May 30, 2020

NASS, NDDC top shots fight over probe, phoney projects  

NDDC forensic audit report must not enter voicemail — SESSPN
TIPEDI cautions NASS against interference in IMC audit

•No amount of mudslinging will stop probe- Senator Nwaboshi
•We are under pressure from NASS members to commit illegality- Pondei, acting MD
•Militants after my life for insisting on probe – Hon Tunji-Ojo
•Senate president, Speaker, c’ttee members unaware of scam by a one-man squad- Ojougboh
•Count me out of your lies, Agbamuche cautions Ojougboh

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

THE week did not pass without a spectacle by some top officials of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the National Assembly, whose planned investigation of the Interim Management Committee, IMC,  of the interventionist  agency over an alleged expenditure of N40 billion has ignited fiery controversy in Niger Delta region .

While the acting Managing Director of NDDC, Prof Keme Pondei and Executive Director, Projects, NDDC, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, who spoke at different fora, during the week, slammed both the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and House of Representatives counterpart, Hon Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, who they accused of witch-hunting the commission, Nwaboshi and Tunji-Ojo washed their hands off the layer of allegations against them, accusing the IMC officials of blackmail.

Meanwhile, Chief Nelson Agbamuche, a traditional chief in Delta State accused by Dr Ojougboh of picking 1, 000 contracts as a front for senators, strongly denied the charge, challenging NDDC director to prove his  contention.

Clearly, the NDDC outbursts against the National Assembly members, whose rights of oversight function on the commission are constitutionally guaranteed were most likely compelled by the quandaries that present IMC has gone through  in getting the National Assembly to approve the simplest of item. Indeed, it has been a no love lost relationship.

Pondei, acting MD explodes  

Acting NDDC MD, Prof Pondei, who has been at the receiving end since he assumed office on virtually every issue from listing of projects for appropriation,    budget presentation/endorsement to payment for projects, could not bear the throttling any more, as he sensationally told newsmen at Port-Harcourt on Tuesday that some federal lawmakers were demanding payment of N6.4 billion from the commission for unverifiable projects.

Pondei said: “We have faced so much pressure from some members of the National Assembly not to send certain files to forensic auditors. We fear this will compromise the integrity of the exercise and have refused to do their bid.

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“We have refused to pay out N6.4bn for the 132 jobs which have no proof of execution. We believe that an IMC set up as a cleansing structure cannot become part of the old story of rot,” he said.

His words: “The 2019 budget was passed two months to the end of its implementation period. In fact, the hard copy was received by the commission on April 10, 2020 when the implementation period ends in May 31.

“Given the procurement rules, it is not enough time to call for tender and execution of the jobs. The statutory period for advertising tenders is six weeks.

“Two, the budgets are bastardized by the National Assembly in a way that renders it useless. A case will suffice. In the 2019 budget, we had a provision of N1.32bn to pay our counterpart funding to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the $129.7m Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises Programme in the Niger Delta (LIFE-ND).

“The National Assembly cut the provision to N100 million. Are we going to IFAD, a United Nations agency, to tell them to bring their $129.7m when our National Assembly says we can only pay N100m out of N1.32billion obligation?

“The National Assembly members insert items we have no plans for. These items are then forced on the commission when it is not part of its master plan. Rather than be a major intervention agency, the commission is busy erecting streetlights and drainage, something local governments should do.’

While acknowledging that the National Assembly reserved the right to probe the NDDC, he said such investigations, when done in normal times, would be a welcome development.

He said: “The probe at this time is actually distracting the commission from focusing on that exercise, which all stakeholders, including governors of the nine Niger Delta states agreed with Mr. President is the way forward for the commission.

“We suspect that the probe being trumpeted by the National Assembly is not for altruistic reason but an attempt by some members to arm-twist the IMC.”

Pondei also accused some politicians from the region of wanting to have control of the NDDC because of the 2023 governorship election in Delta state.

No N40bn scam anywhere —Dr Ojougboh

Dr Ojougboh in an interview with Arise Television, said:  What is happening in the NDDC is quite unfortunate. I will like to begin from when we came in as the Interim Management Committee. When we got to the NDDC, we met a letter from the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio stopping a consultancy arrangement given to two firms. One is Star Line Nigeria Limited. Star Line was  collecting revenue on behalf of the NDDC for statutory payments and they were earning N1 billion every month. When the minister came in, the company invited the Minister to join the fraud. The Minister said “no”, and immediately asked for the stoppage of that consultancy. “

“Another company called Candour went to LNG and claimed they were the ones who initiated statutory payments from LNG. And the company belongs to a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The letter says they collected $28 million and then exchanged it for N360 to a dollar. As at that time the exchange ratx e was not N360 to $1. The CBN was exchanging for N225 to $1. And at the end of the day, they asked for 20 percent of the $28 million.

“They were paid. They wanted to continue. Senator Akpabio said “no”, this is fraud against Nigeria and hell was let loose. They claimed that this is the money used to work in the National Assembly in Abuja. According to the chairman, if there is any contest in the National Assembly, this is where they source the money from. The IMC wrote letters to these contractors and because of that they declared war on the IMC.

“Let me make this clear. The Hon. Speaker and the President of the Senate are not aware of what the Chairmen of the Committees are doing in the National Assembly. And even members of the committees are not also aware. It is just one- man squad. Between 2016 and 2019 emergency contracts of over N2 trillion were awarded under the supervision of the Chairmen of both committees. And I have the list of how the contracts were distributed. In the list, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta collected 1000 of those jobs and said he was going to share it among the senators, but the senators denied knowledge of such files.

