The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has debunked allegations he collected and executed projects worth N500million in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) when he was a serving Senator.
He said that President Muhammadu Buhari should be commended for being the first number citizen that is not using the NDDC to settle family members and political cronies.
He said he was not aware of the various expenditures in the NDDC because their expenses were below the threshold of what a Minister is required to approve.
He urged the National Assembly to collaborate with the executive to stop financial abuses in the Agency.
Akpabio spoke when he appeared before the Senate Ad hoc Committee investigating alleged financial recklessness and miss appropriation of N40billion by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of NDDC, between October 2019 and May this year.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, had at a press briefing accused Akpabio of securing N500million worth of contracts from the NDDC without executing them.
Akpabio said that the allegations being thrown around against him were because of the ongoing forensic auditing of the agency.
He said that as a Minister, he has only signed one contract, which was that on COVID-19 palliatives between October and July because it passed due process and it was also approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
He said that he was not aware of the contracts and expenses by the NDDC because they were done under their threshold.
He condemned the idea of splitting contract in the NDDC, adding that the budgeting process in the agency should also be improved by ensuring that details of the proposed expenditure are supplied for the lawmakers scrutiny.
The Minister agreed that there was a lot of financial rot in the NDDC with completed projects being re-awarded at huge cost.
He cited the case of an electrification project in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital which he initiated and completed while in office as the governor.
“The electrification projects in Uyo which I executed and completed as governor, had been rewarded for N3.7billion but we have stopped it,” he said.
On the N500million projects he allegedly got from the Commission, Akpabio said: “When you are in the Senate or the House of Representatives, you can make suggestions to Committee chairmen concerning your constituency. It is left to that Agency to accept it or not.
“So probably when I was in the Senate, because that that letter is dated 2017, I must have made recommendation that they should consider to include it but they were not included in the budget. They were not considered. So those jobs were not done.
“Not one naira was paid. And when you make recommendations, it is not that you are going to be the contractor. It is that if they put a job for your constituency, when they are going through due process, they will advertise that job, and that job would be awarded to the contractor that won the bid.
“It is not that when a senator makes a suggestion to an agency, that that senator will automatically go and become the contractor.
“And the fact that that paper was written, on the Minority Leader’s letter-headed paper shows that it was not an award. An awarded contract would have been on NDDC letter head.
“So, when I saw it, I did not think it was worth responding to because I am a seasoned administrator and a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I owe the nation nothing but good service and to tell the truth.
“It wasn’t worth responding to because it was a total falsehood. I have never been a contractor in NDDC.
“Even if those suggested projects worth N500million were accepted there is no guarantee the Godswill Akpabio or my nominee would have been the contractor.
On the N40billion allegedly misapplied by the IMC, Akpabio added: “And then the issue of missing N40billion, I came to honour my colleagues. I am a Senator forever.
“They have the right to look into issues when they are raised. It was a motion and they have a right to investigate it and whenever their investigative report comes out, it would help me to supervise and monitor the NDDC better.
“But it is not that money was missing because the Central Bank of Nigeria harbours the account of the NDDC, so you cannot go and take out N40billion from the CBN and eat it without trace. Technology has gone too far.”
He said that the report and recommendations of the panel would help him to look at whether the monies being spent by the NDDC were rightly expended or not.
“It is a combination for us to change the Niger Delta. That is why I said everything here comes up to forensic,” he said.
He noted that even though he is from the Niger Delta region that he has never been impressed with the NDDC.
“I am a Niger Deltan but I have never been impressed with NDDC. I must say that I have never been impressed with the NDDC.
“I must say that, I have never been impressed with the NDDC. Throughout my tenure as governor, I wasn’t impressed.
“You do politically motivated projects. You do a road of five kilometers and in next raining season, it would be washed away.
“Go to my state and see the roads I did 13 years ago, you don’t see a single pot hole on them because I took cognizance of what the terrain is in the region.
“You cannot rule a people or give them good projects if you don’t love them. Some of these people are merchants.
“They just come into the Commission on the basis of political connotations and with one aim to make money and go and contest election.
“So now the President is the first President in Nigeria that has not used the NDDC, as a place to settle political cronies. That is why he has the courage to order for forensic audit of the NDDC from 2001.
“We must commend that. Because if his family members and political cronies were going to the NDDC as in the past to go and collect money and phony contracts that were never executed, there is no way he would have ordered for forensic audit.
“So, mine is to make sure, that I carry out the instructions of the President and clean the system and then set up a management structure.
“So I like what is happening here, and I just want to tell you, please don’t believe in sensational journalism and then somebody will come and say ‘Akpabio under probe for N40 billion.’ Which Akpabio, if see N40billion won’t I faint?”
On his part, the acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, threatened that he would resign if the allegation of corruption against him are proven by his critics.
Pondei, while dismissing allegations of financial recklessness against the IMC said: “If anyone has any evidence that I collected even one percent from any contractor, let him present it and I will resign instantly.
“We need to be very careful in making spurious allegations that distract the NDDC.”
The Chairman of the Senate Ad hoc panel, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, said the all the facts being used to probe the NDDC were from the agency and other official sources.
He reiterated the essence of the investigation was to make sure the common wealth of Niger Delta works for the people of the Niger Delta.
According to him, the investigation is not about missing money but about ensuring that money gets into the right pockets that will promote the best interests of the Niger Delta region and its people.
The committee also told Akpabio that at the end of the investigation, those who specialize in hijacking people’s patrimony would be put out of business.