Amidst N20B Scandal, Stakeholders Intensify Demand for NDDC Board Inauguration

Amidst N20B Scandal, Stakeholders Intensify Demand for NDDC Board Inauguration

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that a new chapter was recently opened in the unending scandals involving the illegal Sole Administrator contraption at the Niger Delta Development Commission, as agitations by stakeholders for the inauguration of a substantive board, in compliance with the law, gains momentum

In a scathing editorial titled ‘NDDC and the Anti-Graft Hoax’ published on Wednesday, February 23, 2022, THISDAY categorically stated that the “disrepute into which the commission (NDDC) has fallen in the last seven years is a sad commentary on the avowed commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari to fight corruption as a cardinal undertaking. Investigations into successive NDDC administrations as encapsulated in the recent presidential forensic audit have remained unattended to. Despite the agitations of critical stakeholders, the commission remains without a substantive board. The Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio prefers to treat affairs of the NDDC more like a private estate by saddling the commission with cronies.”

The media has been awash in the past two weeks with another round of scandal involving the illegal Sole Administrator contraption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). According to a national daily, other national newspapers, and many online platforms, in a story entitled “NDDC: IYC Alleges Illegal N20bn Payment to Ghost Contractors Over Phantom Job,” published on February 18, 2022, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) alleged that illegal N20bn payment was made to ghost contractors over phantom jobs.

In the reports, IYC alleged that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, “in connivance with some persons, paid the sum of N20 billion to ghost contractors for phony distilling contracts purportedly awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).”

The council further alleged that “information at its disposal showed that the signatures of a former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Nelson Brambaifa, and the commission’s former executive director (projects), Samuel Ajogbe, were allegedly forged to carry out the sleazy process.”

A spokesman for the IYC, Ebilade Ekerefe, who spoke in Yenagoa alleged that the “phantom NDDC contractors were paid in tranches of between N300 million and N400 million in the last three months, amounting to N20 billion.”

He urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to launch an investigation into the alleged huge payment to the ghost contractors.

He said, “They should investigate the financial transaction of the commission in the months under review. We have also discovered that out of the N20billion paid out illegally by the NDDC, 60 per cent is going to Abuja through the Bureau de Change while he (Akpabio) has failed to pay the genuine contractors that have finished the projects awarded by the commission. He even hired thugs to chase away protesting contractors.”

It took the Sole Administrator of NDDC, Effiong Akwa nearly one week to respond to this grievous allegation. In a statement signed by the Director of Corporate Affairs, Dr. Ibitoye Abosede, as reported in newspapers on February 21, 2022, it stated that “The attention of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), has been drawn to a spurious publication on some dailies and online news channels by some Ijaw Youth Group, alleging that the NDDC has paid the sum of N20 billion to ghost contractors by their spokesperson one Ebilade Ekerefe in Yanagoa Bayelsa State. The NDDC, wants to state categorically that it did not pay any N20 billion to any ghost contractor or any one for that matter as demonically alleged by the group. The said sponsored group who claim to be Ijaw Youth further call for the probe of monies that were never spent by the Commission is not only laughable but most unfortunate.”

However, in a riposte on February 24, 2022, “IYC insists on probe of alleged NDDC N20bn contract scam,” signed by its spokesperson, Ebilade Ekerefe, and published in an online platform, the leadership of Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, stood by its allegation that N20bn payment was made to ghost contractors over phantom jobs and insists on an independent investigation into its allegations that the NDDC paid N20bn to ghost contractors for fictitious contracts.

The IYC described as watery the NDDC’s reaction to its allegation that the commission under the supervision of the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Senator Godswill Akpabio made the payment using forged signatures of a former acting Managing Director of NDDC, Prof. Brambaifa and a former Executive Director, Project, Samuel Ajogbe.

The IYC in a statement signed and sent to media houses by its Spokesperson, Ebilade Ekerefe, said the probe should also include its allegations that 60 per cent of the N20bn paid out illegally by the NDDC was moved to Abuja through the bureau de change.

