As former MD says N8bn out of N81billion was spent by IMC under her, alleges that Akpabio asked her to write and implicate Nwaoboshi
As Pondei threatens to quit if corruption allegations are proven
By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- MINISTER of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio told the Senate yesterday that if the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC must address the challenges of the Niger Delta region, it has become very imperative for both the Senate and the House of Representatives to closely monitor the Budget of the agency.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja when he appeared before the Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, All Progressives Congress, APC, Ekiti North led Ad-hoc that is probing the alleged financial recklessness to the tune of N40 billion by the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the NDDC, between January and March this year, Akpabio stressed the urgent need for synergy between the National Assembly, the federal government and the interventionist agency for a total overhauling of the budgetary procedures of NDDC.
Akpabio who appeared before the Committee on the last day of the investigative public hearing, charged the National Assembly to check against what he described as abuses of the budgeting procedures of the Commission, adding that there are instances where money budgeted had been drastically and illegally reduced by some members of the National Assembly against the originally approved fund.
Meanwhile the immediate past Managing Director of NDDC , Dr Yimebe Nunieh at the Investigative hearing, however declared that out of the entire N81billion spent by the Commission between October 29, 2019 to May 31, 2020, only N8billion was spent by IMC under her leadership between October 29, 2019 to February 28, 2020.
On his part, the incumbent Managing Director , Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei however threatened to resign if allegations of corruptions levelled against his team of IMC, are proven to be truth, adding, “If anyone has any evidence that I collected even one percent from any contractor, let him present it and I will resign instantly. We need to be very careful in making spurious allegations that distract the NDDC.”
Speaking further, Akpabio, former Senate Minority Leader who also told the Senate Committee that the National Assembly should help put in place a good structure for the NDDC for the people of the region to benefit from the reasons why the Commission was in the first place established.
Akpabio who also lamented the rot that existed in the budgeting system for the agency,however buttresed his arguement, saying that there was a particular time when N10.billion was put in the budget but some people just went into one hotel in Abuja and reduced it to N100 million adding that this figure failed to achieve any result.
The Minister who insisted that the forensic audit of the NDDC was the best way of clearing the rot in the commission that had existed since its establishment, however called on all stakeholders including the National Assembly to genuinely support the effort of President Muhammadu in ensuring that the money for the NDDC is used for the people of the Niger Delta.
He said, “The reason why you hear so much hue and cry about the NDDC is because of President Buhari’s approval for a Forensic Audit.” He told the Senate Committee.”
On allegation, Akpabio who shocked the committee when he disclosed that he had never awarded any contract since he became minister of Niger Delta Affairs except the contract for COVID palliatives, said that if he sees the alleged N40 billion, he would faint.
In his remarks, the chairman of the committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi while collaborating Akpabio’s submission, declared that the essence of the investigation was to make sure the common wealth of Niger Delta works for the people of the Niger Delta.
According to him, the investigation is not about missing money but about ensuring that money gets into the right pocket to promote the best interests of the Niger Delta region and its people.
The committee also told Akpabio that at the end of the investigation, those who specialize hijacking Peoples money would be put out of business.
In her own submission , the former Managing Director of the Commission , Dr Gbene Joy Nunieh said out of the N81billion spent by the Commission between October last year to May this year only N8billion was expended by IMC under her leadership for the months period spent ( October 29, 2019 to February 18, 2020 .
She alleged while answering questions from Journalists that Akpabio engineered her removal from office for failing to dance to his tunes as regards writing implicating Chairman , Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs , Peter Nwaoboshi on fraudulent contracts awards and executions .
She said, “the Minister did all manner of dirty things to forcefully remove me out of office like sponsoring the vandalisation of Agip Trunk A pipeline in Bayelsa as a way of making the unsuspecting public to believe that the youths in the area are angry with NDDC under her leadership .
“He even made frantic attempts to force me to swear to fetish oath which I vehemently refused before he succeeded in getting me out of the place for sole purpose of having his way to run the place the way he likes under the present team of IMC.
