By Sunday Ani
Dr. Cairo Ojougboh is an All Progressives Congress (APC), chieftain and Executive Director, Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC). In this interview, he reacts to the recent victory of his party in the Imo State polls, state of projects handled by the NDDC among other issues.
How do you see the Supreme Court verdict in the case of the governorship election in Imo State where Senator Hope Uzodinma was declared governor?
It was the case of man spoke and God confirmed it. The voters voted overwhelmingly in 18 of the 27 local governments of Imo State for our party and our candidate but the will of man almost subverted it. But the will of God has finally triumphed over theirs. Of course, you heard that Father Ejike Mbaka had said it long ago and that was what happened.
What do you think should be the pre-occupation of the new governor having been sworn in now?
The first task is reconciliation, because there is a Chinese saying that out of every crisis comes an opportunity. The crisis has now created an opportunity for Governor Hope Uzodinma to unite and prosper the people of Imo State.
So, he should immediately embark on the journey for true and genuine reconciliation in order that we can achieve peace in the state because there is no development without peace. So, with immediate effect, he should embark on real and genuine reconciliation and that is the way it should go – the way of peace and true reconciliation.
Are you suggesting this because of the pre and post-election conflicts between the former governor, Rochas Okorocha and his son in-law, Uche Nwosu on one hand and the APC on the other?
Okorocha has already congratulated Hope Uzodinma and that tells you that peace is in the offing. By the way, in politics it is said that there are not permanent friends or permanent enemies, but permanent interests. All citizens of Imo State know that peace is paramount to development and for that reason, they should all come together in the interest of the state.
Another election is coming up very soon in the state and that is the by-election for the replacement of the vacant Imo North senatorial seat, occasioned by the untimely death of Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu. Of course, the people of Imo love APC and the party will not take their love for granted. Hence, they will now work harder to keep faith with the people of Imo and I have no doubt in my mind that Imo will vote for APC again.
Let us talk about the NDDC where you are Executive Director, Projects and Chairman, Contracts Verification Committee. What is actually the status of projects executed for the commission right now?
I make bold to tell you that without President Muhammadu Buhari, the NDDC would have been killed and buried. In seven months in 2019, a total of 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1,070,349,631,757.70 was awarded while the unprocessed budget of the NDDC, N350 billion, was still before the National Assembly.
You will recall that the Acting MD/CEO, Dr. Joi Nunieh had last week, in line with the directive of Mr. President inaugurated a Contract Verification Committee as a prelude to the ordered forensic audit, with my humble self as Chairman; I can tell you, like I said in a recent press conference that we have made some remarkable discoveries.
By way of hindsight, when the NDDC came into existence vide the NDDC Act 2000 (19 years ago), not only was it mandated to offer a lasting solution to the social economic and environmental problems of the Niger Delta region by conceiving and implementing plans aimed at developing the infrastructure, human capacity building, but also to complement the efforts of the various state governments and other developmental agencies in the region.
Whilst successive leadership of the NDDC may have done their best, today, the conclusion of most stakeholders in the region is that the NDDC has not delivered on its mandate, at best a lack-luster performance, with very little to show for the humongous resources that have accrued to it over the past 19 years. Stories of pervasive corruption, flagrant abuse of due process, abandoned projects, poor quality project delivery, etc, at the NDDC, have adorned our media space over the years.
How would you describe the current efforts, though it has come seriously criticised by many people in the country?
You will recall that in an effort to stem this unfortunate tide, governors of the nine states of the region covered by the commission, a couple of months ago, visited His Excellency, President Buhari to not only lay bare their perception of the commission since its inception, but to also as members of the Advisory Council of the NDDC, offer useful advice on the way forward to the President. The result of this historic visit is the ordering of a forensic audit of the activities of the NDDC from inception to date by the President.
The President being a man of honor on October 29, 2019 went on to appoint the Interim Management Committee (IMC) comprising of Gbene (Dr.) Joi Nunieh (Ag. MD/CEO), Chief Bassey Eteng (Ag. EDFA), and Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, my humble self as Acting EDP to oversee the forensic audit.
The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in conjunction with the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Commission in preparation for the commencement of the forensic audit have already secured the Certificate-of-No-Objection from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for the lead consultant for the forensic audit, while that of the sub-consultants is underway.
The contract verification committee is therefore, to lay a foundation for the forensic audit of the activities of the commission from inception to date. To this end, all contractors, consultants (design and supervision), vendors, suppliers and NGOs or their certified representatives who have business transactions with the commission, are thus requested to report with three photocopies each of their letters of award, Contract Agreement, and Interim Payment Certificate (where applicable), and also to present originals for assessment, evaluation and verification to the NDDC office where such business is located. They are also to present letters detailing a brief statement or summary of their claims / requests on their headed papers with verifiable addresses and certified true copies of their company registration documents.
What does your commission intend to achieve with this exercise?
Among other things, this verification exercise is intended to establish the true position of the emergency regime between 2016 and 2019 in the commission. It is now common knowledge that some of the awards were not only spurious, but criminal as records available to us show that most of the awards were not backed by budget, has no bills of engineering measurement nor drawings and where just open cheque for contractors and their collaborators to fill in at the nearest banks.
For instance in 2017, the Commission awarded a total of 201 emergency contacts valued at N100,396,879,001.06; in 2018, a total 1,057 emergency contracts valued at N162,688,289,333.05; and just seven (7) months of 2019, a total 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1,070,249,631,757.70. So we are talking of a total of over N1.3trillion in less than three years.
The revelations have been mind boggling and that is just the beginning because it will expose those spurious contracts. Contractors with fake or spurious awards are advised in their best interest to stay away from the various centers.
One thing I can assure you of is the fact that we will discharge our duties diligently, honestly and professionally. I therefore, thank Mr. President on behalf of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio and the entire Niger Delta Citizenry. I want to charge the officials handling the verification to note that the entire people of the Niger Delta and the Commission has placed heavy responsibilities on their shoulders and they must discharge it without fear or favour but in agreement with the commission’s reason for existence- development of the region that produces the oil (and suffers some degradations there from), which plays major role on the growth of Nigeria.
Is it true that a serving senator has 300 NDDC contracts to his name like you said recently?
Are you doubting my disclosure? I said somebody who is particularly interested in a major contract of the NDDC, who is a member of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he alone has 300 jobs in the NDDC. Of the 300 contracts, 120 has been fully paid and he has not mobilised to site for these 120.
It is obvious that the reason he is behaving the way he is behaving is that he wants the system, the looting in the NDDC to continue, and this is what the Interim Management Committee will not support. It is as simple as that.
The NDDC Interim Payment Certificates that are pending are worth over N3 trillion. That is what the NDDC owes these phantom contractors. It is these phantom contractors that are preaching and making noise to stop the probe.
All they want is for the stealing to continue. That is why we are saying that all contractors handling on-going projects should come for verification otherwise they might lose such.
Therefore, when given the opportunity that we have just been given, our job is to make sure that we avail the auditors all the necessary documents and information, all the necessary help they need because we are not protecting any interest but to help the auditors do their job as it is required.