CHUKWU DAVID reports on the intrigues that manifested during the just concluded Senate probe of alleged financial recklessness by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)
The Senate, on May 5, passed a resolution, which led to the setting up of an ad hoc committee, to investigate an alleged N40 billion financial recklessness, purportedly committed by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The decision of the apex legislative chamber to go into the investigation was propelled by a motion moved on the floor during plenary session by Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), drawing the attention of his colleagues to the allegation.
While presenting the motion, Sekibo alleged that the Interim Management Committee of the development commission was neck deep in awarding fraudulent contracts, an act that provoked President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a committee to carry out a forensic audit on activities of the interventionist agency.
He told the Senate that there had been a serious accusation of misuse of funds by previous management of the commission, saying that the development portrayed NDDC as a financial conduit pipe.
According to him, with the alleged financial recklessness in the commission, the objective of the agency had been forsaken.
The lawmaker pointed out that the alleged recklessness might have prompted the President to set up an Interim Management Committee, while ordering a forensic audit of the commission so as to reposition it for its intended mandate.
He said: “While the President’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedeviled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission.
“Within the last three months, the IMC has spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta region.” Based on this weighty allegation, the Senate adopted Sekibo’s prayers to carry out a thorough investigation into the matter, and therefore, resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to undertake the task.
The Senate deliberately refused to use its Standing Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, chaired by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North), to avoid any accusations of witch-hunting or bias against its legislative intervention
It is pertinent to point out that, this precautionary measure taken by the Upper Chamber, notwithstanding, such accusation still happened even before the Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi (APC, Ekiti North)-led ad hoc committee conducted the investigative hearing.
Within the two months gap between the time the decision to carry out the probe was made and when it was eventually carried out, various interest groups, particularly the current IMC of NDDC and the chairmen of Committees on Niger Delta Affairs at both Chambers of the National Assembly, engaged in media war on the genuineness or otherwise of the proposed probe.
This bickering actually hampered the progress of the investigation as it delayed the exercise for two months before it finally took place last week Thursday July 9 and Friday July 10.
The investigation covered a period, spanning the financial transactions of the IMC of the commission between October 29, 2019 and May 31, this year. One of the striking things that hap pened at the hearing was that throughout the exercise, the ad hoc committee could not establish that N40 billion was missing or squandered by the commission within the period under review as alleged by Sekibo.
Meanwhile, the current IMC of NDDC under the leadership of the Managing Director, Kemebradikumo Pondei, felt that the probe was an orchestrated witch-hunt against its perceived transparent leadership and new direction for the commission.
On the other hand, the chairmen of the National Assembly committees on Niger Delta Affairs and by extension, the National Assembly as an institution, thought otherwise and insisted that the investigation must be carried out. In the heat of the brouhaha over the probe, about a month ago, Pondei, in Port Harcourt, described as false, allegations by some groups that the IMC misappropriated billions meant for the development of the Niger Delta region.
He described the allegation as the handiwork of people and groups who were afraid that the ongoing forensic audit would reveal their corrupt dealings with past NDDC managements.
He added that the probe was designed to arm-twist and compel the IMC to tamper with the forensic audit, claiming that some National Assembly members were pressuring the IMC not to send certain files to forensic auditors.
“We have faced so much pressure from some members of the National Assembly not to send certain files to forensic auditors. We refused because we fear this will compromise the process.
“Similarly, we have also faced pressure to pay for 132 jobs which have no proof of execution as well as payout N6.4 billion for those jobs. “We believe that an IMC set up as a cleansing structure cannot become part of an old story of rot.
Hence, the need to break the stranglehold on the commission by some politicians who had turned NDDC to their cash cows.” he said. However, the Senate reacted to the claim through its Spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central), saying that the planned probe was not meant to witch-hunt anybody but to get the facts of the issues at stake.
“It stands logic in the head to claim that by invoking it’s constitutional power of oversight to investigate the activities of the IMC, the National Assembly intends to scuttle forensic audit.
The outlandish claim is illogical,” he said. He further stated that the National Assembly was committed to reposi tioning the NDDC to address the challenges of the Niger Delta through facilitation of rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta, stressing that it was however, concerned about the allegations of poor management or outright fraud in the management of the funds and operations of the commission.
Similarly, when the investigation was carried out last week, the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Senator Adetumbi, at the end of the two-day exercise, stressed that it was not about missing N40 billion but about scrutinizing how N81 billion spent by two different teams of IMC of the NDDC between October 29, 2019 and May 31, this year was done.
“As we are ending this investigative hearing today on alleged financial recklessness in NDDC during period under review, there is no conflict between missing money or not. No money has been established to be missing.
“So what we did within the last two days (Thursday and Friday last week), was not about missing money but following monies spent , records of which are available to us from all the relevant bodies like the NDDC, the Central Bank of Nigeria ( CBN), office of the Accountant General of the Federation and of course that of the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs.
“Our mission right from the onset as far as this investigative public hearing is concerned, is not about witch-hunting but making sure that the money of Niger Delta works for the people in the Niger Delta Region,” he said.
Also making similar submission at the event, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said that there was no any N40 billion missing or embezzled by the management of the commission but sought for proper management of the yearly budgets of the agency as far as contract award was concerned.
Asserting the innocence of the IMC over the allegation of financial recklessness, the Acting Managing Director of the Commission, Prof. Pondei, in his final remarks on Friday, threatened to resign if the allegations against him were proven by his critics.
He said: “If anyone has any evidence that I collected even one per cent from any contractor, let him present it and I will resign instantly. We need to be very careful in making spurious allegations that distract the NDDC.”
Now that the investigation has been conducted, the ad hoc committee is expected to submit its report to the chamber for final consideration and resolutions to be made thereupon.
One thing is however going to be difficult for the ad hoc committee, and that is to establish that the sum of N40 billion was either mismanaged or embezzled by the IMC as alleged in Sekibo’s motion since that was not achieved during the hearing.
- Source: New Telegraph