The Senate’s gavel landed hard on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on Thursday.
Alleging massive financial recklessness in the intervention agency, the Senate recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari the sack of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the organisation.
The resolution followed acceptance of the report of its Ad Hoc Committee, which investigated the financial situation in the agency. It was chaired by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi.
Other recommendations adopted by the Senate are:
A refund of N4.923 billion the IMC paid out to workers and contractors in breach of the procurement process and approvals.
Return of the supervision of the NDDC to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
The NDDC is currently supervised by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Adetunmbi said: “The Committee noted that it is difficult to find a correlation between Niger Delta community development and cash invested in the zone.
“Continued cash injection in the Niger Delta challenge issue has not worked under the various IMCs.
“It may be useful at this juncture for the government to intervene by stepping down the EIMC (Executive Interim Management Committee), thereby helping them leave the stage for a properly constituted board with specific mandate to address the pains of the Niger Delta people.”
Adetunmbi report lamented that budgeting is not entrenched in the NDDC and officials that the Committee discovered a “significant level of contract spitting by the management of the agency.
“This may have been done to lower the approval threshold, thereby avoiding control measures that would have queried the transaction,” he said.
He noted that the NDDC’s use of financial asset must be refocused and that its record of external audit appeared to be weak and insignificant.
He said the NDDC’s financial report showed that officials may have been used as contractors for most of the agency’s engagement like the delivery of relief materials for COVID-19 and Lassa fever activities.
The Senate also adopted a recommendation of the Committee that the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions should investigate allegations of blackmail against members of the National Assembly by the NDDC.
“There are assertions of blackmail by the NDDC against members of the National Assembly on the subject of procurement process. This must be investigated by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions and report back in four weeks with a view to stop the practice,” the report added.
Other recommendations of the Adhoc Committee adopted by the Senate include: “All expenditures on historical contracts and obligation e.g. hotels, Court judgment, etc, should be refunded by the IMC as payments are not provided for in the budget.
“In retrospect, the original arrangement of putting this commission in the Presidency should be carefully considered to allow for direct Presidential oversight in view of the huge resources allocated to them.
“The…Committee strongly recommends that the President should activate the statutory provisions in the Act and nominate fresh candidates for Senate approval.
“This new Board should be made to undertake a review of the existing governance framework, with attention to upgrading the way and manner the Board executes its mandates, with a view to re-establishing a new culture in the organisation.
“The review must bring order to the workings of the management and their control of the organisation.
“The monitoring Committee and the Advisory Councils should also be inaugurated.
“In order to ensure that the forensic audit achieves the purpose for which it is set up and inspire confidence in the operational and financial processes of NDDC oversight of the audit should be transferred to the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation.
“This will guarantee independence, credibility, transparency and professionalism in the output of the exercise.
“Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the President with advice from the Auditor-General should appoint a renowned, internationally recognised Forensic Auditor to carry out the exercise.”
The Committee insisted that the IMC and other officials of the agency collected N85.7 million as estacode to attend a graduation ceremony in the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 lockdown, a trip never undertaken.
It said it also found that N164.2 million was spent by union members on trip to Italy and another N105.5 million spent on scholarship grants.
According to the report, the IMC spent monies that accrued to the agency from three major sources recklessly.
It said the sources were monetary contributions into the agency by oil companies, mostly in dollars, budgetary provisions and Internally Generated Revenues (IGR).
From the three sources, according to the report, the Commission got a total of N81.5billion between October 29, 2019 and May 31, 2020 and expended everything.
Though two separate IMCs superintendent over the Commission during the period, the current one headed by Professor Pondei, which assumed office on the February 19, expended about 90 per cent of the funds of the agency in frivolous and questionable manner.
Adetunmbi said: “People in the Niger Delta Area, are suffering, and billions of naira is being looted on daily basis by those ordinarily saddled with the development of the area “.
The Committee noted that payments under medical checkup totaling N4.9billion was made under the tenure of the Pondei-led IMC.
“It was discovered that N4.44 billion was paid out in 2018 while N4.5billion was as paid out in 2019.
“The three members of the Interim Management Committee received the highest amount of N14.2 million each.
“Two other people, namely Evan Caroline Nagbo and Ms Cecilia Akintomide took N12,387,500 each while Peter Uwa Edieya was paid N10,340,000.
“Payment to all the 1,401 staff who received the allowance was made on 16 March 2020.
“There is an issue about the medical checkup payment to staff members that raises suspicion on the integrity of the financial system in NDDC.
“The account through which the medical checkup payment is processed is not the account of the beneficiary.
“Interestingly, these beneficiaries have their own account through which their salaries and allowances are processed.
“It therefore raises suspicion requiring explanations why proxies were used to pay this allowance while salaries were paid directly to beneficiaries.
“This obviously is a strong basis for forensic investigation, meanwhile all payments by proxy must be refunded.”
He further noted that the IMC disbursed funds in respect of bereavements which does not seem to be based on a consistent policy given the degree of variation in value and distribution of payments in similar circumstances.
He said: “For the same type of bereavements e.g. father, employees are paid different amounts regardless of employee’s grade.
“What is of interest here to the Committee is the existence of a Human Resources personnel, Mr. Walter Ibarakubuaye Innocent, an Assistant Manager in Human Resources on level 10, who gets paid amounts ranging from N100,000 to N1.5 million for facilitation each time there is a bereavement of interest to NDDC.”
The panel also faulted the IMC in the payments made to staff for performing some of their statutory duties.
According to Adetunmbi, 53 staff were used in the task of distribution of Lassa Fever personal protective kits to the 185 LGAs of the Niger Delta States all of whom were paid various amounts ranging from N300,000 to N6,845,000 on 15 April 2020.
“Total amount used for the distribution is N55,090,000. Twenty nine employees were engaged in monitoring of the emergency response programme on Lassa Fever outbreak at a cost of N5,972,500.
“It is observed that almost all cadres of employees were involved in the distribution and monitoring exercise.
“NDDC did not provide any returns on the end-user beneficiaries which would have helped in evaluating the accountability and transparency of the programme. There was no mention of the original target beneficiaries,” he said.
Adetunmbi added: “By its own record, NDDC spent N808,936,935 as imprest between October 29, 2019 and May 23, 2020.
“This covers a period of seven months during most of which the nation was on lockdown!
“Given that significant amount was also expended on travels, Duty Tour Allowance during the period, payment of bills, it is difficult to justify this huge amount as imprest necessary for the services of the Commission.
“The Acting MD/CEO collects N51.6million every month as Imprest while the Acting Executive Director (Projects, Finance and Admin) each collects N18 million per month.
“This is quite substantial and cannot be justified by operational exigencies especially during the period of national lockdown.”