…Name lawmaker-contractors in 48 hrs, Gbajabiamila tells Akpabio
…Senate panel walks out Ojougboh over call on panel chair to step down
…Those after Akpabio must tread with caution — Annang Foundation
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Henry Umoru, Brisibe Perez, Chioma Unuegbu & Tordue Salem
The mud- splashing between the National Assembly and officials of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, over the ongoing probe of the commission got messier yesterday in both chambers of the legislature.
While the House of Representatives speaker, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, gave Senator Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, 48 hours to name the lawmakers who got contracts from the NDDC, senators walked out Acting Executive Director, Projects of Interim Management Committee, IMC, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, out of the hearing room over his insistence that chairman of the Senate panel, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, should step down on grounds that the NDDC officials would not get fair hearing from him.
Nwaoboshhi and Ojougboh are from Delta State.
While appearing before the panel probing the NDDC on Monday, Akpabio claimed that most of the contracts awarded by the agency were to members of the National Assembly. “I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in the NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly,’’ Akpabio had said while reacting to a question by one of the lawmakers.
Speaking at plenary, yesterday, Gbajabiamila, who commended Rep Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, chairman House Committee on NDDC for withdrawing from the probe of the commission, said if Akpabio did not name the lawmakers, the full wrath of the House will be brought against him.
His words: “I am giving the minister 24 to 48 hours to publish the names, the contracts, the companies, date, amount and the projects, failing which, this House will bring the full wrath of the house on him. It is important that we set this record straight.
“The minister owes it to himself, to the committee, to people of Niger Delta, and the country to publish it. I will reserve my judgement. The minister came here to play games, but we do not play games here.”
Efforts to get the minister’s response on the ultimatum at press time, proved abortive. Calls and text messages to his media aide, Jackson Udom, were not replied.
Gbajabiamila spoke as Akpabio’s kinsmen warned those hounding their son to thread carefully. Also, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, berated the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP for saying that the collapse of Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Kemebradikuno Daniel Pondei, while being grilled by the House of Representatives committee on Monday underscored the weight of graft in the APC-led administration.
Senate walks out Ojougboh
Following the absence of IMC Acting Managing Director, Professor Pondei, last week, from the sitting of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North)-led Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, another meeting was scheduled for yesterday to enable members ask questions on Pondei’s position paper.
To kick-start the hearing, Senator Nwaoboshi addressed committee members and that of the IMC that the hearing was basically to hear from the commission on alleged sacked staff, to get information against the backdrop that it has not been easy getting the IMC team to speak.
He added that the Acting Managing Director could not attend last week because of his meeting with the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee and that the document submitted last week was not signed and so was not tenable.
According to him, the one which was currently before the committee is a report from Pondei, and that the committee had written to the Civil Service Commission; the staff of NDDC; the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, among others and they have all responded to the committee.
How trouble started
Trouble started when Ojougboh interrupted Nwaoboshi, asking him to step down, saying the IMC will not get fair hearing from the committee with Nwaoboshi as chairman.
Ojougboh said: “We feel we cannot get fair hearing from the Committee. It is regrettable that we have to take this decision. As chairman, you can excuse yourself from the chairing the meeting. This committee is not properly constituted, you cannot and will not preside over this meeting.”
At this point, Senator Nwaoboshi explained to Ojougboh that the hearing was not about financial recklessness but alleged sack of staff. He said another committee has been set up to look at alleged financial recklessness, adding, “we will not allow you to come here and insult anyone. The Committee was put up by the Senate. However, we have a position paper from the Acting MD.”
Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Senator Amos Bulus; Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) and Senator Eremienyo Degi (PDP, Bayelsa East), all urged Ojougboh to stop the brickbat as they were capable of postponing the issues at stake.
Even after the Senators spoke, Ojougboh did not soft-pedal and it was at this point that Senator Nwaoboshi said: “The MD has sent a signed report to us and what is in the report is accurate and we were supposed to take questions from the representative of IMC and since you don’t want to take questions from us, Cairo Ojougboh, excuse us.”
Ojougboh then stood up, took a bow, said ‘’thank you’’ and left the venue — Room 107, Senate Wing.
