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Without forensic audit, NDDC would have been buried – Cairo Ojougboh

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…Says contractors with fake awards should stay away

BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Editor

Executive Director, Projects of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and Chairman of NDDC Contracts Verification Committee, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, in this interview, speaks on findings made so far on contracts awarded by the Commission. Ojougboh, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress, APC, also talks about the Supreme Court verdict on Imo State governorship poll.

What is actually the status of projects executed for the commission right now?

I make bold to tell you that without President Muhammadu Buhari, the NDDC would have been killed and buried. In seven months in 2019, a total of 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1,070,349,631,757.70 was awarded while the unprocessed budget of the NDDC was N350 billion was still before the National Assembly. You will recall that the Acting MD/CEO, Dr. Joi Nunieh had last week, in line with the directive of Mr. President, inaugurated a Contract Verification Committee as a prelude to the ordered forensic audit, with my humble self as Chairman, I can tell you as I said in a recent press conference that we have made some remarkable discoveries.

NDDC Interim Management Committee, Buhari scores hat trick

When NDDC came into existence via the NDDC Act 2000, not only was it mandated to offer a lasting solution to the social economic and environmental problems of the Niger Delta region by conceiving and implementing plans aimed at developing the infrastructure, human capacity building but also to complement the efforts of the various state governments and other developmental agencies in the region.

While successive leaderships of NDDC may have done their best, today, the general conclusion of most stakeholders in the region is that the NDDC has not delivered on its mandate, at best a lack-luster performance, with very little to show for the humongous resources that have accrued to it over the past 19 years. Stories of pervasive corruption, flagrant abuse of due process, abandoned projects, and poor quality project delivery among others at the NDDC, have adorned our media space over the years.

The inauguration of the current management committee was opposed by some interests in the Niger Delta…

You will recall that in an effort to stem this unfortunate tide, governors of the nine states of the region covered by the commission, a couple of months ago, visited President Muhammadu Buhari not to only lay bare their perception of the commission since its inception, but to also as members of the Advisory Council of the NDDC, offer useful advice on the way forward. The result of this historic visit is the ordering of a forensic audit of the activities of the NDDC from inception to date by the President.

The President on October 29, 2019, went on to appoint the Interim Management Committee ,IMC, comprising of Dr. Gbene Joi Nunieh as Acting Managing Director, Chief Bassey Eteng , Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration, and Dr. Cairo Ojougboh as Acting Executive Director Projects to oversee the forensic audit.

The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in conjunction with the Interim Management Committee,IMC, of the Commission in preparation for the commencement of the forensic audit has already secured the Certificate-of-No-Objection from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for the lead consultant for the forensic audit, while that of the sub-consultants is underway.

The contract verification committee is, therefore, to lay a foundation for the forensic audit of the activities of the Commission from inception to date. To this end, all contractors, consultants, design and supervision, vendors, suppliers, and NGOs or their certified representatives who have business transactions with the Commission, are thus requested to report with three photocopies each of their letters of award, Contract Agreement, and Interim Payment Certificate, where applicable, and also to present originals for assessment, evaluation, and verification to the NDDC office where such business is located. They are also to present letters detailing a brief statement or summary of their claims/requests on their headed papers with verifiable addresses and certified true copies of their company registration documents.

What does your commission intend to achieve with the exercise?

Among other things, this verification exercise is intended to establish the true position of the emergency regime between 2016 and 2019 in the commission. It is now common knowledge that some of the awards were not only spurious, but criminal as records available to us show that most of the awards were not backed by budget, have no bills of engineering measurement or drawings and where just open cheque for contractors and their collaborators to fill in at the nearest banks.

For instance in 2017, the commission awarded a total of 201 emergency contracts valued at N100,396,879,001.06; in 2018, a total 1,057 emergency contracts valued at N162,688,289,333.05; and just seven months in 2019, a total 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1,070,249,631,757.70 were awarded. We are talking of a total of over N1.3trillion in less than three years.

The yearly budget of NDDC is hardly above 400billion and a situation where contracts that do not qualify for emergencies were fraudulently awarded to over one trillion naira valued in less than one year amounts to stealing from the pulpit and stealing the entire pulpit. If President Buhari did not order this forensic audit buried, NDDC would have been grounded to a stop, killed.

The revelations have been mind-boggling and that is just the beginning because it will expose those spurious contracts. Contractors with fake or spurious awards are advised in their best interest to stay away from the various centers.

One thing I can assure you of is that we will discharge our duties diligently, honestly and professionally. I, therefore, thank Mr. President on behalf of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio and the entire Niger Delta people. I want to charge the officials handling the verification to note that the entire people of the Niger Delta and the commission have placed heavy responsibilities on their shoulders and they must discharge it without fear or favour but in agreement with the commission’s reason for existence.

Is it true that a serving senator has 300 NDDC contracts to his name like you said recently?

Do you doubt my disclosure? I said somebody who is particularly interested in a major contract of the NDDC, who is a member of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has 300 jobs in the NDDC. Of the 300 contracts, 120 have been fully paid and he has not mobilised to site for these 120.

It is obvious that the reason he is behaving the way he is behaving is that he wants the system, the looting in the NDDC to continue, and this is what the Interim Management Committee will not support. It is as simple as that.

The NDDC Interim Payment Certificates that are pending are worth over N3 trillion. That is what the NDDC owes these phantom contractors. It is these phantom contractors that are preaching and making noise to stop the probe. All they want is for stealing to continue. That is why we are saying that all contractors handling on-going projects should come for verification otherwise they might lose such.

Therefore, when given the opportunity that we have just been given, our job is to make sure we avail the auditors all the necessary documents and information, all the necessary help they need because we are not protecting any interest but to help the auditors do their job as it is required.

Were you surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of your party on the governorship election in Imo State?

It was the case of man spoke and God confirmed it. The voters voted overwhelmingly in 18 of the 27 local government areas of Imo State for our party and our candidate but the will of man almost subverted it. The will of God has finally triumphed over theirs. Of course, you heard that Father Ejike Mbaka had said it long ago and that was what happened.

The new governor has said that previous administrations in the state, including past APC administration, would be probed. What do you think should be his pre-occupation?

The first task is reconciliation because there is a Chinese adage that says ‘’out of every crisis comes an opportunity.” The crisis has now created an opportunity for Governor Hope Uzordinma to unite and prosper the people of Imo State. He should immediately embark on the journey for true and genuine reconciliation to achieve peace in the state because there is no development without peace. With immediate effect, he should embark on real and genuine reconciliation and that is the way it should go.

Are you suggesting this because of the pre and post-election conflicts between a former governor, Rochas Okorocha and his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu on one the hand and the APC on the other?

We stand by our 2015 ceasefire — MEND

Okorocha has already congratulated Hope Uzodinma and that tells you that peace will prevail. In politics, it is said that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, but permanent interest. All indigenes of Imo State know that peace is paramount to development and for that reason they should all come together in the interest of the state.

Another election is coming up very soon in the state and that is the by-election for the replacement of the vacant Imo North senatorial seat, occasioned by the untimely death of Senator Benjamin Uwajumugu. Of course, the people of Imo love APC and the party will not take their love for granted. Hence, they will now work harder to keep faith with the people of Imo and I have no doubt in my mind that Imo will vote for APC again.

Vanguard

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