The faceoff between the Senate and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, over the fate of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) got messier yesterday as both parties traded allegations of fraudulent practices in the agency. Also, the two parties traded blame on the delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board which was confirmed by the Senate last month.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on NDDC, Peter Nwaoboshi, in a response to an allegation of being placed on a monthly consultancy pay of N1 billion by the commission, allegedly made by the Interim Management Committee (IMC), challenged the agency to publish the facts, if any, to substantiate the accusation.
Nwaoboshi, who addressed reporters through his Special Adviser on Legislative Matters, Luka Igbonoba, in Abuja yesterday, accused Akpabio of frustrating the inauguration of the new NDDC board already confirmed by the upper chamber by President Muhammadu Buhari. He asked the minister to explain to Nigerians how the $91million and N6billion that were in the agency’s coffers as at the time it was brought under the supervision of his ministry were utilized.
The Acting Managing Director of NDDC, Dr. Gbene Joi Nunieh, had said that the commission had suspended the monthly payment of N1billion to a consultant that was collecting money from the International Oil Companies (IOCs) on its behalf.
“We have a consulting firm engaged as a collection agent. We have another company that also collects three per cent whenever money is paid by the IOCs,” Nunieh told reporters in an interview.
However, Igbonoba asked the IMC to publish the facts, if there were any such consultancy arrangements as well as the details of the company involved.
“If they have the facts and records to back their claims that Nwaoboshi or a company linked to him is being paid N1billion consultancy fee every month by the NDDC, let them avail the public with the records. What are you hiding? Let’s know who the consultant is or who owns the company. I can tell you that everything they are doing is about protection of self-interest. Everything Akpabio cannot get, he tries to destroy,” Igbonoba said.
He also described a claim by members of the IMC that 1000 contracts were awarded to a senator by the NDDC as a pure lie. “How many contracts does the NDDC award in a year that they will give 1000 contracts to one senator?” Igbonoba queried. He said the failure of the Senate Committee on NDDC to accede to Akpabio’s overtures not to confirm the NDDC board nominees resulted in the ongoing campaign of calumny against Nwaoboshi by members of the IMC.
“The IMC wanted to perpetuate themselves in power. They lobbied the committee and its chairman as well as the Senate that the new board members should not be screened. But they refused. The truth is that if this country must survive, we must adhere to international best practices and the rule of law in the way we do things. This is the reason for the campaign of calumny against Senator Nwaoboshi. They are now accusing him wildly of things unfathomable,” he said.
He said that the claim that the agency did not have budgets for 2017 and 2018 were spurious because records existed to show that the commission had approved budgets for the two years. Igbonoba, who described the transfer of the NDDC from the presidency to be an agency under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs as illegal, said: “The annual budget for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is just about N23billion, but Akpabio is looking for an elephant and he felt that that elephant lives in NDDC.” He, however, said that the leadership of the Senate was interfacing with the executive to resolve the matter.
But according to Akpabio, as the minister, he only supervises NDDC, and that he neither runs the commission nor awards any contract. A statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the minister, Aniete Ekong, on Monday clarified: “It is President Buhari who approved the setting up of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC to supervise the forensic audit of the commission so that the incoming board will begin on a clean slate.
“The exposition of phantom contracts and consultancies which have shortchanged the people of the Niger Delta justifies the forensic audit of the commission. Those who have engaged in the wanton looting of NDDC over the years are the ones sponsoring smear campaigns and wild allegations against Akpabio because of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari.
“They are scared that the forensic audit would expose those who have collected multiple contracts from NDDC, collected full payment without moving to the site of the job. But the forensic audit is not about Senator Akpabio. It is about the resolve of the president to get things right and fast-track the development of the Niger Delta region. So it cannot be business as usual.”
On the delay in the inauguration of the NDDC board, the minister explained: “There are many issues with the composition of the board which are being looked into. For instance, the NDDC Act clearly stipulates that the office of the chairman of the board will rotate among the states in an alphabetical order. Consequently, after Cross River had produced the last chairman in the person of Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Delta State should produce the next chairman, otherwise it will be a breach of the Act.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of Niger Delta activists have described the campaign to invalidate the board of the NDDC and sack the Senate Committee on Niger Delta as a calculated attempt to perpetuate illegality at the commission. The coalition made the comment in a reaction to a protest by some people at the National Assembly and the Federal Secretariat, Abuja at the weekend. The convener of the coalition, Ebi Torofaowei, in a statement yesterday, condemned what he termed a sham protest.
“The organised protest by the motley crowd did not mask its real intent and sponsors when it asked that the illegal interim management committee set up by the Niger Delta minister be allowed to stay in office while the board duly presented by the president and confirmed by the Senate should be dissolved. It is clear that their real intent is to procure the continuation of the illegality at the NDDC. It is a strange argument for illegality at the expense of the law and due process. The sponsored group is clearly working at the behest of people who are threatened that the Senate resolution vowing to have nothing to do with the IMC will bring down their house of cards.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we support the Senate resolution that the IMC should not defend the NDDC 2019/2020 budget since there is a board in place. We urge the president to direct the inauguration of the board to end these acts of desperation by the illegal interim management committee,” he said.