A Niger Delta Development Commission Press Statement
CAMPAIGN OF CALUMNY AGAINST THE HONORABLE MINISTER OF NIGER –DELTA AFFAIRS –OUR STAND
In recent weeks, the barrage of criticism and petitions against the person of Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Honorable Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs (HMNDA), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Commission’s Interim Management Committee (IMC) on the social media space has been deafening. Unknown to many Nigerians, the attacks alleging improprieties against the Honourable Minister and the Commission come from three groups:
- In the first group are those who are scared of the outcome of the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari on the affairs of the NDDC from 2002 to 2019.
- In the second group are professional trouble makers whose stock in trade is to attack any management of the commission for recognition and settlement.
- The third group consists of online publications who blackmail various management of the commission to extort money from them. These online publication have been attempting to extort money from the present management team. One of them based in New York even sent someone to the present management to negotiate for a settlement, failing which they ‘will bring down the management and the minister’. The IMC is championing the forensic audit of the Commission and has not committed any infringement to deserve any settlement and has nothing to negotiate with anyone.
In order not to allow these enemies of the Niger Delta people, peddlers of falsehood and extortionists to deceive the public, we owe Nigerians a sacred duty to set the records straight. The Commission stands in defence of the Honorable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs because he is the supervising Minister and the Chairman of the Presidential Monitoring Committee on the Commission. There is public acknowledgement of the resolve of the President Muhammadu Buhari led Administration to sanitize the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) through the process of structural reorganization, forensic auditing and verification in order to achieve the Federal Government’s infrastructural development goals for the region. It is also the intention of government to reposition the region as a growth hub for the country like similar regions around the world. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is an example that readily comes into mind.
This determined resolve of the government will not be deterred, frustrated or abandoned through the antics of disgruntled blackmailers, rogue contractors, self serving politicians and scammers who had previously abused the resources of the Commission to fund their political and personal lifestyles and campaigns. These disgruntled elements have turned themselves into sacred cows in the midst of organized chaos. They are malevolent proxies of corrupt and fraudulent contractors whose criminal activities are being exposed by the ongoing house cleaning exercise which had long been overdue.
On the January 15, the Executive Director Projects (EDP) of NDDC addressed a press conference on the occasion of the inauguration of the contract verification committee. Interestingly, those who are attacking the region have simply plagiarized the contents of the statements made by the EDP and turned it into a catalogue of attacks on the Honourable minister. How can issues raised by the IMC and broadcast to the entire public as the problem of NDDC now become Akpabio’s sin? It is a notorious fact that the ongoing forensic auditing of the NDDC has rattled a lot of powerful people within the Niger Delta Region.
The Head Office Project
The project for the construction of the head quarters building was awarded initially in 1996. On assumption of office, the HMNDA directed that the project be completed and commissioned before March 31st 2020. The Commission currently pays rent at a cost of Three Hundred Million Naira (N300,000,000.00) yearly in the rented Head quarters she currently occupies. The need for the completion of the headquarters building cannot be over emphasized. The contract for the head office was terminated in 2016 and re-awarded to Messrs Rodnap. At the time of the award, Senator Akpabio, who is today the honourable minister of the Niger Delta, was in the opposition. He was in fact the Minority Leader of the Senate. Anyone who knows the nature of politics in Nigeria would know that it could have been impossible for the leader of the main opposition party to influence the cancellation of a contract by a government agency not to talk of re-awarding it to his ‘cronies’. The misrepresentations against the HMNDA regarding the Messrs Marshaland and Messrs RodNap border on criminal libel because as earlier stated above, these
contracts were awarded and re-awarded at the time when the HMNDA had zero leverage on the Commission, being a leading member of the Opposing party to the Government of the day. It is on record that consequent upon Obong Nsima Ekere becoming the MD of the NDDC in 2016, Messrs RodNap was re-awarded the contract after the sum had been reviewed. As at the time Akpabio was appointed the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in August 2019, Ekere had ceased to be the MD of NDDC (since January 29, 2019).
