Nigerians wait on President Buhari for application of sledge hammer on officials of Federal Government, law makers and contractors implicated in investigations carried out by the House of Representatives on Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, budgetary expenditures.
By Clarice Azuatalam
Reporting From London
On the long stretch of Aba Road, by GRA junction in Port Harcourt, Rivers state of Nigeria stands a 13- storey imposing building that houses the headquarter of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The size of the building and the ever presence of stern-looking and gun-toting detachment of Mobile Policemen, from the front of the building up to the last floor, also make it an eye-catcher for every passer-by.
Despite the heavy presence of these armed guards, a very uncommon stench of corruption has been oozing out from this edifice since the past two months. Revelations are shocking. Budgetary approvals meant for development in the oil producing states that make up the oil producing Niger Delta region has been looted by officials of Federal Government, law makers and contractors.
Investigations carried out by the House of Representatives revealed much during the public sittings. And Nigerians are eagerly waiting now to see how hard President Buhari can apply a sledge hammer in response.
It started,July 18,2020, when the immediate past Acting stretched its budget to about N50billion for water hyacinth and de-silting.”
Despite this over-expenditure on water hyacinth and de-silting, the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA), Senator Godswill Akpabio allegedly wanted to build in another amount of about three to five billion naira into the commission’s budget again.
She said she declined this request, more so when the NASS had written the commission not to pay for such a thing. Nunieh also alleged that Akpabio told her “to go and raise a memo and give emergency contract for flood victims,” adding that he also wanted her to take an oath of loyalty. She stated that for three times, the minister wanted her to do this and for those three times, she refused.
Then a day came when they had reconciliation meeting in the villa, in the house of Mr Seriki Abba, the Special Assistant to the President on Domestics. According to Nunieh, one Alhaji Maitama was also present at the meeting and Akpabio still raised the issue of oath taking saying “the only condition was the oath and I said I will never take the oath from him.” It was from there that Akpabio allegedly said he would remove her from office and started mounting campaign of calumny against her, leading to her eventual removal.
Continuing, Nunieh said that she refused to go to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting with Akpabio to present a false procurement process. She gave a reason : “because the Procurement Act says that “if I contravene any section of the Procurement Act, it is five years imprisonment without an option of fine.”
She also said that Akpabio allegedly inserted a false procurement into the 2020 budget and went to get approval from FEC when the budget has not even been discussed by the NASS not to talk of being passed.
The minister, she also alleged went and “lied to FEC, which is the greatest embarrassment in this country, for a budget that has not been passed, and for approval to be given for that procurement.”
Another reason she adduced for refusing to go to FEC with her erstwhile boss was because “he wanted me to send money for the procurement to the Ministry for the forensic audit.” She then challenged Akpabio to deny any of these allegations because they are all in her written document.
When these allegations were presented to the minister at an interview on Arise TV, he said “I don’t want to dwell on your last guest,” pointing out that she was “relieved because of insubordination. My ministry that is supposed to supervise her wrote seven letters to her, she never responded to one.”
Akpabio also alleged that the then Chief of Staff to the President, late Abba Kyari sent a petition to him (Akpabio) from the anti-corruption agency which indicated that Nunieh did not possess the requisite qualification to work as the Acting MD of the commission.
He added that what Nunieh submitted as her only qualification was a letter from the Council of Legal Education, which indicated that she passed through Law School in 1989/1990. This was allegedly submitted a few days to the inauguration with an affidavit that she lost her certificate in 2002.
“She was removed after these findings” because NYSC in Kwara State and the National said that “they had no record there to evidence her participation in the scheme”, he alleged.
While explaining what the law says about non-possession of NYSC certificate or its exemption, Akpabio blamed himself for being soft-hearted to women probably because he has four daughters, hence his decision to sweep Nunieh’s alleged non-possession of NYSC certificate under the carpet and “just recommended for her replacement.”
Continuing, Akpabio who is also the immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom State fired what many consider to be a big salvo when he said “anyway, the last MD that you mentioned, Joi Nunieh no matter the allegation, I wish that she could go to the hospital , see a doctor and then take her medication and relax.
