The House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) will today continue with its investigative hearing on the alleged financial recklessness at the commission.
Expected to appear before the panel are the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, and the Acting Managing Director of the agency, Daniel Pondei, who was summoned at the last sitting on Friday.
Mr Pondei, on Thursday, led a walkout on the committee.
He appeared with other management staff of the commission, and accused the chairman of the house committee on NDDC, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, of corruption. He said because of that, his team will not speak before the committee.
In May, a group accused Mr Tunji-Ojo of having benefited from award of contracts in the commission.
The lawmaker, however, described the allegations as shameful and baseless.
A lot of controversies have emerged in the NDDC in the past one year.
Due to criticisms of the operations of the commission, President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2019, ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the organisation from 2001 to 2019.
Lawmakers also commenced investigating the new management of the commission in May.
PREMIUM TIMES will bring to you live updates of the panel’s sitting on Monday.
The hearing is set to commence by 11 a.m.
Stay on this page for the live updates.
11:07am – Lawmaker’s already seated at the venue. Protocol officers of the ministry of Niger Delta affairs are already in the hall, an indication that the minister, Godswill Akpabio will honour the invitation.
11:23am – Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio has arrived the venue.
The hearing has commenced. The chairman of the committee ordered that all armed security men be sent out of the venue.
“We have not condemned anybody, anybody who has any allegation against me should report to the relevant security agency.
“This investigation is not about anybody, it’s about the good of the people of the Niger Delta.”
“I want to say it clearly that any issue against my person, I will please appeal that this can be sent to the relevant anti-corruption agency. I don’t enjoy immunity.” Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, chairman of the house committee on NDDC said.
The Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, has stepped aside as head of the panel investigating alleged financial recklessness in the NDDC.
He stated this on Monday during the continued hearing in the National Assembly.
The NDDC acting managing director, Daniel Pondei, had on Thursday led a walkout on the committee.
Mr Pondei, who appeared with other management staff of the commission, accused Mr Tunji-Ojo of corruption. He said because of that, his team will not speak before the committee.
The lawmakers later passed a vote of confidence on the committee chairman while they asked Mr Pondei and the Niger Delta minister to appear before the committee today, Monday.
Both men appeared before the committee and were still there at the time of this report.
In his remark, while stepping down, on Monday, Mr Tunji-Ojo said though he had the support of his colleagues, he preferred to step aside in order to give all parties a fair hearing.
More details shortly…
The Deputy Chairman of the committee, Thomas Ereyitomi, has taken over as the coordinator.
The Deputy Chairman of the committee, Mr Ereyitomi, is reading the verbatim report of the last sitting where the former acting MD, Joi Nunieh, appeared via Zoom.
Some companies and civil society organisations also testified last Friday.
The acting NDDC MD, Daniel Pondei, is the first to be quizzed. He has been placed on oath.
Mr Pondei started by apologizing for the event which led to his walk out last week.
He said the N81.5 billion was spent from October 2019 to May 31, 2020, indicating that it was spent by the interim management’s within that period.
He said from January – May, N34 billion was given by the FG.
He also said N51.9 billion was the amount spent by his committee out of the N81.5 billion our of which they used N38.6 billion for capital projects.
He said all the hotels in Port Harcourt are being owed by NDDC, which he said he has settled.
The N81.5 billion was spent between October 2019 and October 2020, the NDDC acting MD, Daniel Pondei, said.
Of this, the incumbent interim management committee spent N59.1 billion.
A total of N38.6 billion was spent on capital projects, he said. He said N35.3 billion of this was paid to contractors, whom he said were hired by previous administrations.
Also, he added, N20.5 billion was spent on recurrent expenditure between February 20, 2019, and May 21, 2020. They are a backlog of debt for about three years, he said.
Duty tour allowance hasn’t been paid for three years; we cleared it, he added. Scholarship fee hasn’t been paid since 2016, he said, adding that the NDDC paid N500,000 to each beneficiary.
He said he has documents to respond to different accusations against the NDDC which has been put in the public domain.
But the lawmakers declined the request. They asked him to speak only on documents he is tendering.
He said there is a road called ‘Infant Jesus’ in Delta State which has been a subject of controversy. A large chunk of money was approved for ‘Infant Jesus’ by the NDDC, he said.
Mr Pondei said he should be allowed to give his presentation since so many orders were allowed to do so without interruption.
In responding to allegations against the IMC that they paid themselves for scholarship, Mr Pondei said scholarship payments for beneficiaries are being processed, adding that payments will be made for students from 2016 till date.
