Akpabio Blinks, Says He Didn’t Accuse Lawmakers of Being NDDC Contractors

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Godswill Akpabio
  • House threatens lawsuit, probes police invasion of Nunieh’s residence
  • Senate demands agency’s IMC dissolution, refund of N4.923bn

 

Deji Elumoye, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has walked back his claim that National Assembly lawmakers got 60 per cent of contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), an agency under his ministry’s supervision.

Akpabio, in a letter to the House of Representatives, which had on Tuesday given him a 48-hour ultimatum that expired yesterday, to publish the names of the contractor-lawmakers, said the reference he made to 60 per cent during his presentation before the House NDDC Committee was in response to a question by a member of the committee.

NDDC matter was also the focus of the Senate yesterday as it demanded the dissolution of the agency’s Interim Management Committee (IMC), the return of its supervision to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the refund of N4.923 billion in illegal payments to the coffers of the commission.

Akpabio’s letter was submitted to the House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, at the plenary yesterday, soon after he signified the House’s intention to take a legal action against the minister for perjury and civil defamation.

Akpabio, while appearing on Monday before the House Committee on NDDC investigating financial malfeasance in the commission, had said 60 per cent of NDDC contracts were given to federal legislators.

But in the letter, which is a response to the one Gbajabiamila had directed the House clerk to write to the minister to substantiate his allegation, Akpabio had explained that a lawmaker had asked him whether a medical doctor (Dr. Cairo Ojougboh) could serve as an executive director in charge of projects at the NDDC, to which he responded by saying that since 50 to 60 per cent of NDDC contracts were medical related, then there was nothing wrong in a doctor being in charge of projects.

He stated that Ojougboh sent him a list of 19 contracts yet to be paid for, which the chairman of the House Committee on NDDC insisted must be paid before the 2020 budget of the commission could be passed.

Akpabio appealed to the speaker to pass the message to the lawmakers who probably misunderstood his statement.

He said: ”…the investigating committee refused or neglected to give me the opportunity to explain the reference to ‘most NDDC contracts awarded since 2001 from the records allegedly to members of the National Assembly was done without the knowledge of the alleged beneficiaries. However, the two chairmen of the committees in both chambers have adequate knowledge.

”I never referred to members of the ninth National Assembly as beneficiaries of NDDC contracts as NDDC is yet to fully implement any NDDC budget since the commencement of the ninth National Assembly. In fact, the 2019 budget passed in February and harmonised on 5th of March, 2020 was received by the commission in the middle of April 2020 when the same was designated to expire on May 31, 2020.

”However, it is pertinent to point out that the clerk forwarded a letter dated March 20, without attaching the budget details, this anomaly was brought to the attention of the Senate investigating purported financial recklessness by the management of the commission in July 2020.

”It has always been known that the two chairmen of the committees on NDDC in both chambers exhibit unusual influence to the exclusion of committee members and even the management of the NDDC appropriate funds projects after passing of line items at plenary.

”May I assure Mr. Speaker that as a former minority leader of the 8th Senate of Federal Republic of Nigeria, I shall forever promote the ideals of the National Assembly as an institution hence I will not make the attached documents public since I obtained it from the lead forensic auditors in confidence. Permit me explain that any reference to 50 or 60 per cent during the investigative hearing was in answer to a question by a member of the committee as to whether or not a medical director could act as executive director to projects within the confines of NDDC Act 2000.

”I answered in the affirmative, pointing out that the greatest project in the world today is COVID-19 pandemic, which is medical in nature. Furthermore, I am made to understand that 50 to 60 per cent of NDDC yearly budgets are medical in nature. Therefore, it is fitting for a medical doctor to act as executive director of projects in those trying times.”

Responding, Gbajabiamila said he knew when he asked Akpabio to prove his allegation that there was no way or how that was going to happen because no such thing happens in the National Assembly.

”I’m not passing the so-called misunderstanding to the 9th Assembly but to the whole world; the minister is saying here that he never said what we thought he said. I knew when I made bold that statement, for him to come up with his proof of allegation, that there was no way or how that was going to happen. Because no such thing happens here.

”His letter has confirmed it; he has pointed fingers to the chairman of the committee here in the House and Senate, but in pointing those fingers again, he has said the chairman was not a member of this House at the time and all he said about the chairman is that he asked him to pay people who are owed contracts. Anything here needs to be further examined. I’m glad we’ve put this to rest,” he added.

The speaker referred the letter to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for further consideration.
However, before Gbajabiamila read Akpabio’s letter, the lawmakers had resolved to file a lawsuit against Akpabio for criminal perjury and civil defamation.

