OrderPaperToday – The gale of corrupt practices that have been brought to the fore in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) seems not to be abating.
The full report of the Senate 7-member ad-hoc committee empaneled to probe the “financial recklessness” of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC contains cases of administrative malfeasance and financial recklessness.
The committee set up at plenary on the 5th of May, 2020 following a motion moved by Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) to probe the IMC for allegedly squandering N40 billion in three months held a two-day investigative hearing and invited relevant stakeholders.
The hearings were characterised by accusations and counter-accusations among some lawmakers, officials of NDDC, and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio.
The senate probe covered the tenure of the two IMCs charged with carrying out the Forensic Audit of the Commission in it’s two-decade life span. The first IMC was led by Ms Joy Nunieh and the second and incumbent, by Kemebradikumo Pondei.
Here are some of the key issues raised in the senate report:
Breach of procurement rules…
The report cited many instances where the Commission flouted established procurement rules and processes. One of such is an expenditure on Lassa fever worth N1.96 billion. Of this sum, N1.895 billion was for the procurement of Lassa Fever kits by the first IMC; and N61.07 million was said to have been to distribute them by the second IMC.
“On checking the BPP, this procurement did not pass through the BPP compliance process and therefore must be refunded”, the senate report said.
Staff used as Contractors…
There were several cases, according to the report, where the Staff of the Commission were used as proxies to implement projects or made beneficiaries of contracts.
This is seen in the distribution of the Lassa Fever Kits by the Pondei-led IMC as the committee expressed worry that NDDC staff were used as proxy for the delivery of the kits.
“Two staff were paid N55 million for the delivery of the kits to 185 local government areas of the Niger Delta states. The committee was not presented any concrete evidence why the NDDC engaged staff as logistic contractors,” the report said, adding:
“The risk inherent in this arrangement is considered enormous as the management cannot guarantee the safe delivery of these items to its end users and the EIMC did not present any verifiable means for the proof of delivery of items to end-users.”
As contained in the report, the payments were made to Afiong Ekong (N36,759,945) and Adebayo Adetimehin (N18,338,225).
It was also revealed that one Walter Innocent, an Assistant Manager in Human Resources Department on Grade level 10, gets paid amounts ranging from N100,000 to N1.5 million for ‘burial facilitation.’
Other questionable payments to staff…
There were several other unjustifiable payments made to the staff of the commission which the senate queried in the report.
On COVID-19 expenditure for instance, the NDDC was said to have spent N3.175 billion within two months – April and May 2020. This sum was shared among staff (N1,488,900,000), face masks and hand sanitizers for the Police Force (N475,000,000), unnamed youths (N267,750,000 which was paid through the staff), emergency support to 9 states (N775,000,000), training consultancy (N35,238,164), publicity (N98,358,386) and COVID-19 committee (N10,000,000).
A break down of the COVID-19 payment to staff include: Pondei (N10 million), Ibanga and Ojuogboh (N7 million each), 2 staff (N5 million), 148 staff (N3 million), 157 staff (N1.5 million), 497 staff (N1 million), and 464 staff (N600, 000).
Recall that Prof. Pondei had explained that the COVID-19 relief payment was a cash incentive paid to staff in addition to their statutory entitlement as staff “to take care of themselves.”
Another spurious payment is on ‘Emergency Dialogue with the Leadership of ex-Agitators of the Niger Delta region’ which the report said disbursement was done through eight members of staff to the tune of N99 million; N29 million paid to six staff for ‘Community Fueling’ and N148 million to 6 staff for ‘Conflict Resolution’.
A total of N143,550,000 was paid to five staff of the Planning, Research and Statistics, as ‘Advance for 2020 budget participatory conference, of which payments were made 17th of March 2020, but “there is no evidence that such conference took place and none is scheduled for anytime soon.”
“A number of conclusions can be drawn from the way members of staff were used to move funds out of the Commission. The first is the obvious excuse on militancy which the IMC 2 used as alibi for making payments to staff as pass through to current ex-militants”, the report said.
The report also highlighted a payment item called ‘Public Communication’ on which the IMC led by Pondei spent N1.1 billion including N156,813,025 disbursed through staff of the commission.
Stranded students bypassed in scholarship payments…
On Overseas scholarship, the sum of N96,336,000 was expended on 18 which curiously, are members of staff of the NDDC including Pondei, Ojougboh and Luke Ibanga. A certain Marg Consultant was paid “twice N3,524,000 each time on the same day,” the report said, adding that the payments were made between April 10 and 18 2020, at a time when the country was on the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Looking through the account shown above, it was unclear if these education grants were actually being paid to staff who are stranded as portrayed by the Interim MD/CEO. The names of beneficiaries on the account features the Interim MD/CEO- Kemebradikumo Pondei, the ED, Project- Cairo Ojuogboh and other notable Directors such as Luke Ibanga. In fact, Luke Ibanga got the payment twice.
“From the public hearing, the Interim MD/CEO stated that he is currently not studying being a professor already, therefore seeing his name on the list as a beneficiary of scholarship grant is totally unexpected”, the report said.
Between October 2019 and May 2020, the commission also spent N347 million on “Education Grants and Scholarship” of which 32 beneficiaries were listed in the report.
Again, Pondei and Ojougboh were paid N5.6 million each for “foreign postgraduate scholarship second trip 2020” while Ibanga was paid twice – N5.19 million and N3.7 million. These curious payments were made at a time when hundreds of students on NDDC scholarship overseas have been neglected and thrown out of schools in the United Kingdom.
It was also disclosed from the report that Pondei collects N51.6million monthly as imprest while the two Executive Directors, Cairo and Ibanga collects N18 million per month.
“This is quite substantial and cannot be justified by operation exigencies especially during the period of national lockdown”, the report stated.
N4.9 billion was paid to staff as medical checkup with irregular hierarchical payment pattern as three members of the EIMC (Pondei, Cairo and Ibanga) received the highest share of N14.2 million each.
“When staff are paid as is the practice here, there is no accountability and no guarantee that the services were procured and paid for. The current mode employed involving direct payment to staff raises the challenge of possible diversion and the question of value for money”, the report said.
Lack of finance management systems…
Majority of these issues highlighted by the committee in this report stem from “absence of human resource management policy as well as finance management system within the commission,” the report said, adding:
“The random use of staff for non-core assignments is very rampant and cannot make performance evaluation easy task. As it were, it seems obvious that NDDC has lost touch with the essence of its establishment.
“The operational hazardness and the inconsistent mode of staff deployment is real cause for concern and require very urgent review.”
As part of the recommendations, the senate recommended the dissolution of the Pondei-led IMC.