Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The House of Representatives has vowed not to change the panel investigating alleged N81.5 billion irregular expenditure by the Interim Management Committee ( IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as demanded by the interventionist agency.
Breakdown of the N81.5 billion reportedly includes community relations, N1.3bn; condolences, N122.9m; consultancy, N83m; COVID-19, N3.14bn; duty tour allowances, N486m; imprest, N790.9m; Lassa fever, N1.956bn; legal services, N900m; maintenance, N220m; and oversea travels, N85.6m. Others are project public communication, N1.121bn; security, N744m; staffing-related payments, N8.8bn; and stakeholders’ engagement (February 18 – May 31, 2020), N248m. A senator also allegedly used 11 companies as fronts to secure for himself N3.6 billion contracts in September 2016. Acting managing director of the NDDC, Kemerbrandikumo Pondei, also reportedly said that the commission spent N1.5 billion for staff as COVID-19 relief funds.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, told Daily Sun in a telephone interview that the NDDC was not in a position to dictate to the House which panel would probe its activities.
Kalu stated that Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers the parliament to determine how to conduct its affairs and “no outsider will come in and tell us how to run the House.”
Pondei had last week said the commission would not make any presentation before the House Committee on NDDC probing the alleged irregular expenditure, as the chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, was an “interested party” in the issue under investigation.
Pondei, who later led other officials of the commission on a walkout on the investigative hearing, demanded that the House should constitute an ad hoc committee to handle the investigation before the NDDC would make presentations.
In a twist, the committee, which had earlier resolved to issue a warrant of arrest against the NDDC boss to compel his appearance, last Friday, issued a fresh summons to Pondei to appear before it today, unfailingly.
Kalu explained that though the warrant of arrest still subsists, the House decided to give the NDDC another opportunity to appear before the probe panel.
Regardless, the House spokesman, who is also a member of the House NDDC Committee, noted that, if Pondei failed to appear before the probe panel today, the parliament would activate the warrant of arrest issued against him.
According to him, at the moment, there was no allegation of any infraction against Tunji-Ojo before the House to warrant the call for an ad hoc committee to preside over the NDDC probe.
“The business of the House is different from the business of an individual. If there is an infraction by an individual, it is the duty of the person who is alleging to go through the established channel of complaints to register their petition.
“There is no allegations before the House, as we speak. It is even when we see the allegations and see the content of the allegations that we will now be able to say if there is a case to answer or there is no case to answer. If there is a case to answer, of course, the House does not belong to Tunji-Ojo. The House belongs to Nigerians. But if you say there is case for somebody to answer, show us the case that he has to answer. There is nothing before us. As we speak today, there is no allegation against Tunji-Ojo,” he said.
Meanwhile, 10 civil society organisations (CSOs) have called for an independent probe into allegations of financial malfeasance against the NDDC.
The CSOs also demanded that the Niger Delta Affairs committee of the National Assembly recuse itself from any probe that has to do with the NDDC’s finances, following allegations of some of its members being complicit in the graft in the agency.
The CSOs, in a joint statement, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the crisis rocking the NDDC by stopping the National Assembly audit and, instead, set up an investigative panel to probe all alleged financial impropriety and misconduct against top officials of the agency.
“Having watched the probe by the Senate Committee and House of Representatives committees on Niger Delta, majorly on allegations of financial impropriety and constant exchange of accusations and counter-accusations between the chairman of the House committee on NDDC, Olubumi Ojo, and the NDDC IMC, which ranges from budget inflation by the National Assembly, non-payment of claimed contacts executed by National Assembly members, undue influence and arm-twisting by the committees on Niger Delta in both the Senate and House of Representatives, we are of the opinion that the standing committees of the National Assembly, being interested parties in the case, having been accused of corruption, lack of morality and public confidence, will not do justice to the issues of financial improprieties and other related wrong doings in the NDDC.
“We hereby demand that it discontinues and excuses itself from the probe.In the interest of the nation and to disabuse the fear, perceptions, doubt of the public on the on-going probe, we, therefore, call for immediate stoppage of the said probe by National Assembly and call for an independent panel of enquiry to probe the activities of the immediate IMC of NDDC. We want all issues surrounding the mismanaged of funds, non-payment of scholarships, contract scams and budget inflation to be treated holistically. We believe this can be done only by an independent presidential probe panel where-in all will face the committee and report back to the President, and for relevant anti-corruption agencies to act on. We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute a probe panel to investigate the alleged financial impropriety and other misconducts,” the CSOs said.
The CSOs and their leaders who signed the statement are Advocacy for Good Governance, Musa Abdullahi; Nigeria First Initiative, Tunde Olakunle Adebisi; Score Card Nigeria, Hellen Ochie; Zero Tolerance and Anti-Corruption Network, Okechukwu Orji; Network Against Poverty in Africa Campaign, Samuel Dickson; Centre for Democratic Leadership in Africa, Abu Abubarka Ibrahim; Citizens Right International, Lilian Akudo Chikezie; Network for Advancement of Democracy, Nurudeen Ali; Citizens Right Group, Tosin Abiodun and Centre for Human Right Advocacy, Alhaji Ali Abudulhamid.
SERAP writes Buhari, seeks presidential panel to investigate allegations
Similarly, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Buhari urging him to “use his leadership position to urgently set up a presidential investigative panel to probe allegations.
It also demanded the suspension of Akpabio and all those implicated in the allegations pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
“Witnesses and whistle-blowers must be protected and findings of the investigation should be made public. Where there is relevant admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators should be handed over to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for prosecution,” said SERAP in the letter dated July 18 and signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare.
“These are extremely serious allegations. Nigerians expect that those who run the NDDC should be free of corruption and should enjoy no impunity. Nigerians who want to see development and prosperity in the Niger Delta will want you to take the lead to get to the bottom of these allegations and take appropriate and decisive action to address them. A special panel to probe allegations of corruption in the NDDC, and that is able to work closely with anti-corruption agencies would protect the integrity of the forensic audit, remove the possibility of obstruction of justice, and interference in the process by those suspected to be involved in alleged corruption in the NDDC. The investigation by the National Assembly has been controversial and has reportedly turned into a ‘dirty fight’ between the NDDC and the National Assembly. Similarly, the hearings have reportedly indicted lawmakers of both the Senate and House of Representatives.
“Any perception of politicisation and bias in the investigation of the corruption allegations in the NDDC would undermine public trust in the process, and ultimately, the public interest and good government, as well as justice for the victims of corruption in the Niger Delta. SERAP is concerned that allegations of systemic and widespread corruption in the NDDC are not only punishable offences but also directly undermine the human rights of Nigerians, especially the people of the Niger Delta.