•Nigerians including lawmakers secure contracts using proxies
•Summon past MDs, stakeholders for interrogation – Mitee, ex-PANDEF scribe
•Disbanding NDDC not the solution– Prof Darah, Annkio Briggs, Edokpolo
•Let presidential probe panel investigate NASS, Akpabio, IMC- Ogbeifun, others
•Pondei should beware of hawks- Ovie of Agbon, Gbenekema
•The problem is management failure, power tussle- Ex-MD
Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Jimitota Onoyme, Egufe Yafugborhi, Emma Una, Ike Uchechukwu, Davies Iheamnachor, Emem Idio, Perez Brisibe, Ozioruva Aliu and Francis Efe
STAKEHOLDERS in Niger Delta recognized that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, stated the obvious when he declared, Monday, at the investigative hearing of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee into the activities of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, that lawmakers benefit immensely from Commission’s contracts, revealing that more than 50 percent of the contracts go to members of the National Assembly.
Akpabio’s words: “Who are even the greatest beneficiary of the contracts, is it not you people at the National Assembly? I just told you (House of Reps committee) that we have records to show that most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly, but you do not know about it, the two chairmen can explain to you. I was a member of the NDCC committee so I know about it.”
However, when the Speaker of House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila asked Akpabio to announce names of the lawmakers who were beneficiaries of NDDC contracts the former Akwa Ibom governor said that he was misunderstood and that he did not mean what was attributed to him.
What Akpabiodidn’t say
What, however, confounded the people after exposing the uncommon truth that members of the National Assembly collected 60 per cent of NDDC contracts was why he failed to divulge the percentage of contracts that NDDC top officials and others amass for themselves, either by themselves or through cronies?
Many were also surprised why the minister, conversant with the sharp practices of politicians, allowed it to rankle under his supervision.
What is, however, plain is that some privileged congressmen and powers that be at the commission had been sharing contracts and other largesse before now in the name of the National Assembly, but when the minister decided to stop the lawmakers with the weapon of forensic audit, they fought back.
Thus, many see the current NASS inquisitions as power play which is already ridiculing the anti-corruption battle.
Dilemma in pinning down NASS contractors
Before the latest conspiracies and dirty fight broke out, most of the dramatis personae, acting on previous experiences with security agencies had, however, discontinued using their names and those of relatives to register companies at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, for that is the nexus EFCC operatives and other anti-corruption interrogators want to establish during investigation of accessible accounts. Many Nigerians secure contracts using cronies or proxies.
This is the reason it has been problematic for NDDC to straightforwardly tie some of the lawmakers they desperately want to nail, to the companies that actually collected the contracts on record. And the practice started long before now.
The Interim Management Committee, IMC, had, over the months, since the hullabaloo over forensic audit commenced, observably tried to drag the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, and Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta, Hon Olubunmi Tunji- Ojo.
Former acting managing director, Ms. Joi Nunieh, told the House of Representatives probe panel that Akpabio instructed her to indict Senator Nwaoboshi, which she refused, insinuating it was part of the insubordination the minister accused her of.
While Nwaoboshi denied link to the companies mentioned and accused Senator Akpabio of performing NDDC contracts, a Delta chief, who felt disparaged by NDDC linking his companies to somebody else, asked his lawyers to examine the breach.
NASS C’ttee chairs collected N2trillion contracts – Ojougboh
Acting Director, Projects, NDDC, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, who made an effort to stretch the matter further when he appeared before the Senate Committee investigating purported sack of the commission’s workers by demanding that Senator Nwaoboshi stepped aside, on Tuesday, was excused from the hearing.
Dr Ojougboh later revealed on a television programme on Tuesday that chairmen of National Assembly committees got emergency contracts worth N2 trillion from NDDC from 2016 to 2019.
Senator Akpabio had earlier retracted his claim that Hon Tunji-Ojo was one of the beneficiaries, but top officials of NDDC confided in Saturday Vanguard that the intrigues also have to do with a fierce battle for control of NDDC between Akpabio and a powerful lawmaker from Delta state, who wants to put his men in charge of the interventionist agency, ahead the 2023 governorship elections in the state.
However, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, Tuesday, gave Akpabio a 48-hour ultimatum to name members of the House of Representatives that collected contracts from NDDC or face the law. The minister is not bound by the ultimatum, but Nigerians expect him to open up. Gbajabiamila Thursday revealed that Akpabio may be dragged to court for defamation if he did not reveal the names of the lawmakers he said benefited from the contracts.