“We have the records. These 1000 contracts were collected by a man called Nelson  purportedly on behalf of the Senate. The immediate crises that we are witnessing is as a result of the budget. How did the budget run into problem? The bureaucracy told us when we came in that in 2016 there was no budget, 2017 there was no budget. 2018 there was no budget. The budget for 2019 was passed some few weeks ago. What led to it? When a Chairman of Senate Committee came in in 2015, he called the bureaucracy of NDDC and told them to insert jobs worth N15 billion for him, they went back and complied. But when the budget was sent to him he said he did not mean N15 billion, but N150 billion.

“The bureaucracy went back but could not comply because there was no way they could do that. The Chairman advised them to award the contract as emergency jobs so that they won’t go through the due processes. That was how the emergency procedures were breached and the commission presently has liabilities of over N3 trillion. How can this continue? And that is what the IMC and the Hon. Minister said we have to write in.  It did not just stop there.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Niger Delta came to us and brought out emergency training programme for N6.4 billion and said that he has met the first milestone and that the commission should pay him N3.7 billion. We said this milestone you are talking about cannot be paid because you have not done it. He said the job belonged to the speaker and we said we cannot pay.

“We went and met the Speaker and the Speaker said he was not aware of such a thing. This was not in the budget at all. When they passed the 2019 budget, the Chairman, House committee included it and insisted we must pay the money and we said we cannot pay. They said the IMC has stolen N40 billion, how can that be possible? All the payments we have made on projects were duly verified. I took my time as the

Executive Director Projects, to go from state to state to verify the projects and document them. Whenever we are satisfied that you have done jobs that merit payments we will pay you. And we were not paying as they used to pay so the contractors are very angry.

“Before now, once you have a contract in NDDC, it was like you have won a lottery. A contract in NDDC that was awarded for N700 million can be executed with N10 million to N20 million. But we brought in changes. When we inspect the project, we look at your Bill of Engineering Quantity and rate the job that you have done and issue you the interim payments certificate for that job. And through this process we have saved the commission over N50 billion already.

“Can you believe it that since the inception of NDDC, the agency has not done even 10 kilometres of dualized road in Niger Delta? Reputable companies like Julius Berger have never been engaged to execute projects in Niger Delta. When Senator Godswill Akpabio came on board as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, he had ideas to replicate what he did in Akwa Ibom state as governor. In order to do that, he said the commission must bring in reputable companies that can deliver quality jobs to the people of the Niger Delta.

“And that is what those who are struggling to take over the NDDC do not want. Can you imagine that somebody who has oversight functions over the NDDC is the one recommending people for appointment into the management of the same commission? If that was to happen, how can he in his own conscience, exercise proper oversight functions over his nominees. As it turned out, the President did not allow it, so we became enemies of the sponsors of that particular board that was not allowed to operate,” he said.

All tissues of lies, says Senator Nwaoboshi

Responding to the several allegations against him, Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, on Wednesday, denied any link to a firm allegedly being paid N1billion monthly by NDDC.

Nwaoboshi, representing Delta North at the upper chamber at press briefing in Abuja dismissed the claims of “fake projects” and “padding” of the NDDC’s budget as tissues of lies.

He challenged the Interim Management Committee of the agency to approach the anti-graft agencies with facts, if they have any, to enable them conduct a proper investigation rather than using the media to blackmail the National Assembly.

The lawmaker, however, said that no amount of mudslinging would stop the ongoing probe of the IMC by the Adhoc Committees already constituted for that purpose by both chambers of the National Assembly.

This is blackmail- Hon Ojo

Similarly, House Committee Chairman on Niger Delta, Tunji-Ojo, said the lawmakers would not succumb to any form of blackmail in their quest to unravel corruption in the commission.

He explained that the House was merely investigating allegations and counter- allegations of corruption in the intervention agency as part of its oversight function.

”It is an exercise of the system of checks and balances and not a duplicity of efforts. Therefore, we will continue independent investigations in order to be equipped with information in anticipation of the outcome of the forensic audit,” he argued

”Obviously, this is share blackmail and we expected this from the outset when the investigation process started.

“The bottom line is that we are not going to be deterred. This is coming after threat to life by militants and different text messages which have failed. The next agenda to stop the legislative work is blackmail.

“I can say it categorically that we are more determined to work for the people of the Niger Delta.”

Chief Agbamuche clears air: I never collected 1,000 projects

On his part, Chief Nelson Agbamuche in a statement distanced himself from the claim by Dr Cairo Ojougboh, saying:  ”I do not have any business relationship with anybody in the Senate and the whole National Assembly. How can I start fronting for anybody at my age and level? Is that not an insult? I am a High Chief in my Kingdom.”

“ I have been executing contracts in NDDC since 2012 and I have never been found wanting. I execute any contract I win diligently because it is for the benefit of our people who are daily deprived by these opportunists who find themselves in positions of authority. I am a Nigerian and ably qualified to bid for contracts anywhere, including NDDC.

“Cairo also mentioned a particular contract for the supply of plastic chairs. Let me put it on record that over 15 contractors were engaged for that supply. Just like other contractors, I delivered satisfactorily. All contractors were meant to lease warehouses for a certain period for the purpose of warehousing the goods with the supervision of NDDC because the commission’s Warehouse could not contain the supplies.

“Mine was not different, my company leased a warehouse to store those items under the supervision of NDDC officials until they were distributed by same officials. Records are there. I do not understand why he would barefacedly make these baseless allegations without studying his files to know the facts. Perhaps that is what happens when you are on a blind mission.

“In the said interview, he alleged I was given 1,000 projects on behalf of some people. This is ridiculous! Since 2012 that I started bidding for jobs in NDDC, we have not even won up to 50 or 100 jobs. Is he not having access to files in the office? Can Nigerians please help me announce to all of them to leave me out of their battle. I do not have anything to do with any of those allegations; they are baseless and very fallacious”