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SPECIAL REPORT: This may be Nigeria’s handle to the NDDC problem

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EculawNews: Special Report

ECULAWNEWS has carefully observed the crisis of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) closely. It has been a convoluted story of red herring, lies and misdirections, blackmail, etc. One thing missing in the stories so far told has been the role played by those lawmakers in the committees charged with the legislative oversight functions in respect of NDDC. These are the committees that approved the budgets of the Commission. It has been known in Nigeria that these committee members exert considerable leverage and pressure on the executive agencies and commissions. In the case of the NDDC, it was natural to expect that the committee members would be the most likely culprits.

Sadly, the NDDC officials, had tried to protect the real culprits in a half-witted manner throughout the ongoing investigation until now. Despite the fact that the Minister specifically implicated “members of this committee” in his testimony during the hearings, he deviated and mentioned names of people who were not even lawmakers at the relevant time, how much less members of any committee.

The mentioning of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu by Minister Akpabio, for instance, was a brazen act of witchcraft. Why Senator Orji Uzor Kalu? Was he a member of “this Committee” that Akpabio referred to in his testimony? No. Was he a lawmaker at the time the NDDC contracts were awarded? No. Was any NDDC contract awarded to any company affiliated to Orji Uzor Kalu? No. How then did Orji Uzor Kalu’s name enter the picture? The answer is clearly politics – politics of obstruction. Akpabio aparently wanted to divert attention and in the process sully Orji Uzor Kalu at a time Kalu’s star is shining so bright, having emerged from the clouds of his false conviction.

The Minister’s attempt to shift blame to innocent people while covering up those who were behind the problems of NDDC did not go down well with Nigerians. The outcry that greeted the attempt to implicate OUK was swift and widespread. In the end, the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei has come out to state that it was the Committee Members (back to Akpabio’s original words) that got NDDC contracts and failed to perform. He further stated that these Committee Members arms-twisted NDDC officials to force them to award those contracts.

In his statement, made yesterday, Saturday, 8th August, Pondei lists NDDC contract payments allegedly made to lawmakers under ‘duress’ to get budget approval for NDDC. He further stated that lawmakers, especially members of ad hoc Committees held the Commission hostage over the years with the annual budget approval. According to him, most of the contracts that NDDC was arm-twisted to award and pay for, “were never done or sometimes, never completed.”

The Acting Managing Director spoke of blackmail and schemes adopted by Nigerian lawmakers to squeeze contracts and money out of the NDDC. In his words, “this blackmail scheme explains why the 2019 Budget of the NDDC was passed by the NASS Committee in March, 2020”, adding that, “we are talking about a budget that was billed to expire in May, 2020. This implication is that the management of the NDDC had only five weeks, to implement the budget of one fiscal year, and present a performance report on the same budget.

“This scheme has continued to play out, because as at this Month of August 2020, the budget of the NDDC for the 2020 fiscal year has not been passed by the Joint National Assembly Committee on NDDC. Sadly, nobody seems to care to ask questions because people are falling for the well-scripted smokescreen playing out in the two Chambers of the National Assembly.”

The statement continues:, “it is very unfortunate that against all objective appeals and moral persuasions, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, alongside some other accused members of the House Committee on NDDC, proceeded to hold a public hearing, which was initially slated for two days, being the 15th and 16th of July 2020, but which effectively ran till 20th of the month, only for him to decide, at his own pace and time, to recuse himself from the hearing, on the last day, an action which cast a dark shade on the entire public.

“This is because, the same reason for which he recused himself on the last day was enough for him to steer clear from the matter, ab initio. The foregoing points to a clear fact that the Committee set out to do a bidding, that was never in the interest of the public. They obviously needed a public hearing to tell the public what they wanted the public to hear, rather than the facts of the matter.

“The Spokesperson the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, on a National Television Programme, recently, admitted publicly, that Contractors often approached Chairmen of the House Committees and the members, to use their office to compel MDAs to pay them. This definitely should be the new height of the abuse of the oath of office they swore, not to allow their personal interest interfere with the discharge of their official duties.

“Recall that since these allegations were first made by the Acting Executive Director, Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh on National Television, Hon. Olubumni Tunji-Ojo has not deemed it fit to discountenance the allegations by way of a law suit”.

These are grave allegations that cannot be ignored. In addition to the demand for immediate removal and persecution of Godswill Akpabio, the anti-corruption agencies of this country ought to investigate and prosecute any Committee Member who obtained contract from NDDC and failed to perform.

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