Former governors, Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta), Orji Kalu (Abia) and James Ibori (Delta), yesterday challenged the Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who supervises the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to substantiate his accusation that they took contracts from the interventionist agency.
This came as the Senate, yesterday, revealed how the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the NDDC spent N3.175 billion on COVID-19 in Niger Delta within two months, April and May, 2020 respectively.
However, management of the interventionist agency, in a swift reaction, said the entire expenditure was a form of cash palliatives distributed by the Expanded Interim Management Committee, EIMC, for sharing among staff, the Police, the youth and communities in the states.
It also declared that there was no fraud in the agency, saying some conspirators were just bent on blowing the whistle to heat up the polity.
Akpabio's allegations false - Uduaghan
A source told Vanguard that Uduaghan, who was taken aback by the unscrupulous allegation against him and two other former governors, sent a text message to the minister to clear the air on the matter.
Uduaghan denied taking any contract from NDDC, wondering why his name was linked to the scandal.
Uduaghan, who reacted through a statement by his Media Assistant, Mr Monoyon Edon, said: "The attention of Dr Uduaghan has been drawn to a publication that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio, has linked two former governors of Delta State, James Ibori and Emmanuel Uduaghan, to contracts awarded by the NDDC.
"In the said publication, it was stated that Uduaghan was linked to the emergency repairs of Close B, Alhaji Estate & Environs, Rumuodomaya, Port-Harcourt, at a cost of N429 million.
"We want to state very clearly that the said accusation is false. Dr Uduaghan has never approached the NDDC for any contract whatsoever. It is even more ridiculous that the said contract is a road inside Port Harcourt town.
"Dr Uduaghan has drawn the attention of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio, to the publication and hopes he makes a correction. Members of the public are advised to disregard the mischievous publication."
NDDC issues have to do with missing funds, not jobs done - Kalu
On his part, Chief Whip of the Senate and former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Kalu (APC, Abia North), while denying the allegation, said: "The issues at stake in the NDDC have to do with missing funds and not jobs that have been executed."
Kalu said he was becoming worried over his name being used indiscriminately to sell newspapers without verification.
He said: "As a community leader, I do not intend to stop my interventions on roads in NDDC states because all the states need good roads. Good roads help to drive the economy. Therefore, I believe the NDDC forensic audit should focus on missing funds and not works done.
"They should focus on paying contractors that delivered their jobs and not using my name indiscriminately to sell newspapers."
Kalu in a statement by Emeka Nwala said the road projects mentioned by the minister were the interventions he facilitated for the communities as a private citizen before he became a senator, adding that his name was mentioned because he used his letter-headed paper to write a sympathy letter to the NDDC in 2016, requesting and pleading with the body to rescue roads in Abia.
He said: "I was governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2007 and never held any public office until June 11, 2019, when I was sworn in as a senator. Between 2016 and 2018 during my tour of several communities, leaders and welfare unions of most communities pleaded for urgent intervention on some dilapidated roads .
"I wrote to the NDDC informing the body of the conditions of these roads and the need for their attention since Abia is an NDDC state.
"The NDDC in their consideration, for which I am very grateful, awarded the roads to companies that duly tendered for the projects and not myself. Whatever link I have with the projects is because it was considered due to my intervention.
"The roads I requested for intervention as mentioned by the Minister were repairs of Ezere-Acha-Ndiokoukwu Road; Amaubiri-Eluama-Uru Ring Road; Lokpaukwu; Umuchieze; Ndi Oji Abam-Atan Road; the Okafia-Ozuitem-Bende Road and Ozu-Amuru-Abam Road.
"The contractors have completed and delivered these roads long time ago, except Abam-Atani road which I learned from the contractors was slowed down due to rain but still ongoing.
"Meanwhile, it would interest Nigerians to know that the contractors who built these roads have not been paid any dime. It has not been easy with the contractors but because it's a community project, they have only but kept hope alive on the NDDC.
"I am so much concerned about roads because I understand the economic importance of good roads, that's why I built several roads when I was governor. Even as a senator, it would interest you to know that my major constituency projects are road constructions, reconstructions and rehabilitation. We have put in plans to finish 19 roads in Abia North before end of 2021.
