For the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, it’s not okay. And it cannot be okay until a forensic audit as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari is carried out. The audit was to x-ray spending by the commission from inception to May 2019. This is why I disagree with Hon. Thomas Ereyitomi that it’s okay for the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to hush up, switch off his microphone and stop the damning allegation of contract bazaar against some members of the National Assembly.
Hon. Ereyitomi was presiding over the proceedings of the ad-hoc committee after the substantive chairman recused himself. Akpabio was on the hot seat. Earlier, the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Keme Pondei, had slumped and was carried out of the overheated hearing room. Whether he collapsed under the weight of a barrage of questions or under the thrall of pre-existing sickness (as we were told he defied a doctor’s advice to make appearance before the committee) is immaterial. What is germane is that nothing should diminish the primacy of the forensic audit over any other investigation at this time.
Nigerians, particularly, the Niger Delta people should ask the hard question. Why is the NDDC suddenly trending in a manner it had never done in its 20 years of existence? Right from OMPADEC (Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission) days in 1992 and the present NDDC (established in 2000), money spent or unspent on the region and its people has never stirred as much upheaval as we have now. Why? The answer is forensic audit. The guilty are already afraid. And they must stop the audit. They must abort the process. NDDC has been a messy tale of sleaze and skulduggery. No Nigerian leader has had the gumption to ask questions of the elite rogue clan of the region who administered the funds over the years. Buhari has just done that. And he wants the result ready by year end. He should get it. The forensic audit must be total, painstaking and unhinged from primordial cronyism and bias.
Again, Niger Deltans should ask the question: Why did the National Assembly suddenly jump out of its hole to probe an alleged N81 billion fiscal misadventure by the Interim Management Committee, IMC? I hold no brief for the IMC. It should be made to account for its conduct during its life. The IMC should be scrutinised to determine if it overreached itself; if it overstepped its mandate. It should be made to account for its actions. Yes, the IMC must be compelled to account for its deeds or misdeeds when the time comes. But that time is not now. There is a more compelling and exigent probe. It’s the forensic audit which is the sole assignment of the IMC.
We are talking about forensic audit to determine how a chunky N15 trillion (Some reports say N12 trillion) was spent. You cannot dissipate energy brawling over N81 billion when there is a bigger, more demanding matter of N15 trillion. To do so amounts to legislative obstruction; a needless distraction. Unfortunately, this is what the National Assembly is doing: trying to arm-twist the IMC from continuing with a forensic audit. All the huff and puff from the National Assembly is to distract the IMC from its core mandate. Akpabio understands this game and he smartly checkmated the National Assembly by insisting that in the midst of the accusations against himself and the IMC, he has chosen to focus on the forensic audit rather than split hairs over a shadow. Of course, it is a matter of the shadow and the substance. The shadow is the premature probe of the IMC, the substance is the forensic audit covering a period of 19 years, involving about N15 trillion and spanning several administrations.
This is why Akpabio should not switch off his microphone. This is why it is not okay to stop talking. Preliminary revelations from the IMC show that some members of the National Assembly literally turned the NDDC into their personal ATM. A particular senator from Delta State, according to the IMC, collected 300 contracts with over 100 of them paid for upfront.
Let’s hear from Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Executive Director Projects of the NDDC and IMC’s Chairman, Contract Verification Committee: “In just seven months of 2019, the commission awarded a total of 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1.070 trillion.
“In 2017, NDDC awarded a total of 201 emergency contracts valued at N100.4 billion while in 2018, a total of 1,057 emergency contracts valued at N162.69 billion were awarded.
“We are talking about a total of over N1.3 trillion in less than three years. The yearly budget of NDDC is hardly above N400 billion.
“A situation where contracts that do not qualify for emergencies were fraudulently awarded to over N1 trillion in less than one year, this amounts to not only stealing from the pulpit but stealing the entire pulpit.”
Joi Nunieh, the immediate past Acting Managing Director of the NDDC and head of the IMC made her own damning revelation: “Some contract award letters were found to be fake; some of the companies were not registered while some were registered after they had been given contracts.
“Also, some of the companies do not have the requirements prescribed in the Public Procurement Act to handle such projects. We also found out that some individuals have 50 to 100 different (contract) award letters under different names.”
These are not political statements bordering on brinkmanship. They are part of emerging revelations from the forensic audit. These should worry the National Assembly. And not the choreographed effort to derail a forensic audit. Some even argue that IMC is illegal and unknown to any Nigerian law including the NDDC Act. IMC is just a nomenclature to tag the leadership of the NDDC at this time in much the same way the tag ‘Minister of State’ is not mentioned in the constitution but it does not make that office an illegality.
And why is Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila issuing threat over an accusation that some of his colleagues may be complicit in the miasma that consumed the NDDC over the years. That threat is empty. It is unwarranted. Akpabio should not supply any name. The forensic audit is ongoing. Let’s wait for its final report.
I invite Mr. Speaker to listen to former INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. In a trending video, he frontally accused some members of the National Assembly of greed and graft under the guise of oversight duty. He said many heads of parastatals, past and present, do not have nice things to say about the legislators. Jega is not alone. We have seen proven cases of senators demanding and receiving bribe to confirm ministerial nominees or to pass budgets. These are not complimentary tags. And this is one of the reasons we must not turn off the microphone just yet.
What is important is for Nigerians to insist on the substance, not the shadow. The substance is the forensic audit; the shadow is the NASS probe of the IMC. Let’s not break our bones fighting over N81 billion when there is a big bout for N15 trillion.