“I am not saying that something is wrong with her. You don’t need to ask me, you can ask the four husbands that she married.”
Speaking on the same television channel. Nunieh fired back her own salvo, this time more deafening saying that “Akpabio should tell Nigerians the real meaning of insubordination. I had to slap him because of sexual harassment”, adding that “he chose to come and tell the world that his main interest has always been my love life and the issue is, did he want to be my fifth husband?” She threatened to sue the minister to come and prove how she married four husbands.
Nunieh who also informed that no payment could be made in NDDC without Akpabio’s approval further recalled that on the day of their inauguration, the minister told her: “Madam MD, if you don’t do what I say, the same pen with which I used to sign your letter of engagement will be the same I will use to remove you.”
She also alleged that he instructed that the first thing she should do on getting back to Port Harcourt was to change the dollars in NDDC’s account to naira.
She said she did not as the minister demanded, because of the consequences and two days after their inauguration, Akpabio visited Port Harcourt and allegedly issued the same instruction again. He in addition allegedly asked her to remove Mr Kaltungo from being the head of the Legal Unit and send him on compulsory retirement as he could not have a Northerner heading the legal team.
Apart from Kaltungo, he allegedly directed her to remove and send all the other directors who refused to take instructions from him during the time of Mrs Akwaaga (her predecessor in office).
Continuing, Nunieh alleged that she refused to comply with instruction to remove the directors and the minister later came with a draft letter asking her to use her letterhead to write and implicate Senator Nwaoboshi for collecting contracts from NDDC.
Again, she declined, pointing out that as a lawyer, she knows that onus of proof lies with the one who alleges. Despite that the senator and some others were amongst those giving her Interim Management Committee (IMC) trouble, by not recognizing them, yet she did not consent to Akpabio’s request, thus making him to call her an ingrate.
At this point, Dr Cairo Ojuogboh, the Executive Director Projects (EDP) of the IMC, allegedly accepted to do the letter saying “if Akpabio tells him to kill, he will kill before he asks why he killed,” yet she did not accede to doing the letter.
Nunieh named one Mr Etiebet as the only staff of NDDC present at that meeting adding that when the minister finished, he asked Cairo to send for letter head and then the letter alleging that Senator Nwaoboshi obtained contracts was done.
The minister insisted that she should sign cover letter implicating the Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC for going to Ondo State for a meeting to plan against him. She responded by telling him that “if I sign, any document from me, seen by Mr President, he will believe every line of that letter. So, I said, I will only write that the EDP, who should know about projects had gone.”
She further alleged that her former boss told her to ensure that all those people were removed adding that before her coming into office, Akpabio was awarded 30 contracts for de-silting and water hyacinth at their very first meeting in the commission’s office in Port Harcourt when Festus Keyamo was his junior minister. She added that “Mr Linus who was the Director of Finance refused to sign because it did not follow Due Process.
Additionally, she accused him of wanting to bomb oil pipelines to implicate her and also gave his girl-friend the contract to be supplying diesel for use in the entire 13 storey building despite that the commission had earlier been connected to electricity power line.
On the forensic audit, the former Acting MD dropped another bomb shell informing that nothing of such is going on at NDDC.
Her information was corroborated by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Act For Positive Transformation Initiative, who told the House of Representatives panel on NDDC that reports of forensic audit on activities of the commission is fake and unfounded. Head of Research of the NGO, Kolawale Johnson said that his team conducted investigation into the purported forensic but found out that none existed.
However, Akpabio has dismissed all the allegations Nunieh levelled against him saying that “corruption is fighting back at me.”
In a statement signed on his behalf by his SA Media, Anietie Ekong, the minister said that he was aware of all the plethora of allegations by Nunieh in the media. The series of “concerted vicious campaigns of calumny deviously orchestrated by her against his person ranging from allegations of corruption, sexual and workplace harassments, pipelines bombings, secret cult activities, abuse of office, amongst other lies peddled by her, including the removal of Mr Kaltungo,”
The minister who also threatened to sue Nunieh said that he has track record that marks him out “as a totally detribalized politician and one of the best friends of Northern Nigeria.”