"Akpabio is my good old friend. We have been friends even before I became a governor. I hope he doesn't expect me to stop seeking for road interventions in our communities. It is his civic responsibility to support the communities and I am very confident he will oblige our future requests, especially in areas of good roads."
Akpabio, calm down, I took no contract from NDDC - Ibori
On his part, former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, said he did not receive any contract from NDDC as alleged by Senator Akpabio.
Ibori, in a statement by his media assistant, Mr Tony Eluemunor, urged Akpabio to "calm down and focus on the task at hand."
Eluemunor said: "On hearing the news of the alleged NDDC contract award to him from the former governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Senator Akpabio, as published in a newspaper and other online publications, he did not want to join in the 'dance in the market square' going on in the NDDC right now.
"He has decided to make this clarification for the records because friends and associates inundated him with phone calls. So, he is stating categorically that he never solicited for, or was awarded, or indeed executed any contract for NDDC or any government agency, at any time, for that matter.
"In all he has been through in and out of public office, he has never been accused of being a government contractor, let alone a failed one, hence he did not want to dignify the allegation with a response because it is ridiculous. So, Ibori is advising Akpabio, his brother, friend and member of the former Governors Forum, to please calm down and focus on the task at hand.
"Ibori said the NDDC we have today is a product of his personal sacrifice as well as those of his Niger Delta colleagues (1999-2007), who rose to the occasion to override the veto of President Olusegun Obasanjo who refused to assent to the NDDC Bill at the time.
"If not for the exemplary courage some of us exhibited, there would have not been an NDDC to bicker about today.
"Watching the level the NDDC has degenerated to is a tragedy. We owe it a duty to the people of the Niger Delta to make NDDC work to ameliorate the sufferings of the people of the region and realize the dream for which we fought for it to be set up. So, let everybody involved in the NDDC do their duties to the good people of the region."
How IMC spent N3.175 bn as Palliatives on COVID- 19 in 2 months - Senate report
Meanwhile, the Senate has revealed how IMC of NDDC spent an amount of N3.175 billion on coronavirus in the Niger Delta within two months.
The disclosure is in contained in the report of the Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (APC, Ekiti North) led Ad-hoc Committee that investigated allegation of financial recklessness to the tune of N40 billion in the NDDC by the IMC.
According to the document obtained by Vanguard, the EIMC explained that these payments were in form of 'cash distribution' to all parties involved and that the IMC also submitted the approval letter given by the Office of the Ministry of Niger Delta, authorizing the expenditure.
The breakdown of how the N3.175 billion was shared as incentive to staff of NDDC in addition to their statutory entitlement as staff to take care of themselves showed that the Managing Director, Prof Keme Pondei, got N10 million, while two Executive Directors, Mr Luka Ibanga and Dr Cairo Ojougboh got N7 million each.
The report further showed that two staff took N5 million each; 148 staff got N3 million each; 157 staff took N1.5 million each; 497 staff, N1 million each and 464 staff took N0.600 million each.
The report also showed that the IMC spent part of the N3.175 billion for training consultancy, with N35,238,164 expended on Refresher Training on COVID-19, something new to the World?; Emergency support for the nine Niger Delta state governments for the containment of the spread of COVID-19 in the Niger Delta gulped N775,000,000.
Of this, four states - Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers - got N100 million each, while Abia, Cross River, Edo, Imo and Ondo got N75 million each. N98,358,386 was spent on consultancy for the provision of publicity on the prevention of spread of coronavirus in the 185 LGAs in the nine NDDC states awarded to Julius Dinga Nigeria Limited.
According to the report, N475,000,000 was spent on COVID-19 for the supply of face masks and hand sanitizers PPEs for Nigeria Police awarded to Hera Hospitality and N10,000,000 as funds to mobilize the NDDC COVID_19 palliative committee.
In the report, N267,750, 000 was the grand total amount of money spent as COVID-19 Welfare Youth, where N46 million each was paid to Mercy Mbat, Michael Uto, Offiong Ephraim for youths in Bayelsa and Rivers states; N23 million each paid to Alex Diffa, Nnamdi Okoroji, Ofonime Bassey for youths in Bayelsa and Rivers and N20.25 million each paid to Anozie Susan, Beauty Ovie, Nwaoha Beatrice for youths in Bayelsa and Rivers states.
