Full Video: Gbajabiamila blows hot, accuses Akpabio of playing games with NDDC probe
In a self-indicting testimony yesterday, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, told the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC probing allegations of mismanagement and illegal spending by the commission that the agency under his watch parceled several contracts for members of the National Assembly, contrary to the provisions of Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
Under the code enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended, it is an offence for public officers to put themselves in a situation where they could have a conflict of interest. In a swift response, however, the Senate has challenged the minister to unveil the identities of the lawmakers who had been NDDC contractors.
The commission, which has been enmeshed in a crisis since the recriminations between Akpabio and Pondei’s predecessor, Ms. Joy Nunieh, is being probed over allegations that the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) blew N81 billion in seven months. Akpabio, while being grilled by the committee, accused members of the National Assembly of being the greatest beneficiaries of majority of the contracts awarded by NDDC. There was a mild drama during the hearing yesterday as Pondei fainted while under questioning. The commission, in a reaction, said Pondei was not feeling well before his appearance before the committee.
Before he fainted, Pondei had said the commission spent N1.3 billion, and not N1.5 billion, which was earlier attributed to him, as COVID-19 palliative for members of staff. Reacting to Pondei’s collapse, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it underscored the weight of corruption that has bedeviled the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration. Akpabio, responding to a question from the lawmakers, said the commission should not be closed down because of the forensic audit ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
When asked to explain what he meant, he said: ”Just look at your chairman, (Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo), I have records to show that most of the NDDC contracts were given out to the National Assembly members. The two chairmen of both committees can explain to you. “Who are even the greatest beneficiaries of the contracts? It’s you people at the National Assembly.” But one of the lawmakers interrupted him saying: “Can I ask you a question? What is the benefit that the National Assembly is benefiting from NDDC?” The minister responded: “I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly but you don’t know about it, the two chairmen can explain to you. I was a member of the NDDC committee; so, I know about it.” Ereyitomi, who presided over the hearing, asked the minister if the three major projects he had carried out had the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Akpabio explained that the idea of the contract for the procurement of vehicles went through the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and must have gone through due diligence before he presented it to FEC.
”So, when something has gone through the BPE, it’s my job to present it to FEC because they have their own criteria. Of the three contracts, two went through FEC. BPE approved two of them, one is the vehicle and as at the time these things were done, they are in 2019 budget, I think.”
The minister, who was interrupted while answering the question, said: “Mr. Chairman, the condition, where we are in now, does not require bullying, with due respect.” But Ereyitomi dismissed Akpabio’s allegation of bullying, saying that he should answer the question directly. When asked about his altercation with Nunieh, the minister said: ”The former managing director of the NDDC was relieved of her appointment when I received a letter from the then chief of staff (may his soul rest in peace) that she did not possess the requisite qualifications to be there.
”For instance, we have written twice to the National Youth Service Corps and twice they have insisted that she never served and that she does not have an NYSC certificate or an exception.” He added that among other reasons, the former NDDC MD was sacked for insubordination. Akpabio and Nunieh have engaged in a running battle, trading accusations over the management of NDDC.
In response to the minister’s allegations that she did not take part in NYSC and she was guilty of insubordination, Nunieh had accused Akpabio of harassment and trying to use her to carry out illegalities in the commission. When asked if he had at anytime influenced the decisions of the managing director, the minister said: ”If in anyway I find out the MD is not going in the interest of Niger Delta, I would intervene.”