No IMC staff was sacked – Nagbo
Soon after he left, Acting Executive Director, Finance & Administration, Evangelist Caroline Nagbo pleaded with the Nwaoboshi Committee to forgive the IMC in anyway the management may have offended him and other members of the Committee, adding: “No staff was sacked, they were only asked to step aside for transparency and diligence. In anyway the IMC has offended you, I want you to in the name of God forgive the IMC in the overall interest of the region.”
The Senate had on May 5, 2020, sequel to a motion sponsored by Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), on alleged financial recklessness and arbitrary sacking of staff in NDDC, mandated its committee on Niger Delta Affairs, to investigate the staff sacking aspect and assigned that of financial recklessness to an Ad-Hoc Committee.
While the Ad-Hoc committee had carried out its investigation on alleged financial recklessness against the Professor Daniel Pondei-led IMC of NDDC, the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs has not been able to get the attention of the IMC members on alleged illegal sack of staffers.
The IMC, in a position paper signed by Pondei and made available to the Committee, said that no staff was sacked as they were only asked to step aside and still enjoying full benefits like other staff.
Pondei said: “All such claims of sack, dismissal or suspension of staff of the NDDC are untrue and misleading.”Those on mandatory leave are still bona fide staff of the Commission, enjoying full entitlements due every other staff. The Commission resisted the temptation of applying the full prescription of the extant provisions in handling this matter, which ordinarily would have earned them interdiction.
“The IMC acted within the ambit of the law, in good faith and for public interest based on the extant rules and the informed advice of the forensic auditors.
“Once again we thank this distinguished committee for this golden opportunity in setting the records straight on this matter before the public.
“However, as per the summons for the forensic auditors to attend the Committee’s hearing alongside the Commission’s executive, it should be noted that the said auditors are neither staff of the Commission nor were they engaged by the Commission but by directive of Mr. President, hence our Iack of control/authority over them.
“We urge the Senate Committee on Niger Delta to kindly consider the submissions herein in its investigations and findings on this matter thereafter.”
Those after Akpabio should tread with caution – Annang Foundation
A foremost socio-cultural association in Annangland, Afe Annang Foundation, has warned those harassing Senator Akpabio to tread with caution so as not to overstep their bounds and draw the ire of his kinsmen.
In a statement by its President, Professor Ibanga Akpan, the group stressed that Akpabio should be allowed to carry out his duties without any intimidation or harassment.
The statement read: “The leadership and the entire membership of Afe Annang Foundation, the foremost socio-cultural association in Annangland has watched with utter dismay and discomfiture the ongoing brickbats in the NDDC where our revered son, Senator Akpabio supervises as minister.
“We frown seriously at the ugly developments in the NDDC in recent times, and, for us, it does not speak well of the Niger Delta and its peoples.
“Senator Godswill Akpabio should be allowed to carry out his duties without any intimidation or harassment. We are proud of him, his achievements and his efforts so far in repositioning the NDDC.
“Accordingly, we the Annangs will not take it kindly if anything happens to our most treasured son, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio. Those hounding him should tread with caution, else they overstep their bounds and draw the ire of his kinsmen.
“We are fully in support of the forensic auditing of the NDDC, hence we call for an end to the ongoing controversies rocking the commission to give room for the much needed cleansing of the agency and reposition the NDDC for better productivity and efficiency without distraction.”
The association said it was throwing its weight behind Akpabio in the troubling times because he means well for the Niger Delta, noting that as governor of Akwa Ibom State, their son served the state meritoriously with remarkable distinction.
Thanking President Muhammadu Buhari for approving the forensic audit of the NDDC in line with his anti-corruption fight, it expressed the optimism the commission would be effectively repositioned after the completion of the exercise.
“At the end of it all, we are certain that our son will be vindicated, and his effort in the commission will be appreciated. Akpabio’s utmost priority is to ensure the development of the area and its people as against the blind pillaging that hobbled the progress of the commission in the past,’’ it added.
PDP scared of NDDC audit – APC
Meanwhile, the APC has said that the PDP is scared of the outcome of the forensic audit into the finances of the NDDC.
In October 2019, President Buhari ordered the audit of the commission’s finances from 2001 to 2019.
However, there have been allegations and controversy over activities of the Interim Management Committee, IMC, meant to undertake the audit.
