NDDC tackle lawmakers over controversial N6.4b contract payment

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The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on Tuesday accused some federal lawmakers of demanding payment of N6.4 billion from it for unverifiable projects.

It also accused the members of asking it not to send “certain files” to its forensic auditors in a bid to scuttle the probe ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to report from the Nation newspaper, The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC urged the management of the National Assembly to investigate the activities of the lawmakers.

Acting Managing Director Prof. Keme Pondei, who spoke at the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, said most members of the two National Assembly committees on the NDDC were not aware of the motives behind the action of the chairmen of the committees.

Senator Peter Nwaaoboshi is the chairman of the Senatr Committee on Niger Delta while Rep Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is the chair of the House of Reps committee.

Piondei said: “We have faced so much pressure from some members of the National Assembly not to send certain files to forensic auditors. We fear this will compromise the integrity of the exercise and have refused to do their bid.

“We have refused to pay out N6.4bn for the 132 jobs which have no proof of execution. We believe that an IMC set up as a cleansing structure cannot become part of the old story of rot,” he said.

Pondei lamented that 50 per cent of NDDC inability to deliver on its mandate came from the stranglehold of the National Assembly on the commission.

He said the IMC was courageous enough to tell members of the public the truth about the overbearing and selfish attitude of some federal lawmakers on the commission.

Pondei also alleged that the National Assembly was fond of delaying the passage of the commission’s budgets.

He said: “The 2019 budget was passed two months to the end of its implementation period. In fact, the hard copy was received by the commission on April 10, 2020 when the implementation period ends in May 31.

“Given the procurement rules, it is not enough time to call for tender and execution of the jobs. The statutory period for advertising tenders is six weeks.

“Two, the budgets are bastardised by the National Assembly in a way that renders it useless. A case will suffice. In the 2019 budget, we had a provision of N1.32bn to pay our counterpart funding to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the $129.7m Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises Programme in the Niger Delta (LIFE-ND).

“The National Assembly cut the provision to N100million. Are we going to IFAD, a United Nations agency, to tell them to bring their $129.7m when our National Assembly says we can only pay N100m out of N1.32billion obligation?

“The National Assembly members insert items we have no plans for. These items are then forced on the commission when it is not part of its master plan. Rather than be a major intervention agency, the commission is busy erecting streetlights and drainage, something local governments should do.

“The NDDC operates accounts only in the Central Bank of Nigeria and it is highly regulated. Anybody, who wants to check the NDDC is free to do so.

“Some people have decided that until this IMC is removed, they will not know any rest without minding whether the people of the Niger Delta benefit or not. They want to scuttle the forensic audit because the audit is bringing out a lot of things.”

While acknowledging that the National Assembly reserved the right to probe the NDDC, he said such investigations, when done in normal times, would be a welcome development.

He said: “The probe at this time is actually distracting the commission from focusing on that exercise, which all stakeholders, including governors of the nine Niger Delta states agreed with Mr. President is the way forward for the commission.

“We suspect that the probe being trumpeted by the National Assembly is not for altruistic reason but an attempt by some members to arm-twist the IMC.”.

Pondei also accused some politicians from the region of wanting to have control of the NDDC because of the 2023 governorship election in Delta State.

He said: “Sometimes last year, there was a board that was screened by the National Assembly to run the NDDC but was not inaugurated before an IMC was instituted. Many people, who felt that should not be, have continued to fight until the people they need to run the NDDC are put in place.

“But I think there is something very wrong there. How can the National Assembly nominate people to run the NDDC and give the list to Mr. President. Then Mr. President will pass the list to the same National Assembly to screen.

“There is separation of powers. Mr. President has the right to nominate whoever he feels to run a place. He has the powers to hire and fire. So, they should leave Mr. President to exercise that power. Their attempt to dabble into the powers of Mr. President is causing the blackmail.

“They want NDDC to remain the way it has always been; a place that generates money for elections. But we cannot continue to use the NDDC as a place to generate money for elections. The real problem we are seeing now is because of the governorship election in Delta State. That is just the basic truth.”

But Tunji-Ojo, the House Committee Chairman on Niger Delta, denied it all.

He said the lawmakers would not succumb to any form of blackmail in their quest to unravel corruption in the commission.

He explained that the House was merely investigating allegations and counter- allegations of corruption in the intervention agency as part of its oversight function.

The chairman also assured that the probe would not hinder the forensic audit.

Tunji-Ojo said those scared that the forensic audit might be affected need not be since the House had on its own made provisions for it in the 2019 budget of the commission.

He was reacting to a series of allegations leveled against the House and the two chairmen of the National Assembly on Niger Delta by the IMC Executive Director in charge of Projects Dr. Cairo Ojuogoh.

Ojuogoh had while featuring on Arise Television News programme, alleged that the House was delaying the passage of the commission’s 2020 budget and was bent on halting the forensic audit of the intervention agency

“It is an exercise of the system of checks and balances and not a duplicity of effort. Therefore, we will continue independent investigations in order to be equipped with information in anticipation of the outcome of the forensic audit,.” he argued

Tunji-Ojo said since blackmail had not succeeded in stopping the National Assembly from carrying out its oversight functions, anyone who has nothing to hide should be bold enough to defend himself instead of throwing tantrums.

Tunji-Ojo also dismissed claims of award of emergency contract not budgeted for by the commission.

He said: “Obviously, this is share blackmail and we expected this from the outset when the investigation process started.

“The bottom line is that we are not going to be deterred. This is coming after threat to life by militants and different text messages which have failed. The next agenda to stop the legislative work is blackmail.

“I can say it categorically that we are more determined to work for the people of the Niger Delta.”

On allegations that he demanded for payment for an emergency training which was allegedly smuggled into the 2019 budget, Tunji-Ojo said: “I have gone through the 2019 budget as approved and I can tell you that there is no provision for emergency training.

“I have said it before and let me repeat it that I don’t have a single contract in NDDC.

“All these allegations are coming because the National Assembly decided to institute a probe after calls and petitions.

“Threats have been used as a weapon to stop the National Assembly and they have not worked. The latest one is this issue of blackmail and we have told them that if they have any document against us, they should release it or approach the relevant security and anti -agencies.

“I don’t see why anybody should be scared of his or her own shadow. We are all working for the Niger Delta people.”

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