The war of words between the National Assembly members and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, over Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contract awards, yesterday, worsened, with the Senate describing Akpabio’s allegation as a cheap blackmail and fallacy of the highest order.
The position of the Senate was expressed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Ayo Akinyelure (PDP, Ondo Central). Incidentally, the Senate mandated the committee on Thursday last week to investigate the allegation by Akpabio, that members of the National Assembly got 60 per cent of the NDDC contracts award. Reacting to the allegation while fielding questions from journalists at the National Assembly, Akinyelure said that lawmakers only facilitated projects to be awarded in their various constituencies while the execution of such projects reside within the confines of the Executive arm of government.
He said: “As a matter of fact, the submission of Senator Akpabio is a cheap blackmail which cannot be tenable anywhere in Nigeria. Senators are representatives of the people in the legislature and we have power of appropriation. “Projects allocated to us are put in the various ministries and agencies of government where they can be fully executed. Those of us from the Niger Delta region can lobby for some of the projects to be put in their various constituencies.
“That does not mean that the money for their execution will be given to senators. We don’t touch money here, but influence projects to be executed in our constituencies. When that is done, the executive arm of government will advertise for contractors to bid for them, and award them, following due process.
“The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs was a senator in the 8th Senate. Did he not facilitate projects worth billions of naira to his own constituency through the NDDC? The answer is yes, he did. If he admits that they paid him the money for the execution of the contracts, then, it is a question of investigating who won the contracts.
“The allegation that members of the National Assembly from the Niger Delta region facilitated projects is a fallacy because being indigenes of the region, they have the right to facilitate projects to their communities in the interest of their constituents. “If I’m the chairman of the Niger Delta committee in the Senate and projects worth N200 billion are to be allocated to the region, I will influence 10 per cent of it to my constituency.
The projects are meant for Niger Delta region, therefore, there is nothing wrong for the National Assembly members from the region to facilitate some of them to their constituencies. “However, if these projects were successfully facilitated and a particular senator used his company to take the money away, our committee will go and investigate; where they fall short, they would be nailed by the law. If the projects were never executed and senators used their companies to take the money away, that is fraud.
“Our committee can try any senator who engages in unethical practices whenever we have such a case. We don’t condone unethical practices. “Allegations that some senators have taken money to execute contracts in the NDDC is a fallacy of the highest order because we have our records, we don’t do that. Our committee will look into the allegations of blackmail against some lawmakers and make our findings public.”
In a related development, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Peter Nwaoboshi, challenged the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, to prove his allegation that he (Nwaoboshi) was awarded 53 NDDC contracts. Nwaoboshi also dared Akpabio to involve the antigraft and other security agencies to substantiate his allegation.
Declaring that the allegation against him was false and baseless, the lawmaker said that he would have made further comments on the issue but for the fact that the matter was currently before two competent courts of law. He said that the allegation was an orchestrated attempt by Akpabio to blackmail him so as to keep diverting public attention away from the serious mismanagement of the NDDC by the IMC under his supervision. Part of his statement reads:
“…Mr. Akpabio alleged that I was awarded contracts for 53 NDDC projects. I wish to state unequivocally that this allegation has no bearing with the truth and I challenge Akpabio to send so-called list to anti-graft and other security agencies if he can substantiate the apparently baseless allegation.
“This unsubstantiated allegation is in line with Akpabio’s well-known agenda to continuously blackmail me so as to keep diverting public attention away from the serious mismanagement of the NDDC by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) under his supervision and under the guise of a phantom forensic audit that has no operating time line. “My advice to Akpabio and the IMC is to focus their energy on explaining to Nigerians how they spent a whopping N81.5 billion within a period of five months.”
Similarly, Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South), challenged his accusers to prove their allegations with empirical evidences. Manager said, as Chairman of Niger Delta Committee in the Senate which ended in 2015, NDDC never awarded any contract to any company owned by him. “I do not know of any company owned by me that has ever gone into bidding of government job anywhere in the world.
This may come to many as a surprise, but that is the gospel truth,” he said. Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Mathew Urhoghide, (PDP/ Edo South) has also denied alleged complicity in the NDDC contract scam rocking the National Assembly. Urhoghide said that he never got a single contract from the agency.
He urged Akpabio to go to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to ascertain if he or anyone associated with him has a registered company doing business with the NDDC. “I want to put it here that Godswill Akpabio is mischievous, misinforming, misleading the people and wicked. He is leaving the truth and feeding Nigerians with lies.
There is no single job done by the NDDC in my constituency and that is the constituency that makes Edo State one of the NDDC states. “I have no trace of the company getting any job. The one awarded in Etete street was not to me, but to a company I don’t even know and the contractor was not even mobilized since the job was awarded as no single penny has been paid to the contractor,” Urhoghide said.