*As NDDC insists N6.25bn COVID-19 palliatives fund not embezzled
In an unusual move, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives Caucus has accused the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila of covering up for some members alleged to have benefited from the emergency contracts by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
This came days after the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, appeared before the House Committee on NDDC investigating an alleged disappearance of N81. 5 billion and accused the members of being the major benefitiaries of the commission’s contracts.
IThe Caucus called on the Speaker to allow President Muhammadu Buhari to set up an independent investigative panel made up of Justices of the high bench, to probe allegations levelled by the Minister against some members of the National Assembly as that would be the only credible and objective thing to do now.
In another development, the NDDC described as baseless claims by Chief Sobomabo Jackrich that the expanded Interim Management Committee (IMC) embezzled the N6.25 billion fund approved for the procurement and distribution of COVID-19 palliatives for Niger Deltans.
In a strong worded open letter by its leader, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers), dated August 2, 2020, the PDP caucus wondered why some members of the committee probing Akpabio would be heard during the exercise, asking the minister to stop making further revelation.
The letter reads in part: “We are burdened to write this open letter of appeal to you to take urgent steps tp address the eroding cedibility of the House of Reprsentatives. Of course, as one of the longest serving legislators, you are aware that the Hous of Representatives has faced several challenges since 1999, chief among them is getting the public to repose confidence in it and believe in the integrity of its members and leadership.
“Recent developments, especially following hard on the heels of the investigative hearings empanelled by your leadership, suggest that the House of Representatives has descended into a new and unprecedented low. Sadly, in the eyes of many Nigerians who are our constituents, we have become Doppelhangers of members of the executive arm the House of Representatives set out to investigate in the first place. The similitude is telling, sir. However, as conscientious members, we fear and justifiably so, that the House will continue to plumb the depth of the new low, if you don’t find the courage and firmness to halt the slide, and quickly too.
“The sound bites from the investigative hearings undertaken by the Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC), have not only undermined the House of Representatives, but have also posed bad portents to the institution of the National Assembly. As you are aware, damning allegations, albeit falsely, were made before and during the hearings against some Committee members, notably the Chairman of the Committee.
“Recall that videos which went viral in the social media showed the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio making allegations against some members of the National Assembly. Recall too that the Minister was stopped by some Committee members who were heard saying, ‘its okay, its okay. Off your mic’, and ‘in your interest’; and thus setting off widespread jocular and caricature performances among citizens in the public spaces of our country and indeed globally. If anything undermines the sense of selfworth of members of the House, this is it”.
While noting that allegations by MDAs under probe against the House are not new or strange, as they are often tactics deployed by the executive to divert attention from the subject of investigation, the Caucus however expressed concerns that accusations arising from the probes have been handled with levity despite their grievous nature.
“We are worried that after the Minister responded to your 48-hour ultimatum, you only read part and not the entire content of his letter to the House. The version of the letter published in the social media was much longer; and it specifically mentioned names including some members of the National Assembly. The letter does not exonerate all members of the House as we were told. In fact, it directly mentioned some members in different conflicting and problematic situations with the NDDC.
“The Minister’s letter showed that emergency contracts awarded by the NDDC running into billions of Naira were never executed but were fully paid for. The allegation also fingered some members as allagedly musculing the NDDC into paying for some of these contracts. He also accused some members of collecting some of these emergency contracts in the later part of 2019 through proxies and causing the NDDC to backdate award dates to fit into the 2019 budget that had lapsed at the time. These allegations are damning in the main and should not be swept under the carpet”, the letter read further.
The PDP Caucus therefore urged the Speaker to subject the allegations to further scrutiny, saying that accused persons cannot investigate themselves.
“As a senior lawyer you understand the maxim “nemo judex in causua sua”. Can a Committee of the House in the circumstance truly turn out reports thst the public can take seriously and believe in? You have by this action opened room for the public to continue to disbelieve the House of Representatives”, it said.
The Caucus called on the Speaker to allow President Muhammadu Buhari to set up an independent investigative panel made up of Justices of the high bench, to probe allegations levelled by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs against some members of the National Assembly as that would be the only credible and objective thing to do now.
Palliatives fund not embezzled
Also Director, Corporate Affairs, NDDC, Mr Charles Odili, in a statement, said the commission did not work with Jackrich’s committee after it was constituted because state governors rejected the committee.
Odili stated: “Chief Jackrich approached the commission to work with it in different ways. He was then chosen to oversee the committee involved in the distribution of the Covid-19 palliatives to communities in the Niger Delta. The committee was put in place to ensure transparency in the process.
“Immediately the constitution of this committee was announced, some of the state governors reached out to the commission that they would have nothing to do with it. Instead, they demanded that the palliatives meant for their states be given to them.
“In fact, one particular governor declined to give the permit to move the items during the Covid-19 lockdown unless the commission directly deal with his government in the matter.
“The Education, Health and Social Services Directorate, EHSS, which oversees the Covid-19 response raised a memo, advising management to accede to the demands of the governors.
“The memo dated May 22, 2020, argued that in view of the need to collaborate with state governments in the Niger Delta, the management should grant approval for state directors to liaise with their respective state governments, on behalf of the commission in drawing up a programme for the flag off and donation of the COVID-19 Palliative items in their respective states.
“On May 23 2020, management approved the request of the EHSS directorate. As a result of this approval and the change in policy, the task of the Chief Jackrich Committee became redundant. This meant the chief was no longer and could no longer be involved in the direct distribution of the palliatives. This also meant he could not have accurate information on the exercise.
“As at today, none of the nine state governments has denied receiving its own share of the food items for distribution under the COVID-19 palliatives programme.
“The bulk of Mr Jackrich’s petition dwelt on the refusal of the IMC to pay him a humongous amount of money for being chairman of the committee. This has led to this blackmail.”
“Jackrich’s petition is another false claim orchestrated by the same forces, who have been waging a campaign of falsehood against the Commission and its management since President Buhari ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the Commission in the past 19 years.”