By Deji Elumoye
Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has claimed that at no time did he award contracts worth N500 million by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contrary to insinuations in some quarters to that effect.
This is just as the immediate past Managing Director of NDDC, Dr. Yimebe Nunieh, declared that out of the entire N81billion spent by the Commission between October 29, 2019 to May 31, 2020, only N8 billion was spent by IMC under her leadership between October 29, 2019 and February 28, 2020.
Akpabio, a former Senate Minority Leader, told the Senate Ad-Hoc committee investigating the alleged financial recklessness of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC at a public hearing yesterday, that it’s not unlikely that he made such recommendation as a sitting Senator in 2017 but the request was not considered for approval.
His words: “On the alleged N500 million contracts said to have been awarded to me by the NDDC, probably when I was in the Senate, because that letter is dated 2017, I must have made recommendation that they should consider to include it but they were not included in the budget. They were not considered. So those jobs were not done. Not one Naira was paid.
“And when you make recommendations, it is not that you are going to be the contractor. It is that if they put a job for your constituency, when they are going through due process, they will advertise that job, and that job would be awarded to the contractor that won the bid. It is not that when a Senator makes a suggestion to an agency, that that Senator will automatically go and become the contractor.
“And the fact that that paper was written on the Minority Leader’s letter-headed paper shows that it was not an award. An awarded contract would have been on NDDC letter head. So, when I saw it, I did not think it was worth responding to because I am a seasoned administrator and a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I owe the nation nothing but good service and to tell the truth. It wasn’t worth responding to because it was a total falsehood. I have never been a contractor in NDDC.
“Even if those suggested projects worth N500 million were accepted, there is no guarantee that Godswill Akpabio or my nominee would have been the contractor,” the minister explained.
He, however, disclosed that no new contract had been awarded in the Commission since he became minister last September.
While insisting that the on-going forensic auditing of the Commission ordered by the Presidency was the only way to clear the age-long mess in the agency, he also charged the National Assembly to guard against abuses of the budgeting procedures particularly with respect to the NDDC.
Akpabio, emphasised that he had never awarded any contract since he became Minister of Niger Delta Affairs except the contract for COVID-19 palliatives.
Lamenting the rot that existed in the budgeting system for the Commission, Akpabio disclosed that in a particular instance, N10.billion was put in the budget but some people just went into one hotel in Abuja and reduced it to N100 million adding that this figure failed to achieve any result.
He noted that instances abound where money budgeted had been drastically and illegally reduced by some members of the National Assembly against the originally approved fund.
According to him, the Niger Delta region can only get maximum benefit if we rejig the way we do budgets for the NDDC.
He pointed out that there had to be governance structure to regulate the way things were done at the Commission.
Akpabio who insisted that the forensic audit of the NDDC was the best way of clearing the rot in the commission that had existed since its establishment, called on all stakeholders including the National Assembly to genuinely support the effort of President Muhammadu Buhari in ensuring that the money for the NDDC was used for the people of the Niger Delta.
“The reason why you hear so much hue and cry about the NDDC is because of President Buhari’s approval for a forensic audit.”
According to him, the President is the first President in Nigeria that has not used the NDDC, as a place to settle political cronies.
“That is why he has the courage to order for forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001. We must commend that. Because if his family members and political cronies were going to the NDDC as in the past to go and collect money and phony contracts that were never executed, there is no way he would have ordered for forensic audit.
“So, mine is to make sure, that I carry out the instructions of the President and clean the system and then set up a management structure. So I like what is happening here, and I just want to tell you, please don’t believe in sensational journalism and then somebody will come and say ‘Akpabio under probe for N40 billion.’ Which Akpabio, if I see N40 billion won’t I faint?,” the minister further said.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi, had stressed that the essence of the investigation was to make sure the common wealth of Niger Delta works for the people of the Niger Delta.
According to him, the investigation was not about missing money but about ensuring that money gets into the right pocket to promote the best interests of the Niger Delta region and its people.
He said at the end of the investigation, those who specialised in hijacking people’s money would be put out of business.
On his part, NDDC Interim Managing Director, Keme Pondei, threatened to resign if the allegation of corruption against him were proven by his critics.
Speaking while appearing the second time before the committee, Pondei declared “If anyone has any evidence that I collected even one per cent from any contractor, let him present it and I will resign instantly. We need to be very careful in making spurious allegations that can distract the NDDC.”
In her submission, the former Managing Director of the Commission , Dr. Yimebe Nunieh said out of the N81billion spent by the Commission between October last year to May this year only N8 billion was expended by IMC under her leadership for the months spent ( October 29, 2019 to February 18, 2020.
She alleged at the sideline of the event while fielding questions from journalists that Akpabio engineered her removal from office for failing to dance to his tunes as regards implicating Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi on fraudulent contracts awards and executions.
Her words: “The minister did all manner of dirty things to forcefully remove me out of office like sponsoring the vandalisation of Agip Trunk A pipeline in Bayelsa as a way of making the unsuspecting public to believe that the youths in the area are angry with NDDC under her leadership.
“He even made frantic attempts to force me to swear to fetish oath which I vehemently refused before he succeeded in getting me out of the place for sole purpose of having his way to run the place the way he likes under the present team of IMC.”
But a member of the current IMC, Evangelist Caroline Nagbo, faulted Nunieh’s claim saying there was no time the minister invited her or any other member of the IMC to take any oath of secrecy.
“As far as I am concerned, as a member of the current Interim Management Committee of NDDC, I took oath of allegiance and not oath of fetishism from anybody,” she said.