Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin, Yenagoa, Uyo, Umuahia, Akure, Calabar — The Senate and the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) engaged in a verbal war yesterday with the former accusing the latter of sharing N3.14 billion to staff and the police as COVID-19 relief package.
The upper chamber is probing allegations of misappropriation of N40 billion by the IMC of the commission.
At the commencement of public hearing in Abuja, the Chairman of the Senate Ad hoc Committee on Investigation of Alleged Financial Recklessness in the NDDC, Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi, gave the breakdown of how N3.14billion was shared.
"From the financial statements or documents forwarded to this committee from your office (IMC) as regards expenditure carried out between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020, monies expended on COVID-19 pandemic relief are mind-boggling.
"Out of the total expenditure of N81.495 billion spent by both the IMC led by Mrs Gbene Nunieh as Managing Director between October 29, 2019 and February 18, 2020, and the current IMC led by Professor Pondei between February 19, 2020 and May 31, 2020, N3.14billiion was spent on COVID-19 pandemic as relief funds.
"Highly disturbing is the fact that based on the records of payment of such funds, a whopping N10 million was given to a single staff while two other staffers collected N7 million each.
"Other payments as reliefs against the pandemic are N3 million given to each of 148 other staffers, N1.5 million each to 157 other categories of staffers, N1 million each to 497 others and N600,000.00 each to the last category of 464 other staffers.
"Also included in the COVID-19 pandemic relief largesse, as clearly stated in your submitted financial documents, is N475 million given to the police high command for purchase of face masks and hand sanitisers for men and officers across the nine states in the Niger Delta Region," the committee chairman said.
According to him, the IMC I chaired by Mrs. Gbene Joi Nunieh between October 2019 to February 18, 2020, spent a total of N22.5 billion out of the N81.5 billion.
He added that IMC II chaired by Professor Daniel Pondei, between February 19, 2020 and May 31st 2020, spent the sum of N59.1 billion.
Among others, the Senate ad hoc committee said community relations at the NDDC gulped N1.3 billion; condolences, N122 million; consultancy, N83.8 million; COVID-19 intervention, N3.14 billion; Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) N486 million; Imprest N790.9 million; Lassa fever, N1.956 billion; legal fees, N906 million; logistics, N61 million, maintenance; N61 million and medicals, N2.6 billion.
'Our agency hijacked by legislators for self-help'
But in his submission at the hearing, the NDDC's acting Deputy Director, Projects, Cairo Ojougboh, said the allegation that the IMC had misapplied the sum of N40 billion since inception was unfounded.
He said the IMC had not initiated any new projects that formed the basis of any payments other than the Emergency Intervention on COVID-19 that was ordered and approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The IMC, he said, inherited a debt profile of about N3 trillion out of which the sum of N156, 986,545,802.68 had been processed and ready for payment by previous management.
He said "the budgets of the commission have always been hijacked by the leadership of the committee on NDCC from both chambers for their personal gain."
According to him, "The budget(s) of the NNDC from 2001 till date have always been hijacked by the two chairmen of the committee; the chairman in the House and the chairman in the Senate.
"Not one kobo has been misused since the coming of the IMC. We want to beg the National Assembly that they should allow the people of the Niger Delta to grow. Since the inauguration of the IMC, we have not known peace. It has been one false allegation after another," Ojougboh said as members of the committee looked in disbelief.
Also responding, the commission's Acting Managing Director, Kemebradikumo Pondei, justified the N1.5 billion they shared, saying it was distributed to staff as COVID-19 relief fund to ease the effect of the pandemic.
"We have to take care of the staff who are also the representatives of the people from the nine states of the Niger Delta region," he said.
On the N475 million given to the police to buy face masks and hand sanitisers, he said the commission received the request from the police high command and the management approved it.
"We work closely with the security agencies... Without them, we can't survive.
"A request was made from the Police high command for assistance and the management looked at it and approved it.
"We gave the money to the police high command and they have not given us the record of how the money was spent," he said.
The spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force, DCP Frank Mba, did not respond to a request for comment on the statement by the NNDC management that the police got N475m to buy face mask and hand sanitisers.
Mixed reactions in Niger Delta
Daily Trust reports that there were mixed reactions from the Niger Delta states yesterday over how the affairs of the NDCC were carried out in respect of touching the lives of the people at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were allegations that officials of the NDDC took care of themselves more with the monies set aside to support the vulnerable.
Our reporters could not establish the actual amount released to be used as COVID-19 palliatives.
However, some residents of the catchment states said they received foodstuff while others said they heard of the intervention in the media.
In Bayelsa, some items donated by the NDCC were among those shared to the eight local government areas of the state on Tuesday.
