Has the NDDC opened the can of worms at last?
…There is no missing N200bn
The affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) have for almost 20 years been conducted like secret society. The only thing evident seems to be that any man or woman that passes through the Commission even for one hour as an executive turns into a multi-billionaire. It has been hushed all the way that some men in the National Assembly and in the presidency were like gods, dictating what happens in Port Harcourt and what happens to about N300billion yearly budgets.
Now, a big clash seems to have taken place between the NDDC and the National Assembly (NASS) or the two committees of the NASS that have oversight functions over the cash-cow called the NDDC. Both groups and those fighting the Commission seem to drag their dirty linen into the open. The NASS insists on probing the NDDC, the Commission counters, saying the agenda is to scuttle the forensic audit the President ordered in the place. Each group says it is trying to help the suffering people of the Niger Delta, but the opposite seems to be the case.
Now, Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, chairman of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), professor of virology at the Niger Delta University (NDU) in Bayelsa State, who is the acting managing director of the Commission, decided he has had enough of the intrigues; He summoned the media on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, and laid it all bare. He took 10 questions thereafter and unveiled more worms from the 20-year-old can.
Managing Director opens up: There is no missing N200bn
There has been a flurry of media activities and these are spurious accusations to railroad the IMC from working to make the NDDC deliver on its core mandate. We have been accused of every amount: N200bn squandered in two months; later revised to N40bn missing in two months, etc. The recent one says N25bn spent on undone road works.
It is very painful that even the mainstream media have joined in purveying stark falsehood. When lies are repeated over and over, they now appear to be the truth. It’s very painful that the media houses are not even taking time to check properly.
The NDDC operates accounts only in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and it is highly regulated. Anybody who wants to check the NDDC account is free to find out how N200bn can disappear, how N40bn can disappear or how N25bn can disappear. Just like in the Bible times, some people have also decided that until this IMC is removed, that they would not know any rest; whether or not the people of the Niger Delta benefit is not their concern.
Sad, no single project commissioned by Mr. President so far in the Niger Delta
They are not taking into consideration that there has not been one single project that has been commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari in this region, but they are interested in daily reports of IMC this or that. They want to scuttle the forensic audit which is bringing out a lot of things.
Virement matter and 20219 budget
The NASS committees brought this issue out, but we cannot talk about it without giving a background about the 2019 budget. Today is May 26, 2020 (when he spoke), and the 2019 budget of the NDDC will expire on May 31, 2020, without any single project being achieved, mostly because the Budget came from the NASS very late. It was approved and we got a letter of approval on March 20, 2020, but the real hard copy that was signed was only made available to us by April 10, 2020. From that date to May 31, 2020, does not give us the leverage to advertise properly for contracts to be executed. So, everything was done to scuttle this. Even the hard copy was only released when we started making complaints.
I do not want to go into what has passed on between the Commission and the two committees in the NASS because those two committees have put the NASS in very bad lights whilst we know that the majority of the lawmakers in both Houses have no knowledge of what these two committees were doing to their image. All the faults lay in those two committees which operate as one-man committees because even the members of those two committees are not aware of the efforts being made to ruin the destiny of the Niger Delta people and set their destiny backward.
Forensic audit is their target
I state categorically without fear of anybody that the 2019 budget was frustrated for personal reasons of some people in the NASS and also the unwarranted probes that they have to bring up is to make mockery of the forensic audit. I do not know if we understand what a forensic audit is; we got a letter from one of the committees asking the forensic auditors to be part of our team to appear before their probe panel. That is totally unacceptable and cannot be done. The forensic auditors are not subject to us and we cannot command them.
We are not part of them and we do not supervise them. We only provide the enabling environment for them to conduct the audit, and we also provide requisite information when they need it. Most of the documents they are asking us to bring for those phantom probes are the things we have already given to the forensic auditors, and that must be why they are asking us to come with the forensic auditors. I do not think I have power to drag along forensic auditors I did not appoint. They were appointed by the FEC headed by Mr. President.
