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`NDDC yet to pay contractors that handled road projects’-Orji Kalu…Reveals 250 contracts taken in one day in the name of NASS

…New revelations on N6.2bn palliatives fraud by NDDC’s IMC lNDDC is cash cow for politicians – Wike

 …Stranded scholars to be paid this week

…Buhari invited to commission N24bn Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa

…Fresh posers by Senate over N330m expenditure by IMC to hire boat

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Innocent Anaba, Henry Umoru & Davies Iheamnachor

THE Niger Delta  Development Commission, NDDC, yesterday, said it is standing by the list of prominent Niger Delta leaders  released by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as contractors in the commission, noting that what the Minister released was only a tip of the iceberg.

Director, Corporate Affairs, NDDC, Mr Charles Odili, said the commission has details of the contracts and proxies used to take them, including the 250 contracts taken in one day in the name of the National Assembly.

He also disclosed that scholars sponsored by the commission, facing hardship abroad over non-remittance of their fees, and stipends would be paid by end of this week, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari had given order to the effect.

In another development, strong indications emerged, yesterday, that fresh crisis looms in the troubled Interim Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC, led by Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei over distribution of palliatives during the lock-down, following outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

This came as Chairman of the Palliative  Distribution Committee of the commission, Chief Sobomabo Jackrich, yesterday, alleged that there exists a case of embezzlement of   N6.2billion by   the IMC under the guise of distributing palliatives.

Also, South- East, South-South Professionals of Nigeria, SESSPN, said probe of NDDC should be followed to a logical conclusion, stressing that those found guilty should be punished and made to return all stolen monies.

READ ALSO: NDDC heads take 30% of contract sums — SENATE REPORT

On his part, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said recent revelations on the activities of NDDC, might have come as a surprise to many Nigerians, but noted that it was not a shocking development to him, as he  believes the agency had since deviated from its original mandate and became a source of wealth for some corrupt politicians.

Meanwhile, the commission has invited President Buhari to commission the N24 billion Ogbia-Nembe Road cutting across 14 riverine communities in Bayelsa State.

We stand by our list of contractors — NDDC

Speaking on the release of list of NDDC contracts handled by members of the National Assembly, Odili said: “The one submitted by Senator Akpabio was not compiled by the minister but came from the files in the commission.”

He clarified that the list submitted to the National Assembly was actually compiled by the management of the commission in office in 2018.

He said there is another list for emergency project contracts awarded in 2017 and 2019, adding that these were not submitted to the National Assembly.

Odili said: “The Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the commission stands by the list, which came from files already in the possession of the forensic auditors. It is not an Akpabio list, but the NDDC’s list. The list is part of the volume of 8,000 documents already handed over to the forensic auditors.”

He also said prominent indigenes of the Niger Delta, whose names are on the list should not panic, as the commission knows that people used the names of prominent persons in the region to secure contracts.

Odili, who noted that the ongoing forensic audit would unearth those behind the contracts, said the intention of the list was to expose committee chairmen in the National Assembly who allegedly used fronts to take contracts from the commission, some of which were never executed.

Odili added that the list did not include the unique case of 250 contracts which were signed for and taken in one day by one person, ostensibly for members of the National Assembly.

On the forensic audit exercise, he said  it was on course and that the commission had positioned 185 media support specialists to identify the sites of every project captured in its books for verification by the forensic auditors.

NDDC gets one week to pay fees of stranded students

On the payment of scholars, Odili said: “The delay in the remittance of the fees was caused by the sudden death of Chief Ibanga Etang, then acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, EDFA, of the commission in May.

“Under the Commission’s finance protocol, only the Executive Director (Finance) and the Executive Director (Projects) can sign for the release of funds from the commission’s domiciliary accounts with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

“With the death of Chief Etang, the remittance has to await the appointment of a new EDFA.  The Minister, Senator Akpabio, said President Buhari, who has been briefed on the protest by students at the Nigerian High Commission in London, had ordered that all efforts be made to pay the students by end of this week. We expect a new EDFA to be appointed this week. As soon as that is done, they would all be paid.”

Buhari invited to commission Ogbia-Nembe Road

On Ogbia-Nembe Road, he said the 29-kilometre project built in conjunction with the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, creates a land link to the ancient city of Nembe for the first time.

He disclosed that NDDC management’s invitation to Mr President was delivered through the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio.

He said the project required 10 bridges and 99 culverts, but “To conquer the swampy terrain, the construction involved digging out four metres of clay soil and sand filling it to provide a base for the road.