The sum of Five hundred Million Naira (N500Million) was paid to Messrs Marshaland Nig Ltd by the Commission (during Mr Ekere’s tenure) based on the advice of the then director of the legal department, Barr Moljengo Kaltungo. The commission then sent the recommendation to the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr Boss Mustapha, who dutifully presented it to the Federal Executive Council. That payment was approved by the Federal Executive Council as the full and final settlement since the Contract had been re-awarded to Messrs RodNap Nig Ltd. SENATOR GODSWILL AKPABIO WAS THE PDP MINORITY LEADER IN THE SENATE AND LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION TO THE APC LED GOVERNMENT AT THE TIME. This was done during the tenure of the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Pastor Usani Usani. This had absolutely nothing to do with Senator Akpabio, the present minister.
On assumption of office, Senator Akpabio directed that the project must be completed in six months from September 2019 even if they have to work night and day. The Contract has reached a milestone completion level of 95 per cent, Elevators, air conditioners and ancillary furnishings have been installed. However due to the hiatus caused by the ongoing Covid 19 global pandemic, Messrs Roadmap was compelled to invoke force majeure clause of the Contract. In a bid to hasten Project Completion and beat the ports constraint issues; Messrs RodNap eventually resorted to air freighting some vital Project Components.
The last review of this contract happened before Senator Akpabio became the minister. It should be pointed out that while past administrations took 24 years to get the head office project to 50 per cent completion, it has taken the IMC half a year under Senator Akpabio’s direction to get the project to 98 per cent completion. In other words, Senator Akpabio has achieved in six months, the same level of work that took 24 years. This is an uncommon performance.
Payment for Water Hyacinth
On the issue of financial impropriety leveled against Akpabio in respect of the water hyacinth contract, it is pertinent to state as follow: Upon Senator Akpabio’s assumption of Office as the HMNDA, he paid a facility visit to the NDDC office in PH in company of the then Minister of State, Festus Keyamo (SAN). While they were lodged at the L’Meridien Hotel in PH, they were informed of a mob protest at the hotel premises by aggrieved youths and contractors of the Commission. Their grouse was the inability of the Commission to fulfill its contractual obligations to them by paying for Water Hyacinth contracts, executed by them.
It is pertinent to note that the Water Hyacinth contracts were all awarded and executed during the tenure of Prof Nelson Braimbaifa as the MD of NDDC. While addressing the irate youths, the minister appealed for calm and requested to be briefed. Senator Akpabio inquired from Mrs Lelegima Enyia, the acting managing director, at that time, if the Commission had sufficient funds to pay the aggrieved contractors to defray the lingering contractual debts. She replied in the affirmative, and informed the Hon Minister that the Commission had enough funds to pay for the N1.9 billion bill owed. Based on this briefing, the Hon Minister advised the acting managing director to verify the contractual documents and pay accordingly. He was not one of the contractors and derived no personal benefit for acting right.
Lassa Fever Contract
With regard to the Lassa fever contract for the supply of urgently need equipment to curb the spread of the disease, NDDC was compelled to act quickly in order to mitigate the accelerating spread of the scourge in the South South. The equipment was supplied and distributed before the coming into office of the HMNDA.
Humongous request for funds
We wish to state categorically that at no time did Senator Akpabio ever request for the release of the sum of Thirty Billion Naira (N30,000,000,000) for phantom emergency jobs and de-silting of the Niger Delta as alleged. The IMC has not paid a kobo for de-silting and has placed all de-silting contracts and payments on hold, pending investigation, on the recommendation of the Chairman PMC, Senator Akpabio. This fact can be easily verified. For the records, so far the IMC has only approved the total payment of (N18,000,000,000) Eighteen Billion Naira for Contractual claims; this is a far cry from the One Trillion , Two Billion Naira (N1.2tr) expended by the previous administration within 9 months. This N18bn payment to contractors are all payments for contracts awarded by previous administrations, especially the payment for contracts below N50 million.