500 items padded to the 2019 budget, reason for virement
When we now saw that the time frame was very short and the budget that was sent back to us was no longer recognisable by us. We had been hearing about budget padding; this was a classical case of it. Almost 500 new projects were added to the budget. The appropriation was done in such a way that meaningful projects listed there got very little sums of money so that we could not meet any of the commitments. So, at one of the meetings between the Executive Project Director (Dr. Cairo Ojugboh) and the committees of the NASS, they now said ok, for there to be peace, write a letter to us for virement of these funds. So, with the letter that was supposed to be written through the minister by the President then to the NASS, so, send us an advance copy to save time. Immediately they got this advance copy, they leaked it to the press, even when it was clearly marked SECRET and for the eye of the NASS only. What they did not tell the public was the second document where we suggested to them where to appropriate such monies to. For instance, we have commitment to the partnership with international federation of agricultural development (IFAD); the counterpart funding for 2019 is N1.32bn but what was put for all counterpart funding in Agric was N150million. So, we asked them, we need to pay this N1.32bn for this programme right away, can you remove money from all these programmes that are not viable and put there? What we saw in the social media and in Arise TV debate is that we were asking for virement to cover for fraud; can something that has not been done be called payment for fraud.
Let’s put it on record, the IMC has not awarded any road contract or any contract at all. The only contract is the COVID-19 one approved by Mr. President himself. We have been paying for historical contracts that the Commission has incurred over time and we got a letter from the NASS now asking us not to pay for these old contracts that exceeded the threshold. But they had earlier forced us to pay their own old contracts they awarded which we were not supposed to do, but we did just for peace to reign. Now, they are coming to blackmail us. Let me stop here.
Questions & Answers
Is the FEC aware of these allegations and media attacks that the IMC is going through especially as you said the President is the one that approved the procurement of COVID-19 items? And what is the role of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in all of this?
On whether the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is aware of all these accusations; of course, I am very certain that they should be aware. We have a supervisory ministry (Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs) headed by the senator, Godswill Akpabio. From time to time, we give update and we have done that from inauguration as expanded IMC. We have given a status update, complaining about most of these things you said and sent to the minister. Whether he has transmitted that to the FEC or President, I am yet to know, but we have done so. The minister is supervising the NDDC on behalf of Mr. President. That is his role.
You said you have incurred debts and these people have forced to pay for these contracts which they awarded; who are they?
Why the NASS members are involved in contracts I would not know, but if they are the ones adding contract jobs to the budget, of course, it means it is projects they are interested in and that they might get the Commission to award to themselves. But we have not awarded contracts; so, I can’t say how it comes about. You mentioned the issue of historical jobs, yes, government is a continuum and people that were given contracts long ago, they executed them by about 2016 – 2019 and they have yet to be paid. We came in and saw a lot of them, some amounts were scandalous, just N1m for five years? So, we started clearing those ones. To date, we have cleared about 400 of those companies.
When I came into the IMC on February 2020, the 2019 and 2020 budgets had already been transmitted to the NASS. The 2019 budget was now laid before both chambers. Now, there is a process after approval, there has to be harmonisation of both budgets before they are signed. For that to be done, we were told to pay for certain contracts, else, the harmonisation meeting would not take place. You can quote me. That was relayed to us through the chairman of House of Representatives (HoR) Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). We were waiting for the meeting on a Monday and since we did not pay, the meeting did not take place on Monday, Tuesday; until on March 17, 2020, we now managed to pay some and paid the others on March 19, 2020. That was when the approval for the budget was transmitted to us by the Clerk on March 20, 2020. So, we were forced to pay to almost 20 companies. I can give you the list of the companies, and you can go and crosscheck.
From what we are hearing from staff members here, this is the regular thing over the years. You have to accede to them or you don’t get a budget. It was lack of budget in 2016/17 that led to past management to devise what is now called emergency projects that would not go through budget. That was the only way they could get some projects through; until it now became a very big burden.
So, until we go back to the drawing and have a transparent budgeting process that is free, until the stranglehold on the NDDC by the two committees with oversight functions are removed and the NDDC is able to get a proper budget, all this problem will continue. If you bring anybody from even outer space with excess management capabilities to run the NDDC today, and you did not remove all these things, the problem will continue.
I came here with a vision of what I want the NDDC will do, I want water in every community but they are giving me a budget without water projects. So, how can the Niger Delta region change. People are clamouring for change but that will just be changing of people without solving the real problem. The problem is not who is running the place but the processes that lie underneath that are very rotten that need to be sorted out.
Can you further hit the nail on the head; from your in-house investigations, what really is the motive behind this barrage of attacks on the IMC and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs? Why do you think the NASS is insisting on going on with probing the IMC?
