It was an episode of twists and turns on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday when the House revisited its 48-hour ultimatum to Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, Senator Godswill Akpabio to publish names of lawmakers who benefited from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contracts. The Speaker of the House of
It was an episode of twists and turns on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday when the House revisited its 48-hour ultimatum to Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, Senator Godswill Akpabio to publish names of lawmakers who benefited from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contracts.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila at the commencement of plenary Thursday observed that for not withdrawing his derogatory remarks and having failed to publish the names as requested, the Clerk of the House was mandated to write its lawyers to sue the Minister for perjury; which is swearing to what the witness knows to be untrue, and defamation; which is an attack upon the reputation of another person.
The Speaker on Tuesday during plenary gave the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio, a 48-hour ultimatum to name the lawmakers that he alleged received contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission.
Akpabio, had in his testimony before the Committee probing financial misappropriation in the NDDC on Monday, revealed that over 60 per cent of contracts in the agency go to lawmakers in the National Assembly.
But less than two hours when the House had laid the matter to rest, a letter was received from the Minister responding to the House resolution. The Speaker read the letter to the whole House.
In the letter, Senator Akpabio recanted ever saying that sixty percent of the contracts of NDDC were given to National Assembly members but said that his response to a question on why a medical doctor should be in charge of projects at the NDDC led to his giving information that 60 percent of NDDC contracts are medical in view of the COVID-19 pandemic which may have been misconstrued by the Committee members.
He, nevertheless said that the Chairmen of the NDDC committees in the two chambers recently wrote to the IMC demanding that previous debts for contracts already executed amounting to over N800 billion be paid.
The Speaker, who did not allow a debate of the letter from the Minister did not allow any debate on it but referred it to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for deliberation and advice.
The NDDC had been embroiled in a multitude of allegations of corruption, prompting President Buhari to dissolve its board, set up an Interim Management Committee and ordering a forensic audit of its accounts and activities since year 2001.
These moves have triggered a cocktail of reactions from different stakeholders in the Niger Delta. The bubble was however busted when the immediate past Managing Director of the Commission Mrs Joy Nunieh made certain allegations against the Minister for Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio and members of the Interim Management Committee.
She alleged: “In some cases contracts were pre-awarded before the designs were given so you find out that most of the projects were abandoned”. According to Joy Nunieh, “there was no ongoing forensic audit of the Commission.
“The issue is that everyone in Nigeria has been deceived that the forensic audit is going on. I want to say here that if Nigerians find out that the forensic audit is going on every testimony and allegations that I have made should be canceled and disregarded, there’s no forensic audit going on”.
Are they saying there’s no auditing firm in Nigeria that’s of big repute. The nine companies on that list, none of our major auditing companies in Nigeria is on that list. Secondly can I say that the forensic auditors have been procured, my answer is no.
The President had written a letter to the National Assembly ordering the forensic audit and suspending the appointment of the substantive board. In that letter, the President said that he was appointing the Interim Management Committee (IMC) to supervise the forensic audit, that was the reason he was bringing in the IMC, but what I met wasn’t exactly what was going on. “The Minister, Akpabio insisted that he will supervise the forensic audit, I reminded him and showed him a letter that the President had written, there’s no way that we can spend the money that’s in our budget”.
The ex NDDC Boss was to testify before the Committee last Friday, but could not because of efforts by the Police arrest her in Port Harcourt. Answering questions from the Committee, the NDDC Boss said she spent only N8 billion throughout her tenure, from October 29 to February 17th. Nunieh revealed that with the instruction of Akpabio, some contracts were awarded by the Commission to unregistered companies, some of which got registered after they were awarded the contract.
The IMC and the Minister of Niger Delta have in return hit back at members of the National Assembly alleging that they are the major beneficiaries of contract award from the NDDC. Apart from the direct confrontation from the Minister during his appearance before the committee, the NNDC IMC has also surreptitiously released information of corrupt actions allegedly perpetrated by some members of the National Assembly.
In one of such reports, the chairman of the House Committee was alleged to have brought out emergency training programme for N6.4 billion claiming that the job belongs to the Speaker and urging the Interim Managing Committee to pay a substantial part of it.
Another allegation is that a company called Candour said to be owed by a serving Senator was said to have collected a certain statutory payments from LNG whereby it collected $28 billion but remitted the money at an exchange rate of N225 to one dollar when the official rate at the CBN was N360 to one dollar thereby benefitting a whooping N3.7 billion aside its 20 percent commission as a collection agent.
Another consulting firm allegedly contracted to collect money from International Oil Companies was being paid N1 billion monthly. In 2019, it is alleged that the NDDC in just seven months awarded a total of 1921 emergency contracts valued at N1.07 trillion as against its annual budget of N400 billion for the year.
It is also alleged that whereas N2 billion was budgeted for desilting in the year, the sum of N37 billion was spent by the NDDC for the same purpose. The IMC has also alleged that members of the National Assembly have the management under pressure to pay for 132 jobs which have no proof of execution amounting to N6.4 billion.
It is uncertain where the twists and turns will end as the House of Representatives appears to be determined to bring the probe to a logical conclusion. Whether the tit-for-tat would continue when the committee reconvenes or there would have been a give and take rapport behind the scene is yet to be seen.
Many Nigerians are, however, in agreement that the Augean stable of corruption should be cleaned out and the NDDC put on a right pedestal that will engender real development in the region.