* Contract verification committee says overtrading, other vices almost shut down NDDC
By Codratus Godson
If President Buhari did not step in with sack of the acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and his team, the Commission would have crashed, so declared a member of the interim management committee (IMC), Dr Cairo Ojougboh, who is executive director, projects.
Buhari not only sacked the man who managed the Commission in 2019 but ordered a forensic audit with a IMC to supervise the exercise before a new board can take over with a clear focus.
Now, as the forensic auditing gathers momentum, it has been revealed that the sacked acting managing director of the Commission and his team awarded emergency contracts worth over one trillion naira in just seven months of 2019.
This is said to be against an annual budget of about N400Bn. The acting executive director, projects, Cairo Ojougboh, who dropped the bombshell during a briefing at the Commission’s headquarters in Port Harcourt, said the emergency contracts system was aimed at attending to some urgent situations through some contracts.
In recent years, the presidency had discouraged award of new contracts to enable the Commission focus on wiping out abandoned projects and sanitizing the system. New MDs however prefer to award fresh contracts. Some thus used the emergency contract system to give massive award of contracts.
Ojougboh said: “In 2017, the NDDC awarded a total of 201 emergency contracts valued at N100.39Bn; in 2018, total 1,057 emergency contracts valued at N162.68Bn were awarded; and in just seven months of 2019, it awarded total 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1.07trn.
He went on to lament thus: “We are talking about a total of over N1.3trillion in less than three years. The yearly budget of the NDDC is hardly above N400Bn and a situation where contracts that do not qualify for emergencies were fraudulently awarded to over one trillion naira value in less than one year amounts to not only stealing from the pulpit but stealing the entire pulpit.”
The director said President Muhammadu Buhari saved the NDDC from being shut down due to over trading, bloated contracts and other sharp practices in the Commission. He said the Commission was sinking and would have been “killed and buried” but for the intervention of Mr. President.
He said Buhari had ordered a forensic audit of the Commission and appointed an interim management Committee (IMC), headed by Acting Managing Director, the Gbene, Joi Nunieh, with other members including Ibanga Etang (Finance/Administration).
He said the inauguration of the contracts verification committee was part of strategies to kick-start the forensic audit, though critics say some of the members were rather part of the racket in the Commission.
Ojougboh, who is the chairman of the Committee, however explained that the two-week exercise would cover all completed, as well as on-going projects and programmes of the Commission. He emphatically declared that the NDDC has not delivered on its mandate, 19 years after. “At best, it has been a lack-lustre performance with very little to show for the humongous resources that have accrued to it over the past 19 years. Stories of pervasive corruption, flagrant abuse of due process, abandoned projects, poor quality project delivery, etc. at the NDDC, have adorned our media space over the years.”
He announced submission of verification documents to be submitted by contractors, adding that the exercise would among other things establish the true position of the emergency contract regime between 2016 and 2019 in the NDDC. He observed that it was common knowledge that some of the awards were not only spurious but criminal as available records, according to him, showed that most of the awards were not backed by budget, bills of engineering measurement and drawings. “They were just open cheques for contractors and their collaborators to fill in at the nearest banks,” he said.
Ojougboh assured that the verification exercise would expose those spurious contracts and advised contractors with fake or specious awards to stay away from the various documentation centres in their own interest.
He charged members of the Contract Verification Committee to discharge their duties diligently, honestly and professionally, urging them to note that the entire people of the Niger Delta and the Commission had placed heavy responsibilities on their shoulders.