…Nwaoboshi fights back, challenges Akpabio to account for $91million, N6billion
…Those who looted NDDC are scared of forensic audit —Akpabio
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
WHEN the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, took over the interventionist agency, few months ago, it won the hearts of the people with the startling sleaze it purportedly uncovered and the undertaking to expose more.
As expected, Nigerians have been fanatically waiting for the forensic audit mooted by President Muhammadu Buhari for red-hot revelations.
One of the disturbing allegations was that a serving Senator was collecting N1billion monthly as “agent” fee from the Commission, whose officials could not question the propriety because the said lawmaker was highly connected.
Acting managing director of the Commission, Gbene Joi Nunieh, revealed that, “The money is said to be three percent ‘agent fee’ paid every month by the NDDC to the consultant, who collects money from the international oil companies (IOCs) on behalf of the Commission.”
Announcing the suspension of the deal, she said, “We have a consulting firm engaged as a collection agent. We have another company that also collects three percent whenever money is paid by the International Oil Companies, IOCs. We do not need a middleman to collect three percent for gas. The money should just be paid into NDDC accounts with the CBN.”
The interim management never mentioned the name of the Senator, who it alleged was single-handedly handling about 300 contracts for NDDC. Acting Executive Director, Projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, said the agency had already paid for 120 of the contracts.
The early support the IMC garnered is, however, fizzling out, as many Niger-Deltans, including royal fathers question the propriety of the interim management committee continuing to sit over the affairs of the Commission.
The contention of many is that since the Senate had screened and cleared the governing Board, headed by former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr Pius Odubu as chair and Chief Benjamin Okumagba as managing director, the interim management committee should leave. However, some people argued that the committee was required to cleanse the Augean Stable before handing over to the governing board.
Militants unite against IMC
Last week, two militant groups, Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, and 21st Century Youths for Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, which had constantly been at war in the region, surprisingly buried the hatchet to fight the interim committee, claiming the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was supposedly up to something fishy with the arrangement.
In fact, the 21st Century Youths led by self-styled “General’ Izon Ebi led other groups to mount siege to the NDDC headquarters, December 4, demanding dissolution of the interim management committee and inauguration of the Odubu-led board.
21st Century Youths issue 14-day ultimatum
In a communique, the activists stated, “Our peaceful and legitimate demand for the inauguration of the screened and confirmed board should be done within 14 days.”
“Failure to adhere to our call and peaceful disposition to do the needful will give us no choice but to occupy the NDDC until the new board is inaugurated, as we will not allow this illegality in the name of interim board to function after 14 days,” they added.
Besides the 21st Century Youths of Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, Kaiama Declaration Victim Association, KADEVA, Coalition of Organization Leaders, Movement for the Survival of Ethnic Nationalities in the Niger Delta, MOSIEND, ex – agitators in the Niger Delta, EAND. Niger Delta Youths for Positive Attitude Change and Progress, NDYPACP and Akwa Ibom Niger Delta Change Men, AINDCM, joined in the demonstration
In a communiqué by “General” Ebi, they said, “We frown at the unlawful imposition of a three-man interim board to administer the affairs of the NDDC within 24 hours to the confirmation of the duly constituted board.”
“The three- man interim board has caused palpable distress in the affairs of the NDDC; we unequivocally demand immediate dissolution of the three- man interim board and ask for the immediate inauguration of the duly screened and confirmed board of the NDDC.
“We humbly call on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently inaugurate the already screened and confirmed board by the Senate.
“We still condemn the action of the Minister of Niger Delta affairs Senator Godswill Akpabio in hurriedly imposing a three- man interim board which is alien to the act setting up the NDDC.
“We commend the Senate for standing up for the Niger Delta region by doing the needful, thereby saving the Niger Delta region from the old ways of doing things that warranted Mr President to declare a forensic audit and probe of the NDDC.
“We want the right thing to be done in the NDDC and the Niger Delta region, as NDDC and people of Niger Delta have suffered because of the old way of doing things.
Name those involved in N1bn monthly swindle
“We the 21st century youths of the Niger Delta and agitators with conscience and other like minds implore President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the new board confirmed by the Senate to enable them start their job at the commission. If not so, the forensic audit of the NDDC will be in jeopardy, taking into cognizance the filth and malfeasance in the commission as unearthed by the interim management board.
“We think it is time the constituted, screened and confirmed board take over responsibility at the commission to give its management a sense of direction. Now that the Senate has finished their job of confirming the distinguished personalities, technocrats with proven capacity, we, the agitators think that the work of the interim board is done and they should honourably hand over to the duly constituted, screened and confirmed board of the NDDC.
“We thank the interim management team for unearthing the serial corruption that has been a permanent feature in the commission. We also urge them to stop politicking, name the persons and companies in this sleaze, especially the name and company involved in the N1billion monthly consultancy fee, the three per cent in all allocations due the commission and the multi contracts allocation to a single individual. With these, we feel the interim management committee has discharged its responsibility and as such, should vacate the management of the Commission,” they added.
