*Agency grilled over N3.14b Covid-19 relief funds
* Commission’s alleged N81bn financial recklessness unacceptable, says Lawan
Senate and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) officials traded tackles yesterday over alleged corruption.
They pointed fingers at each other, with the Senate saying it would no longer condone financial malfeasance at the agency.
NDDC equally accused the senators of unethical pursuit of contracts and other favours.
In fact, the ongoing probing of financial accounts of the NDDC by the National Assembly took a new twist when the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the agency accused
chairmen of Senate and House of Representatives committees on Niger Delta Affairs of financial meddlesomeness and contracts grabbing. .
This was disclosed as the Senate scrutinized the commission’s account over N3.14 billion it gave as Covid -19 pandemic relief funds to its over 4,000 workers and police commands in the nine member states .
The NDDC also declared that no single kobo was missing in the account of the commission since inception of the current IMC from February 19, 2020 till date.
The can of worms was opened at the joint special public hearing of the National Assembly over the Senate Ad- hoc Committee probing of alleged N40 billion financial recklessness allegation leveled against the Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei-led IMC.
The chairman of the committee , Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi ( APC Ekiti North) wondered why N10m was given to a single staff member as Covid-19 relief fund without the person testing positive to the virus .
He said : “From the financial statements or documents forwarded to this committee from your office 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 N81.495billion 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 N10million was given to a single staff while two other staffers collected N7million each.
“Other payments as reliefs against the pandemic are N3million given to each of 148 other staffers , N1.5 million each to 157 other category of staffers , N1million 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 N475million given to the Police High Command for purchase of face masks and Hand Sanitizers for men and officers across the Nine states in the Niger Delta Region ”
Adetunbi also took up the IMC officials on other spendings such as N1.3billion for community relations , N1.956 billion for Lassa fever, N23.8billion for consultancy fees , N486million for Duty Travel Allowance , N85.6 million for overseas travels etc.
However in their separate explanations , both the Managing Director , Professor Pondei and Acting Executive Director ( Project) , Dr Cairo Ojougboh, defended the various expenditure as having been done in the best interest of the commission and Niger Delta communities.
Pondei in his own explanation said the commission alone has 150 policemen attached to it for security purposes aside the various police commands of the affected nine states in the Niger Delta region.
Ojougboh in his own submissions , made wide allegations of financial meddlesomeness , contracts grabbing and splitting against Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi ( PDP Delta North) and his counterpart in the House of Representatives.
According to him, out of 2,900 emergency projects the commission planned to carry out in changing the face of the Niger Delta communities , the two chairmen are demanding for 1,000 projects to be executed by them as they have been doing over the years.
“Aside projects grabbing, the two chairmen are holding the commission to ransom on its 2020 budget which had been submitted since November last year but yet to see the light in July 2020.
“We have lost confidence in the two chairmen who have been hijacking and bastardising operations of the commission over the years,” he said.
On the N40 billion allegation levelled against the current IMC by the Senate within the first three months of this year, Ojougboh said there was nothing of such.
According to him, no single Kobo is missing in the account of the commission since February 19 this year when the current IMC under the Managing Directorship of Pondei assumed office .
“The current IMC met debt of over N3trillion as payments for contracts awarded and executed by previous management ,out of which N156billion had been released and ready for payment”, he added
The investigative hearing continues today as stakeholders such as Contractors Association of the Niger Delta and many other Civil Society Organisations are slated to make submissions.
Meanwhile, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, says financial recklessness and misappropriation of N81 billion allegations leveled against the IMC are unacceptable.
Lawan, represented by Deputy Senate Leader, Ajayi Boroffice, stated this on Thursday, while opening an investigative Public Hearing Ad Hoc Committee on the Investigation of the Alleged Financial Recklessness in the NDDC.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the senate on May 5, set up the ad hoc committee to investigate the IMC of the NDDC over alleged misappropriation of N81 billion.
Lawan said that the NDDC was an important statutory agency that was supposed to improve the lot of the Niger Delta communities.
“It is therefore unacceptable to hear about inappropriate use of resources or outright financial recklessness,” he said.
Lawan who underscored the need for prudent application of public funds by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government emphasised that this had become imperative in view of scarce income at the disposal of the Federal Government.
“Financial recklessness is not an attribute that anyone can afford, whether rich or poor. It is even worse with the poor, or for the organisation or a country with limited resources.
“This is the reason we have always highlighted the need for prudence in the application of public resources.
“The time when public resources is seen as nobody’s resources is long gone. We are in trying times, when we all have to be concerned about judicious use of scarce incomes.
“The NDDC is an important statutory agency that is supposed to improve the lot of the Niger Delta community.
“It is therefore unacceptable to hear about inappropriate use of resources, or outright financial recklessness,” Lawan said.
According to him, the weighty allegations of misappropriation of public funds of about N81 billion by the IMC of the NDDC prompted the upper chamber to investigate the commission.
While urging stakeholders present at the hearing to cooperate with the ad-hoc committee, Lawan assured the public of the senate’s commitment to fairness and transparency in the discharge of its constitutional responsibility.
“This Senate is a responsive Senate, and it is partly the reason we made up this all-important committee in our sitting on Tuesday, May 5, to investigate the alleged financial recklessness at the NDDC.
“I am happy the ad hoc committee has made excellent progress by requesting and receiving vital information from identified stakeholders.
“This public hearing should further help the committee get more information, to enable them come to a pleasant conclusion on the facts on ground, before reporting back to the senate.
“I have trust in the ability of this committee to do the right thing, but I add that you all have to cooperate with them and be open-minded and frank with your submissions.
“The senate will be fair to all. Our aim is to get all evidence, to make excellent decisions, to benefit the citizens. Your cooperation is therefore very important,” Lawan said.
Chairman of the committee, Sen. Olubunmi Adetumbi, said that the panel in line with its mandate, sought “to holistically investigate all financially related allegations, mismanagement and misappropriation and the breach of the extant procurement processes as enshrined in the public procurement Act 2007.”
The lawmaker added that, “the exercise is not aimed at witch-hunting any individual, groups, persons or institutions, but to rather get at the root of the matter, that will aid in repositioning the NDDC to effectively deliver on the mandate f which it was established.
“It is also to block leakages of financial mismanagement as well as promote the effective utilisation of its resources for the overall development of the people of the Niger Delta region,” he added.