Going by the pronouncement of Senate President Ahmed Lawan, penultimate Tuesday, the Dr. Pius Odubu-led 15-man Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Board, confirmed November 5 by the Senate, would have since taken over the interventionist agency from the Interim Management Committee, IMC, but 10 days after, it is palpable that something is amiss.
Amid power play, a fresh $35 million alleged transmission contract scam has been unearthed in the Commission with the IMC searching for contractors reportedly asking for $75 million variation after allegedly abandoning the power project.
The Senate President, reacting to the concerns raised by Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, and former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who wondered what would be the fate of the new board since there was an interim arrangement in place at the agency, had directed the governing board to take charge with immediate effect.
But unknown to the Senate President, there was not just ambiguity in his marching orders, but also several ambiguities as Odubu, a former deputy governor of Edo State, and his new colleagues can testify in the last few days.
They cannot even step into NDDC for now not to talk of taking over lest they be accused of confrontation, affront and lawlessness despite the fact that the orders to do so came from the Senate.
Truth was that alien to Lawan, fellow senators, and the new board, which they confirmed that Tuesday was officially under suspension as far as the Presidency was concerned due to some convoluted matters that arose.
Sources said that if the Senate President was “well informed on the new intricacies” before his November 5 pronouncement, he would have been more circumspect in his marching orders.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that less than 24 hours after, top officials from the Presidency bombarded some principal officers of the Senate with information on why the directive could not immediately fly.
We gathered that for some reasons, some power brokers and high-ranking policy makers were eager that the Senate quickly approved the board and they pushed for authorization by their colleagues, but the Senate President was perceptibly uninformed about some underground intrigues.
While senators were pondering over the information that became known only after they had confirmed the board, some members of the House of Representatives, last Wednesday, moved to get the House to ratify a motion asking the Presidency to inaugurate the NDDC board cleared by the Senate.
According to sources, but for the on the ball intervention of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, who calculatedly rerouted the motion, Hon Ossai Nicholas Ossai, from Delta State (PDP), and a host of other lawmakers, could have swayed the House to disband the three-man IMC.
Hardly had Ossai from Delta State (PDP) moved the motion, titled ‘Urgent Need to Stop the Illegality in the Niger Delta Development Commission’ than the Speaker aborted the predictable pyrotechnics.
Evidently, more than a week after the Senate botched takeover instructions, Gbajabiamila apparently had some clues the Senate President was probably unaware of at the time Senate cleared the NDDC board.
He, therefore, strategically referred the motion to the relevant House committee to investigate and report to the House for further action within one week. Ossai and a host of other representatives were reportedly prepared to drive home the motion. Moving the motion earlier,
Ossai submitted that the appointment of the IMC by the Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswll Akpabio, was an aberration in the light of the confirmation of the NDDC board members by the Senate.
He asked the House to prevail on the minister to withdraw the appointment of the committee and their activities, praying that should he fail to do so, the House and the Senate should discontinue with the 2020 Appropriation and budget process of the Ministry of Niger Delta.
New scam alleged
A source knowledgeable about ongoing scheming over NDDC by interested parties in the National Assembly said, “The major mistake some people are making is their wrong notion that IMC was a creation of Senator Akpabio and does not have the blessing of President Muhammadu Buhari, therefore, it should be dissolved.
“That is not the position and, because of this incorrect appraisal, some influential persons benefiting from the old system in NDDC are fighting the Interim Management Committee, not knowing that the President had a reason for inaugurating the committee though he also sent the list of NDDC board members for confirmation to the Senate in October”, the source said.
“This whole of this fight is by a powerful policymaker and some few contractors. And it is because of the corruption that they want to continue to perpetuate with their advantageous positions.
“As is already known, apart from the 300 jobs, 87 certificates and N1 billion collected monthly by this overriding politician, there are numerous scandals. NDDC paid some contractors 35 million dollars for a transmission project in one of the states of the Niger Delta.
“The same NDDC paid for over 150 containers that were imported and abandoned by them at the port before the interim management came to discover what was going on. The contractors were already asking for a variation of the project to $75 million after collecting $35 million and doing nothing.
“As I speak to you, the IMC is looking for the contractors. If not for its intervention, they would have auctioned the containers at ridiculous prices and covered the mess.
“I believe that the committee is digging for more information on the scam. This is how they abandoned many legacy projects that should have improved the lots of Niger Deltans.
“Lately, they diverted to emergency projects, where they easily circumvented due process and siphoned more funds.
“There is unsubstantiated and dishonest claim that they used the 300 contracts to settle members of the National Assembly, but we have appealed to the National Assembly not to get involved in this scandal. “Section 7 of the NDDC Act is clear on the powers of the President to direct how NDDC should be run.”
The source, who said Buhari was ready to clean the Augean stable, went on, “Is it not the same President that ought to inaugurate the NDDC board that directed the inauguration of the IMC and you think he does not know what he is doing?
“It is understandable that the National Assembly was unaware of the facts, but they would have been updated by now.
A group of policy makers and contractors from Niger Delta have benefited tremendously from this travesty; they are the ones fighting tooth and nail to sack the IMC. “Who is Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to overrule Buhari? Anybody fighting Akpabio on this matter is fighting Buhari”.
Wike defends IMC Governor
Nyeson Wike of Rivers State, who justified the IMC when members of the new management, led by the acting Managing Director, Dr. Joi Nunieh, visited him at Government House, Port Harcourt, recently, asserted, “I feel ashamed that our people cannot come together and agree on development strategies. The appointment of the Interim Management Committee is purely an executive function.
“There is no reason for our people to be fighting over it. I will protect anything that has to do with Rivers State. I will not support anybody asking that the Interim Management Committee be removed.
“The governors of the Niger Delta states met with President Muhammadu Buhari. We told him that there must be a surgical operation in NDDC. So, we support the forensic audit as ordered by the President.”
Groups back NASS However, there are Niger Delta leaders and groups opposed to the IMC. The Coordinator General and Secretary of Niger Delta People Confederation, Mr. Iyamu Osaro Culture and Mr Ovie Kenneth respectively, in a statement, urged Akpabio to dissolve the committee.
“We wish to unequivocally state that we are in support of the position of the House of Representatives urging the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to immediately dissolve his illegal three- man interim Committee, otherwise the House and Senate will not hesitate to discontinue with the 2020 Appropriation and budget process of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs”, the group said.
“We want to urge President Buhari to use his power to direct the new NDDC Board members to immediately take charge of the NDDC to commence the rapid infrastructural and human development of our region”.
Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy based in Delta State and led by Mr. Emmanuel Igbini, on its part, applauded the Senate for directing the new NDDC board to take over the affairs of the Commission.