Invite past NDDC MDs, stakeholders for questioning – Mitee, activist
Chairman of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, Mr. Ledum Mitee, told Saturday Vanguard that the lawmakers should extend their invitation to past Managing Directors of the NDDC and major stakeholders in the region for questioning.
He said: “I have not seen any tangible thing in the Niger Delta that will justify the said over N51 billion the commission said it has spent in less than one year as Pondei has mentioned. The sad reality is that the opportunity cost, that is, if you are talking about N51 billion spent within a period of less than a year, you now ask yourself what that money would have been able to deliver to the people of the Niger Delta.
“To me, that would have been enough to complete the East-West road, or gone a long way to do a whole lot of other things in the Niger Delta. The unfortunate thing is that I think all these things will also go in the way of other issues too. After this week, this issue will not be heard again and people will forget it. The issues about Ibrahim Magu are being forgotten now that we are talking about NDDC, who know what will happen next week.
“Nigerians are getting almost immune to issues of indiscriminate use of public funds by individuals. Although, I do not know the terms and reference, I think it will not just be about the money that has been stolen there. We are thinking of the way forward and I think the National Assembly should send the invitation not only to past Managing Directors, but also stakeholders in the region to say what they have seen. They need to speak to many other stakeholders,” he suggested.
Don’t be hoodwinked- Prof Darah, Delta PANDEF chair
Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Delta state, Professor Godini Darah, who was livid at some Niger Delta people gleefully celebrating the circus show as Federal Government’s purification exercise, said: “Please, do not be misled by such government rituals of mass deception. NDDC was not established to develop Niger Delta, it was a propaganda stunt by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to assure foreign investors that he had pacified the restive Niger Delta from which Nigeria has been looting resources and revenues from 1970 till date.
“Every month the federal government loots 87 per cent of oil and gas revenues from the Niger Delta and sadistically gives oil-rich states13 per cent through derivation. In a federal system, the Niger Delta states should own their wealth and resources 100% and pay agreed tax to the government in the centre.
” In that system such as is practiced in the US, India, Australia, etc., the central government does not set up underfunded and wretched agencies for states that are fleeced daily through unjust and cruel laws. For example, Section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution vests sole ownership of oil and gas on the federal government. Even the imperial British did not inflict such atrocities on colonized Nigerians.
”This is the core demand of our restructuring campaign, namely, to restore federalism in Nigeria to guarantee autonomy of federating units to own and manage their affairs to meet their development challenges. In that situation, Nigeria will not need NDDC or any contrivance for looting money to appease the caliphate cabals in Abuja,” he asserted.
Underground plans to scrap NDDC, PAP, MNDA – Annkio Briggs
Niger Delta activist, Annkio Briggs and others, do not believe that the large-scale corruption in NDDC does not have the imprimatur of lawmakers, including those from Niger Delta, but were more worried that both NASS members from the region and NDDC managers were not seeing the impending danger of playing into the hands of the ruling cabal, which could push for the appointment of a sole administrator to take over the commission.
Briggs, who alleged there were already plans to scrap NDDC, Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, MNDA, warned that the people of the region would resist it.
Describing the system that birthed the NDDC as being bastardized, she faulted lawmakers for turning themselves to NDDC contractors, saying: ”If you want to be a contractor, leave the National Assembly as a lawmaker, then go and do your contract business.”
”When you look at the level of involvement of corruption in the NDDC itself, you will notice that the pathway that is used for corruption has been inbuilt silently into the system, hence the system of corruption had been setup along with the creation of the NDDC itself.”
”The fact that the management of the NDDC has to be appointed by any President of the country is one major place where this corruption takes place because it becomes a political appointment.
”With situations when you have the Chief of Staff, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and all manner of people sending their own persons as Managing Directors for the NDDC, these MDs are not answerable to the people but those who nominated them,” she said.
On what President Buhari should do, she said: “President Buhari has called for a forensic audit, but he must also go a step further by publishing names of the companies that have ever done projects in the region because the people have a right to know the people that were given jobs, only to turn out disaffecting their lives.
”Secondly, we need to know if the jobs were completed, these are some of the things we want to know. Next, this IMC is now embroiled in accusations of corruption and they must be removed immediately. As a matter of fact, the moment the former acting Managing Director was removed, all of them ought to have been removed for there to be confidence building.
”Indeed, this IMC ought not to even have awarded jobs, they were to only assist with document provision for the audit. Even the Joi Nunieh- led board should be audited as well because of the allegations she had raised,” she said.
