• Lawmakers threaten lawsuit
• Minister denies implicating lawmakers
• Sack minister, CSOs tell Buhari
Volte-face by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, on his earlier insinuation that National Assembly lawmakers benefitted from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contracts, attracted a hail of criticisms yesterday.
The attacks, led by a coalition of 50 Civil Society Organisations, happened just as the House of Representatives stepped down the consideration of the report on probe of NDDC finance. Akpabio’s denial came hours after the House of Representatives disclosed a plan to drag him to court for failing to name Reps involved in the alleged contract scam.
The lawmakers had given Akpabio 48 hours to name the Reps. On the expiration of the ultimatum, the lawmakers branded the claim made by the minister while testifying before the Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo-led committee as perjury.
The House committee is probing alleged financial mismanagement in the NDDC. Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, made known the plan to sue Akpabio at plenary yesterday. He disclosed that he had instructed the Clerk of the House to secure the services of lawyers to commence perjury proceedings against the minister after he failed to heed the House’s request to name members who got contracts from the NDDC.
Akpabio’s denial, which came shortly after Gbajabiamila announced the resolve by the House to drag him to court, was read at plenary by the Speaker.
Akpabio started by recalling his stint at the National Assembly as Senate Minority Leader in the 8th Assembly and claimed that he must have been misquoted on the contract issue.
Akpabio’s correspondence to the lawmakers reads: “I never referred to members of the 9th House of Representatives as beneficiaries of NDDC contracts as the NDDC has yet to fully implement any NDDC budget since the commencement of the 9th National Assembly.
“The Director, Projects forwarded to me 19 old contracts amounting to N9 billion which the NDDC chairman in the House insisted the IMC pay for.
“As a former minority leader of the 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I shall forever hold the ideals of the National Assembly and will not make the entire document public, which I got from the lead forensic auditor in confidence.” He added, “As to the reference to 60 per cent of contracts, the investigative committee refused and neglected to give me opportunity to explain that; I was responding to a question by a member of the committee
“Permit me to explain that any reference to 60 per cent during the investigative hearing was in answer to a question by a member of the committee as to whether or not, a medical doctor could act as Executive Director project which I answered in affirmative.
BUT just as Akpabio tried to free himself from angry lawmakers, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the country called for his sack. In a statement made available to The Guardian in Lagos yesterday, a coalition of over 50 CSOs, most of them in the Niger Delta region, condemned the alleged mismanagement of public funds earmarked for the development of the region, leaving the oil-rich communities poorer.
The coalition is made up of Spaces for Change (S4C), CSR-In-Action, Women Initiative on Climate Change, Youth and Environmental Advocacy Centre, League of Queens International, Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation, Development Research and Synergy Initiative.
According to the CSOs, the call becomes necessary because the Niger Delta has remained underdeveloped despite receiving over N15 trillion since it was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000. Founder and chief executive of S4C, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, noted that the probe of the commission by lawmakers had revealed the reason for the poverty in the Niger Delta.
She said, “Nigerians are no longer in doubt about the reason behind the endemic poverty and underdevelopment in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. There are mind-boggling allegations of corruption involving senior officials of NDDC – an institutional framework for accelerating development progress in the region, which has turned out to be a drainpipe for chronic waste, executive profligacy and the brazen diversion of funds earmarked for community development.”
According to the coalition, a coherent, holistic and people-focused intervention is needed to prevent rising local discontent from reaching a level that will be too difficult to control.
“It is on this premise that Spaces For Change is calling on Buhari to immediately relieve the current Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, of his duties, pending the outcome of the investigations of alleged malfeasance in public office, particularly involving fraudulent handling of NDDC contract deals.
“He should immediately disband the five-member IMC, and reconstitute the board of the commission as stipulated by law. The IMC’s theatrical displays at the parliamentary hearings, coupled with its continuing inability to account for N81.5 billion spent between January and May 2020, cast a strong shadow of doubt on their moral and professional capability to hold public office.”
ANOTHER salvo against Akpabio came from the immediate past Secretary to the Government of Imo State, Uche Onyeagocha, who called for dissolution of the committees on the Niger Delta in the House of Representatives and Senate, and the sacking of Akpabio.
Onyeagocha, who was a member of the House of Representatives, said, “The Senate and House of Representatives committees on the NDDC should be disbanded immediately because they are compromised. Alongside, the Minister of Niger Delta should be fired and the Interim Management Committee should be dissolved. And a new board set up. That is the only way we can be sure that the forensic audit will not be compromised.”
Onyeagocha claimed that the people of the oil-producing states had been let down by members of the National Assembly, NDDC officials and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
AMIDST the reactions, the House of Representatives, yesterday, stepped down the consideration of the report on the probe of NDDC finance.
The House Deputy Speaker, Mr Ahmed Wase, said the decision was taken to ensure that members of the House got copies of the report to enable them to take informed decision on the matter.
The report presented by the Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo committee indicted the Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei-led Interim Management Committee (IMC).The committee also urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe persons found wanting in the mismanagement of funds running into billions of naira.
Some of the recommendation reads: “That these gross violations should be reported to the anti-graft agencies for further investigation, prosecution and recovery;
“That the Project Monitoring Department should carry out an appraisal of the extent of work done so far by Clear Point Communications Limited and quantify same in monetary value against the scale of fees in the media industry and pro-rate the payment while the remainder should be refunded.”
The committee also recommended that the total sum made to the acting managing director, the executive directors and other directors of NDDC to attend overseas graduation be refunded.
The recommendations include: “A scrutiny of the medical treatment bills/insurance payments made by the commission to ascertain their appropriateness especially given that the commission has health insurance and referral partnerships and it is still making payments for staff medical treatments. These cases should be referred to the anti-graft agency for diligent investigation, prosecution and possible recovery.
“That the court proceedings and the court judgment be made available to the House within 14 days and failure to do so, he should be reported to the anti-graft agencies for further investigation and possible recovery.”