“The road has cut the journey time to Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, from three hours to one and a half hours. This project is a not only a flag ship of intervention in the Niger Delta, it is also a model of development partnership between the commission and international oil companies in the region,” he said.

Non-payment of NDDC students’ fees, embarrassing, shameful —IYC

Reacting to the non-payment of fees and stipends under the scholarship scheme of the commission, Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, described it as shameful and embarrassing.

Speaking in Port Harcourt, new president of IYC, Peter Igbifa, while describing the conditions of the affected students abroad as pitiable, said the youths of Niger Delta were agitated to see their kinsmen carrying placards abroad to protest their neglect by the NDDC and the Federal Government.

Igbifa said: “I watched the recent protest by the scholars and was moved into tears. It is embarrassing, shameful and unacceptable to see our ambassadors abandoned and neglected by the NDDC and the Federal Government.

“Since my emergence as the 8th President of the IYC, this is one major issue that has been threatening the fragile peace and causing tension in the region. I have had to hold several meetings to calm frayed nerves, who wanted to start fresh violent agitation over the suffering of our kinsmen sent abroad to study by NDDC.”

NDDC, cash cow for politicians – Wike

In his reaction to developments in the NDDC, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, said in a television programme mmonitored in Port Harcourt yesterday: “I have said before and it is very clear; my concern as everybody knows that NDDC was set up for the development of the region.

“Unfortunately, they have turned it to a different thing; NDDC is a cash cow for politicians. In my own election, NDDC brought N10 billion cash to fight against me.”

Governor Wike accused the agency of embarking on projects in Rivers State without the consent of the state government.

He also reacted to the probe of the NDDC by the lawmakers, saying it was one-sided as the IMC of the agency, led by Pondei ought to be investigated as well.

“When they are talking about probing IMC, I said what are you doing only with IMC, what about the other committees? Pondei and the rest of them. They (the lawmakers) have not invited us and why I don’t want to go is, what am I doing with the IMC?

“I am one governor who challenged the NDDC; we went to the Federal High Court, the Federal High Court returned the matter to the State High Court. NDDC went to appeal and we won them and at the State High Court, we have won them.

“You cannot go to a state and begin to carry out projects without the permission of the state government, you don’t know what their plans are. You can’t come into my state to disturb my development plan, you must let me know.”

Wike believes that in order to reverse the fortunes of the agency, technocrats and not politicians should be placed in charge of the commission to enable it function effectively.

NDDC probe should get to logical conclusion — SESSPN

President of South East, South South Professionals of Nigeria, SESSPN, Hannibal Uwaifo, who spoke with newsmen in a virtual briefing, said “the South-South, is a place of the grave yard. The story of the NDDC, now comes in. It was hurriedly put in place supposedly to redress the wrong and neglect of the region. While it appeared to be able to carry out projects to ameliorate the sufferings of the region with 13 per cent derivative already in place and the various angles arranged for it to earn a little from the petrodollars being earned, its leadership was handed over to politicians.

“So from the very beginning, NDDC was being looted. Again no transparent process, no independent audit, no integrity tests for its staff and numerous patrons, it was “divide and kill from the beginning and it has gotten worse under the present administration.

“In most cases, same contracts are awarded 200 times to the same set of people and their cronies. Projects are thought out to raise money for politicians and political parties to run and rig elections. Gradually, NDDC became a cash cow, an automated teller machine (ATM) and a bazaar of some sorts. Successive governments never cared to look at things properly so long as their cronies were in charge and NDDC is used as a reward or compensation for compromise governorship candidates and failed political ambitions. All sorts of structures had been foisted upon it including the illegal interim management.”

New allegations of N6.2bn palliatives fraud

Meanwhile,  indications have emerged that more trouble faces the Pondei-led IMC of NDDC over the distribution of palliatives during the lock-down following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a 12- paragraph petition dated August 3, 2020, separately   addressed to the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan and Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Soboma Jackrich explained that the N6.2billion palliatives scam was different from   N1.5billion relief funds shared to over 4,000 staff of the commission and high command of the Nigeria Police Force by IMC in April this year.

Jackrich in the petition, alleged that the Pondei-led IMC pushed him aside as chairman of Palliatives Distribution Committee when the money was to be disbursed.

