Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio on Monday gave a vivid account of how successive managements of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded multi-trillion naira contracts through contract splitting, over-pricing of contracts and other fraudulent acts.
Senator Akpabio who stated this during the ongoing investigative hearing held at the instance of the House of Representatives accused successive NDDC management of engaging in fraudulent financial practices ranging from contract splitting with the view to below the minister’s approval of N1 billion.
According to him, the former acting NDDC Managing Director, Mr Nelson Brambaifa’s administration awarded contracts worth N1.1 trillion out of which the sum of N280 billion was paid out without the knowledge of the Supervising Minister which has the approval of contract worth N1 billion.
He noted that the NDDC management, however, split the contracts at N250 million to evade the Minister’s approval.
Senator Akpabio who earlier accused National Assembly members of collecting “a majority of the contracts awarded by NDDC,” maintained that “We have records to show that most of the NDDC contracts were given to members of the National Assembly.”
While reacting to the minister’s allegation levelled against the members of the National Assembly who allegedly collect the majority of the contracts awarded by NDDC, Hon. Boma Goodhead said: “You were a member of the NDDC in the 8th Assembly, if you were not awarded a contract why are you saying that you were aware that NDDC awarded a lot of contracts to members. How dare you?”
However, in his response, Senator Akpabio clarifying his submission said: “My honourable sister, that is why we have to change. We must not allow the two chairmen to determine the budget of the NDDC. I was a member like you. I did not know what was going on.”
To this end, the minister called for a paradigm shift in the operations of the Commission, saying: “That is why we have to change the modus operandi. You must not allow the two chairmen of the committee to hijack the NDDC budget.”
While addressing the minister on the documents submitted earlier, Hon. Shehu Koko who accused Akpabio of misleading the Committee noted that section 20(2) of the Public Procurement Act, argued that annextures 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 showed that the letters of request for approval of various contracts were done between the Minister and Bureau of Public Procurement.
It provides that: “the accounting office of any procuring entity shall have overall responsibility for the planning, organisation of tenders, evaluation of tenders and execution of all procurement in a particular responsibility.
“Mr Minister, you have taken over the responsibility of the acting MD of NDDC because of your documents. You are the producer of this (document).
“Secondly, you are on air, you said they gave contract to the chairman of this committee in April 2019, and the chairman was appointed in November 2019 and you went ahead and said you people the NDDC gave contract to the chairman of this Committee in April which he was not the chairman of the Committee, he was not even a member of the Committee talkless of being the chairman. He’s not even a member of this House,” Hon Koko stressed.
Akpabio noted that the sum of N100 billion was approved under statutory transfer for NDDC in the 2019 Appropriation Act out of which the sum of N71.195 billion has so far been released, adding that the sum of N2.5 billion approved by the President for the forensic audit of NDDC was to be deducted from the Statutory transfer.
He, however, noted that according to the federal circular, ministers are not allowed to approve payment for parastatals but when it gets to N1 billion the Minister must seek FEC approval.
The minister who argued that he had “never approved a contract for NDDC since I assumed office,” however admitted that he got FEC approval for three contracts namely forensic audit of NDDC, 90 vehicles which were approved by President Muhammadu Buhari and COVID-19 palliatives fund.
According to him, NDDC management awarded a contract worth N10.9 billion in 13 lots.
When asked whether he had at any time hijacked the functions of the NDDC managing director, Senator Akpabio affirmed that he intervened when the NDDC management wanted to pay the sum of N2.9 billion for Lassa Fever.
When asked about the contract award of N5.8 billion for flood control in some of the NDDC communities, Senator Akpabio denied knowledge of the contract saying: “I’m not even aware that the contract has been awarded.”
On his part, Hon. Ben Igbakpa accused the minister of misleading the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) on the award of various contracts.
“You are a former lawmaker, a lawyer, a former governor who is very passionate about the Niger Delta, knowing fully well that the BPP Act provided that every procurement must be appropriation backed. Is it good to confirm that you misled the BPP and the Federal Executive Council to give to a certificate if no objection?
“Two, with your uncommon knowledge of the region, a former governor, who have uncommon performance, what will you tell us now about the status of the forensic audit, bearing in mind that you cannot put something on nothing, because the procurement ab initio is faulty and fraudulent?”
In his response, Senator Akpabio said: “I mentioned to you that there are two sources of revenue to the NDDC, one is from the Federal Government. The other is from IGR from the oil companies. The procurement letter was given at a time you have passed the budget. How can that be fraudulent? You have passed the budget in both houses . How can that be fraudulent? Are you telling me that BPP will commit fraud?
“May I plead that you withdraw the word fraudulent. We must respect each other. Mr Chairman, may I plead that the member withdraws that word fraudulent. The award that passed through BPP, passed through FEC was fraudulent?”
Meanwhile, reprieve came the way of the Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Hon. Olubumi Tunji-Ojo as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio vindicated him.
While responding to the allegations bothering on the N10.9 billion allegedly awarded to Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, the Minister said: “Contracts are split below the threshold of the Minister’s approval.
“For instance, if a contract was given to a chairman’s place for road construction and it came under 950, 950, 950 but the total is 10.9 billion. The contract is not for the chairman, but the contract is for the chairman’s state.”
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has disclosed that the Acting NDDC Chairman, Kemebradikumo Pondei who fainted during the ongoing investigative hearing will not appear before the committee again.
The Speaker who disclosed this at the resumption of the session following the adjournment due to ill-health of Mr Pondei, urged the committee to adopt the written response of the Managing Director.
Hon. Gbajabiamila was responding to questions after the NDDC boss collapsed and rushed out for medical attention.
“There would be no need for the MD of NDDC to appear anymore since he has submitted a written response.
“I wish Mr Pondei safe and speedy recovery and I have also sent the Medical Director of the National Assembly to follow up to ascertain the condition of the MD. Thank you very much and I, therefore, hand over to the current chairman of the Committee, Mr Thomas Ereyitomi to continue with the hearing.
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