That is already very clear. Sometime last year (2019), there was a board that was screened by the NASS to run the NDDC, but was not inaugurated before an IMC was instituted. Now, many people who felt that that should not be have continued to fight until the people they want to run the Commission are put in place. Now, I think there is something very wrong there in the sense; how can the NASS nominate people to run the NDDC and give the list to Mr. President but Mr. President will now pass the list to the NASS for those same people to come and run the NDDC. There is separation of powers and Mr. President has the right to nominate while the NASS only screens them. Mr. President has the power to hire and fire and they should leave him to exercise that power. They are dabbling into the powers of Mr. President; that is reason for all this blackmail.
Now, the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs is supervising this, it is believed that he is the one that is nominating everybody that Mr. President is appointing. So, they need to fight him to remove him. That is reason for all these attacks, but they have failed to look at his track record of transforming Akwa Ibom. The detractors are saying no, they do not want the region to be transformed. They want the region to remain the way it has always been, a place to generate money for elections. We cannot allow the region to continue like that. The elections in 2023 are the focus.
The Niger Delta Rights Advocates said the N40bn you asked for is to cover the money the IMC has spent; any truth in that?
It is 100 percent false. What the IMC has spent from February 20, 2020 till date is very available. I cannot do something that can be covered. Contractors have been paid; are they stolen monies? We can give you the list of all the contractors and ask you to contact them to find out if they were paid or not. We would have put the amounts there but we do not want anybody kidnapped. We give you a list of all the contractors that have been paid and you please go and confirm. We are not covering up anything.
How these accusers arrive at their figures, I do not understand. The NDDC operates account only in the CBN. NDDC does not give a cheque. The NDDC pays money into your account and it is traceable. There is Freedom of Information Act. Let people use it maximally.
Last year, your former governor (Seriake Dickson) and the present Rivers State Governor (Nyesom Wike) accused the NDDC of being a pool for politicians to deep hands and draw huge sums to facilitate their political pursuit. Now, intrigues for general election of 2023 have started as far as we know. Are you under pressure; how will you resist them because we know that in every appointment there are certain people behind that appointment. Will you resist those who assisted you to be here?
It is getting personal, but ideally I should be talking about the IMC. I am not a politician and what the governors said earlier is what I am saying, that it is about raising a war chest for elections. How do you do that? You raise people that are pliable and when you put them in charge of the NDDC, then you ask them, go and bring this, and they bring it for the election. As far as that continues, the NDDC will not make any progress. That is why we are trying to have a paradigm shift.
Now, on whether I will be able to withstand those types of demands, with the help of you all here, when we start doing everything transparently. We are happy you are asking us questions, but it should not be only when we call press conferences. Come and check things and ask questions so we can open the books. If the committees of the NASS were doing their oversight functions, there would be no need for a forensic audit in the first place. If you go to Premium Times, there is a report they have done about water projects in Delta South senatorial district; none-existing water projects between 2004 and 2012. Nobody is probing those things but they have all been paid for. They did an earlier report on health centres built in either Imo or Abia states. Some of them have been converted to private schools. A lot has gone wrong in the NDDC. That is what the forensic audit seeks to correct. By the time the reports come out properly, if it allowed to continue to the very end, it is going to unveil the rape of our people and all those that ideally should be brought to book would be. Just the beginning of the forensic audit alone has sent some contractors back to site. There are contractors that were supposed to do supplies since 2014, they want to do the supplies now. It is the COVID lockdown that delays them. A contractor is ready to do some agricultural supplies of 2014 now.
There are many others who have eaten these monies who are not ready to refund them and they are ready to do anything to frustrate the forensic audit.
Does the NDDC have SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), a process agreed upon of doing anything so that when this process is being breached, alarm will trigger off? Again, before the Nisma Ekere regime came, the NDDC tried to introduce an online kind of system where all your operations were uploaded; location of contract, contractor, amount paid so far, percentage of completion, etc. Newsmen needed not come to ask basic questions. Is there an SOP you met, if not, can one be established?
You must be a prophet because we had a meeting of the directors yesterday morning and we discussed on SOPs; that there should be SOP for every directorate, every procedure, every activity. We are looking at this ICT component, unfortunately, there is a litigation with the service provider. I think it is Vodacom. We are trying to resolve that because that is the way to go to reduce the interface between the contractors and the staff members of the Commission because continuous human interface has led to a lot of corruption and percentages and all things giving the Commission a very bad name.
As you rightly said, I do not know the reason why that was stopped but I want to assure you that it is one of the things we have on our drawing books that we are trying to do, if not for all this unnecessary distractions. Like, you will go and spend two weeks in Abuja defending things we did not do when we should have used that time to solve problems at home.