By QueenEsther Iroanusi, PREMIUMTIMES
The Senate has asked the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to refund N4.9 billion paid to staff, in breach of procurement process and approvals, to the commission’s account with immediate effect.
It also asked the president to dissolve the committee as soon as this is done.
It specifically asked the IMC to refund all other “unjustifiable funds” paid to staff of the commission.
Some of the funds include N85.7 million for overseas travels to the United Kingdom; N105.5 million for scholarship grants and N164.2 million for union members trip to Italy.
Other are, N1.9 billion for Lassa Fever kits; N1.1 billion for ‘public communication’ and N1.5 billion for COVID-19 relief.
The panel also recommended that, henceforth, the NDDC management should report directly to President Muhammadu Buhari.
It asked that the president dissolves the IMC and set up a board for the commission.
These were part of the recommendations read out by the chairman of the committee, Olubunmi Adetunmbi, on Thursday.
This comes exactly two weeks after the acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Kemebradikumo Pondei, admitted that the commission spent N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’. He later said the money spent was about N1.35 billion.
He said this at the investigative hearing on the N40 billion corruption allegation against the commission.
The Senate had on May 5 set up a seven-member ad-hoc committee to investigate the “financial recklessness” of the IMC.
The lawmakers said within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund “without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta region.”
They also faulted the IMC’s “arbitrary use of executive power in an alleged wrongful sacking of management staff without recourse to established civil service rules and practice with the aim of allegedly concealing the fraudulent financial recklessness they have committed.”
Presenting the report, Mr Adetunmbi said the NDDC spent N4.9 billion on medicals between October 2019 and May 2020.
He also said the commission spent billions of naira on “overseas travel allowance” at a time when countries were on lockdown and international flights were not operating.
The commission, between October 2019 and May 2020, paid staff several kinds of questionable allowances. It also spent N81 billion within this period, he said.
He also said the explanations given by the IMC “did not explain the need for the reckless spending.”
“The committee found that the core mandate of the commission was not being followed because payment(s) did not speak to the purpose for which the NDDC was created.
“The state of the implementation of the forensic audit is at rudimentary stages. Also, the NDDC does not operate on the basis of budget but a cash accounting system. That is, they spend money as it comes and a lot of contract splitting and allocated to similar contractors,” he said.
Many lawmakers took turns to condemn the IMC.
Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi), called for more stringent punishment for corruption; he said the level of corruption in Nigeria is “beyond Mosaic or Sharia law”.
“There should be an amendment to the law that prescribes amputation or life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of corruption. Put those laws that everybody will be scared of.
“Spending N81 billion in six months is one of the most terrible crimes anybody can commit in a country even as people are dying of poverty in the region.”
Another lawmakef, Gershom Bassey, said the revelations in the report “are enough to make a man faint”.
The lawmaker complained that the recommendations are not as strong as they ought to be.
He also blamed the National Assembly as he said the corruption in the NDDC is a clear case of lack of oversight on the part of the lawmakers.
Ibrahim Oloriegbe said “people should be killed for engaging in such cases”.
“Spending over N3 billion on medicals and COVID-19 relief when the epicentre of the pandemic is Lagos, FCT and Kano, is appalling.
“The report should be implemented by the president immediately and where a request for document is made to MDAs and there is no response, we should invoke our laws.”
Besides calling for a direct presidential supervision for the commission and refund of the funds, the lawmakers resolved that the monitoring committee and the advisory councils should also be inaugurated along with the board of directors as provided in Sections 20 and 21 of the NDDC Act – which is necessary to ensure that there are sufficient checks and balances in the internal affairs of the NDDC.
Other resolutions are:
*The new board, when constituted, should review existing governance framework of the NDDC which is necessary for the improvement of the structure and operations of the commission.
*The NDDC must promote the use of its approved annual budget and provide budgetary performance when due. The commission will also submit annual and quarterly reports to both chambers of the National Assembly when due.
*Oversight of the forensic audit should be transferred to the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation. This will guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise. Also, the President with advice from the Auditor General should appoint a renowned, internationally recognised forensic auditor to carry out he exercise.
*That the NDDC must strengthen its procurement department through appropriate staff engagement (e.g. by appointing staff with procurement chartered status), staff training and formulation of appropriate industry rated internal control measure specifics to procurement function to forestall sharp practice in its bids and tender process.
*Assertions of blackmail by NDDC against members of the National Assembly on the subject of procurement process, must be investigated by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges to report back in four weeks. And if found true, parties will be sanctioned accordingly.
*The Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) of the Commission must be reviewed upgraded and reinstituted with full documentation and formal training conducted
*The management embark on a Cooperate Social Responsibility review to restructure and reshape NDDC’s social responsibility to its staff, community and the public at large.
Although the lawmakers on Wednesday embarked on their annal recess, they held plenary to consider the committee’s report.