While the Senate probed alleged mismanagement of N40 billion, the House of Representatives is investi-gating the “misuse” of N81.5 billion.In a statement on Tuesday, Yekini Nabena, APC deputy spokesman, said his party supports the audit of the commission’s finances.
“Nigerians can now understand that the PDP is not interested in the current moves by the President Buhari administration to reposition the NDDC. The PDP is dead-scared of the outcome of the 2001 to 2019 forensic audit and legislative inquests of the NDDC operations. The PDP is doing everything to sabotage and frustrate the audits,” Nabena said.
“In recognition of the ongoing forensic audit and legislative inquest into the operations of the NDDC, as a party, we have no intention to trade words on how successive PDP administrations and their cronies institutionalised a culture of contract fraud and other corrupt practices which have robbed the Niger Delta region of badly-needed development. We will rather monitor and await the findings of the ongoing audits.
“However, one thing is clear; no vested interest will continue to turn the NDDC into an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) while multifaceted development eludes the Niger Delta region.
“We must support the forensic audit of the 19 years of the NDDC, which includes the first 4 years of the President Buhari administration as well as well-meaning legislative inquests for the benefit of the Niger Delta region.”
Nabena said Buhari has demonstrated zero-tolerance for corruption.
“Has the President Buhari administration demonstrated its zero-tolerance for corruption? An emphatic yes!” he said.
“The administration’s fight against corruption is total, unsparing and there are no sacred cows. Public records show that officials of past administrations, members of the opposition, APC, cabinet members, appointees, private sector, among others, have been given ample opportunity by this administration to defend corruption allegations when they arise,” the party added.
Reps turning NDDC probe to bullying session– Group
The 21st Century Youths of Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, 21st CYNDAC, yesterday, accused lawmakers of turning the House of Representatives hearing on NDDC to a bullying session.
The group in a statement by its leader, self-proclaimed “Gen” Izon Ebi, also warned that it would not accept appointment of a sole administrator for the interventionist agency.
“With the show of shame that took place at the House of Representatives on Monday, the whole charade confirms what we have already described as an inquisition of the IMC of the NDDC and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio.
“For sometime now, the nation has been inundated with the shenanigans of the National Assembly, but all that came to a roaring crescendo on Monday with the fainting of the acting Managing Director, Prof Keme Pondei and an Akpabio’s hot seat classic that left much unsaid.
“The whole charade was a bullying and intimidation session that was devoid of any iota of interest for the people of the Niger Delta or the myriad of environmental issues confronting the region, all we were inundated with was a probe whose outcome was already predetermined.
“It was obvious that the National Assembly is against the the IMC and the Minister and that the main purpose is to truncate the forensic audit of the NDDC.
“It left much to be desired that upon the serial pillage of trillions of naira from the commission over the years, it is only the IMC and Godswill Akpabio whose tenure is under probe. We wonder why Nsima Ekere and Brambaifa whose tenures were classified by humongous looting were not investigated.
“From what transpired on Monday, it is obvious to every discerning mind that the reason for the investigation was not to find out the truth or reshape the focus of the commission for optimum service delivery, rather it was a situation of if we cannot eat from the pot, let us scatter the party.
“We state unequivocally that the forensic audit of the commission must get to its logical conclusion, as that is the only credible way to rejig the commission and expose those that have been raping the region of it’s resources.
“Secondly, youth groups will not take kindly to the closure or the appointment of an administrator for the NDDC, as was done in the Amnesty office that has left the place moribund and and has led to it not offering any service to ex-agitators in the region.
“The House of Representatives investigation showed that they were interested parties in the looting of the commission and, therefore, had no moral rights for the investigation, as they tried to stop the Minister from naming and shaming those in the National Assembly, who have been looting the commission by hurriedly closing the Inquisition,” the group said.
NDDC now a problem to N’Delta – Shehu Sani
Speaking on the probe, Senator Shehu Sani said the NDDC has become a problem to the people of the Niger Delta region.
Sani made his position known yesterday on his twitter handle @Shehusani.
Sani also mocked the Niger Delta people for thinking their “enemies” are from the northern part of the country.
He said: “Niger Deltans used to think all their enemies are in Sokoto while they are actually in their shokoto. NDDC was created to solve the problems of Niger Delta,it has become the problem of Niger Delta.”