Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio, has flung the gate of the mega-billions Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contract racket wide open, and in the process unsettles the predators who have been devouring the financial flesh of the plundered Commission.
Though Akpabio’s expose went far beyond the period the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC is probing, his action has sparked a wild agitation by civil society organisations for the anti-graft agencies to go after the implicated federal legislators.
Already, the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) that is leading the agitation for the implicated lawmakers to face the wrath of the law says revelations on the activities of NDDC are nothing short of an organised crime against the peoples of the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil and gas region.
Horrible allegations and counter – allegations are emerging from the NDDC probe by the National Assembly. For Social Action, ‘’a damp muddle is hanging precariously over the Commission’s shady activities which are not in accordance with its mandate, as prescribed in the NDDC (Establishment) Act, 2000.’’
Akpabio last weekend disclosed that federal lawmakers have been beneficiaries of contracts awarded by NDDC. His disclosure is sequel to a 48-hour ultimatum given to him by Reps Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila to mention the beneficiaries of the multi-billion naira contract deals.
Names of the lawmakers the minister transmitted to the National Assembly include: Senator Peter Nwaoboshi involved in 53 projects, Senator Nicholas Mutu whose name appeared on 74 projects, Senators Matthew Urhoghide and James Manager, involved in six projects respectively, Sam Anyanwu with 19 projects as well as others identified as Ondo and Edo Reps.
‘’Legislators that are responsible for appropriations and oversight participated in the largesse of their appropriations. They could not perform their oversight on projects that were awarded to them. This undoubtedly creates an inherent clash of interest’’, Social Action says.
Its Programmes Director, Vivian Bellonwu, wants the National Assembly to bear in mind that ‘’a lot of Nigerians hold the belief that, it is the failure of effective oversight by the nation’s Parliament and lawmakers that led to the rot which has infested the Commission, as seen today.”
Continuing, she said, ‘’we call on the lawmakers to show integrity and an unbiased posture as legislative statesmen and women in carrying out their duties. The probe must remain on course to expose everyone involved.
‘’The National Assembly members who benefitted from the contracts should be investigated and prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to those who may have such intention to loot. With their names duly published, the next appropriate line of action is for the anti-graft agencies to swing into action.
‘’We call on the anti-graft agencies (EFCC, ICPC) and security agencies to immediately begin the investigation into the matter, make an arrest and prosecute accordingly these members of the National Assembly involved in the contract racketeering scandal at the NDDC.
‘’Not acting on these findings of the probe would amount to Niger Delta and Nigerians losing multiple times, if those behind these thefts are not called to account for their crimes. It is, for this reason, we must do away with any failure to act accordingly, which we had experienced in past administrations.
‘’We deem it very necessary for Akpabio to provide more information on the names of the companies and individuals used as proxies in the award of the contracts, the nature of contracts awarded and the amounts of money involved, as this will assist the anti-graft agencies in recovering all looted funds and tracing other individuals who may be involved in the contract frauds.
‘’We also call on the National Assembly to ensure transparency in the ongoing probe by continually updating the list of those involved in the looting of the NDDC and putting its findings and reports in the public domain, for accountability and easy access.’’
The group is strongly demanding that the probe be made to go far beyond the Pondei-led Interim Management Committee (IMC), to 2001, with the light beamed on everyone ever involved with NDDC.
‘’It has become expedient, given the level of corruption witnessed in the Commission, for the probe to be expanded beyond the last 6 months, in order to adequately address the rot in the system.
‘’We demand that in line with the tenets of democracy, the probe committee of the National Assembly must not sweep matters under the carpet or unduly shield anyone found to have been involved in the heist, from being investigated and duly prosecuted, as this will pave way for the recovery of the stolen funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region’’, Social Action said.
In a document attached to his response to the threat by the House of Reps to sue him over the allegations that federal lawmakers were the major contractors of NDDC, Akpabio listed four senators as receiving 74 contracts from the commission between 2017 to date.
He also accused the Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, of inserting 19 contracts worth N9.00 billion into the 2019 NDDC budget. He equally named the Chairman of the Senate Committee on NDDC, Peter Nwaoboshi, who allegedly executed 53 NDDC projects from 2017 to date.
He stated that three other senators: Matthew Urhoghide, James Manager, and Sam Anyanwu executed a total of 21 NDDC contracts during the period under review.
But, Nwaoboshi is denying Akpabio’s allegations, challenging the minister to provide details of the projects listed against his name to the anti-graft agencies in the country if he was sure of his facts.
“I wish to state unequivocally that this allegation has no bearing with the truth and I challenge Akpabio to send the so-called list to anti-graft and other security agencies if he can substantiate the apparently baseless allegation.
“Indeed I would have made further comments but for the fact that the matter is currently before two competent courts of law”, Nwaoboshi said.
However, Akpabio in a three-page covering letter: “Some Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Contracts Allegedly Given to some Members of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives” also implicated the Chair of the Reps Committee on NDDC in 19 contracts worth N9.00 billion inserted into the commission’s last year budget.
Contract deals listed against Nwaoboshi’s name included Emergency Repairs of Asue Street, Owa Phase 2; Emergency Repairs of ldumuogbe Road via Ojemaye; Emergency Repairs of Otolokpo College Road, Otolokpo; and Emergency Repairs of Police lshu Ani Ukwu Road, Issele Uku in Delta State.
