There was palpable tension at the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC] on Monday following the action of two executive directors who insisted their tenures have not ended.
Following the dissolution of the boards of Federal Government’s agencies and parastatals two weeks ago, all board members except those clearly mandated to continue by the government relinquished their positions.
But this is not the case at the NDDC where two executive directors are insisting that the Federal Government’s directive has no effect on their appointment.
These are the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Itotenamm Henry Ogiri and the Executive Director Projects, Tuoyo Omatsuli.
A source, who cannot be named because she is not authorized to speak on the matter, told PREMIUM TIMES that Messrs Ogiri and Omatsuli were still carrying out official duties at the commission.
According to her, the duo were in the office on Monday, demanded and collected sensitive files, including those on procurement and pending payments to contractors.
As soon as they arrived, the source said the duo summoned an assistant director in the procurement office and demanded contract files.
“We learnt that the assistant director declined to give them the files until the two executive directors contacted a superior officer and he directed that the files be released,” the source said.
The source also said towards the end of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Messrs Ogiri and Omatsuli received, on behalf of the commission, over N3.8 billion from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
But instead of informing the managing director and the board about the release of the funds, the source said the duo paid out the money to contractors without clearance.
However, only 48 contractors benefited from the payments with majority of them coming from Rivers and Delta states.
According to him, the board only found out about the payment when the Managing Director, Dan Abia, went to the office of the accountant general of the federation to find out why funds had not been released to the commission.
During the last board meeting before the Federal Government dissolved boards of its agencies and parastatals, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Messrs Ogiri and Omatsule were strongly reprimanded for making the payments.
Several attempts to speak with the commission’s MD, Mr. Abia and Mr. Omatsuli failed as they neither answered calls nor respond to text messages sent to their phones.
However, when PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Ogiri, he agreed that the NDDC board had been dissolved but argued that his tenure was yet to expire.
Mr. Ogiri described the allegation that he paid out money to contractors without recourse to due process as “laughable,” adding that the commission would not have made any meaningful progress if it had waited for the MD to approve everything.
He also insisted that only contractors that were approved for payment by the MD were paid but added that as an executive director, he doesn’t need Mr. Abia’s approval to do his job.
“There are two different things here. Did we pay those that have passed through the due process? The answer is yes. Did we pay without approval? The answer is no,” Mr. Ogiri told PREMIUM TIMES.
“I don’t need permission from the MD to pay anybody because everything that comes to me gets prior approval from him first and foremost.
“The MD is not always in the office and if we have to wait for him, we would not see projects being commissioned. It is the ED Projects and myself that are running that place.”
When reminded that mostly contractors from Rivers and Delta states were paid, he denied the allegation, saying that it was Mr. Abia that is trying to create a wrong impression about the matter.
“Listen to me, I am not the one that awarded the jobs to the contractors we are paying. Most of the jobs were contracts which were awarded by previous boards.
“You know we inherited over inherited over N300billion debt. Rivers State is where the NDDC is domiciled and by logical implication, more contractors are bound to do jobs in the state.
“Again, the former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC, Mutui Nicholas is from Delta State and the former Senate Committee Chairman, James Manager, is also from Delta State.
“These are influential members of the National Assembly. Sometimes, they get more projects in their constituencies and they have a lot of jobs. Besides, most of the jobs that are being done in Rivers State are not done by indigenes of the state.”
“People get letters from different parts of the country to do jobs and when they come, they look at them and say go and do one kilometer road in Port Harcourt. They are not awarded by Henry Ogiri or Tonye Omatsuli. The contracts were not awarded by us.
“This is a man (the MD) that is never in the office. Would we have to sit down and wait for him to sign things when he had already given his approval? Everything that comes for payment, he has given an approval.”
Reminded that the MD might have been going out on official duties, he retorted, “Which official duties are you talking about? Alright if official duties takes him out of the office, then he is not in the office.
“Why didn’t he complain about the projects that we paid in Akwa Ibom for people he recommended? Why didn’t he complain about them?”
Mr. Ogiri vowed to sue any journalists or media organisation that publishes any unsubstantiated report about him.
“Where will I pack document to and from where. The board is not dissolved. Today, I left the office after 5pm.
“The ED Project and I were there. The board is not dissolved for us; it is dissolved because the executive management is still in place.
“When I got this job, they gave me a letter from the Presidency through the office of the SGF. When I will be terminated, they will be a letter stipulating that my appointment has been terminated.
“And if my appointment which is tenured for four years according to my letter of appointment, then the government will have to pay me for the remaining period. I didn’t even know this but I was told in Abuja.
“They told me that if they terminate my appointment earlier than the period specified, they will pay me for the remaining period of my tenure.
“We are still working until a new board is in place. Don’t follow those who say the board was dissolved and we were all carried away. Yes, the board was dissolved but it is the chairman and the state representatives that were dissolved while the executive management is still in place.
“If we were asked to go, then the government would have appointed an acting MD or any of the directors to act as sole administrator. I don’t think any sole administrator has been appointed sole administrator for the NDDC.”
Mr. Ogiri said he had nothing to hide but noted that the NDDC is a big mill that manufactures packages and distributes rumour.
However, the Director of Communication in the office of the Head of Service of the Federation, Haruna Imrana, disagrees with Mr. Ogiri.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he said with the dissolution of government’s boards, executive directors can no longer function in their respective offices.
“Mr. President has dissolved all boards unless of course those that have constitutional diary,” he said.
“All chief executives of those organizations, even though they served on the board, will still maintain their jobs.
“If the president is removing chief executives, he will state very clearly that he is removing chief executives, but when he removes the board, it does not affect the chief executives unless it is so specified.
“The MD still retains his job until the president states otherwise. If the other directors were inaugurated as a board, then they have to discontinue their work, but if their job is of a permanent capacity, then of course they remain.
“If they were constituted as a board with the chairman, then those ones have been dissolved, but if they were directors in working capacity in the organisation, they are still active.”