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Senate probes lawmakers over NDDC contract scam

…seeks IMC’s dissolution, refund of N4.9bn by officials

The Senate, yesterday, directed its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, to investigate the allegation by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that members of the National Assembly were the beneficiaries of most of the failed contracts awarded by the interventionist agency.

The directive came as the Senate considered the report of its “Ad hoc Committee on Investigation of the Alleged Financial Recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission.” The Ethics Committee is to submit its report within four weeks. Adopting the report at plenary, the apex legislative assembly also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to disband the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC for being culpable of massive corruption and running foul of the law in its operations.

The Senate also asked IMC to refund to NDDC account, the sum of N4.923 billion being payment made to staff and contractors in breach of procurement rules. The chamber further recommended that the Commission should revert to the earlier practice where the agency was reporting directly to the Presidency rather than to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. The Senate had, on May 5, 2020, passed a resolution for the setting up of an ad hoc committee to investigate the alleged N40 billion financial recklessness purportedly committed by the IMC of NDDC.

The decision followed a motion moved by Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), drawing the attention of his colleagues to the allegations of corruption in the agency. However, the move to carry out the probe triggered a media war between the leadership of the IMC and members of the National Assembly, as the former raised counter accusations that the lawmakers were the major beneficiaries of NDDC contracts. Executive Director, Projects at NDDC, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, had, in one of his media chats, alleged that chairmen of the National Assembly committees on NDDC were awarded about 1,000 contracts between 2016 and 2019.

“Between 2016 and 2019, emergency contracts of over N2 trillion were awarded under the supervision of the chairmen of both committees. “The chairman of Senate committee collected 1,000 of those jobs and said he was going to give it to the Senate. The records are there. The 1,000 contracts were collected by a man called Nelson Agbamuche on behalf of the Senate,” Ojugboh said.

The mess became more complicated on Monday when the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, told the House of Representatives committee conducting a similar probe on the Commission that about 60 per cent of contracts awarded by NDDC were given to members of the National Assembly. Earlier, the Chairman, House Committee on NDDC, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, was forced to recuse himself from the hearing after the IMC accused him of being an interested party in the contract scam.

Chairman of the investigative panel, Senator Adetunmbi Olubunmi, told the lawmakers that the Commission was operating without recourse to the law that set it up. He also hinted the the upper legislative chamber that the Commission had been carrying out its operations without following any budgetary pattern, saying that it spent any and every cash at its disposal without recourse to its annual budget.

On the N4.923 billion paid to staff and contractors, Adetunmbi gave the breakdown as follows: overseas travel to the United Kingdom – N8.7 million; scholarship grants – N105.5 million, union members trip to Italy – N164.2 million; Lassa Fever kit – N1.96 billion; public communication – N1.12 billion; COVID-19 relief – N1.49 billion. The Senate ad hoc committee observed that the absence of a board of directors at NDDC created a major lacuna of oversight. It, therefore, asked the president to activate the statutory provisions in NDDC Act to nominate a valid board of directors for the confirmation of the Senate.

It also recommended that the Monitoring Committee and the Advisory Councils should be inaugurated along with the board of directors as provided for in Sections 20 and 21 of the NDDC Act, to guarantee checks and balances in the internal affairs of the Commission.

The Senate also asked the new board, when set up, to review the existing governance framework, for the improvement of the structures and the processes of the Commission. The Senate expressed worry that the Commission had been operating without a budget and recommended that the NDDC management must henceforth promote the use of its annual budget as the principal instrument and authority for all its expenditures. The Senate also reminded NDDC of its responsibility and directed that it should submit its quarterly and annual performances reports as and when due as stipulated in Sections 19 and 20 of the NDDC Act, which must be passed to the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chamber further canvassed that in order to ensure that the forensic audit being done on NDDC achieved its purpose and inspire confidence in the operational and financial processes of the Commission, oversight of the audit should be transferred to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

The Senate argued that this would guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise. It noted that it was difficult to find a correlation between the level of development across communities in the Niger Delta and the quantum of fund invested in the zone, stressing that this gap might be the cause of the continuous agitation in the zone.

It lamented that continued cash injection into NDDC had not worked under the various interim boards and therefore called for the disbandment of the current IMC so that a board could be properly constituted for effective running of the agency. In their contributions, senators expressed serious concerns over the lack of transparency and lack of adherence to the law in the running NDDC by the IMC, leading to condemnable financial recklessness going on in the establishment.

Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West) lamented that the level of corruption in the country had defied the conventional laws of the land and urged the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to introduce Mosaic laws or sharia laws to frontally combat the menace of corruption. Senators Akpan Bassey (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Sani Musa (APC, Niger East), blamed the National Assembly for the total lack of transparency at NDDC, saying that the situation was obvious indication that the apex parliament neglected its oversight functions. In his remarks, President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, assured his colleagues that the report would be acted upon by President Muhamnadu Buhari. “This report has exposed inefficiency and large scale corruption going on in NDDC.

“It has revealed that over the years, those charged with the responsibility of running the Commission and, by extension, facilitating development of the Niger Delta area, have squandered the resources given to them for that purpose. “We are on the same page with the executive in getting the agency sanitized and I can assure you that the report will receive the required attention it deserves from Mr. President,” he said.

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