Ekerefe said the financial sleaze currently rocking the NDDC was of “monumental proportion surpassing similar underhand dealings that led to the initiation of the forensic audit of the commission.”

This is not the first time that critical stakeholders are levelling grievous allegations against the illegal interim management/sole administrator contraptions administering the huge funds accruing to NDDC.

Only last December, The Association of Contractors of the Niger Delta Development Commission (ACNDDC) picketed the NDDC Head Office in Port Harcourt. In a report in THISDAYon December 8, 2021, entitled “NDDC Contractors Decry Mismanagement, Demand Board Inauguration,” the Chairman of ACNDDC, Joe Adia stated that “we hear money comes in, the next thing we hear the money is finished. Who are you paying? Give us a record of the people you are paying. How can you pay N800 million each and above for desilting yet contractors’ ticket of N5 million you can’t even pay? We cannot die for the jobs we have done for the region. We are saying, you pay us now.”

ACNDDC Chairman further stated that “the Minister of Niger Delta affairs is the one that okays everything that must be paid here (NDDC). We contractors are dying. You said you are paying contractors. I am the chairman of contractors association of NDDC, (pointing to others) this is the president, and these are critical stakeholders, contractors that have jobs, do you know how many jobs these people have? Look at a woman here, she has a project, she lost her mother, she cannot even bury her, or are we talking of contractors that died in the hospitals.”

Also in a piece, “NDDC: Buhari’s Legacy of Illegality and Contempt’ published in THISDAY on December 17, 2021, and other national newspapers, Godspower Tamunosusi wrote that “under the illegal interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, the combined two-year budget for 2019 and 2020, as approved by the National Assembly was N799 Billion. Yet, as pointed out by Professor Benjamin Okaba, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), under the interim management/sole administrator contraptions, “over N600bn payments have been made for emergency contracts; over 1,000 persons have been allegedly employed in the NDDC between January and July, 2020 without due process; the 2020 budget was passed in December and N400bn was voted for the NDDC but the commission had spent over N190bn before the budget was passed, thereby violating the Procurement Act.”

Tamunosusi also stated that “it is also important to recall the Senate probe of NDDC in June/July of 2020 which revealed how the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) blew N81.5 billion in just a couple of months on fictitious contracts, frivolities, and in breach of extant financial and public procurement laws. The Senate therefore passed a resolution recommending that the IMC should refund the sum of N4.923 Billion to the Federation Account, and that the IMC should be disbanded, while the substantive board should be inaugurated to manage the Commission in accordance with the law.”

Amidst these unending and scandalous allegations, stakeholders across the length and breadth of the entire Niger Delta region have intensified their legitimate demands for the inauguration of NDDC’s substantive board to administer the Commission in accordance with the law establishing the Commission, the NDDC Act, guarantee equitable representation of the nine constituent states, and for President Buhari to finally fulfil his own promise of June 24, 2021 to inaugurate the NDDC Board upon receipt of the Commission’s forensic audit report, which report he received more than six months ago on September 2, 2021 from Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio.

As reported another national newspaper on February 9, 2022, under the headline “NDDC: Protest Rocks Edo as Group Demands Inauguration of Screened Board Members,” vehicular and human activities were disrupted along the busy Murtala Muhammed Way in Benin when hundreds of youths protested and demanded the inauguration of NDDC board.

The protesters under the auspices of Concerned Edo Citizens in conjunction with Coalition of Edo Volunteers Groups carried placards of various inscriptions accusing the Minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio of personalizing the Commission, alleging that all those calling the shots in the intervention agency (The Minister and the Sole Administrator) are from Akwa Ibom State

In a statement jointly signed by Barr. Eni Balulu, Comrade Eshiefaotsa Sylanus and Comrade Kola Edokpayi, the group demanded, “the inauguration of the substantive Board of NDDC as screened and confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, since November 2019.”

