Transparency And Accountability Advancement Group
The recent revelations of large-scale payments for unbudgeted, dubious and unexecuted contracts by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) running into billions of naira is a sad commentary at a time when the focus should be on restructuring the intervention agency and getting it to deliver on its mandate. Indeed, it is an indication that all the talk about a forensic audit and the whole purpose of appointing an Interim Management Committee is to facilitate this brazen looting of the lean resources of the agency. It is all the more worrisome that the supervising minister of the agency, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, has emerged as the central figure in the ongoing malfeasance. President Buhari must as a matter of urgency halt the drift in the ministry and the NDDC.
We are worried that rather than constructively engage the people of the Niger Delta on their critical needs and work towards finding solutions in those areas, the minister and the IMC have chosen to exploit the agency to make dubious payments for uncompleted Projects, medical equipment and facilities, which have not been delivered on, such that the bank balance of about N50 billion in the commission’s account when the IMC was appointed just a few months ago has been depleted. Particularly worrisome are the series of selective payments ordered by the minister and executed by the IMC without resort to due process. On Akpabio’s instruction, the IMC released the sum of Four Billion, Ninety Six Million Seven Hundred and Ninety Eight Thousand Three Hundred and Thirty Two Naira (N4, 096,798,332.50) for the supply of Lassa fever protective kits and other medical supplies such as Maternal Delivery Kits, Cholera Vaccines and what it called Outstanding Science Equipment. Yet, there is no indication that these items were delivered to public hospitals in the region as many lack such basic supplies.
Nigerians have also been inundated with the reckless manner in which the NDDC head office contract which was already 70 percent completed was re-awarded to a crony company of Akpabio’s for the sum of N16 billion and at the minister’s behest full payment has been made while the job is yet to be completed, an action that is clearly at variance with known public sector financial regulations and good sense. This award and upfront payment is even more worrisome when considered that at the point it was done, an internal assessment team of engineers in the Commission had valued the outstanding job on the head office building at no more than N6 billion, yet this was ignored and awarded to a company close to Akpabio for N16 billion. Though that job is yet to be completed, the company has been paid in full on the orders of Akpabio.
These opaque payments running into several billions of naira have called to question public procurement at the agency, where the IMC seem to waste no opportunity to roll out the contracts, even duplicating them at will.
Again, on April 6th 2020, it awarded two contracts at over N10 billion to two companies for the supply of medical equipment. The first is an award letter in the sum of N4.8 billion to Osmoserve Global Limited under the heading ‘Award of Contract for the Emergency Supply and delivery of Medical Equipment and consumables to the NDDC Warehouse, Oroworukwu in Port Harcourt City LGA of Rivers State.’ The second contract was given to Signoria Concept Services limited with Reference number NDDC/MD/HPU/20/4/EHSS/05 in the amount of N5,474,647,125.00 for what the NDDC claimed was the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers and for Covid-19 publicity campaign in the Niger Delta states. While this may on the face seem desirable given the ravaging disease, whistleblowers say the award is fraudulent. That followed yet another opaque disbursement made in March 2020 when the IMC said it had made available N1.045 billion to the nine states of the zone and as part payment for the establishment of Covid-19 isolation centres in each of the 27 senatorial zones in the region. Yet there are no NDDC-funded isolation centres in all of the 27 senatorial districts across the region.
Emergency contracts were some of the major instruments through which the NDDC was fleeced in recent years, yet Akpabio and his IMC have continued with this practice in violation of extant directives of the office of the Auditor General of the Federation.Therefore, the pertinent questions for the Minister, the IMC and investigators are:
1. If these contracts passed through tender and all due processes before
2. What medical urgency necessitated an ’emergency supply contract’ of N4.8 billion for medical supplies different from another for Covid-19 PPE medical supplies in the sum of N5.4 billion, all awarded on the same day to different companies?
3. Why the contracts do not have a breakdown in terms of quantity, lots and other quality specifications?
4. How billions of naira contracts without duly specified bills of quantity?
5. Where the supplier of Medical PPE was expected to source the equipment from in three weeks given that there is a globally acknowledged supply deficit on account of the pandemic?
6. Why the IMC has resorted to disobeying the extant financial rules on payments to contractors?
What is apparent is that in giving out contract letters without details as to quality and quantity, Akpabio and the IMC have designed an avenue to fleece the agency through these nebulous contracts. They are clearly exploiting the latitude given to the ministry by the President to loot the lean resources of the NDDC, when they clearly do not have a mandate to spend money as a Governing Board has not been inaugurated for the Commission, as provided for in the NDDC Act of 2000. The twin infraction of the distortion of the NDDC Act and the looting of the commission’s resources do not bode well for transparency. The abuse of the NDDC Act itself may have set the stage for these fraudulent scams that have become apparent and are being unveiled by whistleblowers.
These reports of corruption in the NDDC indicate the Governance problems in the interventionist agency as Akpabio, who is the central figure in these allegations and who appointed the IMC members, is as well the supervising minister, Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and Member of the Advisory Committee. There is an obvious conspiracy of silence in the agency and the government that is unhealthy and needs to be probed and dealt with. The Buhari regime must live up to its mandate to employ the resources of the country in the best interest of the people. What is going on at the NDDC is a negation of this mandate and the president must put a stop to it.
It is without a doubt that the excuses for not having a Governing Board in place are more sinister than have been canvassed by the minister and that should be reversed also for a fully transparent management of the NDDC and its assets. The president cannot afford to have a thieving minister and management in place at the NDDC, not at this time when Government finances are low and the people of the region are in desperate need of state intervention. It must restore accountability and transparency by immediately suspending the minister, disbanding the IMC and probing the affairs of the NDDC since Akpabio was made its supervising minister.
Comrade Godknows Sotonye