Jackrich who noted that the N6.2billion was specifically approved by President Buhari also in April for procurement and distribution of palliatives to residents of the nine states covered by the commission, said, “Today, all of that can be regrettably described as a show of shame and a scam. The N6.25billion that was magnanimously approved by Mr President to help the poor and indigent people of Niger Delta during this difficult period of the pandemic as palliatives has curiously been allegedly misappropriated and embezzled by the IMC of the NDDC and their co-conspirators.

“As Chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee, my findings is not only that the money cannot be accounted for, but there is nothing on ground to show that that N6.2  billion of our hard-earned tax-payers’ money was invested for its original purpose which the President approved.

“The materials and supplies according to the statement were to be done through Emergency Procurement method as provided in Sections 42(b) (c) and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

“The National Assembly should probe and investigate the IMC under Pondei, and make them  account for the N6.2 billion approved by the President for palliatives in the Niger Delta during the pandemic.

“They should show material evidence of compliance with the relevant Sections of the Public Procurement Act, 2007. They should show proof of procurement and utility of the necessary foodstuffs keeping the approved figures in mind, the medical equipment and distribution of same to the Niger Delta states by the Palliatives Distribution Committee chaired by Jackrich.

“The IMC and any other public office holder(s) no matter how highly placed as long as this probe is concerned should be made to step aside or be suspended from office just like Ibrahim Magu of the EFCC, so as not to interfere in the ongoing investigations in the NDDC. This will disable him from compromising relevant documents and or personnel in the interest of transparency.

“The sweeping allegations against the IMC and their overtures disqualify them from overseeing any forensic audit because they have become interested Parties in the criminal investigations ongoing in the NDDC both by the audit and the National Assembly just to sabotage President Buhari.”

He alleged that rather than use the money for the purposes for which it was meant for, the IMC embezzled it by stage-managing distribution of items not worth one million naira.

He consequently called for dissolution of the Pondei led IMC by President Buhari to pave way for thorough financial sanitation of the commission and allowing the motive behind the ongoing forensic auditing, to see the light of the day.

Senate report queries N330m expenditure by IMC to hire boat

The Senate has requested to know how much will it cost to purchase a boat, if the Pondei-led IMC of NDDC can spend N330 million to hire a boat to go to the creeks.

According to the Senate, expenditure from the imprest account of the IMC within a period of six months stood at N330 million, just as it said that specific imprest represents N182 million while ‘other imprest’ accounts for N608 million.

The Senate described the scale of expenditure from imprest as alarming. It added: “Knowing that the nation is on a COVID-19 pandemic lock-down where offices are shut, yet imprest expenditure at NDDC is on the rise. The character presented in the use of imprest suggests huge recklessness where staff are used as proxy for fraudulent withdrawals.

“Generally, the use of imprest is for small expenditure in well-disciplined financial environments. The amount collected consistently at NDDC for imprest is actually extreme, it may be useful to carry out an audit of the imprest account on its own, with focus on its use, management and internal control processes, especially being a transit account that must be retired periodically.”

The disclosures are in the report  of the Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (APC, Ekiti North) led Ad-hoc Committee that investigated the alleged financial recklessness to the tune of N40 billion in the NDDC.

According to the document obtained by Vanguard,  “Imprest accruing to the office of the MD/CEO alone amounts to N103.2 million in December 2019, the Executive Director, Finance and Administration is N36 Million and the Executive Director of Projects (EDP)  N18million. When asked what the huge imprest payments were used for, the EDP explained that it was used to cover travel costs, where in some cases, they hire boats to get across the creeks. In spite of that, the cost still leaves a substantial gap. The question is how much is the boat itself, if N330million us used to hire a boat.”

The report also revealed the NDDC staff with high imprest incidence were Justina Oweifie, who got N178.8million  for the months of March and April 2020; Eno Ekpe, N108million for December 2019, January, February and March 2020; Isaac Dada Ulebor got N108million  for November and December 2019, January, February and March 2020 and Dan Selina, got N103.2million for the month of February, 2020.

Also in the report, the IMC spent a total sum of N85.6 million for a trip that was to hold in June and never held because of the lock-down and closure of airports, but the money was paid to the 14 NDDC staff that were supposed to attend the trip tagged ‘Delegate to attend graduation ceremony of NDDC scholars in the United Kingdom in June 2020.’

The report added: “These payments demonstrate a form of internal control failure in the NDDC, especially with the management’s choice to subject such transactions as cash payments to individual staff.

“The Corporate Affairs Department in collaboration with the Human Resources Department should have been responsible for direct payments for visas to the relevant embassies and airlines.  This direct cash payment to staff could be abused. ”

Vanguard

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