We want to alert Nigerians to the new plot by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio to sweep under the carpet the demands by Niger Deltans and other Nigerians to probe and disband the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for gross abuse of office and fraud. We are sounding the alarm because of a recent report that the minister has queried his IMC over some developments in the Commission, which we state emphatically is only intended to deceive by giving the impression that the allegations are being investigated. As we will show in this press statement the query ordered by Akpabio is only the scratch of the humongous fraud taking place in the NDDC under the IMC. It is in fact a mockery of the whole process of transparency because the minister himself has been fingered in the illegal payments at the NDDC under the IMC, such that many insiders speak of a corruption enterprise run at the behest of Akpabio.
The Nation newspaper of Sunday May 3, 2020, reported that Akpabio had written to the IMC on April 28 to explain the busted contract made in favour of Messrs. Signora Concepts Services Ltd at the cost of N5,474,647,125.00 following reports in the media of extensive sleaze involving the minister and the IMC. According to the letter from the ministry, “This is one of the cases of allegations of corruption raised in the (media) report”. Akpabio also reportedly asked the IMC to “also address the allegations of the mandatory retirement of the Staff of the Commission over leaked documents.” The IMC was given three days to send in its reply.
It is obvious that the minister is jittery because his corruption enterprise at the NDDC has been exposed for the world to see, and it has become increasingly clear to all that his posturing is only meant to deceive the gullible. Akpabio and the IMC cannot be trusted no matter their resort to public relations using our limited resources in the NDDC. Neither will a query letter, which will probably end in the dustbin, convince anyone that the minister is not part of the sleaze going on at the NDDC. The facts on ground and the evidence at the NDDC show clearly that the so-called query was only meant to engineer a public relations clean bill of health for the beleaguered minister and his IMC, who have come under fire following the exposure by whistleblowers of massive contract scams running into billions of naira.
It is interesting that out of the detailed evidence of fraudulent contracts and payments that were exposed, Akpabio picked on just one item for his sham query, the contract letter to Signoria Concepts in the sum of N5.47 billion, an item which documents were quickly fished out and destroyed after insiders blew the whistle. The other contract made in the name of Osmoserve for N4.8 billion for assorted medical supplies, of which 55 percent was paid upfront was not queried by Akpabio, neither was the payment of N4.09 billion for Lassa fever medical supplies in February this year. Clearly, the minister too has no problem with the practice of awarding contracts without specifications of quality and quantity. He also has no qualms with the tendency of the IMC to divvy up contract payments into batches to escape the searchlight for payment manipulation.
If he needs refreshing on the cases of fraud in the NDDC, the minister needs to be reminded that on April 6, 2020, the IMC had awarded two contracts in the sum of over N10 billion for Covid-19 and assorted medical supplies. The two awards made to Signoria Concepts Limited and Osmoserve Limited were signed by the Head of Procurement on behalf of the acting managing director/CEO of the Commission. The contract award letter to Signoria in the sum of N5.47 billion has Reference Number NDDC/MD/HPU/20/4/EHSS/05, while the one to Osmoserve Global Limited has Reference Number NDDC/MD/HPU/20/4/EHSS/02. Following the award made on April 6th, 2020, the IMC paid Osmoserve Global Limited 55 percent of the contract value of N4.8 billion upfront. After activists publicised the awards and payment which did not follow due process, the IMC tried to walk away from the Signoria deal, but have not disputed the Osmoserve deal.
Appearing on a Channels TV program, Dr Cairo Ojugboh who is the acting executive director projects, could only say that Presidential approval was being expected, yet the contract letter had been issued and payments made! The president’s approval was obviously to put a seal of approval on what is evidently a very fraudulent deal. In the end, the president approved N6.25 billion.
Under intense questioning, Ojugboh also admitted that the IMC paid over N4 billion to some firms for Lassa fever medical equipment and supplies. Even in making these payments, the IMC resorted to the dubious practice of splitting payments to circumvent financial regulations. For instance, some items in the payment made for Lassa fever and other medical supplies were split in sums of N47, 166, 787 each all paid on the same day, February 22, 2020, all in the bid to circumvent financial regulations. NDDC insiders are emphatic that there are no evidences of job performance for many of the payments made under the IMC aside the fact that some were for jobs not yet done. These are the issues Akpabio should address rather than bristling over his integrity, one he lost even before he became minister.
The fact of the matter is that the IMC currently is running a fraudulent operation at the NDDC, where there are no bids for contracts, lots and specifications for quality and quantity are not stated, and payments are made without adherence to financial regulations. All these under the watch of Akpabio who nominated the members of the illegal IMC.
President Buhari should direct the EFCC and other anti-graft agencies to look into the IMC operations at the NDDC to unearth the looting that has been going on in the last six months. The national assembly must not sit idly by and be silent while the resources of the Niger-Delta people are pillaged by Akpabio and the IMC. We call on Mr President to dissolve the IMC without further delay and put in place a substantive Board in line with the NDDC Act.
COMRADE GODKNOWS SOTONYE
Port Harcourt, Rivers State