Fred Itua, Abuja
The Senate is the highest and most respected lawmaking body anywhere in the world. Interestingly, Nigeria is not an exception. Though it has become a retirement home for tired former governors who can barely walk without support and former ministers who are battling to scare off corruption probes, it is notwithstanding a part of necessary arm of Government.
Its functions stand on a tripod- lawmaking, representation and oversight. Despite the fact that senators sometimes veer off and get enmeshed in contract lobbying, their roles in a democratic setting, are well defined by the constitution.
The Ahmad Lawan led Senate, since its inauguration last year, has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Beyond its swelling fame as a rubber stamp Assembly, some of its members are facing the wrath of Nigerians over their alleged role in the contract scam rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Last week, the Senate mandated its committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate claims that some lawmakers got contracts awarded by the NDDC.
The committee is expected to submit its report within the next four weeks, to enable the Red Chamber take a decision on lawmakers found culpable.
This is not the first time the Senate will be turning the heat on its members. It is however, the first since the inauguration of this Senate last year.
The most recent instance was the ignoble mace theft scandal, wherein the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, allegedly led thugs to snatch the mace while plenary was ongoing. This happened on the 18th of April, 2018.
Omo-Agege who was suspended by his colleague, frustrated every move by the Senate to adopt the recommendations of the committee that probed him. Ironically, the same senators who called for Omo-Agege’s head, elected him Deputy President of the Senate 14 months after the invasion.
The characters in the ongoing power play, Daily Sun has reliably gathered, are at loggerheads over the control of the NDDC. Omo-Agege, who is believed to be main arrowhead of the probe, is allegedly pained that his candidate who was screened by the Senate as the substantive managing director of the NDDC, was dumped by President Muhammadu Buhari and Akpabio has covertly taken over the control of the intervention agency.
It is also unclear if anything significant will come from the probe, as many pundits are already doubtful that it may just be a ploy to offer a soft landing for embattled senators by the leadership of the upper legislative chamber.
The man at the centre of the controversy and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, had last Monday, when he appeared before the House of Representatives Ad-hoc committee investigating alleged financial recklessness, claimed that over 60 per cent of contracts in the NDDC, were given to members of the National Assembly.
Akpabio escalated his claims in a letter addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, where he listed names of members of both chambers of the National Assembly, involved in contract scam in NDDC.
According to the letter, Akpabio listed Senator Peter Nwaoboshi who chairs the committee on Niger Delta Affairs against 53 projects which included, Emergency Repairs of Asue Street, Owa Phase 2, Emergency Repairs of ldumuogbe Road via Ojemaye, Emergency Repairs of Otolokpo College Road, Otololkpo, and Emergency Repairs of Police lshu Ani Ukwu Road, Issele Uku
“They also included 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.
“Also the Minister listed Mutu’s name against 74 projects which included various emergency road projects in Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayela, and Rivers states.
“Other lawmakers that Akpabio listed projects against are, Senator Mathew Urhoghide (6), James Manager (6), Sam Anyanwu (19), and others simply identified as Ondo and Edo reps.
“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 (Annexures ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’).
“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 passage of line items at the plenaries. In the 2019 budget, the Executive Director Projects forwarded to me the attached list of 19 Nos. old contracts amounting to almost N9bn after tax, that the House of Representatives Committee Chairman on NDDC, Honourable Tunji-Ojo, insisted the IMC of NDDC must pay before 2019 budget details could be released to the commission (see Annexure ‘A1’).
“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 (Annexures ‘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,” part of the letter read.
NDDC’s director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, had earlier fired a salvo, when he boldly claimed that Nwaoboshi had questions to answer. He claimed their findings revealed that Nwaoboshi used fronts to secure contracts valued at the above sum from the Commission.
His allegation: “Our records show that Senator Nwaoboshi used 11 front companies (owned or traceable to him) to secure a contract of N3.6 billion in September 2016, in what is perhaps the biggest single case of looting of the commission’s resources.
“The said companies/business names are: Noan Integrated Services; De Towers Constructions & Allied Services Ltd; Franstine Nigeria Enterprises; Edrihide Company; Isumabe U.K. Global; Benchmark Construction & Allied Services Ltd; Millstone Allied Builders Ltd.; Nelpat Nigeria Company; Agh-Rown Ventures; Edendoma Stars International, and Antlers Construction and Allied Works Ltd.”
Odili further alleged: “The inventory records show that these items were supplied and received on Senator Nwaoboshi’s business premises and warehouse. Meanwhile, the contracts were awarded to him.” He equally claimed that all supply agreements were signed by one person, “Mr. Agbamuche Nelson, traceable to Senator Nwaoboshi.”
According to him, the action was in flagrant contravention of sections 58(4) (a) and (d) of the Public Procurement Act. Reacting, Nwaoboshi refuted the claims.
However, Nwaoboshi in a recent statement, said the allegations were nothing, but a national embarrassment that must stop. According to him, none of all the 11 companies listed belong to him as far as records at the Corporate Affairs Commission are concerned.
He challenged the NDDC officials to substantiate their allegations with required documents implicating him as evidence if they have.
“The smear campaign and character assassination of people perceived to be stumbling blocks against the rot in NDDC over the years must stop in the national interest,” he added.
The statement signed by his Special Assistant on Legislative and Media Affairs, Luka Igbonoba , reads: “The charade in the past weeks by the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission to blackmail a routine task of the National Assembly to perform its oversight function as stated in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has no doubt become a national embarrassment.
“More so is the uncharitable and condemnable low of smear campaigns against members of the institution, churning out blatant lies that are easily verifiable. The latest, been a press release signed by a supposed civil servant, on allegations that are completely false and unfounded.
“They listed 11 companies and ascribed ownership to Distinguished Senator Peter Nwaboshi. These are companies that he does not know nor had anything to do with. A simple search at Corporate Affairs Commission will, at least, show both former and present directors. How do you libelously claim a man owns companies that perhaps belong to other people?
“Apparently, the officials might have generated names of companies they have probably used to siphon the peoples common patrimony, everyone involved must face the wrath of the law as It is expected that due diligence should precede any contract award. In any case, if the contracts were actually awarded in 2016 as alleged, the forensic audit which covers the period is expected to expose every detail surrounding these contracts and save the public from this shameless falsehood.
‘We strongly challenge NNDC to avail the public of the names of directors and shareholders of all the companies. For the umpteenth time, Senator Nwaoboshi once again declares that he is neither a director nor shareholder in any of the companies listed by NDDC.
“Nigerians are aware that the misleading press release is just another desperate attempt to rescue the already shredded and tattered image of Godswill Akpabio.”
Already, the National Youth Council of Nigeria has reacted to the development.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, the President of the Council, Solomon Adodo, while condemning Gbajabiamila’s alleged refusal to reel out names of indicted lawmakers, said: “Mr Speaker 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.
“Gbajabiamila’s decision to cover up his colleagues is unfair to the fight against corruption, quest for transparency, and to the commonwealth of our nation. We therefore urge Mr Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, to resign for covering up for a set of people who had erred and breached the rules of contract.
“All the National Assembly members who benefitted from the contracts without executing them should be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to those who may want to follow a similar path.
“It is a clear case of organised 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.”
The youths said they were firmly in support of the forensic audit instituted by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs because it had exposed those who had benefitted in the corruption that had festered in the NDDC.