Stakeholders Allege N5.5bn Fraud in NDDC over Supply of COVID-19 Kits

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  • Commission, firm deny allegation

Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt

A group of stakeholders in the Niger Delta has alleged that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) fraudulently awarded a N5, 474,647,125 contract to a Port Harcourt-based company, Signora Concepts Services Limited. The contract was for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers in the fight against coronavirus in the nine member-states of the commission, Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative (IPDI) said in a statement signed by its National President, Ozobo Austin.

But NDDC and Signora Concepts Services Limited, in separate reactions, dismissed the claims, insisting that there is no such contract and no fraud in the interventionist agency.

IPDI alleged that Signora Concepts Services Limited received the sum from NDDC through the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to procure the equipment. It described the contract as fraudulent.

The group also published a letter with reference number NDDC/MD/HPU/20/4/EHSS/05, purportedly signed by the Head, Procurement Unit of NDDC, Alex Enebeli, on behalf of the Acting Managing Director, awarding the said N5.5 billion contract to Signora. The letter, dated April 6, 2020, claimed the contract was for the company to supply the said medical materials and carry out sensitisation campaigns in 2,775 communities in the nine states covered by the commission within 15 days from the date of the award of the contract.

But NDDC issued a statement yesterday denying the issues raised by IPDI and insisting there is no fraud in the commission. The statement signed by the NDDC Director, Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, disowned the letter allegedly awarding the contract to Signora Concepts Services Limited and said there was no fraud in the commission.

The statement read in part, “The online publications are circulating a letter purportedly issued by the Director of Procurement awarding a contract of N5.55 billion for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other kits to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the Niger Delta region.

“We wish to unequivocally deny that contract. The document is simply fake or at best unauthorised. The letters for all contracts awarded by the commission are signed by the Executive Director, Projects, on the authority of the Acting Managing Director, who is the chief accounting officer of the commission. Neither of the officials is aware of the contract letter. It is inconceivable that a contract, and of such magnitude, could be awarded otherwise. The commission has launched an internal investigation into how such a letter came to be issued and on what authority.

“For the purpose of transparency, we wish to confirm that the commission has just secured presidential approval to intervene by assisting NCDC in the supply of kits and the building of isolation centres in the nine Niger Delta states.
“Also, the commission has disbursed N775m to assist the nine Niger Delta states fight the plague. We have also disbursed N270 million as palliatives to the youths, women and the physically challenged in the 27 senatorial districts of the region.”
Odili also denied claims that the present administration at the commission had spent huge sums of money on contracts to supply kits and drugs for the prevention of Lassa fever in the region.

He said, “We wish to state that this present management has not awarded any Lassa fever contract. From the records, the commission awarded three contracts for intervention against the Lassa fever scourge and all these took place in 2019, at least one year before the present management came into office.”

Odili added, “For the purpose of transparency, these contracts are as follows: in early 2019, there was an outbreak of Lassa Fever in Ondo and Edo states, which overwhelmed the capacity of the state governments to cope. The governor of Ondo State made a request to the commission for intervention. As a result, the then management, headed by Professor Nelson Braimbaifa, on 20th February 2019 awarded a contract for the procurement of 21,000 Lassa Fever prevention kits for the region in the sum of N903 million. The items were supplied and distributed. The contractor was duly paid.

“As the scourge persisted, there was need for further intervention. Another 1,000 protective kits were ordered for N1, 092,283,500. This contract was awarded on March 11, 2019. The last contract for Lassa fever was awarded on April 16, 2019 in the sum of N2, 425,242,248. All the kits were supplied and distributed to the nine states. As at date, the commission is yet to pay for this last contract. Payments had been suspended on ministerial order due to the need for verification of past contracts. At no time did the IMC pay out more than N4 billion for Lassa fever contracts as alleged.”

Odili also said the commission had noticed an upsurge in attacks on it, the Interim Management Committee, and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs since the launch of a forensic audit into the affairs of the commission.

He said, “These attacks are meant to distract the commission from the task of holding those who looted the commonwealth to account. The Honourable Minister and the Interim Management Committee are determined to see through this audit. On Wednesday, April 22 when the relevant documents were handed over to the lead consultant for the forensic audit, the Acting Managing Director, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, warned that this exercise cannot be truncated. To quote him: ‘Those who took part in the grand conspiracy to loot the commonwealth are jittery that their misdeeds will come to light. We wish we could sympathise with them. But it could have occurred to them that a day of reckoning will come. The fear of the impunity of their past misdeeds being brought to light is causing panic. In fact, the vultures are shivering. Let us place on record that no amount of intimidation, campaign of falsehood and breakdancing will abort this exercise.’”
Odili said the public should be prepared for more of these attacks against the commission.

He however warned, “The commission also wish to warn those agents of darkness from the Niger Delta who are hell bent on destroying every good thing in the region to change course. The essence of the present IMC and the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari are to reposition the commission to make it fit for purpose. Anyone with any evidence of wrongdoing should reach out to the IMC or the auditors. The forensic auditors should be allowed to complete their assignment so those who failed the region can be held to account.”

On its part, Signora Concepts Services Limited said it was never awarded a N5.5 billion contract by NDDC to supply PPE to the nine states covered by the commission. The firm, in a statement by its Operation Manager, Patrick Ijeomah, accused IPDI of peddling falsehood and asked members of the public to disregard the claims.

Ijeomah said, “Our company has not been paid nor any of our account credited with any money in respect of the contract under COVID-19, contrary to insinuations being circulated in the media.”

He explained that the commission had under a former acting Managing Director, Professor Nelson Brambaifa, earlier awarded to Signora Concepts and 21 other companies contracts on Lassa fever kits.

According to him, “Some of the materials are still in the warehouse of NDDC till date. Amount paid by a former IMC Acting Managing Director, Dr. Joy Nunich, was N2.9bn and a balance of N972 million still outstanding.

“Contracts had various medical accessories ranging from Lassa fever kits, cholera vaccines and science equipment. It is not true that these items were never supplied, as all the companies involved supplied the items and those items were dully inspected by officials of the commission and also distributed to the various communities.

“It will be pertinent to mention that the supply of these items became necessary due to the floods that ravaged the communities of the Niger Delta, which increased the possibility of cholera and Lassa fever outbreak and made it impossible for women in labour to deliver safely in the various community primary health centres.”

Ijeomah advised the people of the region to join NDDC in its quest for effective development of the Niger Delta instead of engaging in distraction and the pull-down syndrome.