By Deji Elumoye
The Senate has faulted the expenses of N3.14 billion made by the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to provide COVID-19 palliatives to its staff that numbered more than 4,000 workers and the police commands in the nine oil producing states.
This is just as the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC accused the leadership of the National Assembly Joint committee on Niger Delta Affairs of meddling in the financial affairs of the commission.
The commission also declared that no single kobo was missing in its account since inception of the current IMC on February 19, 2020.
The Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi-led Ad-hoc committee probing the alleged financial recklessness in the NDDC queried why huge amount of money was given to workers of the commission as relief for COVID-19 pandemic.
Adetunbi raised the issue during a public hearing and wondered why N10 million was given to a single staff as COVID-19 relief fund without the person testing positive to the virus.
He said: “From the financial statements and documents forwarded to this committee from your office as regards expenditure carried out between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020, monies expended on COVID-19 pandemic relief are mind boggling.
“N3.14 billion was spent on COVID-19 pandemic as relief funds out of the total expenditure of N81.495 billion spent by both the IMC that was led by Mrs. Gbene Nunieh as Managing Director between October 29, 2019 and February 18, 2020 and the current IMC that is led by Professor Pondei between February 19, 2020 and May 31, 2020.
“Highly disturbing is the fact that based on the records of payment of such funds, a whopping N10 million was given to a single staff while two other staffers collected N7 million each.
“Other payments as reliefs against the pandemic are N3 million given to each of 148 other staffers; N1.5 million each to 157 other category of staffers; N1 million each to 497 others and N600,000.00 each to the last category of 464 other staffers.
“Also included in the COVID-19 pandemic relief, as clearly stated in your submitted financial documents, is N475 million given to the police high command for purchase of face masks and hand sanitisers for men and officers across the nine states in the Niger Delta Region.”
Adetunbi also took up the IMC officials on other spending, including N1.3 billion for community relations, N1.956 billion for Lassa fever, N23.8 billion for consultancy fees, N486 million for duty travel allowance and N85.6 million for overseas travels etc.
However, in their separate explanations, both Pondei and Acting Executive Director (Project), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, claimed that the various expenditures were done in the best interest of the commission and Niger Delta Community at large.
Pondei explained that the commission alone has 150 policemen attached to it for security purposes aside the various police commands in the affected nine states in the Niger Delta Region.
On his part, Ojougboh alleged financial interference, contracts grabbing and splitting against the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and his counterpart in the House of Representatives.
He said that the two chairmen requested for 1,000 projects out of the 2,900 emergency projects the commission planned to change the face of the Niger Delta communities.
“Aside projects grabbing, the two chairmen are holding the commission to ransom on its 2020 budget, which had been submitted since November last year but yet to see the light in July 2020.
“We have lost confidence in the two chairmen who have been hijacking and bastardising operations of the commission over the years,” he said.
Ojougboh said there was nothing like the N40 billion allegation leveled against the current IMC by the Senate within the first three months of this year.
He said: “The current IMC met debt of over N3 trillion as payments for contracts awarded and executed by previous management, out of which N156 billion had been released and ready for payment.”