Give it to him. The embattled acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, is a Goliath intellectually. In academics, he is a clear champion and acts like one.
But last week, his years of attainment got smeared with the sooth of corruption. Now, he is looking for the energy to free himself and the odds are against him.
Before now, Pondei’s rise in the ivory tower was mercurial. He is a medical doctor who crowned his efforts with the highly prized professorial stake in Medical Microbiology.
Lately, fate found him a new office away from the classroom. On Thursday, February 20, 2020, he was appointed as the fifth managing director of the NDDC. He replaced Joi Nunieh.
Like everyone else before him, he was the happiest man on the day he resumed on the plum job.
While addressing members of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission, shortly after he assumed office, Pondei reportedly declared: “By my training, I am a problem-solver and I pray that members of the IMC will work together to solve problems.
“By extension, the NDDC is in trouble. Luckily, President Buhari feels for the Niger Delta. This feeling is also shared by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Their concerns led to the decision to try to adopt new methods in tackling the problems of the Niger Delta. They decided that since we have done the same thing, using the same method over and over, and getting the same result, it was time to try something different.”
He then urged IMC members and staff of the commission to cooperate with him to lift up the agency, saying: “I am not here for a blame game. I would rather that we do a soul-search. Majority of us are from the Niger Delta and I am sure they are not happy with the poor state of affairs in the region.
“We are not supposed to be the way we are. We are not supposed to be at the same level with other parts of the country. We are supposed to be different, considering what we contribute to the economy of this country.
“We must come up with ways of improving on our service delivery. We need to drive this seriously. We must pay serious attention to efficiency and quality. Every department will need to come up with new work plans and we need to have measurable indices in those work plans.
“There must be a way of showing what the NDDC has been able to achieve over time. We need to do things that are totally different from what obtains now.”
But Pondei never pondered that corruption was lurking in the corner to blight his life achievement.
Now, five months down the road, Pondei is embattled and overwhelmed. The vibes wafting from his camp are bad music to the ears. They are deafening allegations of corruption and corrupt practices with very high decibel.
Trouble started for Pondei when he first appeared before the National Assembly joint committee on Niger Delta to defend the commission’s 2019 expenditure and 2020 budget proposal.
Pondei it was learnt was unable to explain an identified discrepancy amounting to N143 billion, which was part of the N305.5 billion released to the agency in the 2019 budget.
The identified discrepancy had led to the suspension of the budget defence session.
He had explained to the lawmakers that NDDC received N305.5 billion in 2019 and spent N122 billion, leaving a balance of N183.2 billion.
He added that “in compliance with provisions of the 2019 Appropriation Act, the NDDC implemented the 2019 capital budget till May 31.
“On expenditure, implementation of the 2019 budget was hindered by delays in its approval and release coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Only recurrent expenditure, which runs from January 1, to December 31, 2019, was implemented substantially.”
The chairman, House of Representatives Committee on NDDC, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, who spotted discrepancies in his presentation, insisted that there was a shortfall of N143 billion.
The House, therefore, contended that NDDC was supposed to bring forward a balance of N183.2 billion in the 2020 budget proposal. But in the report before them, only N40 billion was brought forward.
Against that backdrop, Pondei asked for a withdrawal of the document in order to correct the identified discrepancies, amounting to N143 billion in the commission’s 2019 budget. Other lawmakers were angered that Pondei’s request was granted by the chairman, Senate Committee on NDDC, Peter Nwaoboshi.
At the resumed hearing, Pondei and his team staged a walk out on the legislators, thereby compounding the situation. He allegedly accused Olubumi Tunji-Ojo (APC-Ondo) who is the chairman, House of Reps committee on NDDC of corruption.
Angered by Pondei’s conduct, the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC issued a warrant of arrest on him via a motion by Mr Benjamin Kalu representing Abia State.
At the resumed hearing of the committee into the alleged discrepancies, in Abuja on Monday, last week, Pondei “fainted” amid other startling revelations he allegedly made in the heat of the grilling.
Since then, outrage has trailed the Pondei high drama with many insisting that it was to prevent him from making more revelations and to buy time. Thus many described his conduct as a show of shame.
Pondei is from Bayelsa State. He attended Federal Government College, Port Harcourt and studied Medicine and Surgery at University of Lagos. He later attended University of Nottingham, UK, earning a doctorate in Medical Microbiology.
He began lecturing in 2001 and became the acting Head of Department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology and acting Dean of Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences at College of Health Sciences, Niger Delta University.
He served as the chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Bayelsa State and later became a professor of Medical Microbiology, specialising in Virology. He was provost, College of Health Sciences, NDU before his present appointment.