Reps or PRODA, where lies the truth?

For about a fortnight running, issues generated during an investigative hearing by House of Representatives committee on public procurement, into the activities of Enugu-based Project Research and Development Institute (PRODA), have remained a subject of controversy. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on the unending drama

The probe
The Hon. Nasir Ahmed led committee got a mandate of the larger house, to specifically look into allegations of staff victimization and other ancillary matters under the current management and governing board of the agency, PRODA, existing under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, following a motion by a member, Henry Nwawuba over allegations of corruption and other underhand practices, which the House adopted as a resolution. 

House’s verdict
At the end of the investigative hearing, the House in adopting report of its committee last Wednesday, said the acting DG of PRODA should be removed, and face prosecution. The committee also claimed that the board chairman of the agency, Comrade Daniel Onjeh was suspended by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, and so not in position to superintend over the agency’s  activities. 
From the report’s adoption, the House called for the immediate suspension of Dr. Fabian Okonkwo, acting DG of PRODA over gross violation of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, noting that Okonkwo and all principal staff of the Institute involved in illegal payments of contractors should be referred to the relevant government’s anti-graft agencies for investigation and possibly, prosecuted.
The acting DG was accused of abusing the provisions of the public procurement law, as the head of accounts, Mr. Patrick Nebuwa was also recommended for suspension with immediate effect, and to be handed over to relevant government anti-corruption bodies for immediate investigation and subsequent prosecution.
The House further urged the presidency, through the SGF, to sanction the governing board of the institute for interfering in the executive functions of PRODA by directing the Acting Director General to re-activate the agency’s  account with Zenith Bank Plc in gross violation of Mr. President’s order on Treasury Single Account (TSA), as well as the directive to the acting DG to cancel and re-award contracts already completed, as it added that all contracts awarded by Okonkwo and payments made for same were illegal.

Onjeh fires back
Onjeh, however, faulted the outcome of the investigation, saying “I want the general public to note that the purported public investigation of the PRODA 2020 Procurement Exercise conducted by the House of Representative’s committee on Public Procurement, is a mere academic exercise. The resolutions or orders that emanate from the investigation, are at best, only advisory and not binding on the executive. 
“From the inception of the ostensible probe, I’d told Nigerians that the House of Reps’ Committee on Public Procurement was skewed towards a predetermined end. Indeed, they’ve proven me right! This is evident in the unusual alacrity with which the Committee wrapped up its so-called investigation and released its recommendations; all under five weeks! Isn’t that incredible, considering that Nigerians are yet to know the outcome of the Rep’s clichéd Power Probe and more recently, the NDDC Probe,…, and several other investigations previously conducted…?
Onjeh asked the panel to retract its claims or risk being dragged to court by his lawyers, adding that their submission was misleading and false. He explained that he only stepped aside as an administrative procedure, to allow the of investigation into allegations against the suspended DG, but never suspended as reported.
He said in the course of implementing the recommendations of the board under him, there were a lot of challenges that made it appeared like “I have a vested interest in removing the DG”, adding that there had been no complain ever against him, and also not under any investigation. “My stepping aside was a mere administrative procedure”, he insisted.
Onjeh said Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila should immediately resign, for trying to mislead the general public. “As a bona fide citizen of Nigeria, having full knowledge of these circumstances, I am emotionally and psychologically disoriented. Consequently, I am calling for the immediate resignation of the Speaker. He should honourably resign his exalted position, as he lacks the moral rectitude to continue to preside over the house”.
He also stated that beyond the recommendations of the investigation panel, the nation’s antigraft agencies should conduct an independent probe into activities of PRODA, especially prior to coming in of the board under him.

Why and how former DG was suspended
Giving insights into what his board met after it was inaugurated in March, 2018, he said it “met a lot of problems”, including but not limited to breach of procurement processes. “In the Public Procurement Act, the board of an agency like that shall give annual financial and audited report”, he stated, but that details that would aid the board to file such reports, the then DG never obliged the board, even on repeated demands.
“If you do not get that report presented to the relevant authorities, the board has failed in face of the law. The suspended DG, didn’t have 2017 report, so we wondered how then were they executing 2018 projects. It means most of the boards members were being paid allowances without carrying out their expected responsibilities.
He also explained that under the suspended DG, there were perceived instances of manipulations and collusions on lawmakers’ zonal intervention (constituency) projects, which he said were “hardly carried out, as according to him, files may be existing without details of contracts in them, and yet payments made. 
“There were no proper checks. People were collecting monies as administrative  charges, but paid into private accounts. With the evidences obtained, he said the said his board demanded explanations, and subsequently queried the suspended DG in line with civil service rules, after which the SGF reviewed, and reported to President Buhari who later approved the suspension. “The DG was running a parallel administration”, Onjeh said.

N11 billion as source of dispute?
According to Onjeh, the main issue he perceived between the lawmakers and his team appeared to be an N11 billion lying in accounts of the agency, which members wanted to fleece through some phony project contracts. 
Onjeh also said Nwawuba, the member representing Mbaitoli/Ikeduru Federal Constituency of Imo state, should be reprimanded to refrain from further attempts at misleading Nigerians and the hallowed Green Chamber of the National Assembly.
“Indeed, the more the federal legislators continue to launch their invectives and smear campaign against me and the dignified members of the PRODA Governing Board and Management, all in defense of their personal pecuniary interests and the interests of their numerous dubious fronting contractors, the more I shall give vent to the true position of issues to keep the public abreast of the facts”, the DG vowed.

What next?
Flowing from some of the dramas that sprang during the investigative hearing, the position of the House of Representatives based on recommendations of its committee was not very strange to many followers of the development. With the facts as enunciated by Onjeh, however, it is doubtful that President Buhari will heed the call for his removal, leaving questions on what further steps the House will take.

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