No fraud, collaborators raising false alarm, NDDC insists
Denying that there was fraud in NDDC, Director of Public Affairs, Mr Charles Odili, said: "We suspect that after the scheming of the past four weeks failed to achieve the purpose of sacking the management and scuttling the work on the forensic audit exercise, the schemers are out again to heat up the polity.
"The point they miss is that the forensic audit is a project of Mr President. Hounding and haunting an innocent academic who is merely on a national assignment will not scuttle the audit.
"Less than two weeks after an exhaustive and exhausting public hearings by both chambers of the National Assembly, another round of false reports have surfaced in the media, alleging all manner of improprieties by the management of the NDDC.
"One of the reports alleges that a fresh massive fraud has been uncovered in the commission. There is no evidence of fraud in the commission. The report is merely a rehash of the allegations which led the National Assembly on May 5, 2020, to order a probe of the 74-day administration of Professor Pondei at the commission.
"Lest we forget, that probe was set up to uncover the sum of N40 billion missing from the commission. In order to allay the fears of our stakeholders, we took the unusual step of publishing the list of payments made by the commission since Pondei came into office. With that publication, the rug was pulled from the feet of our accusers.
"When the hearings proper started, there was no talk of the missing N40 billion any more. It was now about financial recklessness. As we pointed out in an earlier release, the issue of missing money is one needing objective proof. The issue of financial recklessness is a matter of subjective judgment. The reports of the hearings have been submitted and it is clear there was no money missing at the commission.
"The response of the commission to the new reports is that there is no fraud at the NDDC. Professor Pondei has run a very transparent administration and this transparency is now apparent after the searchlight put on his administration in the past one month.
"Another report rehashed the claim of the Contractors Association that the management demands between 20 per cent and 30 per cent kickback before paying contractors. We wish to state categorically that this is false. This allegation was made at the hearing of the Ad-hoc Senate Committee, which probed the affairs of the commission.
"The management of NDDC was at the hearing when the allegation was made and challenged the man who did so for evidence. There was no single case that he could allude to. Without any evidence, the allegation became so outlandish that not even a single newspaper reported it the following day.
"Pondei famously said that if any contractor can prove he paid him any money, he would resign. Four weeks since that challenge was thrown on July 9, no one has come out with any proof. It is instructive that the Senate report did not adopt the allegation as valid. It beats the imagination why any newspaper will report a baseless claim, four weeks after it was made and for which no one can prove.
"We appeal to those who are putting their personal interests over and above that of the people of the Niger Delta to have a rethink, pull back and allow the Commission the space to serve the people of the region."
HOSCON battles Akpabio
In another development, oil producing communities in the Niger Delta have alleged that the Minister is an interested party in the ongoing probe of the NDDC.
The communities, under the aegis of Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCON, also contended that inaugurating the Dr Pius Odubu-led NDDC Board would put a stop to the accusations and counter-accusations that have trailed award of contracts in the commission.
A statement by the National Director, Media and Publicity of HOSCON, Okakuro Whiskey, yesterday, read:
"Chief Akpabio is not only an interested party but remains one of the foremost accused, having served as governor of Akwa Ibom for eight years and having personally recommended some of the top management staff of the NDDC.
"HOSCON has consulted very widely with other critical stakeholders of oil rich region and we cannot wait for this unending drama of daily confession."
NDYM vows to resist attempt to demonize Akpabio
Meanwhile, a youth group, Niger Delta Youth Movement, NDYM, has vowed to resist any attempt to demonize Akpabio and cause civil unrest in the Niger Delta.
The group in a statement yesterday in Uyo by its National President and National Secretary, Joe Jackson and Joshua Osamuiyi respectively, said: "We view the unjustified excoriation of Akpabio by some persons as undeserving and unpatriotic.
"The movement, in consultation with the leadership of other well meaning organisations, notes the campaign of calumny orchestrated by fifth columnists in the Niger Delta and their collaborators outside the region.
"We, therefore, make bold to state that any attempt to demonize the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in order to cause stampede and civil unrest in the region shall be stoutly resisted."