NDDC should be overhauled, not scrapped – Bishop Egbebo, Edokpolo, Newuwumi
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese, Bomadi, Delta state, Most Rev. Hyacinth Egbebo, categorically stated: “I do not subscribe to the idea of scrapping the NDDC and I do not know the people suggesting it.”
Executive Director, Peace and Community Empowerment Initiative, Collins Newuwumi, also disagreed with those calling for disbanding of the commission, saying: “No, the commission should not be scrapped for the benefit of the people and the development of the region.”
Reacting to the move to disband NDDC, Comrade Aiyamekhue Edokpolo, President, Benin National Congress, BNC, asserted: “It is the politicians that have substantially failed the agency and not the civil servants. I am absolutely against the scrapping of the agency because the purpose of the development of the Niger Delta region is far from being achieved. Over the years, we have seen some level of fundamental deception on the part of those who have manned the agency where you have more signboards than inaugurated or commissioned projects.”
“Those calling for the scrapping of the agency do not mean well for Niger Deltans. The agency should be critically overhauled to meet its designed goals. I will say that the president must take drastic measures to ensure a holistic overhaul of the agency right from the position of the minister and the ministry down to the security man in NDDC, there must be a total overhaul ahead of the appointment of a substantive board.
It is scandalous lawmakers have turned contractors
Speaking on involvement of lawmakers in NDDC projects, he said: “The development from the NDDC probe has further exposed the rot in the system and also signalled the fact that it is a long way for Nigeria if an IMC could be so alleged to embark on a contract allocation spree to friends and well-wishers, instead of duly verified and credible contractors, who pay taxes to sustain workers, sustain their staff and have offices.”
“ The real contractors have become second or third beneficiaries of contracts in the sense that the contract is first given to public officers like Senators and House of Representatives members , who have no contract address in the first place, then they now give them to their agents and these agents now start looking for real contractors and by the time these things go through these phases, a lot of dedicated funds would have gone under the bridge and at the end of the day what you are going to find is low standard jobs delivery.
Buhari’s directive confusing – Eric Omare
Immediate past president of IYC, Eric Omare Esq posited: “Appraising the recent directive of President Buhari for investigative agencies to conclude their work within a certain time frame, I must say that the directive is vague and meaningless. Considering the prevailing situation in the NDDC, which is snowballing into a regional crisis and national disgrace, I had expected that the President would give a specific and definitive directive with clear mandate to named agencies and stated time frame. However, in this case, the directive was vague without naming the agencies to carry out the directive apart from the National Assembly that was mentioned.”
“The vague nature of the directive has prompted some of us to ask if the investigation being referred to covers the forensic audit as well or only the ongoing investigation of expenditures by the IMC. The concomitant effect is that the entire issues relating to the NDDC are muddled up and becoming more complicated. What Nigerians and Niger Deltans are supposed to be concerned about is the state of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari.
“However, the current investigation of the IMC has diverted attention from the forensic audit which the IMC was set up to supervise and from positioning the NDDC to deliver on its statutory mandate. President Buhari owes it as a duty to Niger Deltans and Nigerians to take us out of this quagmire because he orchestrated it by setting up an illegal IMC for the NDDC. ”
Many believe that the forensic audit may not give a true picture of the state of NDDC if it was truly hijacked. Joi Nunieh had said that nothing transparent would come out from the audit being supervised the minister.
Inaugurate presidential probe panel- Ogbeifun, James-Eriworio, Okon
Former National President, PENGASSAN, – Dr Ogbeifun Louis, activist and national coordinator, Association for Rural Chiefs, Chief Nengi James-Eriworio and a political leader in Cross River North, Cross River state, Chief Linus Okom, called on President Buhari to set up a presidential probe panel and combine forensic auditing to save NDDC from collapse.
Ogbeifun said: “Though the forensic auditing of the NNDC would have been desirable, with the accusations of insiders and highly placed Nigerians as beneficiaries, the odious sleaze oozing out from the NNDC despite the ongoing audit, I believe that a presidential probe panel, PPP, should be appropriate in this instance. The forensic examination could then merge with the PPP. The PPP should have as its chairman an incorruptible retired judge, and other credible Nigerians as members.”
“All those fingered in the NDDC saga, who have been alleged to have turned NDDC funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region into their ATMs should be suspended immediately to make way for a free and fair investigative hearing. That is in line with civil service procedures. If, in the end, they get a clean bill of no wrong done, they should be free.
