By Aruviere Martin Egharhevwa
The jaw-dropping revelations on the quantum of corruption that has become the trademark of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and the alleged involvement of lawmakers may be sordid and disgraceful, but it is pertinent to admit that the scandalous extra-budgetary and financial malfeasance to the tune of N81.5 billion currently rocking the NDDC has been masterminded by a son of the Niger Delta region in the person of the talkative and eccentric Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio; who must be held accountable for the stench of corruption oozing out of the embattled agency.
The belated attempt to shift responsibility to lawmakers, alleged to have benefitted from NDDC contracts is a well-contrived distraction by Akpabio, who is yet to explain how a whooping N81.5 billion was spent in four months under his watch; whereas no new contract was awarded. How can the minister convince any well-meaning Nigerian that he was unaware of the scandalous and suffocating perquisites appropriated by NDDC staff and their cronies? Granted that there is no honor among thieves, Akpabio cannot exonerate himself simply by blaming lawmakers for his own profligacy. As the supervisory minister of the NDDC, the buck stops on his desk!
It is indeed distressing; and even more depressing is the fact that the pillage of the common patrimony of the people of the Niger Delta, who have continued to suffer environmental degradation due to oil and gas exploration and exploitation, is masterminded by their own sons and daughters, including Akpabio. It is just as well that governors in the Niger Delta states, Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, among other stakeholders, have expressed disgust over the financial scandal rocking the NDDC under the leadership of Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei’s Interim Management Committee (IMC), which is being supervised by Akpabio.
It is gravely irresponsible to acquire needless entitlements amidst penury and widespread lack, especially when this lack is caused by the actions or inactions of the government. It is insensitive to the local economic plight of the Niger Delta region and so it is morally reprehensible for Akpabio to have presided over this cesspit of corruption. His self-righteous indignation and naming and shaming of lawmakers, allegedly involved in the NDDC scam is cheap blackmail that would not let him off the hook.
Stakeholders from all walks of life in the Niger Delta are furious and their outrage stems from the disenchantment that the NDDC, which is supposed to be the bedrock of coordinated and sustainable development for a marginalized region, which is environmentally despoiled for feeding the nation, has been captured by mindless and avaricious political elites within and outside the Niger Delta. Their mindless actions have consequently deferred the hope for the development of the region. With allegations of sleaze and financial malfeasance against the contraption called Interim Management Committee (IMC) which Akpabio created, the Senate directed the IMC to refund N4.923 billion payments made to staff and contractors in breach of the procurement process.
The Senate resolution was sequel to the adoption of recommendations of its ad-hoc committee which investigated the alleged misappropriation of N40 billion by the current IMC. A breakdown of the refund demanded by the senate includes overseas travel to the United Kingdom (N85.7million), scholarship grants (N105.5 million) and union members’ trip to Italy, N164.2 million. These overseas travels were purportedly undertaken at a time the world was in lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic. The IMC and NDDC staff are also to refund payment made for Lassa fever kit (N1.96 billion), payment for public communication valued at N1.12 billion and the expenditure of N1.49 billion purportedly on COVID-19.
Does Akpabio think Nigerians cannot figure out the difference between these reckless payments and his spurious allegations that lawmakers collected NDDC contracts? Who is Akpabio trying to fool?
Evidence from the ongoing House committee investigation on the sleaze-prone NDDC, show several questionable expenditures sanctioned by Akpabio. These include: refreshment/logistics for project verification paid to IMC and staff (N58.5 million); expenses paid to IMC for 2019 and 2020 budget defence at the National Assembly (N370.1 million); of which Nl43 million is for the 2020 budget that is yet to be defended or approved by the National Assembly; outstation allowances paid to commission the Ogbia-Nembe road (N50.5 million); conflict resolution in Delta State (N148 million); Covid-19 relief (N1.5 billion) with the IMC members getting N10 million each and expenses incurred by IMC during a courtesy visit to River State Governor in the sum of N41.9 million. Can Akpabio tell Nigerians which conflict was resolved in Delta state; or was this a contract awarded to a legislator?
What about Akpabio’s IMC spending N46.6 million for a workshop on the not-too-young-to-run program including N43 million for sponsorship campaign against electoral violence paid to IMC; or staff medical checkup (N4.9 billion) and welfare package to Niger Delta youths for N270 million, even though the youths have denied ever receiving any such welfare package. Clearly, Akpabio had to take the financial recklessness to higher levels of absurdity when the NDDC paid (N39.4 million) to a public relations outfit, Clear Point Consultancy, ostensibly “to respond to media attacks against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio.” It stretches credulity and it is indeed ironical, that Akpabio will be misusing taxpayers’ money to misinform Nigerians. And what has Akpabio got to say about the N51.8 million monthly allowances to the IMC managing director and the N18 million monthly allowances for each IMC member? Are all these payments contracts collected by lawmakers?
The above revelations are just a tip of the mind-boggling and reckless payments running into billions of naira paid by the IMC members to themselves and expended with the approval of Akpabio on mundane and useless trivialities with no redeeming value or developmental impact on the life and livelihood of the Niger Delta people as envisioned by the NDDC Act.
Akpabio should begin by apologizing to the Niger Delta people in particular and Nigerians in general for this monumental waste and plunder arising from greed and crass incompetence. While we are not holding brief for Nigeria’s NDDC legislative contractors, we suggest that Akpabio should forward the list of lawmakers and the NDDC contracts they collected to the anti-graft and other security agencies if he can substantiate his allegations. This underscores the need for Akpabio to explain the aberration of how the IMC, under his supervision could have within four months (February to May, 2020) spend a whopping sum of N81.5 billion without any projects? Akpabio should stop deflecting attention; Nigerians are watching and waiting.
- Aruviere Martin Egharhevwa, a legal executive and political strategist, writes from London.