COVID-19: NDDC, Senate differ over N3.14bn palliatives

The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission   (NDDC) came under fire in the Senate Thursday over N3.14 billion the commission gave as relief funds to its over 4,000 staff and Police Commands of the affected nine states.

The commission however fought back by opening can of worms against chairmen of Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Niger Delta Affairs on alleged financial meddlesomeness and contracts grabbing.

It also declared that no single kobo missed in the account of the commission since inception of the current IMC from February 19, 2020 till date. 

The drama started when the Senate Ad-hoc Committee probing alleged N40 billion financial recklessness levelled against the Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei- led IMC, queried why huge amount of money was given to staffers of the commission as relief for COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairman of the committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi (APC Ekiti North) who raised the issue at the investigating public hearing, wondered why N10 million was given to a single staff as COVID-19 relief fund without person testing positive to the virus.

He said: “From the financial statements or documents forwarded to this committee from your office as regards expenditure carried out between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020, monies expended on COVID-19 pandemic relief are mind boggling.

“Out of the total expenditure of N81.495 billion spent by both the IMC led by Mrs. Gbene Nunieh as Managing Director between October 29, 2019 and February 18, 2020 and the current IMC led by Professor Pondei between February 19, 2020 and May 31, 2020, N3.14billiion was spent on COVID-19 pandemic as relief funds. 

“Highly disturbing is the fact that, based on the records of payment of such funds, a whopping  N10 million was given to a single staff while two other staffers collected N7 million each. 4

“Other payments as reliefs against the pandemic are N3million  given to each of 148 other staffers, N1.5 million each to 157 other categories of staffers , N1million each to 497 others and N600,000.00 each to the last category of 464 other staffers.

“Also included in the COVID-19 pandemic relief largesse, as clearly stated in your submitted financial documents, is N475million given to the Police High Command for purchase of face masks and hand sanitisers for men and officers across the Nine states in the Niger Delta Region.” 

Senator Adetunbi also took up the IMC officials on other spending such as N1.3billion for community relations, N1.956billion for Lassa fever, N23.8 billion for consultancy fees, N486million for Duty Travel Allowance and N85.6million for overseas travels etc.

NDDC hits back

 However, in their separate explanations, both the managing director of the agency, Professor Pondei and Acting Executive Director ( Project) , Dr Cairo Ojougboh, defended the various expenditures made to have been done in the best interest of the commission and  the Niger Delta community at large. 

In his own explanation, Professor Pondei  said the commission alone, has 150 policemen attached to it for security purposes aside the various police commands of the affected nine states in the Niger Delta Region. 

Also, in his  submission, Dr. Ojougboh alleged  financial meddlesomeness , contracts grabbing and splitting against Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta North) and his counterpart in the House of Representatives. 

According to him, out of the 2,900 emergency projects the commission planned to carry out in changing the face of the Niger Delta communities, the two chairmen were demanding for 1,000 projects to be executed by them “as they have been doing over the years.” 

“Aside projects grabbing, the two chairmen are holding the commission to ransom on its 2020 budget which had been submitted since November last year, but yet to see the light in July 2020.

“We have lost confidence in the two chairmen who have been hijacking and bastardising operations of the commission over the years,” he said. 

On the N40billion allegation levelled against the current IMC by the Senate within the first three months of this year, Ojougboh said there was nothing of such.

 According to him, no single kobo has been missing in the account of the Commission since February 19 this year when the current IMC under the Managing Directorship of Professor Pondei assumed office .

“The current IMC met debt of over N3 trillion as payments for contracts awarded and executed by previous management ,out of which N156 billion had been released and ready for payment,” he added.

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