As the allegations raged, Rivers State Government issued a statement warning that “nothing should happen to our daughter.”
As if the state government saw it coming, two days after, about 50 Policemen stormed the residence of Nunieh in Port Harcourt at about 4am in gestapo style to abduct her and possibly stop her from appearing before the panel.
She was saved by the timely intervention of Governor Nyesom Wike and taken to Government House, Port Harcourt and from there she went to Abuja a day later to testify at the panel.
However, while the two gladiators are enmeshed in the cross-fire, acts of corruption continued in other fronts. Among others, fresh reports emerged that the new IMC ,now headed by Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei got embroiled in financial recklessness to the extent that it could not present a comprehensive financial record to the Abuja panel.
While some say that about N92 billion has passed through the commission from January 2020 to May 2020 it was gathered that about N81.5billion within the period to the extent that the commission expended the sum of N475 million to buy face masks and sanitizers for the Police in the region.They also claimed that they spent about N1.5 billion to help themselves against COVID-19.
During his first appearance at the panel, Pondei could not present a comprehensive report, thus making the panel to ask him to come back again.
However, at a sitting of the House of Representatives Committee looking into the record of NDDC, it was reportedly said that the documents submitted by both Central Bank and Auditor-General of the Federation showed that the commission spent N81.5 billion from January 2020 to May 2020.
The money was said to have been spent thus: N1.3billion on Community Relations; N122.9 million was on Condolences; N83million was on Consultancy; N3.14 billion was spent on COVID-19; N486 million on Duty Travel Allowance; N790.9million as Imprest; Ni.956 billion on Lassa Fever; N900 million on Legal Service; N220 million on Maintenance; N85.6 million on Foreign Travels; N1.121 billion on Public Projects Communications; N744 million on Security; N8.8 billion on Staffing-Related Payment and N248 million on Stakeholders’ Engagement.
The sum of N40 billion was also reportedly unaccounted for from the record of the commission but Ojougboh denied this saying that no kobo is missing or misapplied by the IMC.
Appearing before the panel a second time on Monday, July 20, 2020 Pondei reportedly reeled out, that “the Chairman, House Committee brought out emergency training programme for N6.4 billion claiming the job belongs to the Speaker and said the commission should pay him N3.7 billion but we refused.”
He added: “A company called Candour, owned by a serving Senator claimed they initiated statutory payments from LNG. In the letter they collected $28 million and exchanged the money at N360 to $1, at a time CBN was exchanging for N225 to $1. They were also paid 20% of $28 million.
“A consulting firm that was contracted to collect money from International Oil Companies (IOCs) on behalf of NDDC was being paid one billion every month.
“In 2019 NDDC in just seven months awarded a total of 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1.07 trillion against its annual budget of N400 billion naira of same year.”
Contrary to the claims of Nunieh and Johnson that there is no forensic audit going on in the commission, Pondei said: “Part of what the forensic audit has uncovered is that a particular project was awarded 55 times.”
Continuing, he informed that: “ NDDC awarded two projects to run from 2017-2019. Water hyacinth emergency for N800 million was budgeted but N10.3 billion was spent. De-silting, N2 billion was budgeted but N37 billion was spent.”
“Between 2016 and 2019 emergency contracts of over two trillion were awarded by NDDC, under the supervision of both Chairmen of NASS committees.
“We have faced so much pressure from some members of NASS to pay for 132 jobs which have no proof of execution. We have refused to pay N6.4 billion for those jobs. We believe an IMC set up as a cleansing structure cannot become part of the old story of rot,” Pondei stated.
Not done, the Ag MD also fingered Nwaoboshi for allegedly collecting N3.7 billion for the supply of plastic chairs but investigations have revealed that the address the chairs were delivered at Asaba, Delta State is the warehouse of the same company that got the contract.
That company, he said is owned by the senator himself and incidentally, “he is part of the committee probing the NDDC.”
Along the line when members of the probe panel were fielding questions from Pondei on the missing N40 billion from the coffers of NDDC, he collapsed with the result that the venue of the sitting was thrown into commotion. Although he was sent to a hospital but it was later found out that the Ag MD of the commission was just playing games and thus he stopped entertaining more questions.
