Home News NDDC chief admits blowing of N1.32bn on IMC members as COVID-19 palliative

NDDC chief admits blowing of N1.32bn on IMC members as COVID-19 palliative

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NDDC chief admits blowing of N1.32bn on IMC members as COVID-19 palliative

By Ndubuisi Orji, The Sun

There were drama and tension at the resumed House of Representatives investigative hearing on the alleged expenditure of N81.5 billion by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), yesterday,  as the acting managing director,  Prof. Kemebradikumo Ponde,  collapsed while he was being grilled by lawmakers.

Tempers also flared when the panel quizzed Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio on the matter.

Before the commencement of the session, there was a massive deployment of security personnel comprising policemen and operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence at the entrance of the National Assembly. Two Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and seven Hilux vans were deployed. Also, there was heavy security deployment within and around Hearing Room 231, in the House of Representatives wing of the National Assembly,  venue of the investigative hearing.

Pondei had walked out on the Committee last week after he accused its chairman, Olubunm Tunji-Ojo, of corruption. He said because of that, his team will not speak before the committee.

When the panel reconvened, yesterday, Tunji-Ojo, announced his decision to step aside. He said though he had the support of his colleagues, he preferred to step aside in order to give all parties a fair hearing.

However, few minutes into the investigative hearing, the acting managing director was responding to questions on where he derived the power to spend N1.32 billion as COVID-19 palliative for staff of the interventionist agency, when he suddenly collapsed.

Earlier at a Senate hearing, he had said regarding the COVID-19 relief fund paid to NDDC staff, “only N1.5 billion was used to take care of staff” despite being paid their salaries.

But when asked about the ‘relief funds at the Reps hearing, yesterday, he said he must have said “N1.5 billion” in error.

“The amount the IMC used to take care of NDDC staff as COVID-19 palliative was N1.32 billion not 1.5 billion,” he said.

He also disagreed with the committee that the commission had extra-budgetary spending by approving that sum for themselves.

He also said N81.5 billion was spent from October 2019 to May 31, this year by the NDDC. Of this, he explained that the incumbent interim management committee which came in February spent N59.1 billion.

“Of this, N38.6 billion was spent on capital projects,” he said, from which “N35.3 billion was paid to contractors hired by previous administrations.”

He added that N20.5 billion was spent on recurrent expenditure between February 20, 2019, and May 21, this year.

“They are a backlog of debt for about three years,” he said.Duty tour allowance hasn’t been paid for three years; we cleared it.”

Scholarship fee hasn’t been paid since 2016, he said, adding that the NDDC paid N500,000 to each beneficiary.

The hearing was briefly halted after he started to doze as he lowered his head and dropped on the table.

The panel had also asked Pondie to explain the N642 million paid to a company known as Clear Point Communication.

When the hearing resumed, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and Majority Leader Alhassan Doguwa joined the committee members to continue with the sitting.

When the hearing resumed at about 2pm, Akpabio refused to sit  on the same seat he sat on at the central row in the hearing, before the collapse of Pondei.

Despite entreaties by the acting chairman of the panel, Thomas Eroyitomi, for the minister to resume his former seat at the central row so that members could have a good view of him, Akpabio refused.

The minister,  who consistently complained about not hearing the lawmakers clearly, while  responding to questions, accused the chairmen of the NDDC committees in the two chambers of the National Assembly of solely determining the NDDC budget to the exclusion of other members.

He told the panel pointedly that most of the contracts in the Commission (NDDC) were given to lawmakers.

A female lawmaker, Boma Godhead, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member from Rivers had interrupted him saying: “Can I ask you a question? What is the benefit that the national assembly is benefiting from NDDC?”

Akpabio fired back: “Who are even the greatest beneficiary of the contracts? It’s you people at the National Assembly.”

He added: “I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly but you don’t know about it, the two chairmen can explain to you. I was a member of the NDDC committee so I know about it.”

Angered by the replied, Godhead, retorted: “You were a member of the NDDC in the eighth Assembly; if you were not awarded a contract why are you saying that you were aware that NDDC awarded a lot of contracts to members.  How dare you? “

Akpabio, in his response said: “My honourable sister, that is why we have to change. We must not allow the two chairmen to determine the budget of the NDDC. I was a member like you.  I did not know what was going on.”

There was another clash when Ben Igbakpa, a PDP member from Delta State, described the procurement process for the forensic audit of the NDDC as “faulty and fraudulent.”

The lawmaker had accused Akpabio of misleading the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to obtain a “no objection certificate” for the procurement of auditors.

“You are a former lawmaker, a lawyer. A former governor, who is very passionate about the Niger Delta, knowing fully well that the BPP act provided that every procurement must be appropriation-backed. Is it good  to confirm that you misled the BPP and the Federal Executive Council to give to  a certificate if no objection… What will tell  us now about  the status of the forensic audit bearing in mind that you cannot put something on nothing, because the procurement ab-nitio is faulty  and fraudulent”

An infuriated Akpabio retorted: “The procurement letter was given at a time you had passed the budget. How can that be fraudulent? You have passed the budget in both houses. How can that be fraudulent? Are you telling me that BPP will commit fraud?

“May I plead that you withdraw the word ‘fraudulent.’ We must respect each other. Mr. Chairman, may I plead that the member withdraw that work fraudulent? The award that pass through BPP, passed through FEC was fraudulent? “

However,  the acting chairman of  the panel turned down the request to withdraw the statement.

Akpabio, who denied hijacking the forensic audit of the NDDC, insisted that the process was ongoing.

Meanwhile, Gbajabiamila have said Pondei will not appear before the committee again. He  directed  the committee to adopt the acting NDDC written response.

In a related development,  the NDDC  has given an insight why its acting managing director collapsed at the investigative hearing.

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