•Insists he’s culpable of wrongdoings
•Says he must recuse himself from the probe
•Adds there’s well funded campaign of calumny against IMC, Akpabio against 2023 elections
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Head of the Interim Management Committee, IMC and Managing Director, MD, of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Professor Daniel Keme Pondei has declared that Hon. Olubuni Tunji-Ojo must recuse himself as the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta for them to make their presentation.
He also insisted that the Ojo had been accused of various infractions in many contracts of the NDDC and therefore on a revenge mission with the investigation.
Pondei and his IMC team are facing a probe by the House Committee over financial recklessness to the tune of over N81 billion.
They had failed to appear before the investigation panel on Wednesday, the first day of its sitting, citing a meeting at the Presidential Villa as a reason.
When they finally appeared on Thursday, the second day, Pondei staged a walkout with his team, saying he was not comfortable with Ojo presiding over their presentation.
In return, the House Committee issued a warrant of arrest on him.
But reacting exclusively to the developments, Pondei told Saturday Vanguard in Abuja on Friday, that removing Tunji-Ojo as the Chairman and constituting an adhoc committee will be the only condition for them to make their presentation.
He said: “The Chairman of the House of Representative Committee on the NDDC, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji Ojo, had been accused by the NDDC of various allegations, and he had responded in the press. We believe he is on a revenge mission and will not give us a fair hearing. We simply asked him to recuse himself. We have absolute respect for the National Assembly and we appeared before the Senate adhoc Committee because we have nothing to hide.
“For us to have confidence an adhoc Committee with another person as chairman should be constituted.
“We will go back, but Hon. Olubunmi Ojo cannot be the Chairman.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the panel, Ojo had on Wednesday made more revelations of various significant expenditures.
According to him, the IMC, contrary to the alleged mismanagement of N40 billion for which the investigation was conceived spent extra funds on some sundry items.
The items, he said, included Community relations — N1.3bn; Condolences — N122.9m; Consultancy – N83m; COVlD—19 — N3.14 billion; DTA – N486million; Impress – N790.9 million; Lassa fever — N1.956 billion; Legal services — N900million and Maintenance – N220million.
Others were Oversea travel – N85.6 million; Project public communication – Nl.121 billion; Security – N744m; Staffing related payments N8.8 billion and Stakeholders engagement (Feb 18- May 31, 2020) N248million.
The money is totaled N81.5 billion.
In his reaction, Pondei said that the figures did not reflect the through situation.
He said it was only N59 billion that had been spent by his administration between March, 2020 when he assumed office and May, 2020.
He said: “I reject the allegations of financial recklessness. Whilst no man can do everything perfectly, I state categorically that all I have done is trying to reposition and restructure the NDDC. That is the mandate of the Interim Management Committee. Even a blind person will know that the issues are due to the plugging of leakages and the end of business as usual.
“People do not want the Forensic audit ordered by Mr. President and will do anything to rubbish it. Also the 2023 election is part of the underlying issues leading to all these allegations, so that the IMC can be removed for a more pliable management that can be used to raise a war chest for elections.
“The figures are very incorrect. The CBN and Accountant General’s office stated at the Senate hearing that N81bn to N82bn was spent by the two IMCs between 31st October 2019 and 31st May 2020. N34bn was received from the FGN between 1st January and 31st May 2020. The IMC under my leadership spent N59.1bn between 20th February 2020 and 31st May 2020. N38.6bn was spent on projects (mostly road projects) initiated by previous managements. These historical debts were as old as 10 years. The balance of N20.5bn was spent on staff salaries, maintenance, allowances, Duty tour allowances left unpaid for over 4 years, hotel and utility bills inherited by the IMC.”
Speaking to the people of Niger Delta and indeed, Nigerians on the developments, Pondei said “They should verify everything they read or hear. There is a well-funded campaign of calumny against the IMC and the Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. One day the whole truth will come out and we will be vindicated.”
Saturday Vanguard recalls that in May this year when the allegations against Tunji-Ojo made the rounds, the lawmaker called a press conference and denied them, describing them as cheap blackmail against his person.
“It’s unfortunate that these allegations are coming. As I’ve always said, these allegations are blackmails and it’s surprising because I became the chairman of this Committee as I was inaugurated as chairman in September last year and between September and now I can say categorically that not a kobo of contract has been awarded for emergency. So, I don’t know how that figure comes in and how that assertion came into being.
“It’s laughable because IMC themselves came into being in October last year, a month after I became the chairman of this Committee. The same Dr. Cairo said on Arise TV that they have not awarded a single contract since they came on board, so how did they award One Trillion, Two Trillion or whateve? This is just sheer blackmail. I expected it from the onset when the investigation process started and the bottom line is that we are not going to be dead. I have to say this, this is coming after threat and after threat to life by militants, by different text messages, calls and etc; the threats have failed.
“So the next agenda to stop the legislative work is blackmail. And I can say it categorically, we are more determined to work for the people of Niger Delta more than ever before. I can say it there is no One Trillion, Two Trillion, 10 Trillion or anything. It does not exist. May be it only exists in the figment of their own imagination.
“I’m surprised that anybody will award a job that is not in the budget and I’m surprised about that and I’ve gone through the 2020 budget as approved and I can tell you point blank that in the 2020 budget there’s no provision, there is nothing like emergency training in the 2020 budget, nothing like that, I don’t know what he’s talking about. And I’ve said it before and let me repeat for the umpteenth time I do not have a single contract in NDDC”, the lawmaker representing Akoko North East/Akoko North West Federal Constituency of Ondo State had said.