Intrigues that shaped probe of the NDDC’s accounts

After about two months of arguments for and against the just concluded investigative hearing on alleged financial recklessness by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the exercise eventually held without proof that N40billion was missing or squandered by the commission, during period under review. Taiye Odewale reports.

New wine in old wineskin

The two -day investigative public hearing on alleged financial recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), held between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020, carried out last week Thursday and Friday by the Senate’s Ad-hoc Committee assigned for that purpose, was sequel to a resolution adopted from a motion moved to that effect by Senator George Sekibo (PDP Rivers East), on May 5, 2020.

Sekibo in the motion alleged that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission, engaged in awarding fraudulent contracts, one of the acts the president set up the committee to check.

“There has been a loud accusation of misuse of funds by previous management of the commission which portrayed the commission as a financial conduit pipe, especially when the aspirations of the founding fathers have been forsaken.

“The visible recklessness may have prompted the President to set up an Interim Management Committee while ordering a forensic audit of the commission so as to reposition it for its intended mandate.

“While the President’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedeviled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission.

“Within the last three months, the IMC 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”, he alleged .

Expectedly the Senate on the strength of the weighty allegations, adopted his prayers for thorough investigation to be carried out on alleged financial recklessness by setting up an Ad-hoc committee for that purpose as against its Standing Committee on Niger Delta Affairs chaired by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Niger North), to avoid any accusations of witch hunting or bias against its legislative intervention.

Recall that similar accusations were raised before the Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi (APC, Ekiti North) led Ad-hoc Committee eventually carried out the investigative hearing.

Free missiles

During the two months gap between the time the assignment was given and when it was eventually carried out, various interests groups, particularly the current IMC of NDDC and chairmen of Committees on Niger Delta Affairs at both chambers of the National Assembly, fired missiles at each other on genuineness or otherwise of the planned probe exercise then.

While the NDDC current IMC under the Managing Directorship of 

Kemebradikumo Pondei felt that the plan probe exercise was an orchestrated witch- hunt against the transparent leadership and new direction for the commission being offered by them, the chairmen of the NASS committees on Niger Delta Affairs and by extension, the National Assembly itself, felt otherwise by insisting that the probe exercise must be carried out.

About a month ago in Port Harcourt in the heat of arguments for and against  the probe,  Mr Pondei described as false the allegations by some groups that the IMC misappropriated billions meant for the development of the Niger Delta Region .

The allegations, according to him, “were the handiwork of people and groups who were afraid that the ongoing forensic audit would reveal their corrupt dealings with past NDDC managements”.

He pointedly declared that the move was meant to arm-twist and force the IMC to tamper with the forensic audit. “We have faced so much pressure from some members of the National Assembly not to send certain files to forensic auditors. We refused because we fear this will compromise the process.

“Similarly, we have also faced pressure to pay for 132 jobs which have no proof of execution as well as pay out N6.4 billion for those jobs.

“We believe that an IMC set up as a cleansing structure cannot become part of an old story of rot. Hence, the need to break the stranglehold on the commission by some politicians who had turned NDDC to their cash cows”, he said.

But raising the debate beyond personal levels, the Senate reacted through its spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central) , who in a statement entitled: “NDDC: National Assembly cannot be blackmailed or Intimidated”, said the planned probe exercise was not meant for witch- hunting of anybody but getting the facts of the issues at stake.

“It stands logic in the head to claim that by invoking it’s constitutional power of oversight to investigate the activities of the IMC, the National Assembly intends to scuttle forensic audit. The outlandish claim is illogical”, he said.

According to him, while the National Assembly is committed to reposition the NDDC to address the challenges of the Niger Delta through facilitation of the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta, it is, however, naturally concerned about the allegations of poor management or outright fraud in the management of the funds and operations of the commission. 

“The setting up of the investigation, the statement added, ‘is predicated on the above concern and not to victimise or witch hunt anyone”, he stressed.

Eventually, when the investigation was carried out last week, the chairman of the Ad- hoc committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi, pointedly declared at the end of the two – day exercise that it was not about missing N40billion but about scrutinising how N81billion spent by two different teams of the IMC of the commission between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020 was done.

No money found missing

“As we are ending this investigative hearing today on alleged financial recklessness in NDDC during period under review, there is no conflict between missing money or not.

“No money has been established to be missing. So, what we did within the last two days (Thursday and Friday last week), was not about missing money but following monies spent, records of which are available to us from all the relevant bodies like the NDDC, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), office of the Accountant General of the Federation, and, of course, that of the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry. 

“Our mission right from the onset as far as this investigative public hearing is concerned, is not about witch-hunting, but making sure that the money of Niger Delta work for the people in the Niger Delta Region “, he said.

Also making similar submission at the event, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said no N40billion was missing or embezzled by management of the commission. However, he insisted there should be proper management of the yearly budgets of the agency as far as contracts awards were concerned.

Apparently disturbed by the allegations, the incumbent Managing Director of the Commission, Professor Pondei, in his final remarks on Friday, vowed that if any of the allegations against him are proven by his critics, he would throw in the towel.

“If anyone has any evidence that I collected even one percent from any contractor, let him present it and I will resign instantly. We need to be very careful in making spurious allegations that distract the NDDC”, he said.

Obviously, after investigation of the multifaceted allegations against one another by the various interest groups with vested interests in NDDC, the next move, is for the Olubunmi Adetunbi-led Ad-hoc Committee to submit its report to the Senate on which of the allegations is or are genuine, but not the alleged N40billion scam, which couldn’t be proved at the investigative hearing.

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