Secretary to Bayelsa State Government, Mr Konbowei Friday Benson, while distributing the items announced that NDDC gave the state 870 bags of 50kg rice, 2,112 bags of beans, 2,934 cartons of noodles and 60 bags of garri.
But some citizens of the state said the local government areas were yet to distribute the palliatives to them.
Mr Tari Nonso said though he was aware that the state government had distributed the food items but the people at the grassroots were yet to get them.
Also, an indigene of Sagbama LGA, Mr Saturday Jonathan, said he was yet to get the palliative from NDDC.
In Akwa Ibom, the NDDC recently donated food items and medical consumables to the state government to support its fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
The food items included 1,500 of 50kg bags of rice, 411 bags of beans, 387 bags of garri, 128 jerry cans of palm oil, 2,615 cartons of noodles and 1,150 cartons of biscuits.
The medical items consisted of 77 cartons of sanitiser, 93 cartons of Dettol, 1,164 cartons of toilet roll, 46 cartons of toothpaste, 25 cartons of toothbrush, 155 pieces of inhaler, 42 sets of crutches and 42 sets of wheel chair.
Three people in Uyo and two others in Abak said they received some support.
Ukeme Samuel who is a trader said she got rice and spaghetti, while a taxi driver who gave his name as Ndifrike said he got garri.
In Abia, Mr Gospel Adiele, a community leader in Ukwa, one of the oil producing communities in the state said they only heard of the intervention for the first time.
And in Ondo State, a widow, Mrs Victoria Aderemi Ilesanmi, said she hasn't received anything from the state government, NDDC or private organisations.
Mr Aniedi Imoh, a barber who lives on Mbukpa Road, in Calabar, said nobody told him anything about palliatives from NDDC.
A trader at the popular Watt Market, Mrs Inyang Cobham, said she has not received either.
In Edo State also, Mr John Idemudia said he was not even aware of any palliative being distributed by the NDDC.
Multiple allegations, fights over NDDC
The Senate and House of Representatives have been at loggerheads with the NDDC for many years, a development that led to accusations and counter accusations.
In the latest debacle, the two chambers of the National Assembly are probing an allegation that the NDDC interim committee 'squandered' N40 billion within three months.
The lawmakers yesterday asked members of the NDDC board who appeared before the committee over alleged discrepancies in the budget submitted by the commission, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Investigation committee chairman, Adetunmbi said based on their records, the NDDC said it spent N81.5 billion; the AGF submitted N82 billion and CBN submitted N92.2 billion between October 2019 and May 2020.
In his defence, Pondei, who led the NDDC team to face the legislators, said they "inherited so much debt that needed to be cleared upon assumption of office."
Daily Trust recalled that since the appointment of the interim management committee by President Buhari, the NDDC had remained in the media with some leaders from the Niger Delta trading blames, a development that partly resulted in the decision of the National Assembly to wade into the matter.
For instance, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North) had alleged that Senator Godswill Akpabio had collected contracts worth N500 million from NDDC in 2017 without executing them, despite receiving full payment.
On his part, Akpabio had through the interim committee alleged that Nwaoboshi similarly collected N3.6 billion worth of contracts from the commission in 2016, without any execution.
CSOs task National Assembly on equity
The Head, Environment and Conservation, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Dr Kabari Sam, told Daily Trust that there was nothing wrong with the National Assembly initiating a probe of the NDDC or any other agency.
According to him, "Any probe ordered by Mr. President or initiated by the National Assembly is in order. However, we should go beyond the probes and ensure that whoever is culpable answers the necessary questions and is prosecuted.
"My only worry is that even those championing the probes have questions on their heads that they have not answered. As at December 2019, we heard that a certain member of the National Assembly had 300 contracts from the NDDC. Is it that they wanted to cover those things? These are the fear of some of the stakeholders," he said.
Speaking on the development, the Executive Director, United Global Resolve for Peace (UGRFFP), Shalom Olaseni, said the National Assembly should not be seen as a mere toothless barking dog.
"With the acting managing director admitting to the National assembly committee that close to N2bn was spent as palliatives to take care of their staff, it is a grave insult to average Nigerians," he said.
On his part, Barrister Aminu Ismail said the National Assembly should revisit all the probes it carried out in the past and see if they made any sense and helped the polity.
"The legislators should clean their names. There is this general perception that they only probe government institutions when leaders of such places refuse to settle them. We want to know what happened to previous investigations and whether somebody had been jailed," he said.
Abdullateef Salau, Abbas Jimoh, Muideen Adeniyi, Victor Edozie, Usman Bello, Willie Bassey, Iniabasi Umo, Linus Effiong, Bola Ojuola & Eyo Charles