Activist and National Coordinator, Association for Rural Chiefs, Chief Nengi James-Eriworio, told Saturday Vanguard: ”We are calling on Mr President to immediately set up an independent Forensic Audit that is not under the Minister of Niger Delta or the IMC, but an autonomous forensic audit that would be supervised by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the presidency because we are afraid that any forensic audit supervised by the Minister will not be credible for he will be using the president’s name to undo certain things with the forensic auditors.”
“We are equally submitting that anybody that is involved in the corruption should be investigated. Apart from the national assembly probe, they should be investigated by the anti-corruption agencies, both the former and present IMC members and even the national assembly members that have been fingered. They should be named and shamed.
“We are seeing this drama as a ploy to undermine and under develop NDDC because the North-East Commission is working, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, and others elsewhere are working, why must our own be stampeded in the name of forensic audit. As far as we are concerned, the functionality of NDDC must go on,” he added.
Chief Linus Okom, political leader, Cross River North, Cross-River state, asserted: ”If President Buhari is interested in auditing the activities of NDDC, why should he not institute an independent probe panel rather than saddle the task on the Minister. Why does he think the man will allow the audit to go on without influencing the outcome?
“First of all imagine the billions budgeted for the audit. Is that sum not enough to execute life transforming projects for the people of the region? If anything is to be achieved, the President should institute the audit himself and ensure that all funds misappropriated are repatriated and invested in projects. The people of this region deserve more,” he said,
Nunieh should also face probe – Gbemre, NPDC coordinator
National Coordinator of the Niger Delta Peace Coalition (NDPC), Mr Zik Gbemre, who joined in the call for probe, said, “The Managing Directors of NDDC become. Look at the home of a recent one. A look at her Port-Harcourt home in Rivers state makes one to wonder. What earned the person the billions to own that kind of luxury compound with the luxury cars and space in Port Harcourt? The person has no moral right to accuse others.”
“The same question goes to all the former and current executive and board members of the NDDC. Shame on these Niger-Deltans, who have cheated and impoverished their own people, and then still have the audacity to shout marginalization, deprivation and neglect. And to make matters worse, it is our own people that will still cover them up for their crimes against us all.
“Why can our people not ask themselves critical questions, especially on the recent happenings in the NDDC and also answer the questions by themselves? Until we start telling ourselves the bitter truth, we will continue to have some few in the public space, stealing our collective wealth, and still lording it over the rest, and keeping them forever impoverished. Our destiny is in our hands, and posterity will not forgive us, if we allow this waste of public funds to continue without making those responsible to pay back, and be dealt with the full weight of the law,” he said.
Pondei beware of NDDC hawks – Ovie of Agbon, Gbenekama, Whisky
Despite the anger over the happenings in NDDC, some Niger Deltans sympathize with the acting managing director of NDDC, Prof Keme Pondei, who they feel was a political neophyte caught in the middle of die-hard politicians.
Ovie of Agbon Kingdom in Delta state informed Saturday Vanguard: “I pity the professor, I think he must have been given false assurance that nothing will happen when the various infractions were being executed, clearly a sheep among wolves.”
The Ibibenimowie (Chief Mobilizer) of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta state, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, said: “The people that are working with Pondei are like hawks, so he should not play into the hands of these people and if he cannot go further, he should honourably resign the appointment and let the president appoint a substantive board rather than what is happening.”
”Pondei might be a good man, but the people around him have criminal tendencies, hence I think if he is acting to a script, he should own up to whatever mistake he has done and go on with his life, but if not, let him get well and defend his name,” he said.
National Secretary, South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, Dr. Ayakeme Whisky, opined: “Prof Pondei had never being a politician. He is not used to public office rascality unlike Akpabio and Ojougboh, who are dons in that area. Pondei may not have this emotional fiber to absorb the public shock that comes with this kind of public pressure. So, he has all my sympathy.”
Problem in NDDC is vision-less mgt, power tussle
A former managing director of NDDC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The current managers of the programme have departed from the master plan of the commission, which is an interventionist agency, which is why they are in problem.”
“The other thing is that there is a leadership problem and some top politicians are fighting for control of power in NDDC. They want to appoint and control the managing director for political reasons and it will never augur well for the commission.
“I do not subscribe to the call that is should be scrapped, but the federal government should change the administrators if they are not performing and appoint those that have what it takes to run the place.
“President Buhari has refused to swear in the team screened and cleared by the Senate because he was not the person that authorized the transmission of the list to the Senate. He disowned the list before they came up with IMC and I guess the battle is still on,” he added.