In a bid to forestall the payment of over inflated contracts as done by the previous administration, The IMC has devised a strategy by which only duly verified and inspected contracts were paid. The office of the EDP is saddled with this obligation. The HMNDA does not exercise overbearing influence on the operations of the IMC. As Senator Akpabio once put it, ‘he is not interested in running NDDC but he is interested how NDDC is run’. The HMNDA affirms the right of the IMC to operate with free hands. The Commission has a Due Process Department with a director in charge. The Department works with the Bureau of Public Procurement in Abuja and the HMNDA does not control the BPP.
Allegations that the HMNDA is nepotic and ethnically biased due to the recent redeployment of directors is most unfortunate. It is critical to note that this redeployment exercise was done for the purpose of organisational efficiency, optimizing staff output and focusing on capacity building. In fact some of those directors had been on the same post for over ten years. The commission brought in directors like Engr. Tonye George an indigene of Rivers State who has served the commission for over 20years and has never been posted to the headquarters. What is wrong in posting him to the headquarters? There are only two directors from Akwa Ibom State are holding positions at the headquarters. Rivers and Bayelsa states have 4 directors each at the headquarters. No Akwa Ibom indigene is director of any of the key directorates like Projects Monitoring and Supervising(PMS), Utilities Infrastructural Development And Waterways (UIDW), Environmental Protection& Control(EPC) Agriculture and Fisheries.
The Acting MD Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei and the Ag. EDFA, Chief Ibanga Etang are seasoned personalities and have distinguished themselves in their chosen professions. While the MD is a renowned professor of medicine, the EDFA is a chartered accountant of immense repute. It is difficult to imagine how a contractor will give out 30 per cent of his/her payment to a minister. It is rather unfortunate that Nigerians can go to any length to disparage and ridicule imagined enemies in the court of public opinion. The purpose of these allegations is to discredit the Hon. Minister and IMC and have them removed from office so that they can continue business as usual in the commission.
Securing of Files
On resumption, the IMC discovered that emergency contracts on roads, de-silting and solar light projects were hurriedly and recklessly awarded to the tune of more than One Trillion Naira without due process and BPP approval. The files were kept away so that the collaborators would not have access to them to claim monies for dubious contracts. The scammers are crying foul because their scheme has been truncated and the forensic audit will look into their criminal acts. The main CAVEAT here in contention is that a firm of lead auditors has been paid 15 percent mobilization and forensic auditing has commenced in earnest. This has sent shivers into the bones of all concerned. As a result, they have resorted to making fictitious claims and writing untenable petitions to cause the disengagement of the HMNDA and the IMC. This is the crux of the matter.
In conclusion, it is clear, even from a cursory glance, that the petitions are premised on various points raised at the press briefing of January, 15 by the EDP. In fact, the key issues in this petition were directly plagiarized from the press statement and this action reveals the petitioners as intellectually lazy people who are either unwilling or unable to evolve original solutions to the inherent problems of NDDC but are rather more at ease at stealing the intellectual arguments and concepts of others.
We salute President Muhammadu Buhari for his pragmatism in listening to the pleas of governors from the Niger Delta States to institute a forensic audit. It is the best way to ensure the Commission is repositioned to deliver on its mandate.
We respectfully call on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the security agencies and the general public to disregard and ignore the orchestrated campaign of calumny, blackmail, intimidation and extortion against the HMNDA and the IMC in the print, electronic and most especially, the social media.
God bless the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria.
God bless the NDDC
God bless the Niger Region
God bless Nigeria.
PROF. KEME PONDEI
Ag. Managing Director
CHIEF ETANG IBANGA
Ag. Executive Director, Finance and Administration
DR. CAIRO OJOUGBOH
Ag. Executive Director, Projects
1.Cc: President Federal Republic Nigeria
2.Cc: Honorable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs
3.Cc: Senate President of Nigeria
4.Cc: Speaker of National House of Assembly
5.Cc: Chairman EFCC
7. DG DSS
8. Inspector General of Police
10. Chief Justice of Nigeria