*Akpabio: It’s Sheer Campaign of Calumny Against Me As I paid duly Verified Contracts
*Niger Delta Actvists: Can Akpabio Explain How Rodnab Got Paid N16bn, reportedly misleading the NDDC?
By Hamilton Nwosa(Head, The New Diplomat’s Business and Data tracking desk)
As the controversy over the alleged inappropriate expenditure of N40bn by the Interim Management of the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) gets messy, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio and some Niger Delta Activists have engaged themselves in war of words.
The altercation between Chief Akpabio and the Niger Delta Activists under the auspices of the Niger Delta Transparency and Accountability Watchdog(NDTAW) was allegedly triggered by the crisis which appears to have engulfed the NDDC’s IMC over reported inappropriate payments and award of contracts valued at about N40bn.
The Minster in a statement yesterday said he has never awarded new contracts at the NDDC since his assumption of office, stressing that he is being attacked as part of a campaign of calumny against him. Akpabio who exonerated himself from any underhand dealings, in a statement issued by his Press Secretary, Aniete Ekong named the NDDC’s IMC as the approving authority for N18bn designated payments.
He said: “In response to the campaign of calumny, the Commission had explained that the Interim Management Committee has only approved the total payment of Eighteen Billion Naira (N18, 000,000, 000) for contractual claims. The payments to contractors are all payments for contracts awarded by previous administrations, especially the payment for contracts below N50 million. The present management has not awarded any single contract. So where is the bogey N40 billion coming from?”
But in a swift response, some Niger Delta Activists who said they came together under the auspices of the Niger Delta Transparency and Accountability Watchdog(NDTAW) in a statement signed by its coordinator, Comrade Tombia Perekuma accused the Minister of being insincere , challenging him to explain to Nigerians “ who is Rodnab Construction fronting for and how he was paid N16bn illicitly thereby allegedly swindling the NDDC of such huge sums when the company has allegedly done only five% of the contract threshold.”
The NDTAW added: ““ We note that when Akpabio came into Office as Minister, he quickly visited the NDDC building, after which Rodnab, his alleged surrogate firm was paid N2.6bn in addition to another N1bn with a promise to complete the job in March. But before Akpabio came in, the erstwhile MD had paid Rodnab N10 BN. So far, under Akpabio, Rodnab has collected a total of N6BN and this brings the total sum to N16BN which was paid to Messrs Rodnab by the former MD who needed Akpabio’s support in Akwa Ibom to contest for the governorship of the State at that time….So why pay for a project that the Auditor-general of the Federation has queried that it’s an inappropriate payment? Akpabio must come clean on Rodnab deals and other illicit payments, which amount to like fleecing the resources of the impoverished peoples of the Niger Delta region… Can Akapbio deny he didn’t approve payment for Rodnab N3BN in March? Can Akpabio deny that he is not aware that the records show that Rodnab contract was queried by the AGF as infraction?”
However, in his detailed statement, Akpabio again restates his innocence, saying he is being maligned. According to the Minister since he came on board, he has designed a workable strategy of verifying projects and contracts with photos and videos before such contracts are recommended for approval for payment.
He explained: “It is instructive that the Commission under the supervision of Senator Akpabio has devised a strategy by which only duly verified and inspected contracts with photo and video evidences are recommended and approved for payments. The Interim Management Committee has been very prudent in managing the affairs of the interventionist agency… The interest of Senator Akpabio has been to make sure that the NDDC completes its headquarters building started since the days of the defunct Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) the contract of which was awarded with approval of the Federal Executive Council many years before Senator Akpabio became the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Following the recent Presidential approval, the NDDC is also providing intervention support to complement efforts of the Federal and State governments against further spread of COVID 19 in the nine states of the Niger Delta.”
Akpabio further noted that there is no corruption in NDDC under his watch, alleging that the allegations against him have correlation with the on-going forensic audit at the NDDC. “It is obvious that there have been an upsurge in attacks on the Commission, the Interim Management Committee and the Honourable Minister through spurious and unsubstantiated allegations since the commencement of forensic audit of the Commission. Unfortunately, these phantom allegations have found their ways into the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly,” he added.
Again, NDTAW’s Tombia Perekuma says he has some knotty posers for Akpabio to help establish that the Minister is not what he claims he is. He came up with the following posers: “ Can Akpabio tell the world why he paid a contractor about N6bn that is Rodnab that is allegedly being used to defraud the NDDC with subsisting queries raised against the curious payments by the AGF? Is Akpabio not aware that he gave his words that Rodnab would complete the project by March and today we are in May? Who pressurized the former MD to jettison the recommendation of the NDDC directors that reputable firms like Julius Berger be brought to complete the Office building of the NDDC and proceeded inappropriately to bring on board Rodnab and NDDC had to squander about N500m to pay off Marshland Ltd for doing nothing ? Just for fear that Messrs would go to court to challenge the illegality of bringing in Rodnab when he himself has completed the job to 65% threshold? And as at today, directors at NDDC all certify that the job is just 70% completed which means with N16bn paid to Rodnab, he has done only 5% as addition to the 65% that Marshland did before he was inappropriately paid off… This is Niger Delta money. By tomorrow with the oil going down, what do we tell our children and grand children when they grow up to see the squalor and poverty in region? We as NGO are also going to the Senate and the House of Representatives to tell them our own accounts because history has to record us that there was NDTAW that stood on the side of the impoverished peoples of the Niger Delta when a Minister who was their own son was allegedly part of the racketeering gang… ”
In his own response to the plethora of allegations, Akpabio said he is upbeat that the National Assembly would come to terms with the truth and reality about the actual situation in NDDC, noting that he has no skeleton in his cupboard. He quipped: “In fact, he will welcome a public hearing beamed live for all Nigerians to see. The probe of the Commission along with the ongoing forensic audit will expose those who have used their exalted positions over the years to fleece the NDDC through fully paid contracts which were never executed and other forms of contact racketeering. While we await the probe if carried through, we find it extremely insulting for Senator Akpabio’s name to be dragged into what is obviously a smear campaign.”
But Perekumo reiterates his earlier statement that there are cases of massive corruption on-going at the NDDC.“A N4.8 billion contract was also awarded to Akpabio’s linked companies, Osmoserve Global Limited for unspecified medical supplies on April 6 and an upfront payment of 55 percent was effected. ..“Also, another company belonging to Akpabio’s allies, Signoria Concept Services Limited was awarded contract following similar practices. The letter to the company dated April 6, 2020, read ‘Award of Contract for the Emergency Procurement of Specialized Medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Health Workers and Provision of Community Based Sensitization Campaign Against the Spread of Covid-19 and other Communicable Diseases in the Nine States of the Niger Delta Region’ and signed by Head, Procurement Unit on the instruction of the IMC. Akpabio and the IMC later suspended payment on that contract following disagreements over sharing formula and when it was leaked to the public…sending the best trained and experienced staff to mandatory leave and retirement under the guise of forensic audit.”
However, notwithstanding NDTAW’s revelations, Akpabio says they are all tissues of lies. According to the Minister the general public should ignore these claims as they are spurious. He said in his statement; “The general public should not be misled by spurious claims. The NDDC under the supervision of Senator Akpabio will not be distracted neither will the ongoing forensic audit of the Commission be derailed through blackmail and intimidation.”