It was further gathered that the commission pays out about N300 million annually for renting of the office building in Port Harcourt but observers are raising eye-brows over this because the Rivers State government under Dr Peter Odili gave that building free of charge to NDDC when it was established in 2000, which was even part of the reasons, its headquarters is domiciled in the Garden city.
Speaking on Arise TV on the side-lines of the probe committee, to support the flight of money from the commission, Ojougboh, said that the IMC paid N340 million to indigenes to help inspectors to identify projects within their localities.
Ojougboh justified the payment of that huge sum saying “there are 185 local governments in the Niger Delta region and we have the list of contracts in all the local governments. Normally, when the forensic auditors arrive, people chase them out of the place.“All those jobs that are abandoned, they will go and show them where the site is,”he said.
While these huge sums of money are being said to have been expended on fictitious jobs, the students the commission sent to United Kingdom on scholarship are languishing in untold hardship with the possibility of being evicted from their schools.
The students made up of 2018 and 2019 batch of scholarship beneficiaries on the same Monday that Pondei appeared before the panel assembled at the Nigerian High Commission, London to cry out to President Muhammadu Buhari over the non-payment of their tuition fee by NDDC.
The scholars asked Buhari to ensure payment of their tuition and feeding as they stand the risk of eviction from their institutions and subsequent deportation because their schools had already threatened to stop their scholarship programmes.
They informed the President that while the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) ensures the beneficiaries of its scholarship are not starved of their entitlements, “the NDDC has abandoned us, bringing the name of our dear country to great disrepute and dishonour before our schools.”
That same day, Akpabio also appeared before the panel and mentioned that the students on scholarship were protesting.
He claimed amongst others that “most of the contracts at the NDDC are handled by members of NASS, fingering the former Chair of the panel, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo for being “part and parcel of the problem of NDDC.”He denied hijacking the forensic audit of the commission or even doing any contract.
Continuing, the minister alleged that “Joi Nunieh’s tenure spent N23 billion instead of eight billion naira she claimed,” pointing out that there was no budget for the commission when he assumed office.
He further informed the panel that no staff was sacked and every one of them received COVID-19 allowance, which Pondei had earlier disclosed to be about N1.5 billion.
He said it was surprising that NDDC is staying in a rented building and insisted that no N40 billion is missing from the coffers of the commission, contrary to what was being reported.
He also declared that “I never asked anyone to swear to an oath” and denied other allegations Nunieh levelled against him.
Despite this state of anomaly in NDDC, the minister urged the panel not to recommend the closure of the organisation because about 90% of the nation’s resources come from the Niger Delta region adding that “if you close NDDC, you will have a lot of chaos, if not insurrection.”
Reacting to the claim of Akpabio that about 60% of the job in NDDC is being carried out by NASS, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila during plenary on Tuesday July 21, 2020 asked Akpabio to publish within 48 hours names of the lawmakers of the 9th NASS who got contracts from the commission.
Gbajabiamila also told him to publish names of companies and the contracts they got from the commission or “face the wrath of the House because it infringes on the integrity of the House.”
The speaker stated that the minister “owes it a duty to himself, the House Committee on Niger Delta, the people of Niger Delta and Nigerians to publish the names of lawmakers who got contracts from the NDDC.”
However, reacting to Pondie’s fainting while fielding questions on the missing N40 billion, the Spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan said that “he collapsed under heavy weight of corruption”, blaming Buhari for the massive corruption going on in the current administration.
Ologbondiyan also stated that Pondei “collapsed under the weight and shame of overwhelming collective guilt brought by the exposure of massive corruption being perpetrated by NDDC officials and APC leaders.”
Commenting on the platform of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Rivers State chapter, Amaopu Senibo Bobo Brown, the former National President of NIPR, said that the “NDDC has become a toxic virus like COVID-19. It needs a thorough and transparent response and nothing should be swept under the carpet.”
Brown also lamented that: “NDDC story points to an unrelenting impunity of the political elite to rob Nigerians of their present and future, without any remorse.” He added: “This shameful situation diminishes the nation in the eyes of citizens and foreigners alike. It makes professional work in Nigeria to be relegated while the business of looting the public treasury takes front row.”