We‘ll defy those against Odubu board – RNDA
RNDA in a riposte by the Commander, self-professed “Major General” Johnmark Ezonbi, aka Obama, after an emergency meeting in the creeks of Benin River, warned, “We will resist any person or groups of persons behind any move to stop the incoming new management board of the Commission, led by Chief Bernard Okumagba and Dr Pius Odubu from being sworn-in.”
The group of ex-agitators, which was initially in support of the interim management, noted, “It is obvious that the Board has been put on reverse gear with the Interim Management Committee, which the Senate has turned down from defending the Commission’s 2020 proposed budget estimates.”
Saying that it will be a setback for the region if the commission does not have a budget for its operations, next year, because of the development, it cautioned that RNDA will resist such moves from any quarters with all its arsenals in the creeks and will not allow such to happen.”
RNDA asserted, “It is most worrisome that the new Board has not been sworn in, hence cannot defend the 2020 NDDC budget before the National Assembly,” noting, “The Senate had taken the right decision that only those screened and confirmed will be allowed as they are authorized by law according to the Act establishing the Commission.”
It said, “The power play and political intrigues over the NDDC, particularly as regards the new board being sworn in was having negative toll on the Commission’s operation and the stalemate could cripple the interventionist agency.”
…Fingers power drunk politicians
RNDA claims that “same power drunk politicians from the region, who have held the development of the Niger Delta down are those still trying to rear their ugly heads, as it is obvious that the Chief Bernard Okumagba and Dr Pius Odubu- led management in the Commission will expose their atrocities and illegal dealings.” The group stated that they perpetuated the fraud with their cronies in previous administrations of the Commission, adding, “That is why they have stuck to their guns.”
The biggest shock during the week in the unfolding NDDC interim management saga was the attack on the Minister of Niger Delta by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, chair, Senate Committee on Niger Delta, who many wrongly thought was boxed into a corner by the sordid details from NDDC.
Like a wounded lion, Senator Nwaoboshi charged, early in the week, challenging the NDDC interim management committee to publish facts, if any, to substantiate its allegation that he or any company linked to him, was collecting N1 billion “agent fee” from the Commission.
Nwaoboshi roars at Akpabio, IMC
Senator Nwaoboshi while speaking to reporters on the issue through his Special Adviser on Legislative Matters, Luka Igbonoba, asked the IMC to publish the facts of any such consultancy arrangements as well as the details of the company involved.
“What are you hiding? Let us know who the consultant is or who owns the company. I can tell you that everything they are doing is about protection of self-interest. Everything Akpabio cannot get he tries to destroy,” the Senator said. He also accused Akpabio of frustrating the inauguration of the new NDDC board members already confirmed by the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari. Nwaoboshi then called on the minister to explain to Nigerians how the $91million and N6billion that was in the agency’s coffers as at the time it was brought under the supervision of his ministry was utilized.
He also described claims by members of the IMC that the Commission awarded 1,000 contracts to a Senator as pure lies.
“How many contracts does the NDDC award in a year that they will give 1,000 contracts to one Senator,” the Senator queried. He said the refusal of the Senate Committee on NDDC to accede to Akpabio’s overtures not to confirm the NDDC board nominees resulted in the ongoing campaign of calumny against the committee by members of the IMC.
“The IMC wanted to perpetuate themselves in power. They lobbied the committee and its chairman as well as the Senate that the new board members should not be screened. But they refused. The truth is that if this country must survive we must adhere to international best practices and the rule of law in the way we do things. This is the reason for the campaign of calumny against Senator Nwaoboshi. They are now accusing him wildly of things unfathomable,” he said.
He said the claim that the agency did not have budgets for 2017 and 2018 were untrue because records show that the Commission approved budgets for the two years.
“The annual budget for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is just about N23billion but Akpabio is looking for an elephant and he felt that, that elephant lives in NDDC,” he added.
Why IMC was set up – Akpabio
Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Akpabio had explained that as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, he only supervises NDDC, adding that he neither runs the commission nor award any contract.
A statement by Chief Press Secretary to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Aniete Ekong, clarified that “it was President Buhari who approved the setting up of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC to supervise the forensic audit of the commission so that the incoming board will begin on a clean slate. The exposition of phantom contracts and consultancies which have shortchanged the people of the Niger Delta justifies the forensic audit of the commission. Those who have engaged in the wanton looting of NDDC over the years are the ones sponsoring smear campaigns and wild allegations against Senator Akpabio because of the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari,” Ekong explained.
The spokesperson said, “They are scared that the forensic audit will expose those who have collected multiple contracts from NDDC, who collected full payment without moving to the site of the job. But the forensic audit is not about Senator Akpabio. It is about the resolve of the President to get things right and fast track the development of the Niger Delta region. So it cannot be business as usual.”
On the delay in the inauguration of the NDDC Board, the minister explained, “There are many issues with the composition of the board, which are being looked into. For instance, the NDDC Act clearly stipulates that the Office of the Chairman of the Board will rotate among the States in alphabetical order. Consequently, after Cross River had produced the last Chairman in the person of Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Delta State should produce the next Chairman otherwise it will be a breach of the Act.”