But a member of the current IMC, Evangelist Caroline Nagbo punctured Nunieh’s claim, declaring that there was no time the Minister invited her or any other member of the IMC to take any oath of secrecy .
She said, ” As far as I am concerned , as a member of the current Interim Management Committee of NDDC, I took oath of allegiance and not oath of fetishism from any body. “
Speaking further, Akpabio while defending the N500m projects, said, “When you are in the Senate or the House of Representatives, you can make suggestions to Committee chairmen concerning your constituency. It is left to that Agency to accept it or not. So probably when I was in the Senate, because that that letter is dated 2017, I must have made recommendation that they should consider to include it but they were not included in the budget. They were not considered. So those jobs were not done. Not one Naira was paid. And when you make recommendations, it is not that you are going to be the contractor.
” It is that if they put a job for your constituency, when they are going through due process, they will advertise that job, and that job would be awarded to the contractor that won the bid. It is not that when a senator makes a suggestion to an agency, that that senator will automatically go and become the contractor. And the fact that that paper was written, on the Minority Leader’s letter-headed paper shows that it was not an award.
“An awarded contract would have been on NDDC letter head. So, when I saw it, I did not think it was worth responding to because I am a seasoned administrator and a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I owe the nation nothing but good service and to tell the truth. It wasn’t worth responding to because it was a total falsehood. I have never been a contractor in NDDC.
“Even if those suggested projects worth N500million were accepted there is no guarantee that Godswill Akpabio or my nominee would have been the contractor.
“And then the issue of missing N40billion, I came to honour my colleagues. I am a Senator forever. They have the right to look into issues when they are raised. It was a motion and they have a right to investigate it and whenever their investigative report comes out, it would help me to supervise and monitor the NDDC better. But it is not that money was missing because the Central Bank of Nigeria harbours the account of the NDDC, so you cannot go and take out N40billion from the CBN and eat it without trace. Technology has gone too far.
“The contractors that were paid according to the management were contractors that were owed historical debts. So when you inherit a Commission you will inherit the liabilities as well as the assets and some of them you have no option because of garnishee orders from court.
“It couldn’t even have come to the Minister because the threshold of the management is below N250million.
” So if the contracts are split into 185 local governments of Niger Delta or 27 Senatorial District of Niger Delta, it means that it is all below N1billion. So it won’t even come to the Minister. I am also learning.
“My job was to come here and also listen because it would help me to know what they have been expending. In fact, in one of the IMCs, I didn’t even know they expended even up to N20billion. So the record will also help me make sure we supervise better.
“The President has taken steps to set up a Presidential Monitoring Committee and I am the Chairman of the Committee. That Committee by the Act empowers me to ask of record of expenses. So what comes out of this will also help me to look at whether the monies were rightly expended or not. It is a combination for us to change the Niger Delta.
“That is why I said everything here comes up to forensic. I am a Niger Deltan, but I have never been impressed with NDDC. I must say that I have never been impressed with the NDDC. I must say that, I have never been impressed with the NDDC.
“Throughout my tenure as governor, I wasn’t impressed. You do politically motivated projects. You do a road of five kilometers and in next raining season, it would be washed away. Go to my state and see, the roads I did 13 years ago, you don’t see a single port hole on them because I took cognizance of what the terrain is in the region. You not rule a people or give them good projects if you don’t love them. Some of these people are merchants.
“They just come into the Commission on the basis of political connotations and with one aim to make money and go and contest election. So now the President is the first President in Nigeria that has not used the NDDC, as a place to settle political cronies. That is why he has the courage to order for forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001.
“We must commend that because if his family members and political cronies were going to the NDDC as in the past to go and collect money and phony contracts that were never executed, there is no way he would have ordered for forensic audit. So, mine is to make sure, that I carry out the instructions of the President and clean the system and then set up a management structure. So I like what is happening here, and I just want to tell you, please don’t believe in sensational journalism and then somebody will come and say ‘Akpabio under probe for N40 billion.’ Which Akpabio, if see N40billion won’t I faint?