Gbajabiamila, at the commencement of plenary, had said the decision to head to court was sequel to the failure of the minister to publish names of members he accused of getting 60 per cent of NDDC contracts.

”This morning, I asked the Clerk of the House of Representatives to engage the services of legal counsel and instruct them to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against the minister. At the same time, we will instruct counsel to explore the possibility of a civil defamation suit against the minister.

”The House of Representatives is a public trust placed in our care for the duration of our term in office. We must prove ourselves worthy of this public trust or risk the censure of history. Therefore, we will resist every attempt to undermine this institution, whether such attempts come from within or from outside. This House will live up to the highest expectations of the Nigerian people. This is our commitment, and we will not fail,” Gbajabiamila had stated.

 

House Probes Police Invasion of Nunieh’s Residence

The House thursday also ordered investigation into the invasion of the residence former acting Managing Director of the IMC of the NDDC, Dr. Joi Nunieh.

The lawmakers ordered the investigation following the adoption of a motion by the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, at the plenary yesterday.

While moving the motion, she said in pursuant to Section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 2 of Legislative House (Powers and Privileges) Act 2017; the sudden invasion of Nunieh’s residence by heavily armed men dressed in police uniform, at the early hours of July 16, amounted to excessive use of force in the circumstance.

Onyejeocha said Nunieh as a trained lawyer with over 30 years of experience in active practice and being the Managing Partner of Nunieh & Nunieh, a law firm, by her status knows the implication of a police invitation that was not served before invading her residence.

The lawmaker expressed worry that the intention of the policemen who invaded Nunieh’s residence should be investigated as they failed to apply international best practices in carrying out their assignment.

Onyejeocha added that the police breached the Police Act, 2018 part 5 Clause 33 on notification of cause of arrest and right of suspect to be informed of the cause or need for arrest through an invitation.

She stated: “It was alleged that the purported arrest was an attempt by the Nigeria Police to sabotage the cause of investigation; this was to prevent her from travelling from Port Harcourt to Abuja to testify before the House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC.

“The House therefore should mandate the House Committee on Police Affairs to investigate the reason for the invasion of Nunieh’s residence.”

 

Senate Demands Dissolution of NDDC IMC

The Senate thursday called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei-led Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC for alleged financial recklessness.

It also recommended that the NDDC should be returned to the Office of the SGF for proper supervision.

The agency, which was formerly supervised by the SGF, is now being oversighted by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs following recent directives by the presidency.

In addition, the Senate called on the IMC to refund the N4.923 billion it paid to staff and contractors in breach of the procurement process and approvals.

These resolutions were taken after the consideration of the report of the Senate Ad hoc Committee on the alleged N40 billion fraud at the commission, presented to the Senate yesterday.

During the debate on the report, senators blamed the alleged corruption in the commission on the failure of the National Assembly to carry out its constitutional responsibility of checking against abuses by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Some senators noted that the committees of the Senate, particularly the one in charge of NDDC, had not done enough to expose corruption in the agency.

The Senate in considering the report of the Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi-led committee, resolved that alleged involvement of some members of the National Assembly in abuse of procurement process in the NDDC should be investigated by its Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee, headed by Senator Patrick Akinyelure. The committee was given a four-week deadline to submit its report.
Adopting the report of the ad hoc committee, the Senate also recommended that the monitoring and advisory bodies recognised by the NDDC Act should be inaugurated without further delay.

The Senate also approved that the N4.923 billion paid to staff and contractors in breach of procurement process and approvals be refunded to the NDDC treasury.

A breakdown of the refunds include N85.7 million for overseas travel to the United Kingdom; N105.5 million for scholarship grants; N164.2 million for union members trip to Italy; N1.96 billion for procurement of Lassa fever kit; N1.12 billion for public communications and N1.49 billion spent on COVID-19 palliatives.

Adetunmbi, while presenting the report, said: “In conclusion, the committee noted that it is difficult to find a correlation between Niger Delta community development and cash invested in the zone.

“Continued cash injection in the Niger Delta has not worked under the various IMCs.

“It may be useful at this juncture for the government to intervene by stepping down the EIMC (Executive Interim Management Committee), thereby helping them leave the stage for a properly constituted board with specific mandate to address the pains of the Niger Delta people.”

In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, stated that the presidency was awaiting the report of the Senate on NDDC.

He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari is waiting for this report and it will receive the attention it deserves. I am hopeful that this report and recommendations will get the attention it deserves.

“The Senate and the National Assembly have been sensitive to the yearnings of the people of the Niger Delta to ensure that special developmental attention is given to the zone.

“But those given the responsibility to mitigate the problems in the zone have squandered the resources. This report has exposed the corruption in the NDDC.”