Observers have also joined in decrying the sleaze that has been going on in NDDC since it was established in 2000. This, they say is the reason the N15 to N18 trillion that has passed through the coffers of the commission since its inception has not impacted positively on the Niger Delta region, thus making a mockery of its slogan: “determined to make a difference.”
They also joined the South-South governors to call for a thorough forensic audit of the commission, to check all these contract scams reeling out from the it adding that the Presidency should insist on carrying out the exercise, “if not every money pumped into the place will still go down the drain.”
They further called on the former Akwa Ibom governor to use his good offices to ensure uncommon transformation of the region and avoid being fingered in the sleaze being witnessed in the interventionist agency so that this putrid smell oozing out from NDDC will be stopped.
Media Documentation and Revelations on How NDDC Funds Were Looted
- “People were treating the place (NDDC) as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away” -Godswill Akpabio
- “NDDC has 12,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta” -Godswill Akpabio
- “There is no way NDDC road can last (for) even two years” -Godswill Akpabio
- NDDC owes over N2 trillion to contractors- Godswill Akpabio
- The Federal Government owes NDDC N1trillion in 10 years- NDDC Management
- “N2.5billion budgeted by NDDC for desilting and clearing of water hyacinths inflated to N65billion”- Senate Public Accounts Committee
- “A particular NDDC contract was awarded 55 times”- Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- Over 55 NDDC Interim Payment Certificate issued for a contract awarded in a particular state- Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- Fake photographs of completed jobs are submitted for NDDC payments. Sometimes the same photos are submitted for different projects -Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- “People collect contracts for the same roads from the state government, from FERMA and then they come to NDDC and collect the same road project”- Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- $70million of NDDC money was stored in a commercial bank since 2006- Godswill Akpabio
- N170 million NDDC funds abandoned in a bank for years- Godswill Akpabio
- Some banks deliberately withhold money belonging to NDDC- Godswill Akpabio
- NDDC pays N300 million annually as rent for its office space while its headquarter building started 23 years ago is uncompleted- Godswill Akpabio
- NDDC pays fee of N1billion monthly to a consultant that collects money from International Oil Companies (IOCs), on its behalf- Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- NDDC gave N4.3billion cash grants to NGOs, 90% of which were not registered- Godswill Akpabio
- Past NDDC management awarded 1,921 ‘emergency contracts’ at N1.070 trillion in seven months, against an annual budget of about N400 billion- NDDC Interim Management Committee
- NDDC contracts worth over N67billion were never executed- House of Representatives Committee
- NDDC made excess payments of N5.8 billion to contractors- House of Representatives Committee
- NDDC awarded a N34million consultancy for ‘Reputation Management’- Kolawole Johnson
- N641million was paid to consultants for ‘Media Support for Forensic Audit’. Johnson Kolawole
- Payment for contracts are routinely channeled into the private accounts of NDDC staff’- Johnson Kolawole
- Money meant for NDDC contracts were paid into the private account of Bureau d’ Change Operators- Johnson Kolawole
- NDDC leadership paid funds meant for student scholarships into private bank accounts’ -Johnson Kolawole
- ‘No Forensic Audit on NDDC is currently going on’- Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- Contracts are given to unregistered companies and companies still undergoing registration – Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- “Godswill Akpabio asked me to award N5billion contract for the supply of materials that were already in the NDDC Warehouse”- Former Acting MD Joi Nunieh
- 60 Percent of NDDC Contracts are awarded to National Assembly Members- Godswill Akpabio Minister of Niger Delta Affairs
- While the Probe Panel was still sitting, another fraudulent payment of N691 million was made by the NDDC- House of Reps Probe Panel
- NDDC had up to 311 accounts in various banks- Godswill Akpabio Minister of Niger Delta Affairs
- In one day, NDDC made multiple transactions of N49milion out of the Commission’s account. Godswill Akpabio Minister of Niger Delta Affairs
- NDDC spent N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’. Kemebradikumo Pondei head of NDDC IMC