Others are Emergency Repairs of old Sapele Agbor Road, Obiaruku; Emergency Repairs of Ehwerhe Obada Road Agbarho Road; Emergency Repairs of Hon. Ifeanyi Eboigbe Street, Boji Boji Owa/Goodwill Street, Owa Alero; and Emergency Repairs of Ahiama Okwu to Obuocha Okwu among others, all in Delta State.
Nwaoboshi is also being mentioned in a fresh N3.4 billion procurement deal at NDDC. He is being accused of influencing the award of NDDC contracts worth ₦232, 209,600 each to 15 companies belonging to him without due process.
Akpabio listed six projects against Senator Urhoghide, six also against Senator Manager, 19 projects against Senator Sam Anyanwu, and others identified as Ondo and Edo representatives whose project cost was not supplied.
For Mutu, the minister listed 74 projects including various emergency road projects in Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, and Rivers States.
The minister declared that in last year’s budget, NDDC Executive Director in charge of projects forwarded to him a list of 19 old contracts amounting to N9.00 billion after-tax, that Tunji-Ojo, allegedly insisted that the commission ‘’must’’ pay before the budget details could be released.
“It has always been known that the two chairmen of the committees on NDDC in both chambers yearly exhibit unusual influence to the exclusion of committee members and even the management of the NDDC in appropriating funds to details embellished in the budget after the passage of line items at plenaries.
“To show you some typical examples, herewith attached are documents showing nature of contracts amount of such contracts (in some cases), date of awards and beneficiaries. Some were awarded to the two chairmen of both committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, serving at the period of the awards (Annexure ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’). However, due to the 48 hours’ notice, the forensic auditors could not sift through the thousands of files in their possession to provide more.
“The investigating Committee on NDDC refused and/or neglected to give me the opportunity to explain that reference to most NDDC contracts yearly being awarded since 2001 from the records allegedly to members of the National Assembly in both Chambers were done without the knowledge of the alleged beneficiaries.
“However, the two chairmen of the Committees in both Chambers had adequate knowledge;
“I never referred to members of the 9th National Assembly as beneficiaries of NDDC contracts as NDDC is yet to fully implement any NDDC budget since the commencement of the 9th National Assembly. In fact, the 2019 budget passed in February and harmonized between the 4th and 5th of March 2020 was received by the commission in the middle of April 2020, when same was designated to expire on the 31st of May, 2020.
“However, it is pertinent to point out that the Clerk of the National Assembly forwarded a letter Ref. NASS/CNA/115/VOL.38/1175, dated March 20, 2020, without attaching the budget details indicating that the 2020 budget of the NDDC passed into Law was being forwarded (copy of the letter is attached as Annexure ‘A’).
‘’This anomaly was brought to the attention of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee investigating a purported financial recklessness by the management of the commission in July 2020, though the first outcry was on allegation of missing N40bn which was totally untrue”, Akpabio states In his letter to Gbajabiamila,
At the weekend, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) requested Gbajabiamila, to make public the list of federal lawmakers, who benefitted from the contracts awarded by NDDC, as contained in a letter Akpabio sent to him.
The group’s President, Solomon Adodo, says the Speaker, Gbajabiamila, ‘’did not do us justice when he did not disclose to the National Assembly that the list of the beneficiaries he demanded had been disclosed and attached to the letter sent to him.”
According to the youth group, Gbajabiamila’s decision to allegedly cover up his colleagues ‘’is unfair to the fight against corruption, the quest for transparency, and to the commonwealth of the nation. We, therefore, urge Mr Speaker to rise up and expose the lawmakers, who were awarded contracts but failed to execute them.
“All the National Assembly members who benefitted from the contracts without executing them should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to those who may want to follow a similar path. It is a clear case of organized crime to have individuals who benefitted from illegality now rising to probe the fact that their illegality is being exposed.
“We call on all the anti-graft agencies and security agencies to, in line with the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, immediately proceed and go ahead with their investigation of the matter.”
While Akpabio is also accusing Nwaoboshi of being paid for 53 unexecuted projects, the embattled senator is terming the weighty accusation as false, claiming that it has no bearing with the truth.
According to him, ‘’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 the so-called list to anti-graft and other security agencies if he can substantiate the apparently baseless allegation. Indeed I would have made further comments but for the fact that the matter is currently before two competent courts of law.
“However, suffice it to say that 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 NDDC by the IMC under his supervision and under the guise of a phantom forensic audit that has no operating timeline.
“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.
“Akpabio and his IMC should apologise to the Niger Delta people in particular and Nigerians in general for this grand wastage arising from their crass incompetence. As a realist, I am confident that a day will come when Akpabio and his IMC will have a date with the law.”
On his part, James Manager says, “my tenure as chairman of Niger Delta committee in the Senate effectively ended in 2015. Ever since then, I have never visited NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt or any of its branches.
“NDDC never awarded any contract to any company owned by me. I do not know of any company owned by me that has ever gone into bidding of government jobs anywhere in the world. This may come to many as a surprise but this is the gospel truth.
“Those who are alleging to defame me must be aware of the consequences. In the interest of the gullible innocent public, the authors led by the said Dr Cairo Ojugboh or any other person should provide some things.”