Cunning Twist Jolts NDDC’s Massive Fraud Probe

The ongoing probe of alleged multi-billion naira squandermania in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by a panel of the House of Representatives was jolted on Monday by a seeming cunning twist of the accused parties.

First, the Acting Managing Director of the troubled Commission, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, fainted while the session was on. That forced a brief adjournment of the session.

Second, Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio, fiendishly tried to hoodwink federal legislators to back down from the probe by claiming that 60% of the massive corrupt deals in NDDC were grabbed by lawmakers of the two chambers of the National Assembly.

Akpabio’s bombshell ignited a dispute between the probe panel and the embattled minister.

However, by any standard possible, Akpabio’s charge is quite weighty and casts an unbearable moral burden on the Legislative arm of the Nigerian government.

Going by a figure dished out by some NDDC staff, Akpabio is tactically claiming that the federal lawmakers’ share of the NDDC loot is N720 billion.

Concerned NDDC Staff from Utilities, Infrastructure, Design and Waterways Department is alleging that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Commission blew up N1.2 trillion within eight months.

By implication, 60% of that huge amount stands at N720 billion.

The alleged N1.2 trillion cash bazaar in NDDC is however contained in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, by concerned NDDC staff. They are alleging that the rip-off in the Commission is in trillions of naira, and not in billions.

Copies of the letter were sent to Senate President, Ahmed Lawal, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, the Inspector General of Police, Director-General of the Department of State Services, NDDC Committee Chairmen in the National Assembly, the US Embassy and UK High Commission.

Nigeria’s main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is already feasting on the unfolding corruption scandals rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of President Buhari.

For the party, the dramatic collapse of the NDDC chief, Pondei, while being grilled by lawmakers, further underscores the weight of corruption that has bedevilled the APC administration.

PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement says it was obvious that the embattled NDDC big boss collapsed under the weight and shame of overwhelming collective guilt brought on him by the exposure of massive corruption being perpetrated by NDDC officials and APC leaders.

‘’It is revealing that Pondei could go no further in the face of scathing revelations of direct pillaging of resources meant for the development and welfare of the Niger Delta people, in an unbridled corruption racket, in which Akpabio, also stands accused.

‘’It is rather curious that Pondei slumped after lawmakers demanded that he offers explanations on the contentious payment of billions of naira, alleged unbudgeted sums, to certain companies by the NDDC. This is particularly as Nigerians recall that the embattled NDDC boss had, last week, stalled proceedings by challenging the legislators and walking out on the House of Representatives investigative panel.

‘’The situation in the NDDC is just a tip of the iceberg on the humongous corruption, looting spree and concealments going on in ministries, department and agencies of government being perpetrated by APC leaders and their cronies.

‘’Our party restates our submission to President Buhari to immediately suspend Akpabio, as well as disband the NDDC IMC, if he indeed desires the coordinated probe he ordered to yield any credible results’’, the party spokesman said.

Pondei and his top officials had last week walked out on the House committee members, due to controversy on whether the committee chair, Olubumi Tunji-Ojo, who allegedly has been indicted in the worrisome NDDC saga has the moral right or not to head the hearing.

After he collapsed drama, Pondei who has been questioned for about 45 minutes was quickly attended to and rushed out of the Conference Room 231, venue of the investigative hearing.

NDDC, however, says Pondei has been ill and his doctor allegedly advised him not to attend the hearing. “The Commission wishes to disclose that Pondei has been ill for the past two weeks. This morning, his condition deteriorated, and his doctors advised against attending the hearing.

“However, he ignored his doctors’ advice because of the realisation that his traducers will use his absence at the hearing to soil his name and reputation. He thought he could make it through the hearing and take care of his health later“, NDDC said in a statement on Monday.

Apparently used to such drama, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, says “I wish Pondei safe and speedy recovery and I have also sent the Medical Director of the National Assembly to follow up to ascertain the condition.’’

In a bid to avert a repeat performance, Gbajabiamila says the ‘’ill’’ Pondei will not appear before the committee again, adding that the committee will adopt the written response of the NDDC top chief.

