- Asks President To Match His Words With Action
Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently take decisive action on revelations of looting-spree at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and fire members of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Commission, warning that any delay in taking the decision is dangerous for probity.
The coalition also asked Buhari to sack the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio and restore normalcy to the NDDC.
In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Comrade Godknows Sotonye, the Coalition said by delaying action, the president is emboldening Akpabio and the Kemebradikumo Pondei-led IMC to continue the pillage of the NDDC.
The call and more revelations by the Coalition come as the Senate is set to commence a fresh probe into new allegations of fraud brought against the IMC members this week.
The New Diplomat reports Senator Ayo Akinyelure, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions confirmed receiving fresh petition from whistleblowers, revealing more graft at the Commission.
The fresh allegations did not form part of the N40bn scam recently investigated by the Senate.
The group wrote: “President Muhammadu Buhari’s admission of wrongdoing by the Interim Management Committee at the Niger Delta Development Commission should be backed with action. When he was asked what he thought of the ongoing revelations of corruption at the EFCC and NDDC, the president said that some of his appointees have abused trust by misusing their offices for their self-aggrandisement. While heartwarming, the president’s acknowledgement does not address the ongoing corruption at the Commission. By delaying action, the president emboldens the Niger Delta Minister, Chief Godswill Akpabio, and the IMC to continue the pillage of the NDDC.
“For instance, despite the National Assembly report on the misuse of N81.5 billion in just a few months, Akpabio and the IMC are not letting up in their financial recklessness, as whistleblowers have discovered fresh fraudulent and self-serving payments that have been made by the IMC.
“The Acting MD Prof Keme Pondei and his IMC colleagues should not remain in office a day longer. We cannot afford delayed action by the president, which gives these officials that have abused public trust such as Akpabio and the IMC more time to commit further infractions, when there are already established cases of fraud, corruption, self enrichment, financial recklessness, abuse of due process and mismanagement against them.
“It is horrendous that breaches of the law will be happening at the highest levels of government! The government of the day cannot act like it is okay for a member of the cabinet to lead the FEC to commit criminal breaches of the law. President Buhari must therefore take decisive steps to restore the credibility of his government. A mere public admission by President Buhari that his appointees abused their offices is lame where there are indictments of stealing and financial recklessness running into several billions of naira against these officials.”
The coalition said the Senate’s probe report submitted to the President has established funds mismanagement at the Commission, urging the President to match his words with action.
The President had on Friday condemned top officials of the NDDC for abusing trust in the discharge of their duties, saying investigations would run their course.
“The president should match his words with action and visit the 116-page report and resolutions of the Senate on the financial recklessness of the NDDC IMC, which was adopted unanimously. The report details the humongous scam that has been going on at the NDDC, and presents a clear pathway forward for the Commission.
“Nigerians, indeed, were not surprised that the Committee made far-reaching recommendations, which were adopted by the Senate at plenary on Thursday July 23.
“Among others, the Senate resolved: that the IMC be disbanded and made to refund the sum of N4.923 billion; that the substantive Governing Board of the NDDC be sworn in to manage the Commission in line with the provisions of the Law; that the NDDC be moved back to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in the Presidency for proper supervision; that the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation supervise the forensic audit to “guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise,” and that “the President with advice from the Auditor General should appoint a renowned, internationally-recognised forensic auditor to carry out the exercise.”
“Even from the Committee’s public hearing where the Acting MD Prof Keme Pondei and Acting Executive Director Projects Dr. Cairo Ojugboh admitted, in the full glare of Nigerians and the international community who watched the proceedings on television, to paying themselves billions of naira as Covid-19 pandemic bonuses despite their receiving their normal salaries and emoluments; to the unveiling of breaches of the nation’s procurement laws by Akpabio and the IMC; the facts that informed the Senate resolutions were clear for everyone to see.
“The investigation of the Senate Committee and its House of Representatives counterpart exposed the financial recklessness in NDDC, and also confirms our position all along that IMC has no integrity.
“We were not surprised at the revelations from the public hearing and the conclusion reached by the Senate Committee, which confirmed our initial fears, knowing his antecedents, that Akpabio’s motive in pushing for the IMC to run the NDDC was to have unfettered access to the NDDC accounts to authorise questionable payments for contracts and expenditures, one he cannot get away with easily with a Governing Board in place.
“The NDDC account statement from the CBN has shown clearly, since facts don’t lie, that IMC has turned the NDDC into their personal farm where they sign off billions of naira under dubious headings.
“So far, the National Assembly reports and resolution have laid out fraudulent and questionable payments of N81.5 billion by the IMC under the supervision of Akpabio. This is a clear looting of the resources of the NDDC. Among other expenditures made in the last eight months, as gleaned from the NDDC account statements are: N1.12 billion for publicity, N1.3 billion for Community relations, and N475 million, which the IMC said was used to buy hand sanitizer and face masks for the police. In his testimony, the Acting Managing Director Prof. Daniel Keme Pondei said the IMC paid themselves and staff a Covid-19 ‘palliative allowance’ of N1.5 billion despite receiving their normal salaries and allowances! In addition Pondei takes home N51 million monthly as allowances, while Ojougboh takes home an additional N18 million monthly as allowances.
“An idea of the prevailing mindset of financial recklessness and the fraudulent disposition of the Akpabio IMC is encapsulated in Pondei’s testimony, at the Public Hearing, on the application of N3.1 billion under the heading ‘Covid-19 Funds’ expended in the last few months where he said: “We used it to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves.” When he was asked by a member of the committee if the reckless and criminal ‘Covid-19 Bonus’ was in addition to their salaries, he answered: “Yes sir.” Pondei awarded himself N10 million, the two Acting Executive Directors got N7 million each and other members of the IMC received N5 million each as Covid-19 Bonus in the sharing bazaar. What manner of management turns a situation as grave as a global disease pandemic, where the local people are impoverished, into an opportunity to steal scarce resources?
“Meanwhile, between February, when the expanded IMC under the leadership of Pondei was appointed, and May, the IMC members paid themselves N302 million as Tour Duty Allowances, at a time much of the country, including the NDDC office, was locked down on account of the Covid-19 pandemic!
“As is evident to all, Akpabio and his IMC have lost the moral right to preside over the affairs of the NDDC! The authentic voices of the Niger Delta are very clear in our demands, which are:
“The IMC is illegal. There is no provision for it in the law establishing the NDDC. The IMC must be disbanded immediately because, as an illegal contraption, it serves no functional purpose in the administration of the NDDC. Rather, it has been exposed as a conduit for stealing the lean resources of the NDDC. The NDDC Governing Board, which is provided for in line with the law, should be put in place immediately to run the affairs of the Commission.
“The forensic audit has to be done by a reputable independent auditor, creditably and independently, just as the NNPC audit was done by Price Waterhouse a few years back while the legitimate Board and management was still in place. The board and management of the NNPC were not set aside for an IMC in order to do the audit.
“Finally, we call on President Buhari to put a stop to the ongoing corruption at the NDDC by disbanding the IMC and inaugurating the Governing Board to restore probity at the Commission. We also agree with the recommendation that the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation should supervise the forensic audit to “guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise,” and that “the President with advice from the Auditor General should appoint a renowned, internationally-recognised forensic auditor to carry out the exercise,” the coalition wrote.