He said the amount the IMC used to take care of NDDC staff as COVID-19 palliative was N1.32 billion, not 1.5 billion. He also disagreed with the committee that he went on extrabudgetary spending by approving that sum for themselves.
The acting MD said he paid N641 million to Clear Point Communications to get local people to identify sites for NDDC projects because most times when they go on inspection, people do not know where the projects are.
Mr Pondei slumps during the hearing and was promptly rushed to the hospital.
He was answering questions posed by lawmakers when he slumped.
The panel has gone on a 30 minutes break following the collapse of Mr Pondei
All occupants in the hall have been asked to go out for a fresh screening. The lawmakers are yet to return and announce their next line of action.
Mr Akpabio and the Executive Director (Projects) of the NDDC are still around.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and Majority Leader Alhassan Doguwa have joined the committee members.
The Speaker apologised for the non-condusive nature of the hall.
“I’m just wearing a two-piece agbada and I can feel the heat,” he said, “we are sorry for the condition under which you all are.”
This is not an adversarial nor even inquisitory hearing, the speaker said, it’s just a fact-finding hearing.
2:24 — The Speaker and his entourage left the hall, urging the NDDC committee to carry on with the hearing.
2:26 p.m. — The NDDC minister, Godswill Akpabio, was called forward for his testimony.
2:28 — Mr Akpabio was placed on oath.
As he began to give his account, Mr Akpabio requested that the doors be opened “since the air conditioner has failed.”
Mr Akpabio said it won’t be fair for lawmakers to give him just 10 to 15 minutes while other people were given more time to ‘assassinate’ his character.
He said since the chairman of the NDDC committee had recused himself, the investigation should be done afresh.
The minister said the administration of the former MD of NDDC, Joy Nunieh, spent N23 billion while in office.
Mr Akpabio tendered a document to the committee denouncing the claim by the former NDDC MD, Joy Nunieh, that he coerced her to take an oath.
“N40 billion cannot go missing from the account of the NDDC because it is domiciled in the CBN. Before this administration, NDDC had over 300 bank accounts with various commercial banks,” Godswill Akpabio
On the alleged missing N40 billion, he said no money was missing as the money is domiciled in the CBN.
He added that before, when over 300 accounts were run by the NDDC, it was possible for such amount to be missing. But with the TSA used by NDDC under the current administration, “it is not possible for such amount to get missing.”
He said part of the N1.5bn COVID-19 allowance that was earlier mentioned was also paid to retired staff.
Mr Akpabio said there is an ongoing forensic audit, and he has not hijacked it.
He explained that the source of funding the commission includes the statutory transfers by the federal government and the 23 per cent accrual from oil companies.
N71 billion was released out of the N100 billion allocated to the NDDC in 2019, Mr Akpabio said.
Asked by House spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu, if he has ever acted as the MD of the NDDC, Mr Akpabio said when things are not going as they ought to, he wades in.
In one day, Mr Akpabio said, at a management meeting, some management members were paid N49 million each, and a total of N4.2 billion was withdrawn in a single day.
He said the details of that spending have been submitted to the forensic audit committee.
When asked why a medical doctor was appointed to be an executive director of projects, Mr Akpabio said the person should be someone who is versed in project coordination.
“The greatest project in the world is medical, which is COVID-19.”
He added that 60 per cent of the projects by NDDC are health-focused.
“Who will best fit the position of the executive director projects than a medical doctor who will implement the 60 per cent of the projects?” he asked rhetorically.
“Most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly,” Mr Akpabio said.
He said he is aware of these contracts but only the two chairmen will benefit from it.
“We must not allow the two chairmen of the committee to hijack the budget,” he said.
Mr Akpabio in his submission said he was misunderstood. He added that contracts were not given to the committee chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo.
“I don’t think the NDDC has given any contract directly to Honorable Ojo,” he said.
4:26 — The committee completes the session with Mr Akpabio after which there was a request for adjournment of the meeting.
The hearing has been adjourned indefinitely.
Just before the hearing was finally ended, Kolawole Johnson goes under the oath and was asked to give his statement in five minutes.
Mr Johnson is the Head of Research at the Act for Positive Transformation Initiatives, an NGO.
NDDC spent N19.6 billion between June 1 and July 17, Mr Johnson said.
“If during investigation this is going on?” he said. “Mr Chairman, we have a long way to go in Nigeria.”
4:41 — After about 6 hours, the session was finally adjourned.