“There would be no need for the MD of NDDC to appear anymore since he has submitted a written response. Thank you very much and I, therefore, hand over to the current chairman of the Committee, Thomas Ereyitomi, to continue with the hearing”, he said.

In the meantime, Akapbio’s bombshell sparked a serious reaction between him and a committee member that contracts of NDDC, 60 per cent were awarded to some lawmakers who also failed to provide documentary evidence.

“Most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to the members of the National Assembly. If you don’t know, please ask the two chairmen.

“I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to members of the national assembly but you don’t know about it, the two chairmen can explain to you. I was a member of the NDDC committee so I know about it’’, Akpabio said.

In 2016, former NDDC Acting Managing Director, Ibim Semenitari, had disclosed the contract were always awarded to cronies, friends, families, girlfriends and federal legislators with contractors doing shoddy jobs.

“We have some areas we have been very upset. It is very sad because the funds are not ours to spend as we please. The funds do not belong to the contractors as well to use as they will.

‘’So, it is sad when you see contractors who have taken the money and done nothing and then you see other contractors who have done so much and are being owed by the commission. You just wonder why we are not striking the balance here”, Semenitari said.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, was also accused of looting N3.6 billion from the NDDC in contract scams in 2016.

Current probe Chairman, Ereyitomi, asked Akpabio if the contract was given to the Committee Chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo (APC-Ondo), who stepped aside from the exercise.

“I did not mean that or it was interpreted to mean that. I apologise’’, Akpabio said. But, Ereyitomi had put it to him that Tunji-Ojo was not a member of the House or committee in the period he referred to.

At this point, the probe panel chair stopped Akpabio while shouting “Hon. Minister, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
Akpabio was grilled for more than two hours. He tried unsuccessfully to clear himself of an allegation of taking over the commission and awarding and supervising contracts usurping the powers of the Managing Director.  

The minister was evasive most times until Ereyitomi, repeatedly asked him to answer the questions.   As a volte-face and in a sudden outburst, Akpabio accused the lawmakers of “undue intimidation’’.  

“Mr Chairman, the condition where we are in now does not require bullying, with due respect”, the rattled Akpabio cried out. Responding, Ereyitomi said, “we are not bullying you, honourable minister. Answer the question directly. You know you are my leader, an uncommon leader from the Niger Delta, a lawyer, a former governor and senator.”

Akpabio was, however, enraged when a committee member referred to what transpired under his watch as minister as a fraud. He promptly asked the lawmaker to withdraw it but was ignored due to the qualified privilege of the legislator.  

 “Mr Chairman, I’m I protected, Mr Chairman, I’m I protected’’, Akpabio again cried out repeatedly.  

But the minister who has vehemently denied interfering or taking over the job of the NDDC MD, under cross-examination caved in when he told the lawmakers that he took the contract to purchase 90 vehicles for the commission to President Buhari for approval, the statutory job of MD under the Public Procurement Act.  

‘’You have misled the House in the document submitted that you are not in any way involved in the day-to-day running of NDDC. Section 2 subsection 2 of the Public Procurement Act vests power to secure approval on the MD as the accounting officer.  

“But correspondences before us show that the approval were given to you and not the MD based on your letter to that effect’’, the probe panel chair fired at the minister.  

Apparently unable to stand the heat, Akpabio owned up to executing some contracts for road and bridge construction, and on the appointment of a medical doctor as the Executive Director in charge of project management instead of a professional engineer, he struggled hard to rationalise it, saying 60 per cent of the projects in NDDC are medical.  

Apparently shocked, Akpabio lambasted the former Managing Director of the commission, Dr Joi Nunieh, alleging that she did not possess the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate as she did not serve.  

“The former Managing Director of the NDDC was relieved of her appointment when I received a letter from the then Chief of Staff (may his soul rest in peace) that she did not possess the requisite qualifications to be there.  

“For instance, we have written twice to the National Youth Service Corps and twice they have insisted that she never served and that she does not have an NYSC certificate or an exception’’, Akpabio said, adding that Nunieh was relieved of her appointment because she did not have the requisite qualification to remain in office.

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