The Senate has raised the alarm over the N1.121 billion spent by Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, on Public Communication.
According to the senate, the expenditure record for public communication was put at N2.1billion in the reports of the Accountant General of the Federation and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, showing an under declaration in the NDDC figure.
Meanwhile, National Youth Leader, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Olorogun Vincent Oyibode, yesterday, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate without any further delay, the new board of the NDDC, previously screened and confirmed by the Senate, to check the highhandedness of the Minister of Niger Delta Affiars, Senator Godswill Akpabio.
This came as former National Chairman of Traditional rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, His Majesty King Charles Botu, Paramount ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom, Burutu LGA, Delta State and National Director, Media and Publicity of Host Communities Producing Oil and Gas in Nigeria, HOSCON, Okakur Whisky, have called for the sack of Akpabio over allegations of financial recklessness at the NDDC.
In another development, a House of Representatives member, Mr Francis Waive, said the Niger Delta region was not getting enough from her resources, noting that unless the ethnic nationalities come together and forge a formidable front, the region would continue to be exploited by both the political class and other regions.
The Upper Chamber, which took a swipe at the Interim Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC on the sharp variation in the figures expended on Public Communication, said that the IMC under IMC-1 spent N17 million on media outreach while the Expanded Interim Management Committee, EIMC, of the NDDC spent a more significant amount of N1.1billion.
The disclosure is contained in the report of the Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (APC, Ekiti North) led Ad-hoc Committee that investigated alleged financial recklessness to the tune of N40 billion in the NDDC by the IMC.
According to document obtained by newsmen, the report said, “The analysis of this expenditure heading found that almost 55 percent of the NDDC disbursement on Public Communication was to a company called, ‘Clear Point Communication’, the next 27 percent to Patrick Oke and Associates being a quarterly installment of contract due.
“The Senate Ad-hoc Committee requested clarification from the NDDC management on the specific nature of work being done by these two organisations and the major differences in the consultancy works. The response from the Executive Director, Project, EDP, did not particularly address the question, rather he explained that the contract existed before they took over from the IMC-1. He also explained that these payments were historical debt owed to the companies, which were on the verge of taking a legal action against the NDDC. The Senate Committee’s view is that this expenditure is extra budgetary and therefore, must be refunded.
“ The huge contracts seen on Public Communication cannot be justified as value for money. The allegations made by some activists also suggest a likely case of over bloated invoicing. These contracts are highly recommended to be reviewed further for intent and performance. In addition, the contracts must be subjected to comparative industry standards to justify the pricing.”
The Senate has raised the alarm following the N570 million the NDDC spent on training, where the sum of N143 million was paid individual members of staff on April 1, 2020, to attend a budget participatory conference.
The report stated, “Incidentally, this period happened to be during the COVID-19 lockdown, it is obvious that the conference was not attended as the country was on absolute lockdown. This sum must therefore, be refunded by staff concerned. This payment was made to five staff averaging almost N28 million per person.
“N171 million to train over 300 drivers, individual staff were paid in cash for this training on February 3, 2020, to attend the driver training course. Making cash payments to individual staff seems to be a standard practice at NDDC. This custom is not only unethical, it lacks transparency and accountability. NDDC must do away with this practice as a way of improving its duty on stewardship.
“ N150 million to sponsor union executive members to attend a training in Turin, Italy. These sums were paid to union members on April 3, 2020, to attend an international labour organisation conference in Turin, Italy. Incidentally, this period also happens to be during COVID-19 lockdown, it is obvious that the beneficiaries of these payments could not travel out of the country as a result of the Covid- 19 travel restriction, hence, this sum must be refunded by the Union members concerned.”
Meanwhile, Oyibode, who addressed newsmen, said: “We wish to state that handpicking the IMC of the NDDC and disregarding the already screened and confirmed board by the Senate attest to Senator Akpabio’s disrespect to President Buhari and the National Assembly.
“The inauguration of the Senate screened board has become necessary as Akpabio rode on the commission like a demi-god, which became manifest in the form of autocracy, highhandedness and rapacity and the urgent need to reposition the NDDC, which, over the years, was an agency where greedy politicians gathered to share loots.
“NDDC should be made an autonomous commission, not an agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. This is crucial to avoid the negative influence of ‘Abuja’ politics on the motive of regional development that informed the establishment of the NDDC.
“We must not derail from the fact that the commission was set up to develop the oil-rich Niger Delta region, which produces the wealth that sustains the rest part of the country.”
At a press briefing in Warri, Delta State, King Botu said the sack of the Minister would help avert impending looming crisis in the Niger Delta region, adding that the President should go ahead and inaugurate the Pius Odibo led board of the NDDC.
The monarch said, “This is a clarion call on President Buhari to sack Akpabio without further delay in order to forestall the impending looming crisis that may worsen the already down trodden economy of the country and inaugurate the substantive board of the NDDC led by Odubu as Chairman and Bernard Okumagba as Managing Director, which was nominated by the President and forwarded to the National Assembly and was screened and ratified on November 5, 2019, pending the inauguration by President Buhari on his return from the united kingdom.”
Whisky on his part, said, “We request that the NDDC should remain under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Presidential Amnesty Programme under the Ministry too for ease of control and fast tracking developmental stride in the region.”
Meanwhile, Waive, who represents Ughelli North/Ughelli South/Udu Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, called for unity amongst the different ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta region in order to forge a common front at the national level, blaming under development of the region on lack of unity.
He said; “I believe that what we are getting now in terms of the allocation to NNDC, 13 percent derivation and the allocation to the states from the oil-rich region are not enough.
“It’s a far cry from what we ought to get as a people and as a region because of the environmental degradation and the effect of oil exploration of several years. But having said that, we as a people in the South-South, we need to come together as one, we need to be united because that is the only way we can fight for our rights, and get what truly belongs to us.
“If we are scattered, if we are disunited, then the others will have the opportunity to take advantage of us, exploit us, use us as part to knock one another and exploit our resources.”
In another development, Campaigners under the auspices of 21st Century Youth of Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience, 21st CYNDAC, have charged the new leadership of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, to join forces with necessary agencies and stakeholders to detect and track democratic derivable to the region, hijacked by greedy politicians.
The group in a statement, by Coordinator, self-styled “General” Izon Ebi, while congratulating the Mr Peter Igbifa on his election as IYC president, said: ‘We urge the new leadership to work in critical agencies like the NDDC, and other relevant agencies to monitor and track down democratic derivable, which in the immediate past has been hijacked by greedy politicians with zero benefit to the people of the region.
“We urge the IYC to close ranks and marshal out a clear cut agenda that will usher in peace and prosperity all over the Ijaw nationality for a new release of fresh air.
“To the new executives, we say that the time for politics and brinkmanship is over and now is the time to work for the betterment of the Ijaw nation and the Niger Delta region. We also use this medium to commend President Buhari for declaring a forensic audit of NDDC and appointing Senator Akpabio as a minister and entrusting him with the supervision and power over the NDDC that has led to the exposure of the numerous atrocities committed by our so-called leaders and elders of the Niger Delta.
“We, therefore, call on Mr President to ensure that the forensic audit of the NDDC is completed and not truncated,” the agitators added.