public funds.
Over-shooting contract limit
The 2007 PPA sets limits on contracts that key officials of the commission can award; what the board can approve; what should be sent to the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, and what the Federal Executive Council should handle, in the spirit of transparency and accountability.
Under the PPA, the Managing Director of the NDDC, can award contracts that are not above N200 million while the board can approve jobs that are not above N1 billion. Specifically, any job above N1 billion must be subjected to a competitive bidding process and awarded by the FEC after being processed by the BPP, another agency under the Presidency.
However, findings show that the NDDC management has chosen to use contract-splitting as a weapon to award huge contracts beyond its limit without passing through the BPP, thereby making it possible for ‘insiders and their associates,’ particularly influential political elements, to make away with billions of Naira from the commission.
Ignored Jonathan’s directive
The commission under the current board, appeared to have ignored former President Goodluck Jonathan’s directive to it not to award new contracts but to strive to complete abandoned ones so as to clear the backlog of funds being owed local contractors.
Contrary to the Presidential directive, the new board embarked on contract bazaar within the first two weeks of its inauguration actively acquiring even second-hand exotic vehicles at the cost of new ones.
Documents at the disposal of Saturday Vanguard show that within its first two weeks the managing director single-handedly issued a local purchasing order, LPO, valued at N888,175,500 million to a Port Harcourt-based car dealer to supply 40 assorted vehicles.
Of the vehicles ordered, four were armoured Sport Utility Lexus and Land-cruiser vehicles valued at N213.8 million. It is not clear when the vehicles were supplied and who is using them.
Shortly after the acquisition of the expensive vehicles, the commission ordered the procurement of security vehicles for the Nigeria Police at the cost of N12.5 billion to enable the police provide adequate security for the nine Niger Delta states of Abia, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo, Delta, Edo and Ondo.
However, to prevent the huge contract from getting to the BPP and the FEC for scrutiny and approval, the commission carefully split the supply job into 12 slots and awarded it at the cost of N985 million to each of the contractors.
Not done, the NDDC shortly after awarded another contract worth N2.7b to 30 limited liability companies suspected to be owned by close associates of key officials for what it called “Intelligence-gathering and management.” Each of the 30 firms got N99.7 million from the NDDC for the job which should have been handled by the security agencies.
The contract bazaar was quickly followed by another award of N1.6 billion job carefully split among 85 companies for the ‘procurement, transportation and delivery’ of waste disposal trucks to the commission.
Each of the ‘lucky’ contractors got between N61 million to N835 million depending on the strength of their connections with the top hierarchy of the agency and influential politicians managing the commission.
The contract bazaar has even led to some disagreement between the board and some accounting/procurement officials.
In one very despicable case, the commission ignored the professional audit query/advice not to award a ‘Quick-impact’ job valued at N715 million to one person to act as both contractor and consultant.
But trouble is currently brewing in the commission following the resolve of some aggrieved management staff and top officials to expose the rot in the establishment, leading to the release of financial malfeasance that has been going on in the place since the last board was inaugurated in November, 2013.
One of the documents indicate that the sum of N1.3 billion was approved and released for NDDC Christian Fellowship and NDDC Children and Disable families end-of-the-year parties.
While the Christian Fellowship reportedly received N500 million, the NDDC children and disable families got N800 million.
The commission is also said to have inexplicably moved the sum of N100 billion from its Access Bank account on Agip Road branch to an undisclosed location, in the heat of the last election, in which Buhari won thereby raising eyebrow among staff and stakeholders.
Several petitions have been fired to the Presidency to move against the board and urgently launch a full scale probe into the operations and finances of the NDDC, whose contractual obligations now stand at a frightening N800 billion as of the end of July.
The debt is said to have risen exponentially following the award of frivolous and politically-motivated contracts to individuals and groups by the sacked board in the run-up to the last election.
One of the petitions now before the Presidency and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC was written by Niger Delta Stakeholders Forum, NIDESTAF.
In the petition dated June 15, 2015 and signed by the President, Benson Georgewill and National Secretary, Timi Oghalle, the stakeholders pleaded with Buhari to urgently raise a probe panel to ascertain the true position of the finances of the NDDC.
The group also asked the President to take steps to retrieve the funds of the commission from those found to have illegally taken them.
Director to brief Buhari
The happenings in the commission are said to have infuriated the supervisory department in the OSFG. It was learned that a director in the Presidency has decided to brief PMB, next week, on the massive fraud in the NDCC so as to clear his name and office.
Presidency, NDDC officials speak
But when contacted, the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Mr. Femi Adesina, said he was not aware of what the President intends to do with the NDCC.
Adesina said the President has not also mandated him to make any categorical statement on the agency.
The Head of Public Affairs of the NDDC, Mr. Ibitoye Abosede, declined to comment on the situation, saying he has no information regarding the issues.