Also as reported by The Nation newspaper on February 1, 2022 under the headline “Niger Delta women threaten to name, shame persons diverting NDDC funds,” the Wailing Women of the Niger Delta (WWND) decried the alleged “ongoing embezzlement of funds allocated to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) under the illegal sole administrator under the current Minister for Niger Delta Affairs. This is with a view to demand accountability.” According to the Coordinator of WWND Odighonin Adienbo, “What have the funds coming to the NDDC been used for since the illegal appointment of a sole administrator in sheer defiance of the NDDC Act without a proper board? More so as contractors are not being paid and no projects are embarked upon under the guise of forensic audit report. The current situation in the region can only be likened to a crime against humanity and we will not accept it.”

In a similar vein, in a report on February 5, 2022, published by a popular online platform, under the headline “Niger Delta Group Vows To Mobilize Youths For Protest Over NDDC Board,” a group, Project Niger Delta, has vowed to mobilize youths across the region to protest the continued delay in the inauguration of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The group made this known in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and signed by its Executive Director and Coordinator, Comrade Princewill Ebebi urging President Buhari to “set up modalities to inaugurate the NDDC board.”

According to Project Niger Delta, “as its stands, it is only Akwa Ibom State where the minister and interim administrator hail from that is benefiting from the NDDC while other states are mere spectators in the affairs of the commission. It is regrettable that a major institution established by law to tackle the development challenges of the Niger Delta region has been rendered redundant with the continued delay in the inauguration of a substantive board as stipulated in the Act setting up the commission. It is sad that since you came on board, the management and running of the commission has been vested in the hands of acting managing director, interim administrator, and now sole administrator, in flagrant disregard of the Act setting up the commission and therefore denying the component states the opportunity to have representatives in the board. This has not only dragged the region backwards but is causing serious unrest, agitations, and indignation amongst the people of the Niger Delta Region.”

Also as reported in a national newspaper on February 10, 2022, NDDC indigenous contractors embarked on a three-day protest and followed it up with an ultimatum given to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio and the NDDC Sole Administrator to pay off the debts owed them, and also demanding that President Buhari inaugurate the Commission’s substantive board.

Unsurprisingly therefore, in a scathing statement by activists under the auspices of 21st Century Youths of Niger-Delta and Agitators for Conscience, (21st CYNDAC) “What is happening in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) presently is worse than what gave birth to Mr. President’s calling for a forensic audit of the NDDC,” as reported by newspapers on February 6, 2022, under the caption, “NDDC Messier than Before Forensic Audit.”

According to the newspaper report, The group, in a statement, by its spokesperson, Izon Ebi, therefore called on the leadership of the National Assembly, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to do the needful by “advising Mr. President to immediately inaugurate the substantive board of NDDC, so as not to be seen as the persons conspiring with the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to plunge Niger Delta region into fresh crisis capable of eroding the gains of the present peace being enjoyed by Niger-Deltans and oil multinationals.”

The THISDAY editorial, ‘NDDC and the Anti-Graft Hoax’ published on Wednesday, February 23, 2022, therefore warns that “the Nigerian public cannot look away while humongous amounts of money disappear into the sinkhole of private greed and corporate insensitivity and irresponsibility. Something needs to give.”

The THISDAY editorial therefore, points the way forward to restore NDDC to the path of compliance with the law, proper corporate governance, accountability, probity, and equity. “First, the full details of findings by the forensic audit need to be made public quickly. There is also an urgent need to rescue the NDDC from the present suffocating vice grip of Akpabio by inaugurating the board in line with the statutes establishing the commission. That should be the starting point of any attempt to redress the wrongs at the commission.”

As reported in THISDAY on February 16, 2022, under the headline, “Group Urges Buhari to Hearken to Stakeholders, Inaugurate NDDC Board,” The Niger Delta Peoples’ Forum affirmed that it “aligns with the demands of all authentic Niger Delta stakeholders that President Buhari should end the ongoing illegal Interim Management/Sole Administratorship at the NDDC and inaugurate the NDDC Governing Board in line with the NDDC Act to represent the nine constituent states, and thereby ensure proper corporate governance, accountability, transparency, and probity in managing the Commission.”

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