A group, Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, along with members of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The group said President Buhari's admission of wrongdoing by the IMC should be backed with action.

“When the President was asked what he thought of the ongoing revelations of corruption at the EFCC and NDDC, the president said that some of his appointees have abused trust by misusing their offices for their self-aggrandisement. While heartwarming, the President's acknowledgement does not address the ongoing corruption at the Commission. By delaying action, the president emboldens the Niger Delta Minister, Chief Godswill Akpabio, and the IMC to continue the pillage of the NDDC,” a statement by Comrade Godknows Sotonye, National Coordinator of the group, read.

Sotonye lamented that the commonwealth of the people of the region had been cornered into private pockets.

“For instance, despite the National Assembly report on the misuse of N81.5 billion in just a few months, Akpabio and the IMC are not letting up in their financial recklessness, as whistleblowers have discovered fresh fraudulent and self-serving payments that have been made by the IMC.

“The Acting MD Prof Keme Pondei and his IMC colleagues should not remain in office a day longer. We cannot afford delayed action by the president, which gives these officials that have abused public trust such as Akpabio and the IMC more time to commit further infractions, when there are already established cases of fraud, corruption, self enrichment, financial recklessness, abuse of due process and mismanagement against them.

“Mr President should also take note that Akpabio fraudulently procured certificates of no-objection from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for the award of two contracts, the first for a lead forensic consultant at N318 million, and the second for the purchase of 62 cars for N1.599 billion. According to the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), Akpabio assured them that the contracts had budgetary provision, following which Akpabio presented Memos and obtained approval for these contracts at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings of February 12 and June 10, 2020, respectively.

“The President should match his words with action and visit the 116-page report and resolutions of the Senate on the financial recklessness of the NDDC IMC, which was adopted unanimously. The report details the humongous scam that has been going on at the NDDC, and presents a clear pathway forward for the Commission.

“Even from the Committee's public hearing where the Acting MD Prof Keme Pondei and Acting Executive Director Projects Dr. Cairo Ojugboh admitted, in the full glare of Nigerians and the international community who watched the proceedings on television, to paying themselves billions of naira as Covid-19 pandemic bonuses despite their receiving their normal salaries and emoluments; to the unveiling of breaches of the nation's procurement laws by Akpabio and the IMC; the facts that informed the Senate resolutions were clear for everyone to see. 

“We were not surprised at the revelations from the public hearing and the conclusion reached by the Senate Committee, which confirmed our initial fears, knowing his antecedents, that Akpabio's motive in pushing for the IMC to run the NDDC was to have unfettered access to the NDDC accounts to authorise questionable payments for dubious contracts and expenditures, one he cannot get away with easily with a Governing Board in place. The NDDC account statement from the CBN has shown clearly, since facts don't lie, that Akpabio and his IMC have turned the NDDC into their personal farm where they sign off billions of naira under dubious headings. 

“So far, the National Assembly reports and resolution have laid out fraudulent and questionable payments of N81.5 billion by the IMC under the supervision of Akpabio. This is a clear looting of the resources of the NDDC. Among other expenditures made in the last eight months, as gleaned from the NDDC account statements are: N1.12 billion for publicity, N1.3 billion for Community relations, and N475 million, which the IMC said was used to buy hand sanitizer and face masks for the police. In his testimony, the Acting Managing Director Prof. Daniel Keme Pondei said the IMC paid themselves and staff a Covid-19 'palliative allowance' of N1.5 billion despite receiving their normal salaries and allowances! In addition Pondei takes home N51 million monthly as allowances, while Ojougboh takes home an additional N18 million monthly as allowances.

“An idea of the prevailing mindset of financial recklessness and the fraudulent disposition of the Akpabio IMC is encapsulated in Pondei's testimony, at the Public Hearing, on the application of N3.1 billion under the heading 'Covid-19 Funds' expended in the last few months where he said: “We used it to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves." When he was asked by a member of the committee if the reckless and criminal 'Covid-19 Bonus' was in addition to their salaries, he answered: "Yes sir." Pondei awarded himself N10 million, the two Acting Executive Directors got N7 million each and other members of the IMC received N5 million each as Covid-19 Bonus in the sharing bazaar. What manner of management turns a situation as grave as a global disease pandemic, where the local people are impoverished, into an opportunity to steal scarce resources?

“As is evident to all, Akpabio and his IMC have lost the moral right to preside over the affairs of the NDDC! The authentic voices of the Niger Delta are very clear in our demands, which are: The IMC is illegal. There is no provision for it in the law establishing the NDDC. The IMC must be disbanded immediately because, as an illegal contraption, it serves no functional purpose in the administration of the NDDC. Rather, it has been exposed as a conduit for stealing the lean resources of the NDDC. The NDDC Governing Board, which is provided for in line with the law, should be put in place immediately to run the affairs of the Commission.

“The forensic audit has to be done by a reputable independent auditor, creditably and independently, just as the NNPC audit was done by Price Waterhouse a few years back while the legitimate Board and management was still in place. The board and management of the NNPC were not set aside for an IMC in order to do the audit,” he added.

There have also been calls by the National Assembly for the dissolution of the Interim Management Committee and the return of the NDDC to the Presidency for direct supervision.

For instance, the Senate ad hoc committee set up to unravel the alleged financial recklessness of the IMC to the tune of tens of billions of naira on Thursday lamented the extra-budgetary spending of the IMC, urging the President to immediately dissolve the committee.

The House of Representatives is also currently probing alleged corruption in the NDDC.

But the President is yet to take any decision concerning the dissolution of the IMC and the termination of the appointments of the minister and the acting NDDC boss.

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